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What to do When Your Pets Have Cancer

Image of a bloodhound dog and a young kitten cuddling together

Cancer Warning Signs in Cats and Dogs

Cancer has become increasingly common in cats and dogs over the years. It’s estimated that annually up to six millions dogs and six million cats are affected by it. While there are several different types of this horrible disease that can affect our pets, some are more treatable than others. Surgery, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, and radiation are just a few of the options available to help keep cancer at bay, and, in some cases, lead to full remission. It’s important to be aware of the many warning signs that can help determine if your cat or dog may have cancer; some of which are more noticeable than others.

Some Pet Cancer Statistics

Cancer is the leading cause of death in 47% of dogs, primarily in dogs over ten years old, and in 32% of cats. Dogs can get cancer at roughly the same rate as humans, while cats can get fewer cancers. Cancer often tends to affect older pets, rather than younger ones.

According to the Flint Animal Cancer Center at Colorado State University, cancer is the leading cause of death in pet cats and dogs in the US. Approximately 50% of pets die of cancer each year. For most of these animals, the malignancy will appear much as it would in humans, often spreading to the same organs.

Differences Between Dogs and Cats

As mentioned, most dogs over the age of ten are more susceptible to cancer, and in many cases if the cancer is caught early enough, it can be more manageable and treatable. For cats, it’s a different story, as most cancers tend to be far more aggressive. Much of this comes from the fact that cats tend to hide when they’re not feeling well; they are less vocal than dogs when they feel ill, making it harder to determine what the cause of their pain actually is. Once diagnosed, cancer in a cat has often progressed to the point where it’s more difficult to treat.

This is why it’s very important to have an annual wellness exam, in addition to having your pet screened for cancer by your Austin veterinarian. This will better help you understand the symptoms and possible ways to treat the type of cancer that’s affecting your pet.

It’s important to be aware of the warning signs; cancer often has a better prognosis the sooner that it’s diagnosed. There are many contributing factors, but the first two important ones to be on the lookout for are any sores or lumps that never seem to heal.

Other Potential Signs of Cancer:

  • Any instance of persistent or abnormal swelling
  • Visible sores that do not heal
  • A significant loss of weight and/or loss of appetite
  • Any type of bleeding or discharge from any body opening, such as the mouth, nose, or ears
  • Problems with eating or swallowing
  • Excessive lethargy and/or a loss of stamina
  • Signs of stiffness and walking issues
  • Problems with urinating, defecating, or breathing

If you should notice normal functions such as breathing, swallowing, or going to the bathroom becoming problematic for your pet, bring them in to your Austin vet right away. This type of discomfort and pain, especially if it’s unexpected, can be a sign of an illness or an injury that should be addressed immediately.

Common Types of Cancer for Cats and Dogs

There are roughly 100 different types of cancer that can affect cats and dogs. The most common type for cats is leukemia, while lymphoma and mammary gland cancer are more common in dogs. Not all cancers are the same. Much of this depends on the location of the cancer, which may allow for a variety a treatment options.

The following are the the most common types of cancer that affect cats and dogs.

Skin: These types of tumors are very common in older dogs, but not as common in cats. Most skin tumors in cats tend to be malignant, but for dogs they are often benign. Your Austin veterinarian should check all skin tumors to determine if any are malignant.

Mammary Gland: Up to 50% of all breast tumors in dogs and more than 85% in cats are often malignant. By spaying your female puppy or kitten before 12 months, you will greatly reduce their chances of getting mammary gland cancer.

Head & Neck: Neoplasia of the mouth is very common in dogs but less frequent in cats. Keep an eye out for a mass or tumor on the gums, bleeding, odor, or any kind of eating issues. Since many of these swellings are malignant, an early, aggressive treatment is highly recommended. Neoplasia is also possible inside the nose of cats and dogs. If you notice bleeding from the nose, breathing difficulty, or facial swelling, these are signs of possible neoplasia and should be checked by your vet.

Lymphoma: This is a common form of neoplasia in both dogs and cats. Symptoms include the enlargement of one or several lymph nodes in the body. A contagious feline leukemia virus can often cause lymphoma in some cats.

Abdominal Tumors: Tumors inside the abdomen are common, yet it’s often hard to make an early diagnosis at first. Rapid weight loss or abdominal swelling are primary signs of these tumors.

Bone: Bone tumors are common in large breed dogs and dogs over seven years old, they are rarely found in cats. These tumors usually appear in the leg bones and near joints. If your pet experiences persistent pain, lameness, and swelling in these areas, please contact your vet.

Alleviating the Risk of Cancer

While it can be difficult to pinpoint the actual cause of cancer in our pets, there may be some external influences that are instrumental in cancer development. In this case, it’s best to be proactive and alleviate any possible outside elements that can be seen as a cancer risk.

Manage your Pet’s Weight

Keep your pet at a proper weight for their age and body shape. There are different types of foods available, such as nutrient-dense food, which will have valuable vitamins and minerals to contribute to your pet’s health. Raw diets are another route to go if you’re worried about preservatives in canned food. You can also make food for them from organic ingredients and with added supplements. Speak with your Austin vet regarding what weight range your pet should be in based on their age and size.

Spay or Neuter at an Appropriate Age

It’s very important to have your pet spayed or neutered. For males, neutering can greatly reduce the possibility of testicular cancer, and possible prostate problems. For females, it’s very helpful in preventing the risk of mammary gland tumors, uterine infections and cancer, especially ovarian cancer, if performed before a female’s first heat cycle. The majority of these tumors tend to be malignant in approximately 50% of dogs and 90% of cats.

Avoid Exposing your Pets to Carcinogens and Other Toxins

This cannot be stressed enough, but please don’t smoke around your pets. If you need to light up, please do it outside and away from them; even second hand smoke can be harmful to them. Cigarette smoke can wind up settling on a cat or dog’s fur, and once they clean themselves, they wind up ingesting these carcinogens, which can cause oral tumors in some cases. You should also refrain from using any pesticides and herbicides, which have been connected with increased risk of some cancers; if you must kill weeds and outside pests, please look for organic options that are not harmful to pets.

Annual Wellness Exams

Your pets should have an annual checkup by your veterinarian. If your pets are older, from 11 years and upwards, they should be seen every six months, as the risk of cancer increases with age. These exams can include blood and urine tests, which will help detect early traces of cancer, even if physical symptoms aren’t apparent. If a cancer diagnosis is caught early enough, it’s very likely that it can be treated with less aggressive measures, and may lead to remission and possibly a cure.

At ATX Animal Clinic we recommend regular, annual wellness exams for your pet, which can greatly help in detecting any potential health problems, including cancer, that your pet may have (or show signs of developing) in its early stages.

This is a complete physical examination that includes diagnostic testing such as urinalysis, blood work, and fecal tests for parasites, and much more. These exams are invaluable for helping detect diseases, and are often scheduled when your pets are in need for regular vaccinations.

If your pet’s medical issue is difficult to assess, digital radiography can be used in diagnosing issues with your pet’s bones, lungs, heart, abdomen, oral cavity, and teeth. In addition, they can also pinpoint tumors, diagnose heartworm disease, find intestinal obstructions, and much more.

We also provide echocardiography (a sonogram that uses ultrasound techniques to take multi-dimensional images of your pet’s heart) and ultrasounds, which are crucial when it comes to treating your pet for heart disease, and potential problems such as lesions, tumors and other genetic material for which we may need to do a biopsy.

If you notice potential health issues with your pet and you’re not sure whether it may be and early sign of cancer, please contact ATX Animal Clinic. We will be more than happy to answer any questions you may have, and any other tests that we offer.