Coffee Break: Dr. Post
15 minutes with Dr. Gerald Post of the Veterinary Cancer Center.
Ask any pet owner and they’ll tell you that the word “pet” could be interchangeable with “family member.” The family dog is always more than just a dog — it is a friend, a sibling; it is a source of comfort, fun, and entertainment.
That’s why it’s tough when our pets get sick. Nobody wants to go through the anguish of losing a pet, but it is comforting to know that should our pets ever have to face such a battle, there are many good hands out there to put them in.
One of those pairs of hands belongs to Dr. Gerald Post of the Veterinary Cancer Center (The VCC) in Norwalk.
Dr. Post holds a BS from Cornell University and a DVM from the University of Minnesota. He completed his Residency in Oncology at the Animal Medical Center in New York, and earned his Masters in Environmental Management from Duke University. Dr. Post is the founder of the Animal Cancer Foundation.
On top of all of those notable qualifications, Dr. Post also has a special understanding of the people whose pets he treats. He lost his beloved miniature schnauzer Smokey, who he had for 15 years, to cancer in 2005. Read Smokey's story here.
I had the chance to speak to Dr. Post to find out more about his career and interest in animals.
Murals on the walls at the VCC help to create a calm and peaceful atmosphere
How long have you lived in Fairfield County?
What was your first pet?
Smokey, a Miniature Schnauzer.
What made you decide to go to veterinary school?
I enjoyed animals, science and medicine.
What are the most popular types of dogs and cats you see around Fairfield County?
Golden Retrievers, Labs and domestic short hair cats.
You were one of the first veterinarian to discuss the similarities between cancer in humans and animals. Can you tell us about these similarities? Are there any major differences?
Type of cancers are similar because human and dogs share the same environment. The major difference would be the causes of cancer.
What are some healthy tips for pet-owners who want to be sure their pet is in optimal health?
Ideal health is a good diet, exercise, preventative health care and checkups. For younger pets, offering up an exam at least once a year (twice a year for older pets) with an ultrasound, x-ray and blood work, would be ideal.
Is there anything that you see pet owners do that is actually really bad for their pets?
Smoking is not good, allowing their pet to be overweight, feeding them human food and lack of exercise are all bad for pets.
How necessary are vaccinations?
Vaccinations are important yet, by mid-to-old age most pets are immune to shots.
A dog being treated at the VCC.
What are some of the warning signs that your pet may have cancer?
- Swollen lymph nodes: These “glands” are located all throughout the body but are most easily detected behind the jaw or behind the knee. When these lymph nodes are enlarged they can suggest a common form of cancer called lymphoma. A biopsy or cytology of these enlarged lymph nodes can aid in the diagnosis.
- An enlarging or changing lump: Any lump on a pet that is rapidly growing or changing in texture or shape should have a biopsy. Lumps belong in biopsy jars, not on pets.
- Abdominal distension: When the “stomach” or belly becomes rapidly enlarged, this may suggest a mass or tumor in the abdomen or it may indicate some bleeding that is occurring in this area. A radiograph or an ultrasound of the abdomen can be very useful.
- Chronic weight loss: When a pet is losing weight and you have not put your pet on a diet, you should have your pet checked. This sign is not diagnostic for cancer, but can indicate that something is wrong. Many cancer patients have weight loss.
- Chronic vomiting or diarrhea-Unexplained vomiting or diarrhea should prompt further investigation. Often tumors of the gastrointestinal tract can cause chronic vomiting and/or diarrhea. Radiographs, ultrasound examinations and endoscopy are useful diagnostic tools when this occurs.
- Unexplained bleeding: Bleeding from the mouth, nose, penis, vagina or gums that is not due to trauma should be examined. Although bleeding disorders do occur in pets, they usually are discovered while pets are young. If unexplained bleeding starts when a pet is old, a thorough search should be undertaken.
- Cough: A dry, non-productive cough in an older pet should prompt chest radiographs to be taken. This type of cough is the most common sign of lung cancer. Please remember there are many causes of cough in dogs and cats.
- Lameness: Unexplained lameness especially in large or giant breed dogs is a very common sign of bone cancer. Radiographs of the affected area are useful for detecting cancer of the bone.
- Straining to urinate: Straining to urinate and blood in the urine usually indicate a common urinary tract infection; if the straining and bleeding are not rapidly controlled with antibiotics or are recurrent, cancer of the bladder may be the underlying cause. Cystoscopy or other techniques that allow a veterinarian to take a biopsy of the bladder are useful and sometimes necessary to establish a definitive diagnosis in these cases.
- Oral odor: Oral tumors do occur in pets and can cause a pet to change its food preference (i.e. from hard to soft foods) or cause a pet to change the manner in which it chews its food. Many times a foul odor can be detected in pets with oral tumors. A thorough oral examination with radiographs or CT scan, necessitating sedation, is often necessary to determine the cause of the problem.
A radiation therapy machine
Does cancer affect our pets in the same way or at the same speed that it affects us?
Dogs and cats live a compressed life span and everything happens more rapidly with a pet.
What developments are being made in animal oncology? Will we see a cure in the near future?
We are seeing better, more effective, and less toxic radiation therapy. Soon we will offer cancer vaccines to market in a small molecular level.
What are the most effective treatment options available for pets with cancer?
It depends on the type of cancer. There are hundreds of types of cancer. Common ways to treat would be Radiation, chemotherapy and surgery.
What types of animal cancer are the most treatable?
Most treatable would be Lymphoma and Soft Tissue Sarcoma.
What makes you stand out from other veterinarians?
Being a leader in oncology industry and also research in the field of Oncology.
How do you make pet owners comfortable when they are dealing with a pet with cancer?
There are a number of ways. One is to give them hope. The legacy of "Smokey" my miniature schnauzer is that we want everyone, every pet to have the same options that I had when I treated my own dog. Having gone through cancer treatments with both of our dogs, Smokey and Cody, we understand all too well what the diagnosis and treatment of cancer is and what should be done for both the pets and owners. We also insure that this message of hope is carried by everyone at our facility--from the receptionists to the technicians to the assistants to the doctors. Everyone understands what and why we do what we do. As for tips, the best thing we all do to help owners through this is to empathize with them. Understanding what they are going through and having them interact with pet owners in our waiting room, all whom are going through the same experience and feeling similar emotions, is incredibly helpful.
Where are the top five places to bring your dog for some fun and running around in Fairfield County?
Waverly Park, Compo Beach, Calf Pasture, Mianus River Gorge Preserve, and Cranbury Park.