May is Pet Cancer Awareness Month so I thought it was important to share information about the three most common tumors of the spinal cord that lead to paralysis in dogs and cats. We’re also doing something a little different with this post because we are partnering our information with another community that provides education and support for specially-abled pets to give you two times the facts about pet cancer. Our friends at Tripawds® will be sharing details today about the three pet cancers that can lead to amputation.
If you’re not already familiar with the well-known Tripawds® community, I hope you take a minute and pop over to their website to look at the wide array of valuable information they share about life with a pet who has lost a limb.
It is important to both of our communities that pet parents have the resources they need so they can be the best possible caretakers of their fur kids. Whether your dog or cat rolls around in a wheelchair or hops on three legs we are all part of a unique group that honors our handi-capable pets.
Hearing that your pet has cancer is a scary experience, but according to the National Canine Cancer Foundation, it is a diagnosis one out of every three dogs will receive during their lifetime. The good news is that nearly half of the common cancers are treatable if they are caught early. You can read more about these cancers in a story I wrote this month for the American Animal Hospital Association.
Three Common Spinal Cord Tumors
The three most common spinal cord tumors are complicated conditions that are tricky to treat and often leave pets paralyzed. They are:
- Extradural Tumors in Dogs
- Intradural-Extramedullary Tumors in Dog
- Spinal Lymphosarcoma in Cats
Three Facts About Extradural Tumors In Dog
- These are the most common type of spinal cord tumors found in dogs. Normally spinal cord cancers do not start in the spinal column, but these tumors are the exception and generally begin in the cervical (neck) area.
- The tumor grows and puts pressure on a dog’s spine causing it to become compressed. Dogs lose their ability to move their neck, upper body and front limbs.
- Extradural tumors are malignant bone tumors. The good news is they grow slowly and rarely metastasize and spread beyond the spinal column.
First symptom: Pet parents notice back or neck pain, limping or a wobbly gait.
Three Facts About Intradural-Extramedullary Tumors In Dogs
- These tumors occur in 1/3 of dogs diagnosed with spinal tumors. They develop on the nerve sheath (covering) around the spinal cord instead of growing inside the vertebrae.
- Intradural-extramedullary tumors are aggressive and grow quickly anywhere on the spine. They cause pain and paralysis due to the added pressure they place on the vertebrae.
- This form of spinal tumor is seen most often in older dogs and some breeds of young dogs such as German shepherds and retrievers.
First symptom: Pet parents see signs of lameness and pain when their dog moves.
Three Facts About Spinal Lymphosarcoma In Cats
- The majority of cats (39%) that develop a spinal tumor also have a form of cancer called lymphosarcoma. This is one of the most common cancers diagnosed in felines. It begins in the tissues of the lymph nodes, spleen, liver, bone marrow or stomach.
- Cats with lymphosarcoma are typically young and develop multiple tumors on their spine. Those with FeLV (Feline Leukemia Virus) are more prone to developing this type of cancer.
- Depending on the location of the tumor, cats respond well to chemotherapy and radiation treatments.
First symptom: Spinal lymphosarcoma develops quickly and without warning. The only symptom pet parents may see is pain and immediate paralysis.
The decision to treat a dog or cat with a spinal cord tumor is a complex problem. The veterinarian has to determine if the tumor started in the spine, how many tumors are present and if they can be reached through surgery. Tumors that originate in the vertebrae are best treated with surgery, if they can be reached and if a dog or cat can withstand the procedure.
The veterinarian must also weigh the amount of damage the tumor has done to a dog or cat’s spine and whether or not there is cancer in other parts of a pet’s body. There are medications available to decrease pain and inflammation as well.
Depending on the location of the tumor radiation therapy has proven to extend a dog’s life 11 to 23 months, but tumors cannot always be reached by this method of treatment. Chemotherapy has also proven to be beneficial when the spinal tumor is the result of another cancer in the body; so cats with lymphosarcoma are the best candidates for this form of therapy.
Support for You and Your Pet
If your dog or cat receives a cancer diagnosis, I hope you will reach out to Lessons From A Paralyzed Dog and our friends at Tripawds. Each community is made up of supportive pet parents who are living with a disabled pet.
I love Tripawds because they offer a wealth of support, education and resources about pets that have lost a limb due to cancer. Pet parents can get answers in one of their online forums or they can get up-to-date information on their blog. They can even Chat Live with an experienced member who understands the challenges of being the caretaker of a disabled pet.
In addition there is information about the best products for three legged dogs and a downloadable PDF to help pet parents cope.
Tripawds has so much information to offer pet parents they put it into a collection of E-books which they are offering at a discount to fans of Lessons From A Paralyzed Dog. I hope you’ll take a minute to check out the E-book library and the other resources on the Tripawds website.
As the owner of a dog or cat with disabilities, you know you signed up for a demanding 24/7 job. It is our goal to give you the tools you need to be the best possible caretaker and make you feel part of a caring community.
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