Q: Our old sheltie was just diagnosed with an untreatable cancer. We keep thinking there’s something we should have done to have found it sooner. Maybe then we would have been able to do something about it. Do you have any recommendations for how we could have been more proactive?
A: I’m sorry to hear about your diagnosis. But you’re right to focus on the future. Even if an outright cure isn’t possible, finding things early on can mean more precious time with loved ones. To that end, here are seven steps to early cancer detection in pets:
▪ Routine physical examination: Annual physical examination is important for all pets, and semi-annual screening is crucial for all geriatric patients. It’s when we find most visible cancers. Skip this step at your pet’s peril.
▪ Routine blood work: Apart from some blood cancers, which can cause abnormal levels of certain white blood cells (detectable in a CBC), a high calcium level (in a blood chemistry screen) can also point to certain types of cancers. Severe anemias can also indirectly lead to cancer diagnoses, as can elevated liver enzymes, for example. As with physical exams, annual blood testing is important for all pets and semi-annual screening is crucial for all geriatric patients.
▪ Routine dentistry: When we perform routine dental cleanings, the anesthesia allows us to perform a complete oral examination, including under the tongue and way in the back where there’s almost no way see things without the access afforded by anesthesia.
▪ At home checks: There’s no reason why you shouldn’t be checking your pet on a regular basis for any sign of lumps, bumps or other lesions. Check them out at least once a month.
▪ Check superficial masses: Any mass larger than a pea should be aspirated (probed with a needle to identify any unusual cells it may contain).
▪ Chest X-rays: All geriatric pets should have chest X-rays performed anytime they experience an abnormal respiratory pattern, including a cough, excessive panting or any other change in their respiratory rate or effort.
▪ Abdominal ultrasound: I’m a fan of regular abdominal ultrasounds for older pets. I know it’s expensive, but if you can afford it, this method can help visualize abnormalities other tests absolutely can’t.
These are all great ideas, but none are guaranteed to lead to a curable outcome if cancer is ultimately identified. It is, however, the best you can do.
Dr. Patty Khuly has a veterinary practice at Sunset Animal Clinic in South Miami. Her website is drpattykhuly.com. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org....Read more