Pet Connection

Feline Mammary Cancer

Mammary tumors are common in cats, especially those who are unspayed or are spayed late in life

By Kim Campbell Thornton

Each week, as Lisa-Maria Padilla trims her cats' nails, she gives them an all-over body check to make sure everything looks and feels normal. A little over a year ago, she noticed that her 10-year-old cat Twyla, a blue Abyssinian, had a tiny nodule near one of her nipples. It wasn't painful and Twyla wasn't behaving differently, but Padilla knew something wasn't right.

She took Twyla to her veterinarian, who surgically removed the nodule, along with a distal lymph node -- from behind a hind leg -- and sent them to a pathology lab for analysis. More than 90 percent of feline mammary tumors are malignant, says board-certified veterinary oncologist Gregory Ogilvie, and Padilla knew that. She was prepared for the worst.

The tumor was indeed cancerous, and tests on the lymph node indicated that the cancer had already metastasized into the lymphatic system.

"If there was good news, it was that both an ultrasound of Twyla's abdominal area and radiographs of her chest showed no signs that the cancer had spread there," Padilla says.

Based on Twyla's overall good health and strong physical condition -- she was the first winner of the Cat Fanciers Association Feline Agility National -- Padilla opted for the standard of treatment: a radical mastectomy to remove all four mammary glands on the cancer-affected side, followed by a radical mastectomy to remove all the mammaries on the other side.

"That surgery is a lot of trauma on a small cat," Padilla says. "The day I brought Twyla home, I was really frightened. The sutured incision went from just below her neck to her groin. My poor cat was shivering, and there was no way she could get comfortable. I set up a large cage, lined with pillows so that she would not contort her body, and would just lay still. She looked dreadful."

Padilla questioned her decision to fight the cancer, but two days later, Twyla was eager to eat and wanted to play. Her condition improved rapidly, and the most difficult part of recovery was keeping her confined for three weeks so she could heal. She's a sociable cat, so not only did Padilla spend time sitting on the floor next to her cage to keep her company, she also asked neighbors to come in and spend time with her while she was at work.

Once the surgical incisions healed, Twyla began receiving chemotherapy, a total of five rounds given every two to three weeks. Sometimes radiation therapy is also used, Dr. Ogilvie says.

In Twyla's case, chemotherapy brought another challenge.

"After the first chemo infusion, the vets realized that Twyla would have to be sedated for each treatment, as she is too active and 'busy,'" Padilla says.

The high-dose regimen complete, Twyla now receives a daily low dose of medication. Called metronomic therapy, the goal is to stop remaining tumor cells from sprouting blood vessels -- in effect, to starve them.

"The tablet is compounded to taste like chicken, so Twyla thinks she's getting a treat every morning," Padilla says. "If there has been a challenge with the low-dose chemo tablet, it is keeping Twyla's weight up. The tablet can make her stomach a little upset, so she is not hungry, but it doesn't make her vomit. I try to give her nutritious treats during the day."

Padilla is glad she decided to treat her cat's cancer.

"Twyla is one very happy girlfriend," she says. "She loves every day, and at 11 years old, remains probably the most active cat in my house."


Is dog's behavior

accident or spite?

Q: My boyfriend was two hours late getting home to feed his corgis, and one of them pooped on the kitchen floor. They had access to the yard, and it was a nice day. I think the dog knew that pooping in the house was wrong (he even looked guilty) and was being spiteful because he didn't get dinner on time, but my boyfriend insists that dogs aren't spiteful. Who's right? -- via Facebook

A: We are so close to our dogs, and so often they communicate with us so perfectly that it's easy to think that they share not only our great qualities but also our less admirable motivations, like "getting even" or "being spiteful." Those are complex emotions, though, and as wonderful as our dogs are, they aren't capable of those sentiments.

That guilty expression isn't an actual acknowledgment of wrongdoing, but what psychologists call an "appeasement behavior." Our dogs can tell when we're upset with them, even though they have no idea what might have caused our angry expression or tone of voice. In response to what they perceive as intimidating or threatening body language, they do their best to try to diffuse the situation by offering behaviors that signal submission or peaceful intentions. To us, though, it looks as if they're saying, "Yes, I did it, and I'm sorry."

In reality, dogs have no idea why we're angry. They can't connect the act of pooping in the house two hours previously with your current dismay over the mess. A dog who poops in the house while his humans are away isn't trying to get back at them for leaving him alone or for being late with dinner. It's more likely that he is anxious because his routine has been disrupted. -- Mikkel Becker

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Cat stumps for

presidency in R.I.

-- "Make hair great again." That's the campaign slogan of Stump, one of the latest candidates in the 2016 presidential election. The gray munchkin cat, a resident of Warwick, Rhode Island, is running on a platform of more naps for better productivity and legalization of catnip (seemingly unaware that a hit of 'nip is already legit). His campaign manager, local pet store owner Denise Rachiele, says the cat is currently seeking a running mate. Perhaps a greyhound?

-- Klinker, a black Labrador retriever, has a unique job: She is the only dog in the United States who is trained to sniff out beehive-busting bacteria called American foulbrood. The bacteria sweeps through colonies, destroying larvae, and are the most common and destructive threat to our friends the honeybees. Klinker's "sting" operation has been protecting hives in Maryland, where she is employed by the state's agriculture department, since 2008. Her nose can detect the bacteria before they wreak havoc, allowing beekeepers to administer antibiotics to the hives to eradicate the disease. With a keen sense of smell and rapid pace, Klinker can check up to 1,000 hives daily, protecting entire colonies in a single visit. That's sweet!

-- May 23 is World Turtle Day. Started in 2000 by American Tortoise Rescue, its purpose is to promote protection of turtles and tortoises. The hardtop reptiles have a reputation for being low-maintenance, but that impression is misleading. Red-eared sliders, for instance, are only a few inches long when most people get them, but they will eventually require a 75-gallon aquarium to accommodate their size and needs at maturity. Reptile expert Frank Indiviglio says the best small turtles for people who can't shell out for large turtle or tortoise habitats are common musk turtles, Chinese big headed turtles, mud turtles and North American spotted turtles. -- Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton, Mikkel Becker


Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. They are affiliated with and are the authors of many best-selling pet-care books. Joining them is dog trainer and behavior consultant Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.

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