Pet Owners

We practice an integrated, team approach to serving both the client and their pet. We create a program of cooperative care that keeps the referring veterinarian central to the healing process.

Preparing for Your Visit

First Steps

Before your visit, we recommend that you write down any questions you may have for the doctor. We know this can be an overwhelming time and there is a lot to process. Feel free to take notes during your visits so you can review the information later. Please don’t hesitate to ask our team any other questions that you think of once you get home.

Seek Support & Include the Whole Family

Bring a spouse, other family member, or friend when you talk to the veterinary health care team. Discussions about your pet should involve everyone who loves your pet, including family members and children. Allow everyone to ask questions and express their opinions. Your pet will need the support of the entire family during this time.

Ask for Resources

Gather print and online resources available through this site to help you understand your pet’s disease and treatment options. It is recommended that you work with your veterinary health care team to understand the validity of all information you obtain.

Understand There are No Incorrect Decisions

The decision to euthanize your pet is not easy. There is no time more difficult than the last days of a pet’s life. At this moment, quality and dignity of life become immediate. Remember there are options available, including hospice care to reduce pain and suffering.  It is important that your concerns are honored and you are provided with ample information to make all necessary decisions. Your entire veterinary health care team will assist you by providing information as well as a compassionate, understanding ear.

Why Choose The VCC

The VCC is part of a large group of the finest hospitals across the United States called Compassion-First Pet Hospitals. This family of veterinary hospitals works in partnership to advance medicine, empower growth, and provide the very best treatments available today. Compassion-First hospitals retain their unique identities and autonomies regarding medical decisions, while benefitting from the opportunity to share knowledge and maximize resources as part of a dynamic network.

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CANCER EDUCATION

Warning Signs in Dogs

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 he/she chews their food. Many times a foul odor can be detected in pets with oral tumors. A thorough oral examination with radio­graphs or CT scan, requiring sedation, is often necessary to determine the underlying cause.

Straining to urinate and blood in the urine usually indicate a urinary tract infection, however, if the straining and bleeding do not resolve rapidly 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.

Unexplained lameness (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.

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.

Bleeding from the mouth, nose, gums or blood in the urine or stool, that is not due to trauma should be examined. Although bleeding disorders do occur in pets, they usually are discovered at a younger age. If unexplained bleeding starts when a pet is old, a thorough search should be undertaken.

Unexplained vom­iting or diarrhea should prompt further investiga­tion. Tumors of the gastrointestinal tract can often cause chronic vomiting and/or diarrhea. Radio­graphs, ultrasound examinations and endoscopy are useful diagnostic tools when this occurs.

When a pet is losing weight and you have not put your pet on a diet, 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.

When the “stomach” or belly becomes enlarged rapidly, this may suggest a mass or tumor in the abdomen or indicate bleed­ing that is occurring in this area. A radiograph or an ultrasound of the abdomen can be very useful in this situation.

Any lump on a pet that is rapidly growing or changing in texture or shape should have a biopsy. Lumps belong in biopsy jars, not on pets.

These “glands” are located all throughout the body but are most easily detect­ed under the jaw or behind the knee. When 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 obtaining a diagnosis.

Pets have become members of our families, and as we take better care of them, they are living happier, longer lives. Despite this, or perhaps because of this, cancer is one of the leading causes of death in dogs and cats. Early detection is key to a better outcome, and this is why we have come up with the 10 warning signs of cancer that every pet owner should know.

Warning Signs in Cats

Benign skin masses are less common in cats than they are in dogs, so any skin mass on a cat should be evaluated.

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. Reaction at vaccine site: Vaccine associated sarcomas can occur in cats and there is an easy to remember “rule” that owners should follow.  The “3-2-1” rule of thumb is that any mass that persists for more than three months after vaccination; any lump that is larger than two centimeters (about 1 inch) in diameter; or any lump that is increasing in size one month after vaccination should be evaluated by a veterinarian.

One of the most common warning signs that a cat does not feel well is for the cat to start hiding or have a change in behavior. These changes are not specific for cancer, but because it is often difficult to detect physical changes in cats, noticing changes in behavior is important.

Oral tumors are unfortunately common in cats and they are often difficult to see. It is therefore very important to notice any change in the way your cat chews its food or an abrupt change in its food preference (i.e. from hard to soft foods). Bleeding and/ or a foul odor are often the first signs of an oral tumor in cats. A thorough oral examination with radiographs or CT scan, necessitating sedation, is often necessary to determine the cause of the problem.

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. Gastrointestinal lymphoma is common in cats so any unexplained vomiting (not hairballs) or diarrhea should be noted. If vomiting and/or diarrhea are also associated with weight loss, your cat should be evaluated by your veterinarian.

When a pet is losing weight and you have not put your pet on a diet, 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. Detecting weight loss in cats can be very difficult due to their relatively small size. One of the best way to check is to monitor your cat’s weight on a routine basis, such as weekly or monthly. This way you will be alerted to small changes in your cat’s weight in a timely manner.

As is true for our own health an "ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" is also true for our pets. But because they can't talk, we need to rely more on physical clues to detect cancer in the earliest stages in our dogs and cats. Cats in particular are very adept at hiding their illness, so cat “parents” must be vigilant and sensitive to their cat’s particular behaviors and actions. To help cat “parents” monitor their pets we have created a feline version of the most common warning signs. Please understand that these are just potential warning signs and should not panic you, but prompt a visit to your veterinarian.

Common Cancers in Dogs

Thyroid tumors account for 1.2 % to 3.8 % of all tumors in the dog and typically develop in older dogs with a median age of 9-11 years. There is no gender predisposition but Golden retrievers, Boxers, and Beagles are over represented. Most thyroid carcinomas are non-functional (meaning they don’t produce thyroid hormones); 60% of patients have normal thyroid function; 30% are hypothyroid (under active thyroid); 10% are hyperthyroid (over active thyroid). Approximately 30-40% of thyroid carcinomas will have already metastasized (spread) at the time of diagnosis and ~80% will ultimately develop metastasis.

Thymomas are rare tumors that arise from the epithelium (lining) of the thymus gland in the dog and cat. They are typically diagnosed in older animals, with the median age in dogs being 9 years and in cats it is 10 years. There is no breed predilection but medium and large dogs are overrepresented. Thymomas are considered benign or malignant based on their clinical features rather than on histologic (under the microscope) features. Benign thymomas do not invade into adjacent structures within the chest cavity while malignant thymomas do invade adjacent structures

Soft tissue sarcomas (STS) make up a large category of tumors that arise from connective tissue. This category includes tumors of fibrous tissue, fat, smooth muscle, nerves, and lymphatic vessels. The diagnosis of soft tissue sarcoma includes fibrosarcomas, malignant peripheral nerve sheath tumors, histiocytomas, myxosarcomas, liposarcomas, lymphangiosarcomas, and undifferentiated sarcomas. STS comprise ~15% of all skin/subcutaneous (under the skin) tumors. These tumors are typically very invasive to the surrounding tissue but generally have a low risk of spreading (metastasis).

Primary lung tumors (cancer originating in the lung) are uncommon in dogs and account for less than 1% of all tumors. It is most common in older dogs, but no specific breed or sex is predisposed. They are almost always malignant (invasive with the potential to spread).

Multiple Myeloma (MM) is a cancer of plasma cells, which are specific types of B-lymphocytes (white blood cells) which produce antibodies as part of the body’s immune system. Multiple Myeloma is a relatively uncommon cancer and there is no gender or breed predilection in dogs. The average age at the time of diagnosis is 8-9 years.

Melanoma is the most common tumor found in the mouth of dogs, and the second most common tumor found is on the digits (toes). There is a predisposition for male dogs and certain breeds seem to be overepresented, including Scottish terriers, Cocker Spaniels, Gordon Setters, Chow Chows, and Golden retrievers.  They are locally invasive tumors, often infiltrate deep into the bone (of the jaw or toe), and have a high rate of metastasis (spreading). Cats can also get melanomas but it is much less common than in the dog.

Localized histiocytic sarcoma,  disseminated histiocytic sarcoma and malignant histiocytosis are fairly rare tumors overall but occur with high incidence in Bernese Mountain dogs, Rottweilers, Flat Coated Retrievers, and Golden Retrievers. Histiocytic sarcomas are very aggressive tumors, and can therefore become very invasive (destroy normal surrounding tissues) as well as have a high rate of metastasis (spreading to other areas of the body). Localized histiocytic sarcoma lesions most commonly are found in the spleen, lymph nodes, lung, bone marrow, skin, brain, and joints of the limbs. Disseminated histiocytic sarcoma and malignant histiocytosis are multi-system, rapidly progressive diseases in which there is simultaneous involvement of multiple organs such as the spleen, lymph nodes, lung, bone marrow, and skin.

The most common tumor of the spleen in dogs is hemangiosarcoma (HSA). Up to 50% of dogs with splenic HSA are in DIC (disseminated intravascular coagulation, or inability to clot blood) at the time of presentation. Unfortunately, with surgery alone, the average survival times are only around 3 months. Liver biopsy is essential to differentiate between liver metastasis (spread) and benign hyperplasia (increased tissue growth).  HSA does not always start in the liver or spleen; it can also start in the skin, subcutaneous tissue, or the heart. Stage I cutaneous HSA may be cured with aggressive surgical resection. Radiographs (x-rays) of the lungs are required to rule out pulmonary metastasis (tumors in the lungs). Cardiac HSA is a common cause of pericardial effusion (fluid surrounding the heart) in dogs. HSA in cats is rare but occurs most commonly within the abdomen (spleen, liver or kidneys) or subcutaneous tissue (under the skin)

Chronic Lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) is a condition in which mature (i.e., "normal"-looking) lymphocytes (a type of white blood cell) accumulate in the body (including in the bone marrow and spleen). This results in elevated circulating lymphocyte counts on CBC blood tests. CLL typically occurs in middle age to older dogs and is often found "accidentally" when blood work is being performed for other reasons. CLL usually progresses slowly and patients can typically be medically managed and live well for years.

Urinary bladder cancers are more common in female dogs, with Scottish Terriers, West Highland White Terriers, Shetland Sheepdogs, and Beagles being overrepresented. Transitional cell carcinoma (TCC) is by far the most common type of bladder neoplasia (cancer) encountered in dogs.

Mast cell tumors (MCT) are the most common malignant skin tumors in dogs and among the most common tumors overall. MCT most commonly occur as solitary lumps or masses in the skin and occasionally dogs can have multiple MCTs. These tumors can have a very variable appearance--they can resemble fatty (lipomatous) masses or may be reddened (erythematous) and/or ulcerated. MCT may change quickly, often waxing and waning in size  (become larger, then smaller). They do this because mast cells contain granules of histamine, heparin and other chemicals that when released into the body can cause swelling, redness, and increased stomach acid production.

Mammary tumors (breast cancers) are the most commonly diagnosed tumor in intact female dogs older than 7 years of age. Male dogs can also develop mammary tumors, but rarely. Several breeds are prone to developing mammary cancer including Poodles, English Spaniels, English Setters, and Terriers. About 50% of mammary tumors are malignant (invasive to surrounding tissue with a high risk of spreading) and 50% are benign—this is very similar to the statistics for breast cancer in women.

Lymphoma and lymphosarcoma (LSA) are interchangeable terms. Lymphoma in dogs is very similar to non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in people. Lymphoma represents 7% of all cancers in dogs. Most affected dogs are between 5-9 years of age, but the disease can occur in dogs of any age. Generalized lymphadenopathy (lymph node enlargement) in an otherwise healthy dog is the most common presentation. Hypercalcemia (high blood calcium) occurs in 20% of dogs with lymphoma. Administration of glucocorticoids (steroids) prior to confirming a diagnosis can make obtaining the diagnosis much more difficult and lead to the cancer becoming chemotherapy resistant.

Appendicular osteosarcoma (bone cancer of the leg) is most common in giant and large breed dogs, with an average age of onset of 7 years. The most common site for the development of osteosarcoma (OSA) is the distal radius (near the wrist), followed by the proximal humerus (near the shoulder) and less commonly proximal and distal femur and tibia (hips to ankles). While acute lameness due to pathologic fracture (disease-related bone break) occurs in some dogs, most present with a history of progressive lameness over several weeks.

Acute leukemia is a systemic cancer characterized by the infiltration of immature lymphocytes or myelocytes (two types of white blood cells) called in the bone marrow (and commonly in the liver and spleen as well). Patients with acute leukemia are typically quite ill due to their disease. Affected animals are typically young (less than 5 years of age). There is a male gender predilection in some studies.

Common Cancers in Cats

Vaccine-associated fibrosarcomas (VAS) are tumors of connective tissue that develop at sites of previous vaccinations. Vaccine associated fibrosarcomas (VAS) are thought to develop in 1/1000 to 1/10,000 cases. The time it takes for a tumor to develop after a vaccine can be anywhere from 4 months to over 10 years. These tumors typically behave in a very aggressive fashion. These tumors can extend up to 5 cm beyond the margins of the tumor and there is evidence of metastasis (disease that has spread) at diagnosis in approximately 12% of the cases.  These tumors invade through tissue planes sending out projections of tumor cells much like the roots of a tree. Due to this fact, complete surgical excision can be difficult and the mass that is visible on the skin is usually only the “tip of the iceberg” as there can be a significant amount of disease below the surface. VAS are more locally aggressive (30-70% recurrence rates) and systemically aggressive (~25% metastatic rate) than fibrosarcomas that are not caused by vaccinations.

Adenocarcinomas are one of the three most common tumors that arise in the gastrointestinal tract (stomach, duodenum, jejunum, ileum, and colon) of cats--the other two being lymphoma and mast cell tumors. These tumors typically occur in older cats and there is a male predilection. Both Siamese cats and Domestic Shorthair cats have been reported to have a higher incidence of this disease.

Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is the most common oral tumor in cats. They can be extremely invasive (invading the bone of the jaw) but do not tend to metastasize (spread to other areas of the body) very rapidly.

Mast cells are a type of normal white blood cell and are part of the immune system.  Mast cell tumors (MCT) comprise about 20% of all cutaneous (skin) tumors in the cat. These tumors can be benign (not cancerous) or malignant (cancerous and able to spread to other parts of the body). Over 90% of MCTs that occur in the skin of cats are benign while visceral (occurring in internal organs) MCTs may behave more aggressively.  This disease is seen mostly in middle-aged cats, and Siamese cats appear to be predisposed to getting this disease.

Mammary tumors are the third most common tumor type seen in the cat, and they account for approximately 20% of cancer in the female cat. These tumors arise from the mammary (breast) tissue and are typically malignant (invasive with a high chance of spreading). Most mammary tumors in cats are classified as adenocarcinomas. About 85% of mammary tumors in cats are malignant; meaning they are very invasive to the surrounding tissues and have a high rate of spreading to other areas of the body. Mammary cancer is often a disease of middle aged to older cats, with Siamese cats having a higher risk.

Lymphoma accounts for one-third of all malignancies in cats and occurs in various primary anatomic sites, such as the gastrointestinal tract, kidneys, mediastinum (chest cavity) and spleen. Unlike in dogs with lymphoma, cats generally do not present with generalized peripheral lymph node enlargement.The occurrence of feline lymphoma has been strongly associated with infection by the feline leukemia virus (FeLV) and certain strains of the feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) although over the last 10 years, the use of testing and vaccination has dramatically reduced the incidence of FeLV infection in the United States. A combination of 5 chemotherapy drugs is reported to be the most effective method to treat most types of lymphoma in cats. Radiation therapy and surgery, along with chemotherapy, are used to treat the more localized forms of lymphoma (such as intra-nasal or ocular.) Treatment goals are to improve quality of life by achieving remission with minimal toxicity and side effects from the drugs.

Acute leukemia is a systemic cancer characterized by the infiltration of immature lymphocytes or myelocytes (two types of white blood cells) found in the bone marrow (and commonly in the liver and spleen as well). Patients with acute leukemia are typically quite ill due to their disease. Affected animals are typically young (less than 5 years of age). There is a male gender predilection in some studies.

Glossary

The non-invasive evaluation of the abdomen, internal organs, and heart through the use of sound waves

A swelling caused by a new growth of tissue. This new growth is caused by the uncontrollable multiplication of cells.

The oldest form of cancer therapy that has been responsible for the cure of more patients than any other treatment. This success is mainly due to the development of new surgical techniques, combined with chemotherapy and radiation for a total plan of treatment for pet’s with cancer.

A malignant tumor originating from connective tissue or blood or lymphatic tissues.

In veterinary medicine, radiation therapy was first attempted at the beginning of the twentieth century. During the last 50 years, tremendous advances have been made. The use of histopathology, MRI, and CAT scans have resulted in accurate diagnosis of the type and location of tumors. In addition, new technology has increased the effectiveness and decreased the side effects and risks of radiation therapy.

An abnormal new growth of tissue in animals or plants; a tumor.

The use of magnetic fields to evaluate the body, including the brain.

To spread throughout the body, referring to cancer cells.

Having the properties of invasion and metastasis and displays cells with widely varying characteristics.

A growth or fluid-filled cyst or any structure rising above the normal surface of a tissue plane.

Immunotherapy is the use of the body’s immune system to treat a disease. Immunotherapy is to treat certain cancers, such as, melanoma, hemangiosarcoma, renal cell carcinoma, multiple myeloma, and lymphoma among others.  There are various types of immunotherapy ranging from cancer vaccines to injecting cytokines (chemicals that stimulate the body’s own immune system). One of the advantages of immunotherapy is that it is generally less toxic than traditional chemotherapy.

The use of special stains to determine the cell type; used most frequently to determine whether lymphocytes are T cells or B cells.

The use of special stains to determine the type of leukemia an animal has or to identify cells that cannot be identified under normal light microscopy.

Refers to any kind of an abnormal increase in size of tissue.

An x-ray machine that produces a digital image, so that it can be manipulated to enhance the evaluation of abnormalities.

The process of evaluating cells on a microscope slide to determine if they are malignant or benign.

The evaluation of the body with high resolution x-rays that allows us to form a three dimensional (3D) picture of the body.

Chemotherapy is used to treat cancer at the tumor site, as well as the cancer that may have spread through the body. Most chemotherapeutic drugs act directly on cancer cells, preventing them from maturing or reproducing. Unlike humans, the side effects of chemotherapy in pets are relatively mild. Doses of drugs and treatment schedules are calculated to minimize discomfort to the pet, while providing the most effective defense against the cancer. As a result, most people are surprised at how well their pets feel while undergoing chemotherapy. The goal is to slow the growth of cancer cells, while producing minimal negative effects on normal cells. If your pet requires a plan of chemotherapy, your veterinarian will most likely bring in a specialist (an oncologist) to develop the plan of attack and administer the treatments. In addition to the latest and best medical treatments, an oncologist will provide the specialized equipment and supervision that your pet needs.

The analysis of the blood that evaluates liver and kidney function, among other things.

A complete blood count evaluating the number and type of white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets.

A malignant growth made up of epithelial cells tending to infiltrate surrounding tissues and giving rise to metastases (spreading).

Any malignant, cellular tumor; cancers are divided into two broad categories of carcinoma and sarcomas.

The removal and evaluation of bone marrow cells to determine if the cells are normal, if cancer has spread to the bone marrow or if there is a problem with blood cell production. This process is usually painless to the pet.

Lacking the properties of invasion and metastasis and showing a lesser degree of abnormal cellularity than do malignant tumors. These are usually surrounded by a fibrous capsule.

Pet Loss Support

The loss of a pet can be a devastating event. Many of us feel that a pet is a member of the family, and the relationships between people and their pets may be very similar to the bond between a parent and a child – unconditional and unbreakable.

Our entire staff is here for you; we unfortunately have a great deal of experience dealing with end of life scenarios. We believe that end-of-life care is one of the most important aspects of veterinary medicine, a time when dignity and compassion are of utmost importance.  The loss of a pet is a very serious matter. Always feel free to ask any of our team members about how to better to cope with the loss of a pet.

Helping Children Cope

It is a very scary and difficult time for children when any member of their family is ill.  The mention of cancer can cause children to fear the worst and often they feel they cannot voice their fears and emotions to their parents. This is especially true when parents are upset about the condition of the family pet and unsure of what options to pursue.

Following is a list of books that the Humane Society of the United States recommends. These may be helpful in assisting your children with the difficult time ahead:

Dog Heaven by Cynthia Rylant

Cat Heaven by Cynthia Rylant

Forever Friends: Resolving Grief after the Loss of a Beloved Animal by Joan Coleman

Saying Goodbye

One of the most difficult times is the last days of your pet’s life. Throughout his or her life, you have been watchful, concerned, and caring.  Now it is about quality and dignity of life.

Quality and dignity are achieved by working as a team with your veterinarian and hospital staff. Their objective is to honor your concerns and wishes and provide you with accurate information to make all necessary decisions. We are also here to provide any assistance needed during this time including hospice care and pain relief.

Grief and Support Resources

Grief is a normal part of loss, regardless if the loved one is a person or a pet. There are many ways to work through the grief process. The loss of an animal, like the loss of a family member or friend, may cause physical and emotional changes that can last for weeks or months. Don’t be afraid to contact pet loss support groups, pet loss hotlines or local specialists who are knowledgeable about loss and receptive to helping people who are grieving a beloved pet.

Following are a list of resources which may be helpful to you:

The Argus Institute

Association for Pet Loss & Bereavement

Cancer Care

Pet Loss Support

In Memory of Pets

Lightening Strike Pet Loss Support

UCDavis Veterinary Medicine Pet Loss Hotline

Grief is a normal part of loss, regardless if the loved one is a person or a pet. There are many ways to work through the grief process. The loss of an animal, like the loss of a family member or friend, may cause physical and emotional changes that can last for weeks or months. Don’t be afraid to contact pet loss support groups, pet loss hotlines or local specialists who are knowledgeable about loss and receptive to helping people who are grieving a beloved pet. Following are a list of resources which may be helpful to you:

Frequently Asked Questions

Pet Owners

We utilize the latest pain relief protocols to control discomfort and maximize quality of life. Every patient responds to cancer treatment differently and we are prepared to adjust our treatment plans to ensure that your pet is as comfortable as possible. Because treatments vary between patients and cancer types, we encourage you to ask your oncologist about what to expect. We also implement Fear Free methods whenever possible so patients enjoy their experience with us and are calm and stress-free during visits.

We contact your veterinarian with updates concerning your pet. Our goal is to provide specialty care and then return your pet to your home and your primary veterinarian as soon as medically possible. Your routine care remains with your primary veterinarian.

VCC Veterinarians work to complement the services of your primary veterinarian just as your primary physician refers you to specialists in human medicine for specific problems. Your pet’s primary veterinarian has referred your pet to us for advanced diagnostic and treatment procedures.

Our fees will depend on the procedures that we perform. We will provide an estimate of the costs during your first visit to our facility.  For more information, please read Cost of Care.

If your primary veterinarian suspects or has diagnosed cancer, he may refer you to us for further evaluation or specific treatment. You can also come here for a second opinion.

All patients require an appointment so that they receive uninterrupted time with the oncologist.

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