Veterinary Science Can Help Our Pets

By Diana Bocco

Veterinary science has come a long way in the past decade. Pets are living longer, healthier and happier lives thanks to scientific developments such as transplants, new cancer treatments and even stem cell therapy.


Here are some of the incredible things our pets now have access to thanks to advancements in veterinary science.


New Canine Cancer Vaccine


Most common pet diseases already have an associated vaccine that can reduce or eliminate the risk of getting sick. So scientists are now exploring more advanced options to prevent and treat serious illnesses like cancer.


The Oncept canine melanoma vaccine is a unique therapeutic vaccine that seeks to treat canine cancer. It has revolutionized the world of veterinary science.


“The Oncept melanoma vaccine is Merial’s attempt to trigger the dogs’ own immune system to fight off cancer and heal itself,” says Dr. Carol Osborne, DVM, from Chagrin Falls Veterinary Center & Pet Clinic. Dr. Osborne is leading a US trial that maps the immune cycle of dogs to choose optimal cancer-treatment times. “This is opposed to chemotherapy, which has been the historical practice of trying to treat cancer with strong toxic drugs but in most cases not curing or eliminating the disease.”


The canine melanoma vaccine is made of DNA that is encoded with a human protein called tyrosinase (tyrosinase is found in cells called melanocytes that produce a pigment called melanin), Dr. Osborne explains.


“Human tyrosinase is very similar to canine tyrosinase,” says Dr. Osborne. “Melanoma cancer cells are loaded with tyrosinase, and the theory is that the two proteins cross-react and trigger the dog’s body to eliminate cancer.”


The canine melanoma vaccine is being used extensively by cancer specialists in dogs with stages 2 and 3 of malignant melanoma to try to help prevent it from spreading into the dog’s lymph nodes and lungs, explains Dr. Osborne.


“Since 2007, results indicate that dogs who receive surgery and the vaccine survive approximately 12 months longer than those who receive surgery but do not receive the vaccine,” Dr. Osborne adds.


Immunotherapy for Cancer in Pets


Immunotherapy has become the golden treatment for cancer in pets, thanks to new studies like those conducted by Mason Immunotherapy research studies at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine.


Dog and cat immunotherapy involves getting modified bacteria to target a tumor-specific protein, explains Dr. Osborne. This forces the immune system to fight the cancer cells and heal on its own.


Gene Therapy Treatments


Scientists are also looking into recombinant DNA (rDNA) to help treat cancer in dogs.


“Recombinant DNA has opened the door for gene therapy,” says Dr. Osborne. “Despite ethical concerns, gene therapy would theoretically treat a wide range of diseases by allowing veterinarians to replace abnormal and/or missing genes in the animal.”


Preliminary studies include a new therapy for canine mammary cancer using a recombinant measles virus, and a 2018 study that concludes that “oncolytic viruses are gaining ground as an alternative approach for treating cancer in dogs and humans.”


While these treatment options are still in the early stages of development, they offer a world of possibilities for the treatment of cancer in dogs.


Transplants and Replacements for Pets


Eye lens transplants have become rather commonplace to treat cataracts in dogs, according to Dr. Bruce Silverman, VMD, MBA, owner of Village West Veterinary. Dr. Silverman also adds that pacemakers are also becoming more common in dogs.


“Organ transplants, on the other hand, are still quite rare and are generally done in university settings,” says Dr. Silverman.


The most common organ transplants at this time are kidney transplants for cats. According to the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Georgia—one of the few centers in the country that does cat kidney transplants—the typical patient is a cat with chronic kidney disease, as dogs’ metabolisms are different and more likely to reject the new kidney.


The transplant program, which is limited and costly (a kidney transplant can set you back $15,000), requires that all donor cats are adopted by the recipient’s family. 


Bone marrow transplants are also available for dogs with lymphoma, leukemia, multiple myeloma or generalized mast cell cancer, according to Dr. Osborne. “North Carolina State Veterinary Hospital in Raleigh, North Carolina, and Bellingham Veterinary in Bellingham, Washington, offer the procedure,” says Dr. Osborne.


The good news is that dogs weighing over 35 pounds without any major organ dysfunction have enjoyed a 50 percent cure rate for a disease that previously was uniformly fatal, says Dr. Osborne. 


“The procedure is quite involved and requires several steps,” says Dr. Osborne. “First dogs undergo chemotherapy, which is used to achieve remission of cancer, then the dogs’ own blood cells are harvested, after which these canines undergo two sessions of full-body radiation.”


Finally, the harvested blood cells are then transplanted back into the dog before he’s prepared for recovery, which requires two weeks in complete isolation, according to Dr. Osborne.


Stem Cell Therapy for Pets


Stem cell therapy is used most often for degenerative disorders in dogs and cats.


Although results are somewhat disappointing at this time because it’s such a new development, Dr. Osborne says stem cell therapy for dogs and cats is very effective to treat osteoarthritis of the hips, elbows, stifles and shoulders, primarily in dogs. 


Scientists are now working hard to extend the healing benefits of stem cell therapy for dogs and cats.


“At the moment, improvements in joint function, range of motion and quality of life have validated lasting effects for an average of 6 months post-procedure,” Dr. Osborne says.  


10 Signs of Cancer to Keep an Eye Out for in Your Senior Dog

10 Signs of Cancer to Keep an Eye Out for in Your Senior Dog

Veterinarian Reviewed by Dr. Janice Huntingford, DVM on August 8, 2018
Posted in Dog Cancer as seen in PetWellbeing


Your dog is getting older and as they do, you want to be on the lookout for potential health concerns that may impact their quality of life in their later years. Cancer is one such disease your dog can develop as they age and it’s a leading cause of death in older canines. In some cases, cancer is treatable, but it needs to be caught early on. Here are 10 of the most common signs of developing cancer in aging dogs:

  1. Loss of appetite: Your dog eats normally, but suddenly is inattentive to his food or eating smaller and smaller portions, disinterested in treats or other food that used to bring joy. This may be a sign that your dog has a loss of appetite or there has been a change in health that is preventing an interest in food. This could indicate a larger problem.
  1. Problems eating: Perhaps it is not loss of appetite, but instead a physical problem with being able to eat? Loss of teeth could be an explanation, but cancer of either the mouth or throat could also be a potential cause. If it seems that your dog is in pain while eating, affecting how much they eat, it may be time to take them in to the vet.
  2. Weight loss: Loss of appetite and problems eating could result in significant weight loss. If you do not catch the first two problems, you will likely notice the change in your dog’s physical appearance. Significant weight loss for any reason is unhealthy, but it could signal a disease like cancer.
  3. Lumps, bulges and signs of tumors: Every time you groom your dog, or even after taking them for a walk outside, you should be in the habit of doing a general check of your dog’s body. Besides any tics or other things that could cause problems with your dog’s health or skin, you may also find unnatural lumps that could signal the initial stages of a tumor. If you are unsure whether or not what you have found is benign, be sure to take your dog to the vet.
  4. Open wounds that do not heal: When your dog goes for a walk or hike with you, it may be a frequent occurrence to find scratches or scrapes on their skin. It is not normal, however, if these continue to bleed or remain unhealed for long periods of time. This could signal the dog’s inability to heal, which may be part of a larger problem.
  5. Vomiting/diarrhea: If your dog is either vomiting or having diarrhea, it’s likely the result of something they ate or that upset their stomach. However, whenever both vomiting and diarrhea are present at the same time, this is an emergency situation. Take your dog to the emergency vet right away to be looked at and taken care of.
  1. Bad odor: Bad odor can come from a variety of places and have a variety of causes. However, if your dog has extremely bad breath or smells even after teeth brushing or grooming/bathing, it may be time to have a vet check on the cause. It could be that a tumor or lesion is causing the odor.

7.Problems relieving themselves: If you notice that your dog is bending in a strange way to relieve themselves, or even yelping in pain, this is a sign something is wrong. This could indicate a disease in the area, or any number or skin-related issues that could be causing pain or distress in your dog.

  1. Increased lethargy: Your dog is normally a ball of energy, bouncing around the house and begging to be let outside. But now, he is quiet, sleepy, and laying down for inordinate amounts of time. This increased lethargy could have a variety of causes, but one reason could be the amount of energy your dog’s body is using to fight a disease or larger problem. He may simply not have enough energy leftover to spend doing the things he loves, like begging for treats.


  1. Stiffness of joints: Lethargy and stiffness of joints can be easy to mix up, and so it is important to pay attention to how your dog reacts to long walks or having to jump in and out of the car. Stiffness of joints can prevent these activities and can be attributed to arthritis or be indicative of a larger issue.

Caught early, cancer is more treatable than if realized in a more advanced stage. Be sure to provide your dog with routine veterinary visits as part of your prevention plan. And if your dog exhibits any combination of symptoms above, consider taking them right away to seek medical attention. Your senior dog may not be as spry as they once were, but that doesn’t mean they’re not tough enough to fight back against cancer if it develops!


Cancer and Pets

Cancer and Pets


Cancer picks on everyone including our beloved pets. Here are some facts you should be aware of:

50% of all disease related deaths in older pets is attributed to cancer

Both humans and animals can benefit from new treatment options that are supposedly just for pets

The usual preventative care can also help your pets prevent cancer so ensure they are spayed/neutered, have protection from the sun, are not exposed to cigarette smoke and have good oral care.

Look for persistent abnormal swelling, loss of weight and appetite persistent lameness and any sore that won’t heal as symptoms of cancer and have your pet checked right away by a vet

Cancer is not necessarily a death sentence because some cancers can be cured with proper treatment.

Chemo, immunotherapy and radiation are all the types of treatments that can be used on both humans and animals alike.

Animals don’t experience a lot of the crappy side effects that people do from cancer treatments—lucky them!



Thank you for these insights