Friday, September 30, 2011

Cats & Dogs Get Cancer - a look at Mast Cell Tumors

This article is in honor of my niece and her husband’s two boxers, Banks and Sophie, both of whom have recurrent grade I and II mast cell tumors.  And now Banks has another type of mean cancer called epitheliotropic lymphoma.  

This article is about Mast Cell Tumors in dogs (cats get them, too) but also cancer in general.  When people hear the words cancer, and chemotherapy, sometimes their brains shut down.  Cancer is the most common natural cause of death in dogs in the United States and Canada. And while the diagnosis is one that every pet lover dreads, the fact is that cancer is more treatable than ever before. With chemotherapy, I always tell people that for humans, chemotherapy is generally much more potent and has far more side effects than it does for our furry friends.  Oncologists (cancer specialists) for people are trying to cure you so that you see your grandchildren graduate from college, while with pets we are hoping to prolong their life in a reasonable manner, sometimes curing them, and sometimes putting them in remission for quite a while but not until the grandchildren graduate from college!  

I have been there as a pet owner, too.  Just last year both my 14 year old and 4 year old cats developed lymphoma within a month of each other.  The 14 year old was of such a feisty nature, we couldn’t do any form of therapy with her without us all being stressed out, while the 4 year old sailed through diagnostic testing and treatment and went into remission for 4 months (unfortunately he had feline leukemia virus which is why he developed cancer and passed away at such a young age).  He would actually purr and head bump the nurses during chemotherapy visits.  During the entire final four months of his life, he ate well, played with his human, feline, and canine housemates, and was well-loved.  I find that pets often handle their diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment much better than their parents!   I’d like to thank Gina Spadafori and Wendy Brooks, two veterinarians who helped me with this article.

Ways to help keep your pet healthier and less likely to develop cancer:
Make sure your pet has good nutrition, weight-management, and plenty of exercise. A fit dog will have palpable ribs, like running your hand across piano keys, a wasp-like waist and a tucked-in abdomen.  A fit cat will not have a palpable pouch on its belly.  (click here to see Purina's Body Condition Score)

Feed your pet a high-quality diet made by a reputable company (ask your veterinarian what they would recommend) or a home-prepared diet prepared with the help of your veterinarian. Start with the amount of food recommended for your pet and adjust accordingly with how your pet's body responds.  When companies are developing their diets, they feed them to smaller dogs who are usually sexually intact and have a lot of playtime with each other and therefore burn more calories than my couch potato pets, so I don’t feed anywhere near what the bag suggests!  I usually recommend feeding ¾ of what the bag suggests initially, or about 1 cup per 25 lbs of ideal dog body weight per day.  For cats, most cats only need about ½ cup food per day.  Cut down on extra calories for dogs by substituting baby carrots as treats or by adding volume to meals with green beans, frozen, fresh, cooked, or canned.  Some cats will also eat cooked vegetables.  Avoid starchy vegetables due to the calories, and toxic fruits/vegetables such as onions, grapes, and avocados.  Consider adding omega-3 fatty acids (also known as n-3, found in fish oils and other sources) to potentially reduce the risk of developing cancer. 

Add regular exercise, and you and your dog will benefit with greater health and a closer, more vibrant relationship.  Cats can be exercised too!  Toys that they can chase and pounce upon, providing different levels that they can climb on, and tossing their food and making them chase it down to eat it are all methods to encourage some catercise. 

Spay or neuter your pets early in life. Spaying and neutering have been shown to be an effective method of preventing cancer. Spaying has a significant effect of preventing breast cancer if it is done before a dog goes into her first heat cycle. 

Choose clean living for your pets. Eliminate exposure to environmental carcinogens such as pesticides, coal or kerosene heaters, herbicides, passive tobacco smoke, asbestos, radiation and strong electromagnetic fields. Each one of these factors has been suggested to increase the risk of cancer in your pet (and in you). 

Canine Mast Cell Tumors:
Mast cells are meant to participate in the war against parasites, as opposed to the war against bacterial or viral invaders. The mast cell possesses granules of especially inflammatory biochemicals meant for use against invading parasites. (Think of these as small bombs that can be released). When a parasite is near the mast cell, degranulates releasing its toxic biochemical weapons. These chemicals are harmful to the parasite plus serve as signals to other immune cells that a battle is in progress and for them to come and join in.

At least this is what is supposed to happen.  Unfortunately, the mast cell system is also stimulated with other antigens that are of similar shape or size as parasitic antigens. These "next best" antigens are usually pollen proteins and the result is an allergy. Instead of killing an invading parasite, the mast cell biochemicals produce local redness, itch, swelling, and other symptoms we associate with allergic reactions.  As if the mast cell isn't enough of a troublemaker in this regard, the mast cell can form a tumor made of many mast cells. When this happens, the cells of the tumor are unstable. This means they release their toxic granules with simple contact or even at random creating allergic symptoms that do not correlate with exposure to any particular antigen.

Mast cell tumors are especially common in dogs accounting for approximately one skin tumor in every five. The Boxer is at an especially high risk, as are related breeds: English Bulldog, Boston Terrier. Also at higher than average risk are the Shar Pei, Labrador Retriever, Golden Retriever, Schnauzer, and Cocker Spaniel. Most mast cell tumors arise in the skin but technically they can arise anywhere that mast cells are found. The mast cell tumor does not have a characteristic appearance though because of the tumor's ability to cause swelling through the release of granules, it is not unusual for the owner to notice a sudden change in the size of the growth or, for that matter, that the growth is itchy or bothersome to the patient.

Diagnosis can often be made with a needle aspirate, which collects some cells of the tumor with a needle, and the cells are examined under the microscope. The granules have distinct staining characteristics and can be recognized easily. An actual tissue biopsy, however, is needed to grade the tumor; grading is crucial to determining prognosis.

More about grading tumors, prognosis and treatment in upcoming blog!

 By: Dr. Dana Lewis

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Morris Animal Foundation K9 Walk for Cancer Knoxville, TN

On Sunday, September 18th, almost 600 animal lovers joined together at the Cove at Concord Park in Knoxville, TN, to raise money to help end canine cancer. Over $48,000 was raised for this wonderful cause.


While all the teams were successful in helping a very worthy cause, the Top Team was the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine, with over $8000 raised.


Proceeds from the event will fund Morris Animal Foundation’s Canine Cancer Campaign, helping scientists worldwide prevent, treat, and ultimately cure cancer in dogs. Morris Animal Foundation believes that by working together, one day canine cancer can be cured.


Cancer continues to be the Number 1 cause of death in dogs over the age of 2. According to the National Cancer Institute, more than 6 million dogs will be diagnosed with cancer each year in the U.S. Cancer causes more than 25% of all canine deaths. As dogs age, their cancer risk increases: dogs over 10 years of age suffer a 50% cancer rate.


Lymphoma is one of the most common cancers in dogs. Boxers, Bassets Hounds, Fox Terriers, Cocker Spaniels, Scottish Terriers, Rottweilers, and Golden Retrievers are at an increased risk when compared with other breeds. Other common forms of cancer include mast cell tumors (a form of skin cancer), mammary gland tumors, or breast cancer, soft tissue sarcomas and bone cancer.


For more information on the Morris Animal Foundation Canine Cancer Campaign, visit 

Dr. Laura Bacon had a table at the walk to help spread the word about Lap of Love. Check it out!
Click here to see the results of the 2010 Walk in South Florida where Lap of Love's Dr. Mary Gardner raised the most money personally and her team 'Bark for a Cure' raised the most for a team- this will just inspire them to do even better at the 2012 walk in January!

Written by Dr. Laura Devlin Bacon

Dr. Laura lives in Knoxville Tennessee and assists families with in-home pet euthanasia around her area.  Click Here to read more about Dr. Laura

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Dogs with arthritis - Adequan - a great medication to ask your vet about!

Osteoarthritis, or degenerative joint disease, affects a large number of my older canine and feline patients. When addressing early arthritis for many of my patients, I often recommend a combination of weight management, omega-3 fatty acids, an excellent chondroitin/glucosamine supplement (my favorite is Dasuquin), and for some canine patients, a prescription diet such as Joint Management by Purina. For moderate or severe arthritis, in addition to the aforementioned treatments, I will also prescribe pain management medications as needed, and I often also recommend Adequan injections.

Adequan is a polysulfated glycoaminoglycan (GAG). It is a building block of cartilage. In addition, it has anti-inflammatory properties of its own that helps slow down the actual damage to the cartilage. Adequan, and other GAGs, also promote enzyme systems that help with joint repair, and also help the joints create more lubricating fluid.

When injected, Adequan is distributed to the joints.

Adequan is very safe and is well tolerated. It is given on a tapering dose, typically once a week for 4-6 weeks, then every other week for 4-8 treatments, then once every 3-4 weeks as needed. If a reduction in efficacy is noted, the frequency is increased. It can take several months to notice a positive response.

Adequan can be administered by your veterinarian. You can also be instructed how to administer the medication to your pet, which may reduce the overall cost of the treatment.

Adequan works well with glucosamine, non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs), and omega 3 fatty acids.

It should be used with caution in patients with kidney disease or clotting abnormalities. Rarely, diarrhea or injection site pain or inflammation can occur.

I have been pleased with Adequan for its ability to reduce pain and inflammation in a number of my canine and feline patients. While it hasn't worked for all patients, and does not seems as effective for arthritis of the hip and back, in general it seems to be a very effective treatment option for moderate to severe osteoarthritis.

More information about Adequan can be found here:

Written by:
Lap of Love Veterinary Hospice
Knoxville, Tennessee

Here are some other tips to help with an aging dog or cat that suffers from arthritis. Click here

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Dr. Michelle Bellville provides cat and dog euthanasia at home and expands the Orlando service area

Lap of Love expands the Orlando area coverage with the addition of Dr. Michelle Bellville.  Dr. Michelle was born and raised in Orlando and went to Cincinnati Bible College and Xavier University where she double majored in Bible and Helping Professions. Dr. Michelle then studied Zoology at the University of Florida where she also graduated from Veterinary school in 2009. 

Dr. Michelle has two litter-mate yorkie-poos, Tigger and Pooh Bear whom just turned 2 yrs old. As a true zoologist – she also has an exotic species - a blue tongue skink named Spike who is just shy of two months old. 

When she is not helping families care for their pets, she sings regularly at her church apart of their worship team, makes custom jewelry, bonsai’s, cooks and LOVES football!

Dr. Michelle says, “I believe our animals know when it is time and try very hard to let their owners know as well.”  Still, pet euthanasia is one of the hardest decisions a family has to make and the goal of all Lap of Love veterinarians is to help people evaluate the quality of life of their pet and guide owners in making the decision. 

Dr. Michelle joins Dr. Christine Ross in the Orlando area. Together they cover Orange, Osceola, Seminole Polk, and Lake Counties including Orlando, Kissimmee, St. Cloud, Poinciana, Windermere, Celebration, Clermont, Lakeland, Winter Park, Altamonte Springs, Oviedo, and surrounding areas.

Click here to learn more about Dr. Michelle and In Home Pet Euthanasia in the Orlando area.

Lap of Love Veterinary Hospice and In Home Euthanasia