Frequently Asked Questions.
What is the most common type of cancer in dogs and/or cats?
Lymphoma is the most common type of cancer we see. Our oncologists utilize the Power of our Group to assure you pet is to receive the best possible care available, no matter what kind of cancer is being dealt with. Each morning, our doctors and staff gather together for rounds to discuss the day's cases, collaborate, and learn.
What are some warning signs of cancer?
The following information is written by Dr. Gerald S. Post, a Board-Certified Specialist in veterinary oncology and the founder and a past president of the Animal Cancer Foundation.
Below are 10 early warning signs of cancer in both dogs and cats. Please understand that these are just potential warning signs and should not panic you, but should prompt a visit to your veterinarian.
- Swollen lymph nodes: These "glands" are located all throughout the body but are most easily detected behind the jaw or behind the knee. When these lymph nodes are enlarged they can suggest a common form of cancer called lymphoma. A biopsy or cytology of these enlarged lymph nodes can aid in the diagnosis.
- An enlarging or changing lump: Any lump on a pet that is rapidly growing or changing in texture or shape should have a biopsy-the removal of a small piece of tissue for microscopic examination. Lumps belong in lab jars, not on pets.
- Abdominal distension: When the "stomach" or belly becomes rapidly enlarged, this may suggest a mass or tumor in the abdomen or it may indicate some bleeding is occurring in this area. A radiograph (X-ray) or an ultrasound of the abdomen can be very useful.
- Chronic weight loss: If your pet is losing weight and without a diet change, you should have your pet checked. This sign is not diagnostic for cancer, but can indicate that something is wrong. Many cancer patients have weight loss.
- Chronic vomiting or diarrhea: Unexplained vomiting or diarrhea should prompt further investigation. Often tumors of the gastrointestinal tract can cause chronic vomiting and/or diarrhea. Radiographs, ultrasound examinations and endoscopy are useful diagnostic tools when this occurs.
- Unexplained bleeding: Bleeding from the mouth, nose, penis, vagina or gums that is not due to trauma should be examined immediately. Although bleeding disorders do occur in pets, they usually are discovered while pets are young. If unexplained bleeding starts when a pet is old, a thorough work-up should be performed.
- Cough: A dry, non-productive cough in an older pet should prompt chest radiographs to be taken. This type of cough is the most common sign of lung cancer. Please remember there are many causes of cough in dogs and cats.
- Lameness: Unexplained difficulty walking-or the favoring of one limb over another, especially in large or giant breed dogs is a very common sign of bone cancer. Radiographs of the affected area are useful for detecting cancer of the bone.
- Straining to urinate: Straining to urinate and/or blood in the urine usually indicates a common urinary tract infection; if the straining and bleeding are not rapidly controlled with antibiotics or are recurrent, cancer of the bladder may be the underlying cause. Cystoscopy or other techniques that allow a veterinarian to take a biopsy of the bladder are useful and sometimes necessary to establish a definitive diagnosis in these cases.
- Oral odor: Oral tumors do occur in pets and can cause a pet to change its food preference (i.e. from hard to soft foods) or cause a pet to change the manner in which it chews its food. Many times a foul odor can be detected in pets with oral tumors. A thorough oral examination with radiographs or CT scan, necessitating anesthesia, is often needed to determine the cause of problem.
What common factors heighten the risk of cancer?
There are certain breeds of dogs which are at a higher risk for certain types of cancer than other breeds. Regardless of the breed (mixed breeds included), you should watch for the signs of cancer and bring any concerns you may have to the attention of your family veterinarian. Your veterinarian can then run the appropriate tests to determine if a diagnosis of cancer is established.
The most common cause of death of pets over 10 years of age is cancer. We recommend your family veterinarian perform a physical exam twice yearly, along with blood work and chest x-rays once your pet has reached the age of 7 years.
How much time should I plan on for my initial consultation?
Your first visit is an important one. The oncologist will be reviewing the medical records from your veterinarian, examining your pet, then discussing the biological behavior of your pet's disease with you. Treatment options will be presented to you, including the costs involved. We believe knowledge is power and our goal is to ensure that you have the tools necessary to make an informed decision about your pet's care. You can expect to spend a minimum of one hour in our facility for your initial visit. More time may be necessary if additional testing is recommended.
Can my pet eat prior to the initial consultation?
We recommend that your pet come in with an empty stomach. Please do not feed your pet for 8 hours prior to the appointment; it is ok to allow water up until you and your pet begin the car ride over to see us. Some special situations or medical conditions, such as diabetes, call for individually tailored instructions, especially with regard to food and water. If you feel that fasting might be detrimental to the health of your pet, please call our Client Care Specialists at (949) 552-8274 in Orange County, (310) 558-6120 in Los Angeles, or (818) 888-6882 in the San Fernando Valley to discuss this.
Is treatment expensive?
One of the most important decisions made at your consultation is a course of action that will provide the best treatment possible for your pet. The recommended plan will depend on both the type and stage of cancer; additional diagnostics may be needed in order to provide the best treatment possible. Our team of oncologists will work with you to come up with the most progressive and effective treatment for both you and your pet. We always provide written plans, which include frequency of visits and costs involved. Based on our wealth of experience, we will also discuss different options for care. Our goal is for everyone to be able to treat their pet in some fashion, even if the cost of the standard of care is not comfortable for you.
What type of payments do you accept?
We accept Visa, MasterCard, Discover, American Express and checks, with a current California ID. We also accept debit cards. As well, we offer an alternative means of payment, if approved, via CareCredit.
Is my pet's cancer an emergency?
We understand that a diagnosis of cancer can be alarming. It is important that we see your pet in a timely manner after diagnosis in order to help you make an informed treatment decision. Our well-educated Client Care Specialists will help you schedule your first appointment and ensure that your pet is seen as soon as possible.
I've heard about Clinical Trials? What exactly are they?
Please click this link to go to our Clinical Trial Page for clients. We think you'll find all that you need to know there.
Can my pet eat before coming in for chemotherapy?
Yes. In fact, your pet will quickly learn where our cookie jars are located, as our favorite thing to do is to spoil our patients! If your pet is on a special diet we would love for you to bring in his own treats for us to use. Occasionally certain testing is needed which requires fasting. Our team will inform you in advance if this is necessary. As radiation therapy treatments require sedation, these patients must be fasted but will receive a bite to eat as soon as recovered thoroughly.
Will my pet's hair or whiskers fall out with chemotherapy?
Most animals do not experience hair loss. Shaved areas will grow back slowly. Cats may lose their whiskers and guard hairs. Dogs that need to be clipped and groomed, such as poodles, terriers, etc., are likely to have mild to moderate hair loss. The hair loss tends to be worse following treatment with Adriamycin. The hair will re-grow once the treatments have finished. Occasionally the hair will grow back a different texture or color. This is a cosmetic side effect only and does not negatively impact the quality of your pet's life.
Will my pet get sick from chemotherapy?
Our goal at the Veterinary Cancer Group is to provide the best quality of life possible for as long as possible. The drug dosages used in veterinary medicine do not cause side effects in the majority of animals. Despite this, there is a slight risk of side effects and a small percentage of animals may become ill after chemotherapy. Most side effects occur during the first few days of therapy, although they can occur at any time during treatment. If your pet does have side effects, the drug type or dosage will be modified to minimize the chance of side effects recurring. Signs of illness can range from a slight decrease in energy and appetite to lethargy, anorexia, diarrhea and vomiting. Typically, over-the-counter medications are all that is needed if side effects should occur.
Do I need to take precautions regarding myself, my family or other pets while my pet is on chemotherapy?
For orally administered chemotherapy drugs, it is important that the capsules or pills are kept out of the reach of children. If you are pregnant, trying to get pregnant or nursing, try to arrange for someone else to administer them. Most oral drugs have a protective coating, but we recommend that latex or polyvinyl gloves be worn when handling these medications. It is very important not to cut the pills into pieces or open the capsules, as this can increase the risk of exposure.
Can my pet be vaccinated while receiving chemotherapy?
We do not recommend vaccinating your pet during chemotherapy, especially during the initial treatments. Your pet's immune system may be compromised to both the cancer and the chemotherapy, and it is unknown whether your pet will have the normal beneficial response to the vaccine. Vaccines stimulate the immune system and we do not want your pet's immune system unnecessarily challenged. We recommend waiting for a scheduled break in the chemotherapy before resuming vaccinations. Please contact us before any vaccines are given or if you have any questions.
Can flea and tick control or heartworm prevention be used while the pet is receiving chemo?
Yes, many of our patients receive Advantage, Frontline, Program or other flea/tick preventative while on chemotherapy. There have been no reports of contraindications using these products with receiving chemotherapy. Do consult with your family veterinarian for their product recommendations.