Cancer in Pets 101

Encina Veterinary Hospital’s board certified veterinary oncologist, Dr. Stephen Atwater, has taken some time to answer some questions that many pet owners may have regarding cancer in their pets.

Why did you decide to specialize in oncology and how rewarding is it to you?
I had the opportunity to be part of a world renowned oncology program at Colorado State University. It was such an honor to be a part of that program which has helped to develop treatments for cancer in people. Practicing veterinary oncology is extremely rewarding. I get the opportunity to work with very dedicated owners to help extend their pet’s lives providing owners and their pets additional good quality time together.

What are some common options for treatment when a pet is diagnosed with cancer (including holistic/diet)?
The common types of treatments of cancer in animals include surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
Holistic treatments exist as well, but are largely unproven in their benefit. Diet recommendations include feeding a high fat, good quality protein, low carbohydrate diet. Supplementing diets with omega 3 fatty acids and amino acids such as glutamine and arginine are also recommended. Although in theory this is advised, the true beneficial effects of diet are uncertain.

What are some types of cancers you commonly see and treat?
The most common tumors that I see and treat include lymphoma, mast cell tumors, hemangiosarcomas, bone cancer and soft tissue sarcomas.

How is cancer typically treated at Encina Veterinary Hospital?
Surgery, chemotherapy and radiation are the most common treatments for cancer in pets.

Are the chemotherapy drugs used on pets the same as the ones used on humans?
Most of the drugs used to treat cancer in animals are the same drugs that are used to treat cancer in people.

When a human undergoes chemotherapy, they seem to suffer a lot (nausea, lethargic, etc); do our pets suffer this same way when they undergo treatments?
Animals that receive chemotherapy typically tolerate the treatments well. In veterinary medicine, we appreciate that owner’s primary goal in treating their pets is to maintain a good quality of life. If that was not the case, most owners in their right mind would elect to discontinue treatment. As a result, doses of chemotherapy in dogs and cats are designed such that most animals will tolerate the treatment without significant side effects. If side effects do occur, we are quick to address them with medication to control the signs and potential adjustments with future doses to avoid additional side effects.

Can a pet ever be cured of cancer?
There are many types of cancers in animals. Some forms of cancer in animals can be cured with treatment. This is particularly the case with tumors that develop as localized forms of cancer such as soft tissue sarcomas. Many types of cancers that are localized can be cured with wide surgical excision.

Like humans, pets have remission periods. How long do these periods typically last in pets?
Some animals have cancers that are very resistant to treatment and the animal never goes into remission. Others can be cured of their cancer and are in remission for the rest of their lives. Based on the type of cancer and extent of the disease, remission times can vary greatly. It is based on this information that a prognosis can often be provided to owners on what the expectations for their pet is with respect to the likelihood of a response to treatment and for how long.

Does Encina Veterinary Hospital offer clinical trials of cancer treatments?
We do not do clinical trials very often at Encina Veterinary Hospital, but have done some in the past.

Tell us a brief success/happy story of a patient of yours who stands out in your memory.
Maggie is a Shih Tzu that was diagnosed with lymphoma and was treated with a course of chemotherapy. She relapsed about a year after she completed her first treatment and received another course of the same treatment. She never had recurrence of her cancer after the second round of chemotherapy and survived over 10 years from diagnosis of her lymphoma and had to be put down due to non-cancer related causes.

If you would like to schedule an appointment with Encina Veterinary Hospital/East Bay Veterinary Specialists and Emergency’s Board Certified Veterinary Oncologist, Dr. Stephen Atwater, please give us a call at: (925) 937-5000