Pet Connection by Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker

Pet Cancer Care

Canine and feline cancer patients have a variety of options for care

By Kim Campbell Thornton

Andrews McMeel Syndication

Your dog or cat has been diagnosed with cancer, and you’re not sure how to proceed. Is surgery or chemotherapy the right answer? Or are there other factors involved that could affect the decision you make regarding treatment for your pet?

A pet’s age, our finances and the success rate of treatment options all play into the decisions we make about caring for our pets. The good news is that there are no wrong answers. Whatever decision you make, there are options for care.

Whether you are considering treatment or palliative care for your pet’s cancer, ask the oncologist to lay out the pros and cons. Here are some questions to ask:

-- How is this type of cancer treated?

-- How long will my pet live with and without treatment?

-- How will my pet’s age and current health status affect the success of treatment?

-- Will my pet experience any side effects of treatment?

-- Can side effects be managed?

-- Will a special diet help?

-- How much will treatment or palliative care cost?

-- Are there any clinical trials that might benefit my pet?

The answers can help you make the best decision for your dog, cat or other pet. Depending on the type of cancer and how aggressively you want to fight it, options include surgery, metronomic therapy -- continuous low doses of different anticancer drugs -- radiation, and integrative therapies, such as medicinal mushrooms or cold laser. Ensuring that pets are able to breathe comfortably is also important.

Each situation is different, but the most important factor is keeping pets comfortable, says veterinary oncologist Alice Villalobos.

“Even if they have a really nasty cancer, we’re able to sometimes control or slow it down or stabilize it with an anti-angiogenesis protocol,” she says.

Multimodal pain relief is a mainstay of cancer care. Generally, a single medication isn’t enough to address pain in cancer patients. Cancer pain travels along multiple pathways in the body. Using different types of medications that work in different ways helps to make pain control more effective. Dr. Villalobos likes to use what she calls the GAT protocol: gabapentin, amantadine and either tramadol or trazadone. Each works in a different way, and together they manage the different types of pain.

Some dogs with cancer are prescribed steroids such as prednisone or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for pain. They can benefit from medications such as Pepcid that protect the gastrointestinal tract from ulceration or other damage associated with use of steroids and NSAIDs.

Oxygen therapy can help pets breathe easier. That doesn’t necessarily mean that a dog or cat must spend time in an oxygen cage at the veterinary hospital, which can be expensive. Oxygen generators can be purchased online through outlets such as Craigslist, for instance, and used at home.

Timing of medication is important. Pets on prednisone may experience panting as a side effect, especially at night. Giving the drug in the morning instead of evening can make a difference, Dr. Villalobos says.

Panting can also be a sign of pain. How do you know if your pet is panting because he’s in pain or as a side effect of the drug he’s taking? The answer may depend on the type of cancer your pet has, so it’s important to talk to your veterinarian. For instance, Dr. Villalobos says, lymphoma usually isn’t painful, so in that case, the panting is likely caused by the drug, not the disease.

Most important, keep your pet’s quality of life paramount.

“We really always try to make sure the patient has got more good days than bad days,” Dr. Villalobos says.


Can an older

pet be spayed?

Q: I just adopted a 7-year-old dog from the shelter, and they require me to have her spayed. Is that safe for a dog her age?

A: Every dog is an individual, of course, but in general a healthy 7-year-old dog should not have a problem undergoing spay surgery. There are good reasons to spay your new dog. She is still capable of bearing puppies at her age, and she is at risk for a serious and sometimes fatal uterine infection called pyometra, which can affect older unspayed females.

Take her to your veterinarian for a thorough physical. Before any surgery, it’s important to perform blood work and possibly a urinalysis to ensure that the dog doesn’t have any underlying health issues that could cause problems during surgery.

If you’ve had a puppy who was spayed, you probably remember how quickly she bounced back after surgery. Older dogs may take a little longer to recover, so be sure she has plenty of opportunity to rest and has good pain medications on board. Some veterinarians were taught to withhold pain relief after surgery to keep the dog quiet, but we know now that pets who receive pain relief before, during and after surgery recover more quickly.

During surgery, your dog should have an IV catheter with fluids to help maintain blood pressure, hydration and body temperature, as well as to give emergency drugs rapidly, if necessary, and to help flush the anesthesia from the body afterward. Blood oxygen and blood pressure monitoring equipment are important, too.

I know it probably worries you to have your dog undergo surgery, but as long as she gets a clean bill of health from your veterinarian, she should come through it with no problems. -- Dr. Marty Becker

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Sea lions spread

disease to dogs

-- Keep your dog away from dead or stranded sea lions, which can spread leptospirosis to canines. The zoonotic bacterial disease, which can be transmitted between species, including to humans, is spread by contact with urine or urine-contaminated fluids. Dogs with the disease can develop kidney or liver failure, loss of appetite, lethargy and vomiting. Leptospirosis has been confirmed in sea lions in Oregon and California. Keep your dog on leash at the beach or any place he may come in contact with potentially contaminated water. If your dog is sick, let your veterinarian know if he’s been to the beach within the previous two weeks.

-- Foxhounds have a special day in November. The blessing of the hounds is a tribute to St. Hubert, patron saint of hunters and founder, it is said, of the St. Hubert’s hound -- the ancestor of the bloodhound. It takes place any time between Nov. 3, which is St. Hubert’s Day, and Thanksgiving Day. The occasion, celebrated by foxhunters in the United States, Britain and Europe, began as a ritual to ward off rabies, a disease that St. Hubert was credited with curing. The colorful event is especially common in southern states such as Kentucky, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia, but can also be found in other states such as California and Texas.

-- Meezers rule! The Siamese cat is not only popular in his own right but has also been the parent of a number of other breeds that have carried on the masked cats’ distinctive pointed coats and well-loved personalities. Among the breeds that claim Siamese ancestry are the Balinese, Bengal, Birman, colorpoint shorthair, Havana brown, Himalayan, Javanese, ocicat, oriental shorthair, ragamuffin, ragdoll, snowshoe and tonkinese. Many domestic shorthairs and domestic longhairs also display evidence of Siamese ancestry. -- Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and 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.