Stream Valley Veterinary Hospital

42902 Waxpool Road
Ashburn, VA 20148-4525


FOOTNOTES Newsletter
Fall 2004

Cancer and your Pet

The "Big C" they call it; Cancer, but it should also stand for Courage. Many more of Stream Valley's families and their four-legged members have faced the diagnosis this past year. First, with fear and sadness; then determination, and finally the courage to go on with whatever time is left creating cherished memories.

With the elimination of infectious disease by vaccination, and a generally improved standard of living, cancer is now the number one cause of death in dogs, (second, in cats, to kidney disease). Unlike humans, dogs and cats lack the significant development of arteriosclerosis and associated cardiovascular disease that makes cancer the #2 cause of death for us. The overall cancer incidence in dogs is 381 per 100,000 each year, and in cats is 264 per 100,000 each year. These are comparable to rates in human beings. However, rates for certain tumor types like canine osteosarcoma, canine soft tissue sarcomas, and feline non-Hodgkin lymphoma are significantly higher than these same tumors in people.

While the cause of many cancers remains elusive, we know that some have genetic tendencies. For instance, bone tumors typically affect large breed dogs, lymphomas generally affect golden retrievers, and hemangiosarcoma usually affects golden retrievers and German shepherds). Some cancers have relatively preventable life style choices. For example, we all know that in humans smoking can lead to lung cancer and sunbathing can lead to skin cancer. Leaving your pet unspayed or neutered can lead to mammary (breast) cancer and prostate cancer.

A diagnosis of cancer used to be an “ending” for a lot of families and their pet. But today, the majority of tumors in companion animals are either controllable or curable, and worthy of treatment. Additionally, companion animals with spontaneous tumors are serving as excellent comparative models for the development of more effective and less toxic therapies for cancer in humans and veterinary patients.

Vague clinical signs are usually present with cancer, such as lethargy, inappetance, vomiting, and diarrhea. Cancers that attack certain organs will reveal signs specific for the affected organ. For example, liver cancers will sometimes cause jaundice (yellow tinged skin), and prostate cancers will cause straining to urinate and defecate. Diagnosis is difficult with cancers. Blood work is performed on senior pets yearly to screen for liver, kidney, and other organ disease. Disease of these organs causes increases in the amount of the enzymes for that particular organ in the blood. These elevated blood values are one way to detect disease or cancer, but usually by the time these changes are detected, the cancers are heavily invading the organ affected.

Imaging is an important diagnostic tool, far more important in certain instances than blood work. Radiographs (x-rays) are one way to diagnose and stage cancers. By performing views of the chest, metastatic (malignant) disease that has spread to the lungs can be detected. Many abdominal organ cancers (i.e. spleen cancers) can be detected with films as well.

Ultrasonography is also vital to a full diagnostic cancer plan. Ultrasound allows vision of the internal architecture, the outline, and the density of the body's organs. Even small differences can be detected, where radiographs may miss small discrepancies. This imaging tool becomes very important in addition to blood work. If increases in enzymes are seen in the blood, ultrasound is a very non-invasive way to determine if there is a cancer present.

Other imaging modalities are available, such as MRI (magnetic resonance imaging). MRI's offer information concerning brain and spinal cord cancers that other tools may not allow. It is also helpful in determining if certain tumors are able to be safely removed.

Treatment methods vary about as much as the types of cancers themselves. While different cancers respond only to one or two modalities, surgery remains the number one most effective treatment for most cases, followed by radiation therapy, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, and the newer "biological" based therapies. Often, more than one of these modalities can be applied in combination to enhance efficiency and decrease overall side effects. If treatments are applied together, individual drug toxicity can be reduced or perhaps the amount of surgery lessened by radiation therapy. In general, our pets tolerate the side effects of these treatments better than their human counterparts. They endure less hair loss, less nausea, and definitely less vanity! Also, pain management advanced that surgery and radiation is much less traumatic to our friends.

In 2005 Stream Valley adds to its state of the art equipment the GE Logic 5 ultrasound, making diagnosis of cancer and other internal disease possible in the capable hands of our newest doctor Crystal Taylor.

  1. Corey continues to provide chemotherapy for several of Stream Valley’s courageous cancer patients.

After the Loss

Grief is normal. The human - animal bond is extremely strong, Pets provide us unconditional love and non-judgmental friendships. They can be a first companion in our adult independent life, a first "child" within a new marriage, a cure for empty nests, a great comfort, a source of joy and a purpose in our golden years.

The loss of a companion pet can be devastating and grief responses in general differ from one person to another. For example, some physical signs might be crying, wailing, shock, shortness of breath, nausea and sleep disturbance. The intellectual signs can be denial, confusion, hallucinations and suicidal thoughts. Emotional signs are sadness, anger, depression, guilt, etc. Social signs include withdrawal, over working, etc. Spiritual signs might involve bargaining with God, feeling angry with God, and reviewing beliefs. All of these signs are normal. Only when these feelings or behaviors do not pass and/or substantially interfere with our ability to continue the normal functions of everyday lifeare they unhealthy. When grief is overwhelming, you can find help and answers from a variety of sources including the following:

  1. visit for more information.

Rainbow Bridge

Just this side of heaven is a place called Rainbow Bridge.

When an animal dies that has been especially close to someone here, that pet goes to Rainbow Bridge. There are meadows and hills for all of our special friends so they can run and play together. There is plenty of food, water and sunshine, and our friends are warm and comfortable.

All the animals who had been ill and old are restored to health and vigor. Those who were hurt or maimed are made whole and strong again, just as we remember them in our dreams of days and times gone by. The animals are happy and content, except for one small thing; they miss someone very special to them, who had to be left behind.

They all run and play together, but the day comes when one suddenly stops and looks into the distance, his bright eyes are intent. His eager body quivers. Suddenly he begins to run from the group, flying over the green grass, his legs carrying him faster and faster.

You have been spotted, and when you and your special friend meet, you cling together in joyous reunion, never to be parted again. The happy kisses rain upon your face;  your hands again caress the beloved head, and you look once more into the trusting eyes of your pet, so long gone from your life but never absent from your heart.

Then you cross Rainbow Bridge together…

In memory of:

Booly, Tipsy, Cashous, Xavier, Buckeye, Daisy, Maddy, Vodka, Cinders, Molly, Tanner, Paisley, Petey & Shay

With hugs and wishes of strength to the families of:

Ashley, Blaze, Maggie, Spunky

And so many more.

On a Happier Note

Doctor Hanh Chau is expecting her second child, another Boy!! She will step out of her part time position at Stream Valley Veterinary Hospital at the end of October and then we hope return in late winter.

Best Wishes
Hanh & Aaron

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