This article I would like everyone to meet Hamish, he is a 10 year old Shih Tzu and possibly one of the friendliest dogs we’ve met. He came to us in June this year for a routine dental procedure.
Before any general anaesthetic, or vaccination, we perform a general health check as standard. During Hamish’s health check we noticed a mass in his abdomen, this led us to check his prostate and we noted a rectal mass. After discussion with the owner we decided against the dental procedure and opted to investigate the mass by taking a surgical sample.
Happily the surgery was a success and we got multiple samples, unfortunately the results from the lab confirmed an aggressive tumour that had spread from his gut into his liver, spleen and lymph nodes. The tumour is a type called a “malignant plasma cell tumour” this is a tumour of white blood cells and can spread rapidly around the whole body.
When dealing with any cancer we consider the same three options, surgical removal, chemotherapy and radiotherapy. The type and location of the cancer usually determines the best treatment option. In Hamish’s case because the tumour had spread surgery would not be feasible, however this cancer often responds well to chemotherapy, and with the help of a specialist veterinary oncologist we started Hamish on a course of chemotherapy.
Chemotherapy can be a scary word for many people, we often associate it with human medicine and the severe side effects people suffer. Understandably we are reluctant to put our animals through such a strong and aggressive therapy when they won’t understand why they are sick.
But our aim in veterinary chemotherapy is different to that in human chemotherapy. Human chemotherapy requires very high doses of medications that cause a myriad of side effects because we want to eliminate all traces of the tumour. In dogs (and cats) our target is to reduce the size and number of tumours to prevent symptoms of the disease, but we don’t always expect complete elimination, this means we can be a lot more forgiving with our drug choices and doses and can significantly reduce the number and severity of side effects.
I am happy to report that Hamish is on his 3rd round of chemotherapy, has had no side effects, although we have kept a close eye on his blood levels to be sure he is coping well, and the tumours have responded very well to the treatment, he is like a puppy again!
We always stress the importance of routine health checks, to catch diseases like this as early as possible. Vaccinations, and dental procedures are important throughout life, but especially as they get older.
Nobody ever wants to hear the diagnosis of cancer, but we at VetHQ work hard to guide you and your pet through options and available treatment, and will be there every step of the way.
Dr Tony, Hamish and the Vet HQ team