Two weeks and a day

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Tuesday marked two weeks since Rio’s amputation.  I didn’t really have any real updates on her yet, as we are still waiting on the c-KIT findings and we haven’t started chemo yet.  We should have the test results any day now…   I’ve just been doing a lot of thinking and was just feeling a need to vent:

I wish that my vets (both my regular vet and my oncologist) had given me a little more reason for concern about Rio’s initial MCTs.  This cancer is so common (especially among certain breeds) and has one of the best overall prognoses, I think the veterinary community kind of pooh-poohs it when it comes to diagnosing and treating it.  While Mast Cell cancer is by no means as aggressive as osteosarcoma or histiocytic sarcoma, it is incredibly common among dogs — 20% of canine skin tumors are Mast Cell Tumors!  And of them, half will need more than just surgery to survive the disease.  But I think, because it’s got a pretty good prognosis (i.e., of the dogs who have a Grade I or II Mast Cell tumors, 90-95% will be alive after three years with radiation treatment), vets have a tendency treat it more passively than they would one of the more aggressive cancers.

The sad fact is, overall, dogs have a much higher risk for getting cancer than we do.  According to one website I found, “dogs have 35 times as much skin cancer as humans, 4 times as many breast tumors, 8 times as much bone cancer, and twice as high and incidence of leukemia.”*

I’ve had 5 dogs in my adult life, and have yet to have a veterinarian discuss the topic of canine cancer with me proactively.  As people, our doctors screen for genetic factors, we are tested annually for evidence of disease, we talk to our physicians ad infinitum about how to mitigate our risk factors, but we never have these conversations with our veterinary partners until after the fact.  When we find a lump or a bone shatters without warning, and we get the test results that turn our insides out, only THEN do we have the conversation — only it’s too late at this point to do anything at all to prevent this insidious disease.

Every time we turn around, there’s another tip or trick to reduce our risks for environmental factors and hereditary diseases, but aside from vaccines and diet, has anyone ever had the vet tell you there are ways to do this for your dog(s)?  If so, hang on to that doctor!  In 15 years of being a pet parent, I’ve not had this topic approached by a member of the veterinary community, and it seems like maybe it that would be an excellent topic of conversation.

So now, I’m making it my “mission” (and perhaps all of us should) to tell the parents of our 4-legged friends how prevalent canine cancer is.  Tell them to talk to their vet about the risk factors for their particular breeds.  Our vets should be incorporating the “C word” into their annual exams the way people doctors do.  Maybe, if we start a dialog about canine cancer, we will gain access to better information allowing us to provide the highest level of preventative and palliative care for our furry friends.


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3 thoughts on “Two weeks and a day

  1. Our vet kinda-sorta mentioned this in a round-about way several years ago, but only maybe-iffy. The topic of “how dogs die” came up, as our first dog was getting older. I mentioned that I hoped she lived a long life and died peacefully in her sleep one night. He told me how wonderful that would be, but that the reality was more likely that she would develop a cancer and we would end up forcing the end of her life after treatment for said cancer. (He said the second most likely scenario was kidney failure.)

    There was no mention of what we could do or should have already done to keep this from happening. He only stated it like there was nothing that could be done to prevent cancer, that it was like a lottery or something.

    She did, in fact, develop a soft tissue sarcoma on her shoulder, but it was removed by a rather radical surgery and she lived about another 6 years and died at the age of 15 1/2 (unfortunately, not in her sleep as I’d wanted, but from neither cancer nor kidney failure). I have never lost a dog to cancer (yet), but neither have I had one go to sleep and never wake up. We’ve had 5 dogs, and Dakota is our second to have cancer. Our youngest dog is 2, so we shall see…


    • 15 1/2 years is awesome! We lost our first dog when she was 8 (kidney failure — she’d been on Rimadyl for several years for arthritis pain and I think this was a contributing factor) and the second when she was 9 1/2 (unknown causes — we were in England, and her “sitter” found her dead in her bed). Rio is our long term survivor, and she’s not quite 11.

      Because canine cancers are so prevalent, and often times specific to certain breeds, I guess I just don’t understand why we as pet parents aren’t counseled to look more diligently for symptoms and advised as to preventative diets, nutritional supplements, etc. It seems to me that this should be as critical to their care as vaccinations and annual exams.

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