VCA Veterinary Referral Associates

Animal Oncology

Welcome to the Oncology Department at Veterinary Referral Associates!

What Is A Veterinary Oncologist?

A board certified veterinary oncologist is a veterinarian who has completed an approved residency training program in medical oncology, passed two separate rigorous specialization exams, and published original research study within their field, thereby obtaining the status of Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine, with a sub-specialist certification in medical oncology. A veterinary oncologist has specialized knowledge in the diagnosis of cancer, the staging of tumors, the development of treatment plans, and the safe handling and administration of chemotherapy. Often, board certified veterinary specialists participate in clinical chemotherapy/immunotherapy trials, offering the highest and most advanced level of care for your pet.

Our veterinarians typically work in concert with your pet's veterinarian in order to obtain the best possible outcome for your pet. They can help your pet by developing treatment plans that incorporate one or more of the following options:

  • Surgery
  • Radiation
  • Chemotherapy
  • Immunotherapy
  • Palliative Care

While your general practitioner can diagnose and treat many health problems, optimal treatment for certain diseases like cancer require the care of a doctor who has had specialized, intensive training in veterinary oncology.

Why Does My Pet Need A Veterinary Oncologist?

Just as in humans, a pet with cancer typically needs the help of an oncologist to help diagnose and treat the disease. Our veterinarians will determine the most appropriate course of treatment and coordinate the treatment program for pets with cancer. They also frequently consults with veterinarians to ensure patients receive the best treatment possible for their cancer. You can be assured that a veterinarian who refers you and your pet to VCA VRA is one that is caring and committed to ensuring that your pet receives the highest standard of medical care for his or her illness.

While in some cases, your veterinarian may be able to simply consult with our veterinarians about your pet's care, in many cases it is necessary to actually refer you and your pet to see us for advanced diagnostics and treatment.

Our veterinarians may also have access to specialized diagnostic or treatment tools that a general practitioner veterinarian may not have. We use the safest and most advanced equipment for drawing up and administering chemotherapy, reducing the risk of exposure to staff, owners, and pets. Veterinary technicians working alongside our veterinarians have also undergone intensive training in the handling and administration of chemotherapy, which reduces the risk for treatment related complications, and they act as excellent resources for owners regarding questions about chemotherapy.

My Pet Has Cancer. Now What?

The first step is to take a deep breath. A diagnosis of cancer can evoke many different emotions and it’s important to take the time to learn about all of the possible options available for your pet before making important decisions about their care.

The most important point to realize about your pet’s diagnosis is that just as in people, many cancers can be easily treated, managed, and even cured. Early detection and specialized care are leading to increased survival and cure rates in almost all the types of cancers that afflict pets. From surgery to chemotherapy to radiation therapy, veterinary cancer specialists can offer your pet the very latest diagnostic and treatment options and the best chance of survival. With optimal treatment, cancer in many cases simply becomes another manageable chronic disease.

If your pet is diagnosed with cancer, it is important not to become overwhelmed. It’s a good idea to have your veterinarian to write down the most important points for you to ask during your initial consultation.

Although a diagnosis of cancer always instills a sense of urgency, it is important that treatment decisions are made in an informed manner and after careful consideration of all available options. Therefore, if your pet is diagnosed with cancer, you will either want to have your general practice veterinarian work in consultation with a veterinary oncologist, or be referred to us for your pet's treatment.

Some Common Cancers Treated By Medical Oncologists:

  • Lymphoma/Leukemias
  • Skin tumors (e.g. mast cell tumors)
  • Oral tumors (e.g. squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma)
  • Lung tumors
  • Gastrointestinal tract tumors, including stomach tumors, intestinal tumors, anal gland tumors
  • Mammary tumors
  • Osteosarcoma
  • Hemangiosarcoma
  • Bladder tumors
  • Endocrine tumors (e.g. thyroid tumors, pancreatic tumors)

Frequently Asked Questions

Will Chemotherapy Make My Pet Sick?

Your veterinary oncologist will give you specific instructions regarding your pet's chemotherapy, but in general, you should be aware that pets typically handle chemotherapy regimens far better than people do. First, as cancer treatment for both humans and small animals has become more sophisticated, the side effects created by chemotherapy regimens have become less severe. Second, chemotherapy administration in animals is less aggressive than it is in humans, so animals typically do not become as sick from the side effects as do people.

Finally, veterinary oncologists have many options at their disposal to help keep your pet comfortable during treatment for his or her disease. From pain management options to special nutritional recommendations to medications that can help lessen the nausea associated with chemotherapy, be assured that veterinary oncologists can keep most pets surprisingly comfortable during treatment. In fact, one of the biggest hurdles to treating pets with cancer is that many owners imagine their pet's treatment will be more difficult than it really is.

How Can I Keep My Pet From Getting Cancer?

Just as in people, there is no proven way to keep your pet from getting cancer. You can, however, take steps to minimize the risks. Avoid any known predisposing causes, such as not spaying or neutering pets, or leaving pets exposed to sunlight. Also make sure your pet has regularly scheduled checkups and follow your veterinarian's advice regarding any necessary screening tests.

What Additional Training Does A Veterinary Medical Oncologist Have?

Board certified veterinary medical oncologists are veterinarians who have elected to pursue several years of additional rigorous training in the field of medical oncology following graduation from veterinary school.  Following completion of an undergraduate degree, individuals must complete a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree (minimum of 4 years), a rotating internship in general medicine and surgery (minimum of 1 year), and a specialized residency training in the field of medical oncology (minimum of 3 years).  Many veterinary oncologists also pursue advances degrees such as Masters or PhD degrees.

In order to become board certified in the field of medical oncology by the College of Veterinary Internal Medicine (ACVIM), veterinarians must:

  • Complete 3 years of an ACVIM approved residency program at a veterinary teaching hospital under the direct supervision of some of the best experts in the field and obtain hands on experience in the diagnosis, treatment, and management of a variety of complex cancer cases.
  •  Completed the credentialing application process established by the ACVIM including:

               - Pass a national qualifying examination following completion of the second
                 year of training
               - Pass a national certifying examination following completion of the third year
                 of training
               - Publish an original research study in a peer reviewed journal within their field
                 of interest

         A veterinarian who has received this specialty status will list the initials, 'DACVIM
         (oncology),'after his or her DVM degree.   Only board certified individuals can list 
         these credentials after their name.

Here is some information from the ACVIM regarding cancer in companion animals:

When your pet needs the care of a veterinary oncologist, the years of intensive training and additional education they possess will be focused on helping your pet to recover from the disease and/or enjoy the highest quality of life possible.

What are Cancer Treatment Methods?

The goal of cancer therapy is to destroy abnormal cancer cells while sparing normal cells. An important difference in human vs. animal oncology is that the goal with humans, due to our extended life spans, is to cure the disease. In animals, the goal is to extend an excellent quality of life. In many cases, a veterinary oncologist will recommend combining some or all of the treatment options outlined below in order to provide the very best outcome for your pet.

  • Surgery
  • Radiation Treatment
  • Chemotherapy
  • Immunotherapy

Services Offered in Oncology

Veterinarians in Oncology


General Practice

We have over 600 animal hospitals in 41 states and 4 Canadian provinces that are staffed by more than 3,000 fully-qualified, dedicated and compassionate veterinarians, with more than 400 being board-certified specialists.

The nationwide VCA family of general practice hospitals give your pet the very best in medical care, providing a full range of general medical and surgical services as well as specialized treatments such as wellness, spay/neuter, advanced diagnostic services (MRI/CT Scan), internal medicine, oncology, ophthalmology, dermatology, cardiology, neurology, boarding, and grooming. Services may vary by location.

Our family of pet hospitals stands out by delivering the greatest resources in order provide the highest quality care available for your pets. By maintaining the highest standards of pet health care available anywhere, we emphasize prevention as well as healing. We provide continuing education programs to our doctors and staff and promote the open exchange of professional knowledge and expertise. And finally, we have established a consistent program of procedures and techniques, proven to be the most effective in keeping pets healthy.

Find a VCA General Care Animal Hospital near you:


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Emergency Care

Your emergency needs can be met right here at our hospital.
VCA Veterinarian Referral Associates provides 24 hour emergency veterinary care, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Emergency veterinarians, veterinary technicians and/or veterinary assistants are on staff 24 hours a day.

Please call us at 301-926-3300. We are located at 500 Perry Parkway. Gaithersburg, MD 20877.

We provide the highest standard in veterinary emergency and critical care services. We are trained and equipped to perform a variety of emergency surgeries and procedures. We provide the highest standards of pain management. Emergency internal medicine consultations, including full diagnostics, are available.

Please call or come in immediately if you feel your pet is having an emergency or needs after-hours care.