Pet Cancer Awareness month: What you need to know from BluePearl Pet Hospital

Susan Richard
November 10, 2019 - 5:00 am
Categories: 

by Susan Richard

NEW YORK (1010 WINS) Your pet has cancer. Now what? Many people think they have no choice but to put their beloved animal to sleep, but that's not necessarily the case. With advancements in veterinary medicine, there are now more options than ever to potentially prolong the life of your cat or dog while maintaining a good quality of life.

November is Pet Cancer Awareness Month and I got the scoop from Dr. John Farrelly, DVM, MS, Veterinary Oncologist & Radiation Oncologist with BluePearl Pet Hospitals in midtown Manhattan.  Two of my cats were treated at BluePearl including one who received radiation for a nasal tumor under Dr. Farrelly's care.

Hear what Dr. Farrelly has to say and learn about my two kitty cancer survivors in the latest episode of AllForAnimalsTV:

Common Cancers & Diagnosis

Lymphoma is the most common form of cancer in cats and dogs, according to Dr. Farrelly.  But just like people, pets can also develop mast cell tumors, soft tissue sarcomas, nasal tumors, oral squamous cell carcinomas and many other common malignancies.  

As for spotting cancer, Dr. Farrelly notes that some symptoms are obvious, while others are not. "Many times a cancer can be a lump or bump on your pet, but often times there are other things going on," he said. Other symptoms could include difficulty eating, behavior associated with pain, unexplained bleeding, a wound that doesn't heal or really bad breath.

Just as with a human diagnosis, Veterinarians will use a combination of imaging as well as needle and surgical biopsies to determine whether a pet has cancer. For my cat Cheeks, a lesion on his nose turned out to be a squamous cell carcinoma (skin cancer), while a CT scan and subsequent testing revealed Sydney had a nasal tumor, after I rushed her to the ER with a nose bleed.  (Watch the video to see their stories!)

Treatment

Surgery, chemo, radiation.  That's usually the drill for people, and in many cases it's available for cats and dogs as well, with some variations.

One major difference is the fact that you can't tell your cat to hold still -- even for a cat scan. The same is true for radiation. "We have to place them under anesthesia or heavy sedation because we have to leave the room," says Dr. Farrelly. That  means a shorter course of treatment than what a person generally receives: four to five weeks, versus seven to eight, depending on the size and location of the tumor.  

Chemotherapy is generally administered without anesthesia.  Dr. Farrelly says most animals can be kept still by holding them "with a lot of TLC." He also notes that veterinary medicine is also making strides in immunotherapy.

As for side effects, they're often the same as in humans: nausea, vomiting, pain and hair loss. Managing side effects is part of any treatment protocol.

Deciding What To Do

There are a number of factors in determining whether to treat a pet that's been diagnosed with cancer.

"That's a huge part of what we do, actually," Dr. Farrelly told 1010 WINS. "My goal as a Veterinary Oncologist is to give you all the information you need to make the best decision for your pet." Including, he says, the potential side effects and the potential benefits of treatment: how long they expect to keep the tumor under control.  

In Cheeks' case, a second surgery achieved clean margins. A year later, a new lesion appeared in the same spot, but a surgical biopsy revealed it to be benign. He sees BluePearl Dermatologist Dr. Jill Abraham every three months for a full body once over.  

Sydney was treated with 20 rounds of radiation over the course of a month. She, too, has a follow-up every 90 days along with a yearly full body CT scan. Knock wood. The tumor was zapped and she's been declared cancer-free for two years. Due to the radiation, the fur on her face grew back gray (she's a black cat) and she has a cataract in one eye. While she looks like Phantom Of The Opera cat, neither her fur nor her eye causes any pain or discomfort. She does get a hydrating ointment in the eye, and has some anticipated damage to the structure of her nasal passage. It may be the reason she's super picky about what food she eats (smelling issue). That, or she's just angling for baby food. 

For untreatable cancers, it's all about comfort care. In fact, Dr. Farrelly notes that some pet parents are under the false impression that a cancer diagnosis means they need to put their animal to sleep immediately.

"I do have people come into see me who ask if I need to put them to sleep right away and I say, is he eating? Is he having a good time? Does he like to run, go for walks, jump up on the bed? And if all those things are happening or even if some of them are happening, it doesn't necessarily mean they need to be put to sleep, " says Dr. Farrelly. "Maybe they're going to have some good quality time, and there are pain medications we can use.  Palliative radiation can help with pain in certain patients and certain tumors.  We can treat infections to try and keep them comfortable and get some good quality time." 

Financial Considerations

Cancer treatment for pets is expensive, which is part of the reason why I'm an evangelist for pet insurance, but there are a number of options for those who can't afford it.  

One is Frankie's Friends which is a private non-profit that has assisted a number of  BluePearl clients.  You'd need to demonstrate need as part of an application process. Get more information HERE.

Other non-profits that offer assistance include (partial list): Animal Cancer Foundation, The Brodie Fund, Joshua Louis Animal Cancer Foundation (Dr. Joshua Louis Lachowicz is also a BluePearl Oncologist), and The Onyx & Breezy Foundation.

The Petco Foundation has a good resource guide HERE.  The Humane Society also has one HERE.  Another option is Care Credit which provides financing for veterinary care.  Get info HERE.

Learn more about BluePearl Pet Hospitals HERE.

Follow Cheeks and Sydney on Instagram @realhousecatsny.  Get more cool videos for pet parents at AllForAnimalsTV.com and on FB & IG @allforanimalstv.  

Now scroll back up and watch my video! Thanks.

 

Please note:  This article & the AllFor AnimalsTV video blog are not intended nor should they be used to diagnose or treat any pet.  Always consult a qualified Veterinarian for your pet’s specific needs. AllForAnimalsTV is a production of Susan Richard/New Day Media and appears on 1010WINS.com as a courtesy.  For more information, please visit AllForAnimalsTV.com.