Oz: Detecting the early signs of cancer in pets

Local veterinarian Dr. Moshe Oz on how to deal with cancer in dogs.

Even after dealing with dogs for so many years, they still never cease to amaze me.

I am stunned again and again in witnessing a dog’s resilience to pain and their ability to hide symptoms of illness.

Unfortunately, this characteristic does not always work for their best.

Zoey is a perfect example. Zoey was an amazing six-year-old Golden Lab, a dog with a golden heart , a delightful sweetheart.

One recent Saturday, her owner, who happens to work in our hospital, brought Zoey in for a check-up because she felt something just wasn’t right abut her dog.

Zoey, typically a happy and active dog, had been awfully quiet in the recent preceding days.

Even before I got close to Zoey and started checking over her, Lindsay, her owner, pointed out two swellings on Zoey’s neck and inquired about their nature.

Seeing that, the smile on my face disappeared immediately. These swellings were Zoey’s enlarged lymph nodes.

Other lymph nodes in her body were also enlarged. I obtained a sample from Zoey’s lymph nodes and sent it to be evaluated by a pathologist.

All of us in the office were hoping for the best but preparing for the worst.

Sure enough, the results came back confirming my suspicion—Zoey was suffering from lymphoma.

Zoey was such an expert in hiding any illness symptoms that when she actually broke down, the disease was too far gone  to treat.

Zoey’s condition continued to deteriorate very rapidly, so Lindsay decided to do the humane thing and put her down.

That took place within a week from my original diagnosis. We were all heartbroken by Zoey’s loss.

I have decided that Zoey’s relatively short life will be even more meaningful if other dog owners learn about her story and maybe detect this condition in their pets at earlier stages when there is still hope to extend their lives.

Lymphoma, one of the most common cancers to occur in dogs, involves the production of abnormal and malignant blood cells known as lymphocytes.

The Golden Retriever is especially susceptible to developing lymphoma, as one in eight Golden Retrievers will develop that form of cancer.

Other breeds that are commonly affected include Boxers, Scottish Terriers, Basset Hounds, Airedale Terriers, Chow Chows, German Shepherds, Poodles, St. Bernards, Bulldogs, Beagles, and Rottweilers.

There are different kinds of lymphoma, depending on the organs involved, hence the symptoms associated with lymphoma are numerous.

The most common form in dogs is involving the lymph nodes.

Any swelling noticed, usually bilateral and symmetric, should raise a red flag. Very commonly dogs don’t show any symptom of illness.

The swelling is painless and does not bother the dog.

Lymphoma is often diagnosed as an incidental finding in a visit to the vet for other purposes such as immunization or periodic health check up.

If you notice a suspicious swelling, don’t wait for other symptoms to appear—take your pet to be checked by your vet.

When it comes to cats, lymphoma is the most common malignancy, often involving the  gastrointestinal tract.

Most cats with lymphoma suffer from a viral disease called Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV) or in lesser degree from feline Immunodeficiency virus (FIV, AKA the cat’s AIDS).

Cats that develop lymphoma are much more likely to develop more severe symptoms than dogs.

While dogs often appear healthy initially except for swollen lymph nodes, cats will often be physically ill.

The symptoms correspond closely to the location of the lymphoma.

With the gastrointestinal lymphoma, typical symptoms evident include  weight loss, vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, weakness and lethargy.

If the cancer was found early enough, before it has diffusely spread, a chemotherapy treatment can achieve remission of the cancer and prolong the pets life, usually from six to 12 months.

Some animals even survived for more than two years after the diagnosis.

Animals do not suffer from the typical unpleasant chemotherapy side effects common in people, nor do they lose their fur.

There are many different chemotherapy protocols for managing lymphoma.  If your pet suffers from lymphoma, your veterinarian will guide you through the process of choosing the best course of action.

The animal prognosis depends on the type of lymphoma and the internal organ involved.

The different chemotherapy protocols differ in both price, length and commitment involved on the owner’s part. Consult your veterinarian which course of action is best suitable for you and your pet.

Dr. Moshe Oz operates the Rose Valley Veterinary Hospital at 2476 Westlake Rd. West Kelowna.