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What Does a Dog Oncologist Do?

Have you ever heard of a dog oncologist? Has your veterinarian recommended you take your dog to one of these specialists? Are you considering looking one up on your own?

If you find yourself wondering about what dog oncologists do and how they might be able to help your dog, you’re in the right place. In this article, we’ll explore the basic information you need to know so you can better understand the way oncology works for dogs. Read through this information and see if you have any further questions for your vet or specialist after that. If you do, call AVIM in Annapolis at (410) 224-0121, Columbia at (410) 441-3304 or Towson at (410) 828-0911.

dog oncologist in towson, annapolis and columbia, md

Training and Experience

Veterinary oncologists have had a lot of education. They usually go to school first to become a veterinarian and then for an additional four years to learn about veterinary oncology.

Additionally, a veterinary oncologist has written and published papers and studies on the topic, proving that they know the subject matter and are prepared to work with patients in this important field.

Finally, veterinary oncologists must also pass a very difficult exam to gain their license in this field. The exam proves that they understand the complicated knowledge required to perform their job correctly and make the right decisions for each pet patient they see.

Check for the acronym DACVIM after the name of a vet to see if they have passed this exam. This acronym means the vet is board certified in veterinary oncology and is a great choice for you to work with.

Basic Tasks

Diagnosis of Cancer

Veterinary oncologists utilize a variety of tests and medical technology to diagnose pets with cancer. They can tell what type of cancer your pet might have, how advanced it is, and how treatable it is, among other features.

Treatment of Cancer

If your veterinary oncologist believes your pet’s cancer may be treatable, they will help you choose the best plan of action for your pet’s health moving forward. They can provide a variety of treatment methods, including chemotherapy, for pets who are diagnosed with cancer.

Management of Cancer

If your pet’s cancer is untreatable, but you choose not to euthanize your pet at this stage, the oncologist will help you figure out the best way to manage your pet’s health throughout the rest of her life. This may include pain medication and other comfort measures.

Specific Tasks

One-Time Diagnostic Tests

Veterinary oncologists strive to ensure that your pet doesn’t have to undergo the same diagnostic test over and over again.

Educating Pet Owners About Treatments and Management Options

Veterinary oncologists spend a lot of time talking to pet owners and helping them understand the diagnosis, management, and treatment for their individual pets. They are ready to answer questions and help you learn.

Administration of Treatments

Veterinary oncologists and their staff work to administer the type of treatment you choose for your pet. These treatments may occur as often as weekly for some pets.

Follow-Up on Treatments

Your veterinary oncologist will follow up with you and your pet immediately after the treatments are administered as well as a couple of days after in most cases.

Frequent Monitoring

Your pet will need to go to the oncologist frequently for monitoring of their condition. The oncologist will notice if something has changed for better or worse in your pet’s health situation.

Monitoring During Remission

If your pet’s cancer is treated and your pet goes into remission, the veterinary oncologist will continue monitoring your pet at regular checkups to ensure the cancer does not return in the future.

Purpose for Your Pet

Veterinary oncologists help your pet get the treatment or management required to deal with cancer. Cancer in pets is very serious, just like it is in humans, and it’s important to work with a professional if you plan to help your pet fight this diagnosis.

Veterinary oncologists also help pets receive the management they need to deal with pain, nausea, and other symptoms that come with both cancer and cancer treatments. By working with a professional specialist like a veterinary oncologist, you can easily have your pet’s medication or treatment adjusted as needed to meet her needs throughout the disease progression.

Additionally, veterinary oncologists can help you understand just how likely any treatment is to work for your pet’s cancer. They will be honest and open with you and let you know if the treatment options are worth trying or may not be able to do anything for your pet. These specialists are trained to recognize the potential of cancer treatments but also to recognize times when treatments won’t work. They can then deliver this information to you in a compassionate way, making it easier for you to make the right decision for your pet.

Making the Decision

Note that taking your pet to a veterinary oncologist for a consultation does not mean you are automatically committing to cancer treatments. It just means you’re looking for more information or a second opinion. The veterinary oncologist can give you all the information you need and answer every question you have as you work to make the right decision for your pet.

If you choose not to proceed with treatment, the veterinary oncologist can then help you determine the right management solutions for your pet through the rest of her life. They can also provide information that may help you choose when euthanasia is the right decision.

Now that you’ve had a chance to learn more about what dog oncologists do, you can figure out whether or not you think this is the best solution for your dog. Working with a specialist like an oncologist is never an easy choice when it comes to pets, but it can sometimes be the right decision for your furry friend.

You can always talk with your dog’s regular vet if you have any questions, concerns, or reservations about the process. By working with a trusted vet, you can provide the best possible care for your dog and make the right choices about their health, too.

Symptoms of Addison’s Disease in Dogs

Have you heard of Addison’s disease? Did you know it can affect dogs, as well as humans? Do you want to find out more about the symptoms and signs of this condition to determine whether or not it might be affecting your dog?

In the article below, you’ll find a list of symptoms that are commonly associated with Addison’s disease in dogs. You can use this list to narrow down the possibilities for your own dog, then speak to your veterinarian for more information about your pet’s specific diagnosis.

addison's disease in dogs

What is Addison’s disease?

Addison’s disease causes the adrenal glands in a dog’s body to stop functioning the way they’re supposed to. When this happens, the glands don’t produce the hormones they should, which in turn affects the whole body, including the dog’s stress response and electrolyte balance.

Sometimes this condition is caused by damage to the adrenal gland related to injury, tumors, medication, or diseases. However, there are many situations in which the dog’s adrenal gland doesn’t function properly due to immune-mediated disease.

Breed Predisposition

Dogs can and often do develop this condition no matter what their breed. Mixed breed dogs can also contract Addison’s disease, and the problem is not specific only to certain breeds or breed mixes. However, there are some breeds that are more commonly affected by Addison’s than others.

Breeds commonly affected include standard poodles, bearded collies, great Danes, Portuguese water dogs, and soft coated wheaten terriers. Additionally, this condition is slightly more common in female dogs than males.

Symptoms

  • Mood Changes
    • In the early stages of Addison’s disease, dogs may develop depression or become lethargic. They are unwilling to get up and play like they might have once been, and they are less interested in spending time with the family or doing their favorite activities.
  • Appetite Changes and Digestive Trouble
    • Dogs can lose their appetites and may lose weight as a result of this decreased appetite.
    • The condition frequently causes diarrhea (which is sometimes bloody as well) and vomiting.
  • Dehydration and Related Symptoms
    • Vomiting and diarrhea quickly lead to dehydration in dogs. Dehydration is very dangerous and can lead to death in just a few days if left untreated.
    • Along with dehydration, dogs with Addison’s disease may experience an increase in thirst and urination.
  • Abnormally Low Heart Rate and Weak Pulses
    • As the disease progresses into its later stages, dogs may develop a low heart rate due to an abnormality in the body’s electrolytes and weak pulses due to dehydration and dangerously low blood pressure.
  • Pain
    • Dogs with Addison may have abdominal pain.
  • Weakness and Collapse
  • Dogs experiencing advanced symptoms of Addison’s disease are very ill, may exhibit weakness or collapse, and will die if not treated promptly.

Know the Facts

There are many symptoms associated with Addison’s in dogs that are similar to other conditions and illnesses. Just because your dog has one or two of these symptoms doesn’t necessarily mean they have Addison’s disease. However, it could mean that they need to be checked out for the possibility.

You should always talk with your vet if you have any questions or concerns about your pet’s health and wellbeing. Your vet knows your individual dog’s specific needs, requirements, and health history and can provide guidance regarding testing, if indicated.

Oral Melanomas in Dogs

Oral melanoma is the most common oral tumor in the dog accounting for 30-40% of all canine oral tumors. Most patients are presented to their veterinarian for several reasons that can include: a mass seen in the mouth, dropping food, pain, foul breath, blood-tinged saliva, blood-stained toys or food, facial swelling and decrease in appetite/weight loss. If any of these signs or symptoms are seen, the first step is bringing your pet to your veterinarian in Towson, Columbia or Annapolis for evaluation.

oral melanomas in dogs in towson, columbia and annapolis, md

Breeds with a higher risk of developing oral tumors include the Cocker spaniel, German shepherd, German shorthaired pointer, Golden retriever, Gordon setter, Miniature poodle, Chow chow and Boxer. Most melanomas are diagnosed in older dogs with the average age being 11 years of age.

Oral melanoma is an aggressive cancer that can metastasize (spread) in up to 80% of cases to the regional lymph nodes and lungs. These tumors are often pigmented, but there are some tumors that lack pigment (amelanotic). Due to the high metastatic potential, staging tests are recommended prior to definitive therapy since these tests can affect the patient’s outcome to treatment.

There are four different stages of melanoma. Dogs with stage I (<2 cm) and II (2-4 cm without lymph node or lung involvement) disease have a better long-term prognosis than dogs with stage III (4 cm or greater and/or lymph node metastasis) or stage IV (distant metastasis). The information below is broken into various categories to help you better understand the staging process, prognosis and treatment for patients with oral melanoma.

Diagnosis/Staging

A biopsy is recommended for any abnormal mass in the mouth to obtain a definitive diagnosis.

Some melanomas can be difficult to diagnose, and additional testing (known as special stains) may be necessary if the biopsy is inconclusive. These stains are performed on the original biopsy sample that was submitted to the laboratory and may take about two weeks for the final results.

Prior to beginning any treatment, staging is recommended.
This includes chest radiographs or CT scan of the chest (to look for evidence of lung metastasis), full blood work (CBC and chemistry panel, urinalysis), and aspiration of the regional lymph nodes +/-CT/MRI to assess the extent of the tumor. Other tests may be advised depending on the health of the patient.

Prognostic Factors:

Size of the tumor
<2 cm has a better prognosis than larger tumors

Location
Animals with rostral tumors (towards the front of the mouth) have a more favorable prognosis.

Animals with oral tumors in the middle or back of the mouth tend to have a poorer prognosis, which may be related to the difficulty in surgical removal.

Melanomas on the lip tend to have a more favorable prognosis compared to ones located on the gingival/oral mucosa.

Stage
Stage I: median survival time is 12-18 months
Stage II: median survival time of 5-8 months
Stage III: median survival time of 3 months

Treatmentdog outside

Treatment is divided into two sections: local control of the original tumor and systemic treatment due to the high potential for metastasis (spread to other sites).

Localized treatment

Surgery
The treatment of choice for local control is surgery since this is the best chance to remove the entire tumor. Some patients may need a CT scan performed prior to surgery to determine the extent of disease and to ensure that surgery is the most appropriate local treatment. The goal of surgery is to remove all of the mass with adequate margins and this may involve removing a portion of the bone of the upper or lower jaw. Fortunately, most dogs do very well with this surgery and their quality of life is not affected.

Radiation Therapy
Two forms:
Definitive therapy which is used in conjunction with surgery when the oral tumor is incompletely or narrowly excised in order to address the concern for tumor recurrence. Definitive therapy includes once or twice weekly treatments for 4-6 treatments. The goal of the radiation therapy is to help kill any residual disease that remains after surgery and decrease/slow the risk for recurrence.

Palliative therapy is performed when surgery is not an option or owners are not interested in aggressive surgery/treatment, but want to make their dog more comfortable. This involves once weekly treatments for 3-5 weeks in a row and there is minimal negative impact on the patient with this protocol. Fortunately, most melanomas are responsive to radiation therapy with 75% of patients experiencing a decrease in tumor size which can last 4-8 months depending on the stage of disease.

Systemic Therapy
Due to the high metastatic nature of these tumors, systemic therapy is also advised in addition to local therapy. Unfortunately, even when these tumors are controlled locally with surgery and/or radiation, most patients succumb to the disease because of metastasis to the lymph nodes and lungs as well as other organs. As a result, we encourage the use of the melanoma vaccine to try to combat the metastatic disease.

Canine melanoma vaccine (Oncept) is a xenogenic vaccine that is administered once every two weeks in the muscle of the inner thigh for 4 treatments. After the initial 4 doses, a booster vaccine is given once every 6 months thereafter. The vaccine is designed to stimulate the patient’s immune system to specifically target the melanoma cells. This vaccine is not known to have any systemic side effects, but rarely can cause some irritation at the injection site, a low-grade fever and depigmentation of fur or skin. The downside to the vaccine is that it can take a minimum of 2-3 months before the body’s immune system is stimulated enough to start targeting the melanoma cells for destruction.

This treatment can be used in combination with any of the local therapies listed above.

Chemotherapy is not commonly recommended because of the lack of efficacy. Chemotherapy has only been shown to be of benefit in less than 30% of patients and is usually reserved for patients with aggressive or fast-growing tumors in an attempt to slow them down in order to give the vaccine a chance to work.

Piroxicam is an oral non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication that can help to stimulate the immune system. This is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory that has been shown to have some activity against tumors by stimulating the immune system to attack cancer cells. This medication is administered at home on a daily basis. Side effects are uncommon, but can include vomiting, diarrhea, anorexia, and gastrointestinal ulcers. For most patients, these side effects may be avoided by giving the medication with food. Rare toxicity of the liver and kidneys can be noted, so periodic blood work is recommended to monitor for any adverse effects. Unfortunately, only 10-20% of patients will experience a benefit with piroxicam.

Goal

The ultimate goal of any treatment is to improve your pet’s quality of life and your veterinary oncologist will work with you to determine the treatment option that you feel most comfortable with.