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Cancer or infection?

Species: Dog
Breed: Mini Schnauzer
Age: 8-11 years
I recently had to put my dog to sleep after I found out he had cancer that had spread to his lungs. I am wondering if more could have been done if this was discovered sooner. In late Sept 2013, I brought him into the vet after noticing his glands on his throat (bilateral mandibular lymph nodes) were enlarged. The vet recommended giving antibiotics (clindamycin) to see if that would reduce the swelling, thinking it was related to his teeth and plaque build up. The antibiotics didn't work reduce the swelling, but the vet recommended to continue antibiotic treatment the first five days of the month in what she called pulse antibiotic treatment for periodontal disease. In late November, I noticed my dog was coughing more than usual, but thought it may be kennel cough as he went to doggie daycare once a week. After it didn't clear up with the antibiotic treatment (the first 5 days of Dec), I brought him in and he was diagnosed with kennel cough and given enrofloxacin and tussigon. At that point he had lost 2 lbs and his lungs sounded harsh and slightly congested. The night we got home from the vet, he started not eating his full meal and his appetite was decreasing. After it didn't get better, I brought him back in six days later and a chest x-ray was done and spots were found on his lungs. He was diagnosed with metastatic lung disease and lymphadenopathy. Two days later I put him to sleep as he was not eating (even treats) and was coughing quite a bit and restless at night.

So here's my question...should more have been done back in Sept when I discovered his glands were enlarged? Could anything have helped at that point? I'm frustrated because I feel like by the time we figured out what was really going on, it was too late for treatment. I was also frustrated because the vet who took the x-ray indicated that the cancer was highly treatable, but the vet I consulted with the next day indicated there was likely not much that could be done and my dog had days to maybe a week to live. I am considering adopting a dog, and have doubts about using the same vet. Am I wrong to have doubts about the treatment my dog received?

Sorry about the crazy long question, I wanted to make sure to include all the information


Online vet, Dr. Marie

Dr. Marie replied:

I'm sorry to hear about Oscar. Losing a pet is never easy.

From what you have described I really can't say any way that this could have been handled differently.

Lung cancer in dogs is almost always a secondary thing. What that means is that the cancer started somewhere else and then spread to the lungs.

The question though is what type of cancer was present initially. There are some types of cancer that are treatable to some degree. Lymphoma is a cancer that causes lymph nodes to enlarge. We have some treatments for lymphoma that can cause dogs to go in to significant periods of remission. However, in most cases, lymphoma causes enlargement of all lymph nodes, not just the submandibular lymph nodes.

A biopsy of the lymph nodes could probably have told us more information as to whether this was cancer or infection. If this were my case I likely would have tried antibiotics, but if there was no improvement do the biopsy. But, hindsight is 20/20 and it is hard to know exactly what I would have done.

If this was lymphoma then there is a possibility that some type of treatment could have extended Oscar's life for longer. But there is no way of knowing for certain whether treatment would have helped. Treatments for lymphoma can really vary. The most effective treatments are quite expensive and usually require visiting a specialist in canine cancer. There are less expensive treatments, but they usually only result in an increase in life of a few weeks or months.

When xrays show that there is cancer in the lungs, then the prognosis is grave. I don't believe that treatment at this point would have been warranted.

I hope this answers your question. Please let me know if you have more.

Dr. Marie.

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Disclaimer: Although Dr. Marie is a qualified veterinarian, the information found on this site is not meant to replace the advice of your own veterinarian. and Dr. Marie do not accept any responsibility for any loss, damage, injury, death, or disease which may arise from reliance on information contained on this site. Do not use information found on this site for diagnosing or treating your pet. Anything you read here is for information only.

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Dr. MarieDr. Marie is a veterinarian who practices in a busy animal hospital in Ottawa, Ontario. She created Ask A Vet Question as a resource for good, accurate veterinary advice online. Dr. Marie treats dogs, cats, hamsters, guinea pigs, and rats. She has been a vet since 1999.

Is an online vet visit just as good as a trip to your veterinarian? No! But, many times, asking an online veterinarian a question can help save you money. While Dr. Marie can't officially diagnose your pet or prescribe medications, she can often advise you on whether a vet visit is necessary. You can also ask Dr. Marie for a second opinion on your pet's condition.