Cancer is the cause of disease-related deaths in about fifty percent of our pets. November is National Pet Cancer Awareness Month, and The Animal Haven would like to offer some helpful tips on prevention and treatment for your dog or cat.
There are several things you can do to prevent cancer in your pet. “It’s important to spay your female cat or dog early, which is very effective in preventing mammary tumors, and to neuter your male pet to prevent prostate and testicular tumors,” says Dr. Arnie Cary, DVM, and board member of The Animal Haven. If your animal is white or lightly colored, it may be prone to some forms of skin cancer. As with humans, keeping those pets from long exposure to ultraviolent light in sunlight is a good prevention measure. There is some speculation that lawn chemicals may be carcinogenic to animals as well, so try to minimize their exposure, for example, to lawns that have been recently sprayed for weeds or pests.
Some dog breeds are prone to certain cancers. For example, Golden Retrievers have a high incidence of lymphoma and hemangiosarcoma; Rottweilers are prone to lymphoma and bone tumors; Bulldog breeds to mast cell tumors; and German Shepherds are prone to hemangiosarcomas and mammary tumors. Do some research on your breed (or breeds, if your animal is a mix of two or more). You may not be able to prevent the cancer, but you might catch it early enough to save your pet’s life.
Early diagnosis is one of the best ways to fight cancer, so it’s important to watch for early warning signs, especially for the older dog or cat. Warning signs include: persistent changes in appetite or water intake; a bump that is enlarging or changing in size; progressive weight loss or gain; non-healing sores or an infection such as a persistent nail bed infection; abnormal odor; persistent or recurring lameness; chronic vomiting or diarrhea; persistent or recurring cough; unexplained bleeding or discharge; and/or difficulty swallowing, breathing, urinating, or defecating. Take your pet to a veterinary professional for periodic exams or if you notice any of these signs.
If your veterinarian suspects cancer, there are a number of tests that can be done. Some are minimally invasive, such as x-rays, blood and/or urine tests, ultrasounds, or small needle biopsies. Some tests, such as full biopsies or an MRI or CT scan, are more involved but readily available and potentially very valuable for your pet’s health. Veterinary oncology is a thriving specialty, and your veterinarian may recommend a referral to an oncologist as the best option for your pet.
“I can’t emphasize enough the importance of early detection. Keep a close eye on your pet and seek advice from your veterinarian if you notice something amiss,” says Dr. Cary. You may also want to look into pet health insurance, as cancer treatment can be costly, and having insurance can be a life saver.