May is National Pet Cancer Awareness Month
Did you know that cancer accounts for nearly 50% of disease-related deaths in pets each year? In fact, of the estimated 75 million dogs and 85 million cats in the United States, roughly 6 million pets will be diagnosed with cancer. Studies have found that approximately 1 in 4 dogs and 1 in 5 cats will develop cancer during their lifetime. And because pet cancer is one of the leading causes of disease-related death for our pets, every May and November is dedicated to Pet Cancer Awareness. We hope this post will provide you with information about pet cancer and what to expect if your pet is diagnosed.
Early Signs of Cancer in Pets
Due to the many different types of cancer in pets, there is a wide range of signs and symptoms your pet can exhibit. However, here are the most common signs of cancer to look for in your pets:
- Lumps and bumps
- Abnormal odors
- Abnormal discharges
- Non-healing wounds
- Weight loss or muscle mass loss
- Change in appetite
- Coughing or difficulty breathing
- Lethargy or depression
- Changes in bathroom habits
- Evidence of pain
To read more about each sign listed above, visit PetMD’s “Top Ten Signs of Cancer in Pets” article. If your pet displays any of these symptoms, contact your primary veterinarian right away.
What Happens if Your Pet is Diagnosed With Cancer
Just as in human healthcare, the first step before determining treatment is to go through the diagnosis and staging process.
Diagnosis – Confirms the specific type of cancer your pet has.
Staging – Establishes the extent of the cancer, and if it has spread.
The tests involved in diagnosis and staging include:
- Needle aspiration
- Blood work
- Diagnostic imaging
After determining the type and stage of cancer your pet has, your veterinarian will determine which treatment option will be best.
How Pet Cancer is Treated
Many treatments and therapies to treat cancer in pets do not have the same side effects as they do in people. Due to the lower dosages pets receive, there are significantly fewer side effects, and most pets tolerate treatments such as radiation and chemotherapy quite well.
Treatment options will depend on the type of cancer and may be done alone or in combination:
- Radiation therapy
- Stereotactic radiosurgery (SRS)
- Alternative cancer treatments
How to Prevent Cancer in Your Pet
While there is no definite way to prevent your pet from getting cancer, here are some ways to reduce the risk in your furry family member:
- Schedule annual wellness checkups with your veterinarian, and twice-yearly check ups if your pet is older.
- Assess your pet’s body regularly and check for any lumps/bumps regularly. Contact your veterinarian immediately if you discover anything abnormal.
- Feed your pet a healthy, balanced diet.
- Help your pet maintain a healthy weight.
- Protect your pet from sunburns to prevent melanoma – especially for pets with short fur.
- Reduce toxins in your pet’s living space, such as secondhand smoke, pesticides, cleansers with harsh chemicals, and other toxins.
- Consider titering as an alternative to annual vaccinations. Over-vaccinating your pet heightens risk of cancer.