As pet owners, cancer is not something we even want to think about. But it’s a terrible reality.
According to the American Veterinary Medical Foundation, 50 percent of dogs and cats over the age of 10 will get cancer.
Cancer is all too common in cats and dogs. Veterinarians diagnose about 6 million cancers a year in dogs and another 6 million in cats.
As with humans, early detection is the best and least expensive way to stop the spread of cancer.
“Any new lump or rapidly growing lump is important to get checked. And certainly if in the case of lymphoma, what the owner will usually notice first is the pet looks like it has the mumps. It’s got swelling of the lymph nodes under the jaw, and that needs to be checked out right away,” said VCA Oso Creek Animal Hospital Veterinarian Dr. Wallace Graham.
Pets can receive close to the same cancer treatment humans do. Often, the equipment and chemical compounds are the same ones used with humans who have cancer.
“In veterinary medicine we approach chemotherapy a little bit differently than people because we find that side effects of chemotherapy drugs are not as tolerable because the animal doesn’t understand we are making them feel bad to feel good. So we are a little less aggressive with chemotherapy many times. Mostly chemotherapy patients don’t have severe nausea or lose hair for instance,” said Graham.
Ultimately, cancer is a tricky illness. While some cancers can be cured, others cannot and may require lifelong treatment to help your pet live more comfortably and possibly prolong its life.
“There are veterinarians that specialize in cancer treatment, and although there are none in Corpus Christi, there are veterinary oncologists in San Antonio, Austin, Houston, College Station, Dallas. So we have good support for our veterinary cancer patient,” said Graham.
The most common cancer in both dogs and cats is breast cancer and lymphoma.
There’s no way to prevent cancer 100 percent, but you can do plenty to reduce your pet’s risk.
Be sure your pet is spayed or neutered to reduce mammary and prostate cancers.
Maintaining a lean weight can help avoid cancer (as well as a host of other health complications), and feeding a high-quality, nutritionally complete diet can also help keep your pet healthy.
Breast cancer is rare in male cats and dogs, but sadly, very common in females of both species.
It is generally diagnosed at roughly ten to eleven years of age. In dogs, the most commonly affected breeds are Poodles, Dachshunds, Spaniels, Rottweilers, Boxers, Golden Retrievers, and German Shepherds.
Feline breast cancer is most often seen in Siamese, Persian, and other Asian breeds. It is unclear whether or not breed-specific genetics play a role, or if the act of breeding these popular fan favorites simply creates a skewed sample.
When it is time to decide on a course of treatment, you and your vet have to consider both the financial cost to you and the benefit to your pet. Ask questions and get your veterinarian’s thoughts about:
- The best course of treatment
- What the outcome is likely to be
- How this will – or will not – improve the life of your pet
- The cost
If you’re not sure, get a second opinion, perhaps from a veterinary oncologist specializing in cancer treatments for animals.
Here are 10 warning signs of cancer in cats and dogs, adapted from the American Veterinary Medical Association. If you notice any of these, contact your veterinarian to check things out as soon as possible. Depending on the cancer type and stage, your pet’s health can deteriorate very quickly, so it’s always best to get an exam.
1. Enlarged or changing lumps and bumps.
- Once or twice a month, take a few minutes to feel your pet’s body for any lumps, bumps or abnormal swelling. Check for swollen lymph nodes, which can be a sign of lymphoma. Lymph nodes are located throughout the body but most easily detected around the jaw, shoulders, armpits, and behind the legs. Make a note of any bumps (their size and location) to make sure they aren’t growing or changing shape over time.
2. Sores that do not heal
- If your pet has an open wound that will not heal, it could be a sign of something more serious, such as an infection or cancer.
3. Chronic weight loss or weight gain
- If there is no change in the diet or food, but your pet is gaining or losing weight, this could be a sign of illness. Weight loss or weight gain can indicate a possible tumor in the stomach. Another related symptom could be chronic vomiting or diarrhea.
4. Change in appetite
- Is your dog or cat eating more than usual? Eating less than normal? Are they trying to eat foods they were previously uninterested in? Drastic changes in your pet’s appetite could be a sign of cancer.
5. Persistent cough
- There are many reasons why dogs might have a persistent cough. For younger pups that were recently adopted or placed in boarding, a persistent cough could be a sign of kennel cough. In older dogs, a dry persistent cough could indicate a tumor near the heart or lung cancer.
6. Persistent lameness or stiffness
- You may find that your pet is limping on one foot or no longer wants to walk or exercise. Persistent lameness or stiffness can be a sign of osteosarcoma or bone cancer.
7. Unpleasant odor from mouth
- A foul smell from the mouth can be a sign of oral cancer. Not all pets that have oral cancer exhibit pain or have trouble eating, so it is a good idea to consult your veterinarian.
8. Difficulty breathing, eating or swallowing
- A tumor in the mouth or neck can put pressure on the area and make it difficult for your pet to eat or drink. A tumor near the esophagus, nose or lungs can block airways, making it harder for your pet to breathe.
9. Difficulty urinating or defecating
- Dogs and cats can develop tumors in their urinary tracts, which can make it difficult to urinate. Similarly, if you see your pet is having trouble defecating or there is a sustained foul odor from the rear, a mass near the anus might be the culprit.
10. Bleeding or discharge from any opening
- Consult your veterinarian if your pet experiences any unexplained bleeding or discharge from any opening. Bleeding is a common sign of cancer and other illnesses. Oral cancer can cause gums to bleed. Nose cancer can cause the nose to bleed.