Tag Archives: veterinary oncology

A vet’s perspective on human and animal health care

0915bookreviewcoverBy Susan Crawford, M.Sc.

Dr. Sarah Boston takes a provocative look at cancer treatment from the human side and from the animal side in her book, Lucky Dog: How Being a Veterinarian Saved My Life. What makes this book unique is the fact that Boston herself is a cancer survivor and a veterinary surgical oncologist.

Back in 2011, Boston discovered a worrisome lump in her neck, only to hear from her doctor that the lump was “probably fine.”  The Calgary native suspected otherwise, from its increasing size, and from the way it pushed against her neck. Upon hearing it would take two weeks for an ultrasound, she had her husband (also a veterinarian) bring home a portable ultrasound machine so that she could view the lump herself. To Boston’s educated eye, it looked like a carcinoma, so she pushed to have it surgically removed almost three months later.

Boston takes her readers on a thought-provoking journey through the human healthcare system.  She weaves funny, yet poignant stories of dogs she has operated on, and draws parallels between her own care and the care she provides animal patients. Boston’s hope for speedy treatment is unimportant — she has to wait her turn. Canine thyroid cancer patients, on the other hand, can have their diagnostic tests completed in 24 hours and be operated on the next day. Their human thyroid cancer counterparts often wait weeks or months, with mounting anxiety.

Boston tells about her patient Sasha, the miniature poodle with a bone tumour. Like Sasha’s surgery, Boston’s is successful, but unlike Sasha (who got top care and went home the day after her operation), Boston has vastly different experiences in the two hospitals where she has each operation. Her doctors give her the anti-nausea drug and specific pain medication she requests for her first operation, but for her second operation (at another hospital), she receives cheaper medications instead, with harsher side effects. Despite being a health professional, Boston was often treated as hysterical, and was often dismissed. She mentions meeting other patients, fighting just as hard to be heard and treated. As a cancer survivor myself, I can attest to the challenges patients face. The picture she paints of Canadian healthcare is not flattering.

Perhaps her negative experiences are more related to incompetence, but readers gradually see that the major difference underlying the animals’ care and the speed/quality of the treatment Boston receives is the private versus public nature of veterinary care versus human medical care. Sasha’s treatment involves a $2,500 MRI and $4,200 worth of surgery/aftercare. Fortunately, her owners could afford it. Not everyone, human or canine, is so fortunate.

Lucky Dog provides its readers with a much-needed look at the way our socialized system works. You should eventually get the medical care you need, if you’re intelligent, know people, and have the advocacy skills to fight for yourself. The importance of taking personal responsibility for your own health and your pet’s health is central to Boston’s book.

 If you want a thought-provoking, stimulating book, Lucky Dog fits the bill. Four paws up!!

Vet oncologists talk feline cancer

Photo by Darby Leigh

Photo by Darby Leigh

We asked Dr. Valerie MacDonald, DVM DACVIM (oncology), Associate Professor at Western College of Veterinary Medicine in Saskatoon and her resident, Dr. Charlotte Johnston to answer the following questions about feline cancers. Below are their answers.

  1. How common is cancer in cats? What are some of the more common cancers found in cats?

The prevalence of cancer in cats is increasing. The increase is due to a variety of reasons — cats are living longer, increasing care given by owners and advancing veterinary care. Cancer remains a major cause of morbidity and mortality in cats.

Some of the most common cancers seen in cats include:

  • Lymphoma: Cancer arising from lymphoid tissue. Infection with feline leukemia virus increases their risk of developing lymphoma.
  • Mammary cancer: Spaying cats before their first heat can decrease the risk of developing mammary cancer.
  • Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC): Most commonly affects the skin and mouth. Sun exposure increases their risk of developing skin SCC and it most commonly involves light or unpigmented areas of skin.
  • Injection site sarcomas

2. What are some of the symptoms of feline cancers?

There is no single symptom that can confirm cancer in cats. Cats are also hard to evaluate, as they tend to hide their disease well. In general any cat that is not feeling well should be examined by a veterinarian.

Some symptoms to monitor for include:

  • Lumps
  • Persistent sores or skin infections
  • Abnormal discharge from any area of the body
  • Sudden lameness or lameness that is not improving
  • Weight loss
  • Decreased appetite
  • Vomiting, diarrhea, coughing or sneezing
  • Changes in behaviour
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Bad breath

3. What are some of the causes of feline cancers?

In general there is no single cause for cancer in cats. There are hereditary and environmental factors than can contribute to the development of cancer in cats. Cats that receive excessive exposure to sunlight are at risk for skin cancer. Feline leukemia virus has also been linked to the development of the malignant cancer lymphoma in cats. Injections into the muscle and subcutaneous tissue have been linked to the development of injection site sarcomas at a later date.

4. What are some of the more common treatments for cats with cancer? Are there any new treatments or advanced technologies for the treatment of feline cancers?

There are three main types of treatments that we use for cancer — surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Surgery is the most common treatment that is used to remove tumours that are found. For localized tumours surgery may be the only treatment needed. Chemotherapy is used to treat systemic cancers (such as lymphoma) and also cancers that have a high chance of spreading. Radiation therapy can be used to treat tumours in locations not amenable to surgery (for example the nasal cavity) or where surgical removal is unachievable.

There is research being done constantly to try and identify advancements in radiation therapy, new and novel chemotherapy protocols and new surgical approaches.

5. How much does it typically cost to treat a cat with cancer?

The cost to treat various different cancers in cats by a specialist depends on a number of different factors including type and location of the cancer, the treatment that is recommended (surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy) and ultimately where you live.

6. If treated, what’s the cure rate for cats with cancer?

It is very difficult to comment on a cure rate. However, on a whole it is going to be very low. It will depend on the type of tumour, the location, when it was found and how it is treated.

7. What are some of the preventive measures we can take to help keep our cats cancer free? 

It is often hard to suggest a number of preventative measures when we do not know the underlying cause of most cancers. Early detection and prompt treatment are the most effective approaches for the best outcome. Having your cat spayed early can reduce the chance of mammary cancer. Avoiding excessive sunlight exposure and sunburn can help reduce the chance of certain skin cancers. Vaccinating for feline leukemia can prevent the development of the disease. There has been no links of feeding certain foods or using a particular cat litter to the development of cancer. Feeding a well-balanced diet and getting regular exercise can help your cat stay healthy with a good body condition score to reduce the risk of a number of health related diseases, not just cancer.

May is ‘Pet Cancer Awareness Month’

During the month of May, donate to Kali’s Wish Cancer Foundation and help with its mission to eliminate cancer in our animal companions.

Cancer is the No. 1 killer in both dogs and cats, making it a top health concern among pet guardians. Animal cancer statistics reveal that one of three dogs and one of four cats will be diagnosed with cancer, and even these stats appear to be on the rise.

These statistics are alarming and the first step in changing this deadly trend is awareness. Pet guardians should know what steps they can take to minimize the cancer risk in their companions. Understanding the warning signs of cancer is imperative to early diagnosis and treatment. When the diagnosis is cancer, loving pet guardians need to know what the options are for treatment and the facilities available in Alberta and nation wide.

Kali’s Wish Cancer Foundation was named after Kali, the beloved Golden Retriever of Laura Leah English, Kali’s Wish Cancer Foundation founder, who was only seven years old when she was taken by cancer. Laura Leah believes that Kali’s “wish” from where she is now is for the day when far fewer families are forced to deal with the devastating loss of a beloved pet to this deadly disease. While Kali’s life on earth is tragically over, the work she has inspired for those of us left behind has only just begun. Kali’s Wish Cancer Foundation has become her legacy.

The foundation is dedicated to actively pursuing ways to help eliminate cancer in our animal companions by funding research into select focus areas including the causes of animal cancers; new conventional and alternative treatment options; the relationship between genetics and animal cancers; and ways to prevent cancer in our animal companions.

The foundation also provides education and awareness programs along with up-to-date information on its website about animal cancers, how to prevent cancer in our animal companions, available conventional and alternative treatment options, treatment facilities in Alberta and across the country as well as support to families dealing with pets who have cancer.

Money raised during the month of May is earmarked for the construction of Kali’s Wish Pet Cancer Centre — a world-class facility that offers the latest in research, education and complementary healing programs for our beloved pets. The centre is slated to break ground in five years.

For more information about “Pet Cancer Awareness Month” visit www.kaliswish.com or call 403-249-2233.



We love spare change! Just pop into a Pet Planet location near you and drop your spare coins into the Kali’s Wish donation box or make a donation with your purchase.

Kali’s Wish is in the process of planning several fundraising events and initiatives. If you are interested in volunteering your time and energy to the foundation please call Sherry at 403-249-2233 or email: sherry@kaliswish.com


The following items are available to purchase at any Pet Planet location. A portion of the proceeds from the sale of each item is donated to Kali’s Wish Cancer Foundation.

Little Wishes plush toys
Little Wishes are limited edition collectors plush dog toys, produced by Kali’s Wish Cancer Foundation in memory of some of the beloved pets that have been lost to cancer. Little Wishes are available at all Pet Planet locations and make a great gift for the dogs (or children) in your life.

Wish-Upon-A-Star biscuits
In memory of her beloved Bailey, Keltie Steenbergen creates Wish-Upon-A-Star Biscuits sold exclusively at Pet Planet locations in Edmonton and Calgary. For every biscuit purchased, a donation is made to Bailey’s Library on the foundation’s website, www.kaliswishcom.

This library was created as a resource for pet guardians who have a pet diagnosed with cancer or who want information about cancer in animals. Information is provided through articles, videos, online resources and research. You’ll also find book and DVD recommendations and links to a host of resources.

“Golden Love” rings
The gold ring in the Kali’s Wish Cancer Foundation logo symbolizes never-ending “Golden Love.” It represents the actual ring worn by Laura Leah English in memory of her beloved Golden Retriever Kali, a daily reminder of the seven wonderful years together and the life lessons that Kali taught.

Purchase a Golden Love Ring and wear it to represent your own “Golden Love”, and to support a very important cause. A significant portion of the purchase price of each ring is donated directly to Kali’s Wish Cancer Foundation.

Kali’s Wish branded collars and leashes
Now available! Custom designed leash and collar sets beautifully embroidered with the Kali’s Wish Cancer Foundation logo. These durable, clip-buckle collars are available in small, medium or large, and the leashes come in your choice of four- or six-foot lengths. Available at all Pet Planet locations.

NaturPet remedies
NaturPet is a product line of Natures Formulae Health Products Ltd. that has been developed in conjunction with veterinarians from across Canada. When you purchase Chronic Recovery and/or Tumor-X at Pet Planet stores, it adds to the total amount NaturPet donates annually to Kali’s Wish Cancer Foundation. At the end of the year, NaturPet will donate 10% of sales of these two products (made through Pet Planet) to the foundation.

Cloud Star treats
Kali’s Wish is now a donor recipient through Cloud Star’s UPC Program. For every Cloud Star UPC label that is collected by Pet Planet, Cloud Star will donate $1 to Kali’s Wish. Please allow Pet Planet staff to remove the UPC label, after purchase, at the store.