Does my pet have cancer?

Breast cancer has been one of the hottest topics drawing people's attention and awareness in the last few years. 

There are numerous fundraising campaigns to raise money for improving and further developing research on breast cancer diagnosis, treatment, and prevention.

Women are not the only target of this nasty cancer

Pets very often suffer from this type of cancer as well. According to veterinary literature, breast cancer in bitches is three times more common than in women.

The exact mechanism and cause of mammary cancer is still unknown, however it is known that the female hormones, estrogen and progesterone, play a role in its development. 

Mammary cancer types and biologic behaviour differ between dogs and cats

Mammary tumours in dogs are most frequent in intact bitches, and extremely rare in male dogs. 

Due to the cancer relation to hormones, it is very important that new dog owners be aware that they can be proactive and most likely prevent the cancer occurrence in their bitch just by spaying her at an early age.

Spaying the bitch before the first estrus cycle reduces the risk of mammary neoplasia to 0.5% of the risk in intact bitches, which is a very low risk. 

If the procedure is done after one estrus cycle, it reduces the risk to 8% of that in intact bitches. Bitches spayed after maturity (having had two or more estrus cycles) are generally considered to have the same risk as intact bitches. Spaying the dog at maturity still carries other medical benefits, but unfortunately does not prevent mammary cancer.

In cats it is a bit of a different story. Early spaying, before the first menstrual cycle, does reduce the chances for mammary cancer development but the degree of protection is less precisely documented than that for dogs.

Only 45-50% of mammary tumours are cancerous in dogs. In cats, however, about 90% of mammary tumours are cancerous.

A mammary tumour is usually suspected on detection of a mass during physical examination

Grossly, the tumours appear as single or multiple nodules in one or more glands. The tumour appearance is usually lobulated, grey-tan in colour, firm to the touch, and often with fluid-filled cysts.

Once the tumour has been found, a pathological examination is required to characterize its nature. This is done by sampling the tissue either by fine needle aspiration, an easy procedure that is usually done within several minutes and commonly does not require sedation/anesthesia. 

Fine needle aspiration cannot always guarantee reliable results, though. A more accurate method is by acquiring a true sample of the tumour tissue, done by a surgical procedure that requires anesthesia. 

Once the tumour is diagnosed as cancerous, other tests such as lymph nodes sampling and chest x rays are recommended to assess the tumour spread. 

The primary treatment for any mammary tumour is surgical

The surgical options include the removal of the tumour only (lumpectomy), removal of the affected mammary gland (mastectomy), or removal of the entire mammary chain (radical mastectomy). Chemotherapy is also available, but is not always successful in helping to prolong the pet’s life. 

The earlier the tumour is found and diagnosed, the better the chances for treatment and spread prevention. If you suspect a mammary tumour in your pet, take it to be checked by your vet ASAP. 

Do your part

If you’ve just adopted a kitten or puppy, and you are not interested in breeding it, don’t delay the spaying. Beyond spaying, keeping your pet fit and on a healthy diet play a role in mammary tumour prevention. 

It has been demonstrated that consumption of red meat, obesity at one year of age, and obesity a year prior to the tumour diagnosis are associated with an increased risk of mammary gland tumours in both intact or spayed dogs. 

You can be proactive in helping with the prevention of mammary tumours in your pet. Talk to your veterinarian to get more information on mammary tumours and their management.  

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Tick-ing time bomb

Spring has barely sprung, and already I’ve been noticing its impact while treating pets with medical conditions typical this time of year. 

The weather is warming up, and all sorts of creatures that remain dormant in winter reappear. Among those are ticks. 

Probably the most dramatic type of case I get in this season is related to ticks, and is called tick paralysis. 

Whoever has experienced this with their pet will never forget the event. It is very dramatic. Typically the animal seems completely normal (the owners usually don’t notice minor early changes in the animal), then suddenly it appears severely weak, or even completely paralyzed.  

The disease is caused by a toxin that affects the animal nerve system. The toxin is found in the tick’s salivary gland, and is transmitted to the animal bloodstream once the ticks bite the animal to feed off it. 

The toxin causes symptoms within two to seven days after being introduced into the animal’s body. Early signs may include change or loss of voice, vomiting, and dilatation of the pupils.

It then progresses gradually by affecting the back legs, causing weakness and incoordination, which shortly turns into complete paralysis. Eventually the animal becomes unable to move its back legs and front legs, and cannot stand, sit, or lift its head. 

The paralysis also affects the respiratory system, which leads to laboured breathing, and eventually, if not treated, respiratory failure and even death within hours.

The only diagnostic approach for this condition, aside from the lack of other findings from tests, is clinical presentation and/or finding a tick on the animal.

The treatment of tick paralysis consists of removing the tick from the animal’s body. Finding a tick on some patients, especially the large and super hairy dogs, can be very challenging, so often the tick cannot be found.  

Removal of all ticks usually results in obvious improvement within 24 hours. Failure to recover indicates that at least one tick may be still be attached, or that the diagnosis should be reviewed.

To ensure the tick’s removal from the body, I apply a tick-control product. I often find the definitive diagnosis to my patient’s condition is simply the recovery of a tick or ticks after the application of the tick-control product.

Fortunately, this condition is easy to avoid by using a broad spectrum tick-control product. There are a few different products available on the market, but the most suitable product will be fitted to your pet by your veterinarian. He will take into consideration the animal’s health and your lifestyle (for example, a tendency to walk in the bushes, which increases the animal’s exposure to ticks).

It is important to choose a safe product designed to the specific type of animal, one that is also compatible with other medications or preventative products that your pet may be receiving.

Consulting your veterinarian about the best preventative products available for the seasonal hazards upon us is highly recommended as a way to protect your furry friend’s well-being.

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Deadly obstruction

Late one night when I was getting ready to crawl into bed after a busy day at the hospital, I received a phone call from the panicked owners of a dog called Rascal. He had been given a rawhide bone, which he had happily chewed until suddenly he appeared to be choking. 

I rushed to the hospital where I met Rascal and his owners. He is a small dog, and the seemingly small bone was causing him great distress. 

An x-ray exam soon revealed that Rascal had swallowed a significant part of the bone (5 cm), which has lodged in his esophagus on its way to the stomach. His stomach was severely distended, and full of air swallowed on his frantic attempts to breath and cough out the bone. 

The condition required an immediate intervention. 

Rascal was put under anesthesia, which allowed us to use a special tube to push the bone into his stomach. The stomach is easier to access by surgery, and has less complications, by comparison to the esophagus. 
It turned to be a late date night for my wife and me there in the surgery room, operating and monitoring that rascal Rascal. 

He had his stomach cut open to relieve the tension and distention, and there we found two more pieces of rawhide bone. They were, of course, removed. He was saved by his very attentive owners who had rushed him to the hospital right away.

Gastrointestinal obstruction is quite a common incident seen in the veterinary world.

Dogs and cats, especially the young ones, are naturally curious and playful, hence the inclination to chew and swallow various objects. A foreign object may lodge in any part of the gastrointestinal system, in the esophagus, stomach, or intestine. 

Dogs have been known to swallow bones, balls, corn cobs, toys, sticks, stones, pins, needles, wood splinters, cloth, rawhide, leather, strings, fruit pits, and other objects. The most common foreign body found in cats is string. 

Any household object your pet chews can become a foreign body problem. Although some smaller objects can get through the gut without becoming stuck, the larger pieces can result in serious gastrointestinal complications. 

The presence of a foreign body can lead not only to partial or complete obstruction, but also to a tear of the gastrointestinal tract. Some foreign objects ingested, such as coins and batteries, can lead to intoxication.

Partial obstruction allows limited passage of fluids and gas through the gastrointestinal tract, whereas complete obstruction does not allow any passage. A complete obstruction is a very severe condition, usually with a rapid progressio. It poses potential severe consequences, if not treated right away. 

Gastrointestinal blockage can lead to impairment of blood flow, and often to permanent damage to the area of the blockage, infection due to bacterial overgrowth, and severe dehydration.

The clinical presentation of foreign bodies depends on the location of the object, and whether the object is causing a partial or complete obstruction.

The most common symptom associated with gastrointestinal foreign body is vomiting. In a complete obstruction, the vomiting will be profound, and will frequently be accompanied by lethargy, loss of appetite, and depression. 

A pet with an untreated case of complete obstruction will probably die within just a few days.

In a partial obstruction, the symptoms will be less severe, and will be intermittent. The animal will lose weight, but as long as it keeps drinking, it may live for 3 to 4 weeks.

Foreign bodies are usually diagnosed by imaging. Some objects can be seen on a plain x-ray. In other case, the object itself cannot be seen, but the shape of the intestine reveals a typical pattern that highly suggests the presence of a foreign body. 

Sometimes a contrast x-ray is required. In this type of test, the animal is fed a special dyeing material that helps determine whether there is an obstruction, and, if so, its nature. Certain foreign bodies can be diagnosed by ultrasound, or an endoscopic exam.

Once a diagnosis of foreign body is established, the treatment depends on the location of the object and the pet’s medical condition. If the pet’s condition allows it, the vet will repeat the x-rays to assess whether the object is moving, and can pass on its own. 

In many cases, a surgical intervention is required. In simple cases, the surgery involves only removing the object. In more complicated cases, where the blockage has caused permanent damage, the surgery is more involved and may include a partial removal of the damaged intestinal segment.

Besides removing the object, most animals require hospitalization with intravenous supply of fluids until they get back on tract and are able to drink and eat on their own. The treatment usually involves medication such as antibiotics and electrolytes supplementation.

Prevention is very important, and may spare your animal from suffering a very painful and potentially life-threatening condition. 

It is important to pet proof your house. Keep any objects that your pet might ingest out of reach. Make sure that the toys you give to your pets are large enough that they cannot be swallowed, and that they are good quality and not easily broken into pieces. Your vet can guide you which toys and treats are ideal for your pet.

Some dogs tend to chew on objects more than others, and I would keep toys away from such dogs. Better to be safe than sorry. 

It is very important to make sure your pet does not have access to garbage and garbage bins. 

Some dogs have an extreme tendency to chew on things they find when they are walked outdoors. If that is the case with your dog, and you feel that you are having difficulty controlling the situation, consider a muzzle.

If your pet shows any of the symptoms mentioned, especially choking or severe or intermittent vomiting, take it at once to be seen by your vet.

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Feline urinary tract disease

Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease

If you share your life with a cat, you should be aware of a syndrome called Feline lower urinary tract disease (aka FLUTD). 

This term refers to a number of abnormalities in the urinary tract, including bladder infections and formation of crystals/stones. In severe cases, an obstruction of the urethra can occur, preventing the excretion of urine from the body. This condition is a true emergency situation that is fatal if left untreated.

The most common urinary disease in cats is a bladder infection of an unknown cause. In these cases, an inflammation is recognized but it is impossible to detect the specific cause for it. Often the cause for the chronic inflammation is the formation of urinary crystals, or stones, which are a rock-hard collection of minerals deriving from the food. 

A few factors promote the formation of urinary crystals and stones, the most significant being the urine PH and amount of magnesium in the cat’s diet.

Besides the diet and the urine PH, other factors promote urinary problems in cats such as obesity, dehydration, and bacterial infections. 

The condition is most common among cats aged two to five years old.

Cats are very finicky about their litter box. If the litter box is not clean, the cat may be reluctant to use it, and the prolonged urinary retention will make the cat prone to developing urinary issues.  

People who experienced urinary tract infection know how irritating and uncomfortable it makes one feel. Your cat can show you its distress by signs such as frequent urination, voiding small amount of urine in each urination, presence of blood in the urine, difficulty to urinate exhibited by prolonged squatting and straining, accompanied by pain and excessive licking of the genital area. Urination outside of the litter box is also a common sign that something is wrong. 

The most serious problem associated with urinary function is urethral obstruction. The obstruction is usually formed by small urinary stones that are too small to stay in the bladder but too large to pass in the urine. Another common cause is urinary plugs, formed by minerals, cells and mucus. 

Regardless of the specific cause, the severity of the condition is the inability to pass urine to eliminate the waste toxic substances and imbalance of the body’s electrolytes, which can lethally affect the heart. If the obstruction is not relieved, the cat will eventually lose consciousness and die within 24 to 48 hours from the time of the obstruction.

Male cats are more prone to develop urethral obstruction than females due to their long and narrow urethra. Statistics show that neutered males are at even greater risk of developing the condition.

A blocked cat will show the same signs of FLUTD- frequent attempts to urinate, straining and pain. However, as time passes, an obstructed cat typically becomes much more distressed, they cry in pain, they are very restless, and very sensitive to touch in their abdomen. These kind of symptoms should make you rush into your vet’s office as soon as possible. 

The treatment of urethral obstruction is unblockage of the urethra by inserting a urinary catheter. This procedure is done under anesthesia or deep sedation. The treatment may also involves other aspects of support such as IV fluids and electrolytes supplementation, depending on the cat’s state. This condition usually requires hospitalization until the cat is stabilized and able to urinate on its own. 

Unfortunately this condition tends to reoccur. Owners of cats who experienced it before should monitor their cats closely for early identification of the next episode. 

Diagnosing the reason for the blockage can assist in helping reducing the chance of recurrence. 

In case of urinary crystals or stones, a special diet is available that helps to regulate the urine PH.

Often the removal of urinary stones has to be done surgically. In some cases, a special diet can be prescribed in order to shrink down and eliminate the stones.

Other things you can do to hopefully prevent the condition: 

  • Provide clean, fresh water at all times. 
  • Encourage your cat to drink by letting it drink from running water in the sink or by using a water fountain. 
  • Make sure the litter box is inviting by cleaning it frequently and keeping it in a quiet place. 

Urinary issues in cats are often diagnosed as incidental finding in performance of other medical procedures. A routine urinary test may help you detect a problem in an early stage and spare grief for both you and you cat. Consult your veterinarian about more information on urinary tract health in cats.

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About the Author

Dr. Moshe Oz owns Rose Valley Veterinary Hospital, a small animal veterinary practice in West Kelowna.

Dr. Oz has deep love and affection for animals. It was his childhood dream to become a veterinarian, a dream that he has fulfilled when he graduated with honours from KUVM,on 2006. Dr. Oz's special interest is internal medicine and surgery.

In his free time Dr. Oz enjoys training and racing triathlons, including the legendary Penticton's Ironman.

Dr. Oz can be contacted through his website: www.KelownaVet.ca

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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