Chemotherapy patient, Merlin

Merlin is a 13 and a half year old male Cocker Spaniel who is a very much loved companion of Lauren, one of our veterinary nurses at Vetwest Carine. A few weeks ago Lauren noticed a bright red area in the back of Merlin’s mouth. He also appeared a little uncomfortable when eating. She brought him in to have an appointment with one of our veterinarians straight away.


Merlin was given a thorough clinical examination by Dr Hannah which revealed a lump behind one of the molar teeth on his upper jaw. Any lumps in the mouth can be potentially cancerous so she recommended Merlin be anaesthetised so that a sample (biopsy) of the tissue could be obtained and sent to the external laboratory for testing.

Prior to anaesthetising Merlin, a blood sample was taken to make sure that he did not have any other problems, such as kidney or liver disease. Dr Hannah also took some chest radiographs (x-rays) to ensure that there were no secondary masses in Merlin’s chest or lung fields. If the mass was a malignant cancer, the most likely area it would spread to is the chest. Thankfully Merlin was clear on both accounts.

The biopsy results came back as an ‘ossifying ameloblastoma’ – a type of mouth cancer that is locally invasive to the surrounding tissues but doesn’t spread to other parts of the body. Normally with most cancerous lumps we would attempt to remove them, but the location of this lump would have meant major surgery and involved removing a large part of Merlin’s top jaw. Taking his age and the extensive nature of the required surgery into consideration, it was decided not to go ahead with surgery with Merlin.

Merlin was referred to a veterinary oncologist at the Perth Veterinary Specialist Centre for further assessment. This allowed his owner, Lauren, to be advised of the latest chemotherapy options available for this particular type of mouth cancer and based on this information; Lauren has opted to place Merlin on a chemotherapy course.

Due to Merlin’s early diagnosis he is now doing well. He takes a low dose chemotherapy agent once daily as a tablet and will continue to have monthly checks with an oncologist to monitor the cancer and discuss any concerns Lauren may have.

The veterinary industry is constantly advancing and there is a lot we can do for our much loved companions as they get older, especially when it comes to treatments for our cancer patients. In general, our canine counterparts do not suffer the same range or severity of side effects to chemotherapy agents as humans do and it is well worth considering as an option to help extend both quantity and quality of life.

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