Katy’s Story: Battling Canine Cancer

cancer_treatmentHalf of all dogs will develop some sort of cancer in their lifetime and one in four dogs will die.  These are the sad statistics of this dreaded disease that affect people and pets.  Canine cancer is so prevalent that it is the leading killer of dogs over the age of two.  The Canine Cancer Project is now underway to help fun studies aimed at eliminating canine cancer in the next ten to twenty years.

Cancer is a scary, ominous word.  For pet owners, concerns are compounded with millions of dogs diagnosed every year and owners often unaware of treatment options. However, today’s extensive research and educational campaigns are ensuring no dog owner will hear the “c” word again!

Everyday, Cindy Fleischner lines up her crew of cuddly canines for breakfast. As the four other dogs eat, Cindy pulls Katy, her 12-year- old Shepherd mix aside for a peanut butter treat.

Katy is battling lymphoma and this treat hides her daily dose of chemotherapy drugs. “The other dogs are jealous,” says Fleischner. “But they don’t know the battle she is fighting.”

Katy is not alone in this war. Canine cancer is one of the leading causes of dog deaths. Of the more than 100 million dogs in North America, about two in four will develop cancer and one in four will die from some form of this dreaded disease. In some purebred dogs, the percentages could be even higher.

Adopted from the Denver Dumb Friends League, Katy was no stranger to hospitals. As a licensed Therapy Dog, she spent many hours at a local hospital, bringing comfort and joy to patients.

However, Fleishner began to notice that Katy – a normally sweet dog – became distracted. “I knew something was not right,” she says.

A physical examination found a growing mass on Katy’s throat. Further testing and surgery would determine that the lump was thyroid cancer.

“Obviously, I was sad,” says Fleishner. “And the whole process of determining the best course of action was so confusing, just making a bad situation even worse.”

After surgery, Katy underwent radiation therapy for the thyroid tumor at Colorado State University. She was able to win this battle, but her war against cancer wasn’t over yet.

Katy was again diagnosed, this time with a lymphoma, requiring more treatments and time with a cancer specialist. Eventually, these treatments saved her life.

Fleishner knows she’s lucky. In her metropolitan area, she had the choice of visiting a veterinary teaching hospital or a specialty center with a veterinary oncologist.

Unfortunately, not all owners are as lucky. Sadly, cancer will claim almost 50 percent of dogs over 10 years old, leaving their owners bewildered and unsure of what to do.

And of the almost 9,000 veterinary specialists, less than 200 specialize in veterinary oncology. A new collaboration, however, may help provide some answers – and options.

The Morris Animal Foundation (MAF; www.morrisanimalfoundation.org) has launched the Canine Cancer Campaign in an attempt to stop cancer in our pets with a goal to cure this deadly disease within the next 10 to 20 years.

Another immediate priority of the foundation is collaborating with cancer specialists ensuring pet owners have access to treatment options and advice.  A new service through Oncura Partners, a well-known oncology specialist group is paving the way for owners to receive a free consultation through their veterinarian.

Additionally, the MAF Canine Cancer Campaign brings together research scientists, industry leaders and 44 million dog-owning households throughout the nation in an effort to eradicate canine cancer.

Already, multiple scientific endeavors are working towards this end. A canine cancer tissue bank has been created due to a generous $1.1 million donation from Pfizer Animal Health. The Golden Retriever Foundation has promised $500,000 towards research for early detection. This will be money well spent since approximately 60% of Golden Retrievers die from cancer.

This is great news for Fleishner and her dogs.  She considers herself fortunate to have great veterinarians as well as access to cancer specialists. But, “Everyone needs to have options.” She says. “I was lucky – I know sometimes pet owners feel helpless and think that euthanasia is the only option available.”

She happily reports Katy is doing well with her lymphoma treatments, and her sweet, good-natured personality has returned.

cancer_mass_on_faceBeyond helping our dogs with new innovative therapies, the Canine Cancer Campaign offers benefits for us as well. Many breakthroughs happening in this research will help fuel further prevention, treatment and even cures for human cancers.

Remember, there is hope for dogs and their owners – despite a cancer diagnosis. Like Katy, many dogs will tolerate cancer treatments well. Your veterinarian will work with you, local specialists and national resources to ensure your pet receives the best outcome possible.

To learn more about the Canine Cancer Campaign (www.curecaninecancer.org) or the Morris Animal Foundation, visit www.MyVNN.com for links to their sites as well as a video outlining how you can help defeat cancer in your dog’s lifetime.