In 2011, Peggy Graney took her Chihuahua, Jennie, to Petco for her usual grooming appointment.
It was Jennie’s long-time groomer who found a lump on Jennie’s leg and suggested Graney take Jennie to the veterinarian for a consult.
Sure enough, the lump was cancerous, and Jennie was referred to a veterinary surgeon who could remove the tumor. The surgeon told Graney he couldn’t promise her that Jennie wouldn’t lose her leg.
“I was devastated,” Graney, who is retired and lives in Glendale, Ariz., told FoxNews.com. “That’s my little girl.”
Graney, 78, described Jennie as an “alpha female who tells me what she wants, and she always wants something.”
Graney discussed the situation with her two daughters and son; her daughters encouraged her to go ahead with the surgery, while her son told her not to let the surgeon take Jennie’s leg.
Torn, Graney didn’t know what to do – but when she looked into Jennie’s eyes, she knew it was better to have her dog alive with three legs than not to have her dog at all.
The surgeon allowed Graney, her daughter and granddaughter to watch the procedure online, and when he lifted the sheet off of Jennie, revealing all four legs at the end of the operation, Graney said she “thanked God.”
“It was such a beautiful feeling when I saw all four legs on that little one,” Graney said. “It was so marvelous to have her safe, alive and the bonus – all four legs. And since then, I’ve called her my little miracle girl, my little fighter. She’s just so precious to me.”
May is Pet Cancer Awareness Month, and the most important message one veterinarian oncologist wants the public to know is that cancer in animals is no longer a death sentence.
“Just like in people, the earlier you find certain cancers, the more likely we are able to cure them,” Dr. Gerald Post, a board-certified veterinary oncologist and owner of The Veterinary Cancer Center in Norwalk, Conn., told FoxNews.com. “The treatments we give nowadays, like radiation, chemo or targeted chemotherapy, are generally well-tolerated by pets. We’ve gotten much better at determining what’s the best dose, what’s the best interval – and there are many new drugs on the market that mitigate the side effects of chemo.”
Post said about one in four dogs will get cancer in its lifetime and about one in five cats will get cancer, which equates to approximately 4 to 8 million new cases of cancer in dogs each year.
There are certain breeds that are more susceptible than others, Post said, but “now that we have a dog genome sequence, we can take a look at what breeds are more prone.”
As a pet parent, there are signs you can lookout for when it comes to detecting cancer, Post said.
They include, but are not limited to:
• Swollen lymph nodes: Located throughout the body, they are easily located behind the jaw or the knee.
• An enlarging or changing lump: Any lump on a pet that is rapidly changing or growing should be biopsied.
• Abdominal distension: If the belly becomes quickly enlarged, this could suggest a tumor. A quick ultrasound can detect the problem.
• Unexplained bleeding: Bleeding that is not due to trauma should definitely be examined.
• Lameness: Unexplained lameness, especially in large dogs, is a common sign of bone cancer, and a radiograph can determine if there’s something wrong.
• Straining to urinate: Straining to urinate or blood in the urine can indicate a urinary tract infection, but if it’s not controlled with antibiotics, a biopsy of the bladder may be needed.
Groomers can help in checking for cancer, too. According to Wendy Weinand, a master pet stylist and master groomer for Petco in San Antonio, Texas, it is very common for Petco groomers to thoroughly check each pet who comes to their salon and make sure the pet doesn’t have any abnormalities.
The company has a seven-point checklist, which is used on the pet upon arrival. The answers to the checklist are recorded, so when pets come back, they can be evaluated and compared to previous visits. And if something is amiss, pet parents can take their dog or cat to be checked out at the veterinarian.
“It’s a unique program, which engages the pet parent and the pet in finding the best solution for the pets when it comes to the parent’s lifestyle,” Wendy Weinand, a master pet stylist and certified master groomer for Petco, told FoxNews.com.
The seven points include:
• Eyes: Are the whites of the eyes white; are they sagging; do they look healthy; is there goop in them?
• Teeth: Are the gums nice and pink? Do they have plaque or tarter?
• Ears: Do they look normal for the breed; are they red or swollen; do they contain a funky odor; are they compacted with hair; is the ear housing anything that shouldn’t be there?
• Nose: Is the nose dry, cracked or brittle looking?
• Skin/coat: Does the fur look shiny and healthy, or is it dull; is the skin healthy or oily? Based on the animal’s age, are there cuts or abrasions; have they been scratching or itching; are there any abnormal lumps or are they aging spots?
• Underside: Does the belly look and feel good? Are there any lumps, bumps?
• Paws: Are the nails cracked, dry or brittle? Are the pads moist, red or swollen?
“As we’re doing that seven-point process, we’re looking (for) these lumps, bumps,” Weinand said. “And then we can give recommendations. ‘We didn’t see these the last time George was in.’ Is it even safe to groom the dog, or should we send him right to the vet?”
And, like humans, pet parents should take certain precautions with their pets. For example, a healthy diet and regular exercise is essential to ward off obesity – a big risk factor for cancer.