Tuesday, March 8, 2016

When does your dog need a cancer specialist?

Sinead the Boston terrier in the sunlight
Sinead the Boston terrier has a truly wonderful general-practice veterinarian. I trust him to guide her health, and he's done so ever since she was just a 6-month-old puppy. But she needs outside help. And it doesn't mean I don't trust my own vet.

Earlier this month, Sinead was diagnosed with a mast cell tumor. She had that tumor surgically removed, and her tumor report was filled with mostly good news. But she still has cancer.

When your dog has been diagnosed with cancer (and the National Canine Cancer Foundation says that dogs get cancer as often as humans do), it's reasonable to get help when your own veterinarian has run out of options. If Sinead's tumor couldn't be removed with surgery, it would make sense to head to a specialist for specialized care she couldn't get in a regular clinic.

But I'll argue that it also makes sense to head to a specialist when the news is good, but it's still about cancer. When that happens, you're usually filled with questions.

For example: Mast cell tumors arise from tissues that play a role in the immune system. Since Sinead's system is clearly reactionary, should she have vaccines in the future? Or should we skip all vaccines and give her system a break?

Next: Sinead's tumor was pulled out with clean margins. That means there were no tumor bits at the edge of the tissue they removed from her head. But, there's still a chance that the tumor will come back. If it does, where should I go in order to get help?

Sinead the sunbathing Boston terrier

Veterinary oncologists devote their careers to the understanding of cancer cells. They live and breathe this stuff, and that means they're on the cutting edge of research. They might know new things a regular veterinarian just wouldn't know, and they might have innovative approaches to cancer recurrence that a regular veterinarian just doesn't know about.

A simple consultation appointment allows you to ask all of the questions you might have about the cancers your dog has now, and the risk of future cancers. You could walk away from that appointment with a plan of action you could share with your veterinarian at home, and that could keep your dog alive for longer.

So today, Sinead heads over to see a veterinary oncologist in Portland. And I'll be sure to report back on what we've found and what the plan of action entails.

But know this: If your dog has cancer, I think you should head to a specialist for help. You might get answers you just can't find elsewhere—including on blogs like this. If I can push just one person to make an appointment, I'll consider that a job well done.

Wish us luck at our appointment!


  1. I think it is a very wise decision to see a specialist. I'd be interested to know what you find out, especially what they say about vaccines. Good luck, I hope it goes well!

    1. Thanks for the wishes! I'm planning to write up notes from my visit early next week. I learned so much!

  2. Keeping Sinead in our thoughts. Sounds like she has some wonderful options. We lost our lab in 2014 at age 13yrs 7months to cancer. It is never easy, but we do the best we can. I hope your baby has many more great and healthy years ahead.

    1. Oh, I'm sorry to hear about your lab. It really is never easy.