For sick cat, focus on quality of life, not treatment options

June 5, 2013

Dear Dr. Fox:

My 17-year-old cat has a neoplasm at the site of a rabies vaccination on his mid-back that he got about four or five years ago. It has increased.

I raised objections to the injection site (having heard that it was better to give the shot in the leg), but the holistic vet said that’s no longer true. My homeopathic vet has begun treating it and wants to refer me to another holistic vet to consider escharotic injection. I understand it’s very messy and possibly traumatic for the cat.

We haven’t done a biopsy. He is in no apparent pain, and it doesn’t hurt when I touch it gently. He is eating well and loves his twice-daily walks with me. His eyes are bright — he’s in good spirits.

My vet is also treating him homeopathically and with Standard Process Feline Renal Support for serious renal issues, further compounding my aversion to surgery for the neoplasm. I’ve had him on homemade cat food, high-quality raw food and canned food all his life, with about 10 non-grain kibbles as a bedtime treat.

Do you have any suggestions?

B.N., Potomac

DF: An escharotic injection is an injection of a caustic chemical such as silver nitrate. Such a caustic material would not differentiate between the cat’s healthy tissue and the cancer, essentially destroying both and possibly stimulating surviving tumorous cells to proliferate and probably causing the cat great discomfort.

I think the veterinarians need to focus more on your cat’s age and quality of life than on treatment options.

I am not aware of clinical studies demonstrating effective escharotic treatment of feline fibrosarcomas. Neither am I aware that there has been any change in the protocol for vaccinating cats as far down on their legs as possible, where amputation of the limb above any injection-site tumors is a more reliable way of getting rid of the cancer than extensive surgery.

Give your cat supplements of fish oil — Resveratrol for cats — and put one part each of essential oils of frankincense, lavender and myrrh in 40 parts organic almond oil. Apply this mixture twice daily for seven days. Stop for seven days and apply again for another seven days. If there is no sign of shrinking, stop further treatment because essential oils are risky for cats.

Although grapes and raisins can cause renal failure in dogs, the toxins involved have not been identified. Resveratrol for dogs and cats is, by all accounts, safe, even though it is extracted from grapes. Its anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory and other beneficial qualities have made this a popular human supplement.

DOG’S HYPOTHYROIDISM

Dear Dr. Fox:

My Siberian husky, Cassie, was sick off and on this year, but all the diagnostic tests and blood work we had done didn’t show anything.

She lost her usual vim and vigor. She kept getting itches between her toes and on her belly, which she licked and chewed on until she was raw and bloody. She had occasional bouts of diarrhea. Finally, about six weeks ago, the latest round of blood work showed her thyroid levels have crashed — off the charts.

Cassie has been on the thyroid medicine for more than a month and is doing well. All her health problems related to her drastically low thyroid levels have cleared up.

Unfortunately, she has an issue of shaking back legs, which is something else entirely. Now it has progressed to occasional full-body twitches and a general lack of good balance. Our vet and I suspect a neurological cause. But he says that even if we do a $3,000 MRI, often it does not show small tumors, so it’s dubious whether to do it. And if we see a brain tumor, what then? We are not going to put her through that type of surgery at 12 years old.

She is happy, full of pep, totally enjoying her walks, has a good appetite and loves life, so we are just going to treasure every good day she has with us and see what happens. We don’t know what else to do. This leg shaking and body twitching does not happen when she is walking or running, only when she stands still.

E.L., Holly, Mich.

DF: I am glad you found that treatment for severe hypothyroidism, which can manifest in a variety of symptoms.

The spasms you describe are common in older dogs; the more severe shakes are linked most often with tumors or spinal deterioration from spondylosis. An MRI may or may not give the answer, and, as you said, then what?

Regardless of the cost of making a possible diagnosis, there is probably no effective treatment that is not invasive or involving repeated chemotherapy or radiation, which may lower your dog’s quality of life.

If she is not in pain or fearful/anxious, try anti-inflammatory supplements, such as good-quality fish oil, New Chapter’s human Zyflamend supplement (give the same doses as for a human, with food, twice daily), Acetyl-L-carnitine and massage therapy. Be sure she has a soft pad to rest on. In some instances, acupuncture and laser heat therapy can provide temporary relief.

My 15-year-old Indian pariah got some temporary relief from his spondylitis with prednisone.

Michael W. Fox, author of a newsletter and books on animal care, welfare and rights, is a veterinarian with doctoral degrees in medicine and animal behavior. Write to him at United Feature Syndicate, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, Mo. 64106.

2013 United Feature Syndicate

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