By Amanda K. Vogt
Cancer is the leading cause of disease-related deaths in pets, so it is fitting that May — annual pet check-up time — is Pet Cancer Awareness Month. Approximately 30 percent of dogs die from some form of cancer, usually in their later years. Cancer is less common in cats, but when it strikes it tends to be more aggressive.
So as you groom your four-legged family members or apply tick and flea treatments in time for summer, what warning signs should you look for? There is little you can do to prevent cancer in pets, but early detection can save your pet’s life.
Certainly, there are the more obvious signs that something is wrong: loss of appetite, unusual and persistent cough, non-healing wounds, chronic lethargy, diarrhea and vomiting, and weight loss. But in the initial stages of cancer, you can often successfully detect changes in your pet’s shape and smell and alert your vet.
Swelling around your pet’s throat (swelling of the lymph nodes) or a bloated belly that doesn’t go away should be brought to your vet’s attention. Any new lump or bump that lasts or grows should also be investigated. In this case, a vet can often rule out cancer with a needle biopsy. Strange or foul odors coming from your pet’s ears, mouth, nose or anal area could also be reason for concern.
Most cancers strike dogs in the later stages of life or the “grey hair” years. The risk of cancer tapers off as a dog passes the age of ten. Many of those lumps and bumps that older dogs get are harmless Limpomas, or fatty tumors. The vast majority of cancerous lumps are Papillomas, a common skin cancer, and are usually not reason for concern.
Cats are less likely to get cancer, but when they do, the disease tends to be aggressive. One of the most common forms of cancer in cats is lymphoma, which is associated with the feline leukemia virus. There is a vaccine for FLV, but exposure is still possible even with the vaccine. And since cats often mask illness, it is often harder to suspect and detect, so be vigilant.
Tests and treatments for cancer in pets are much the same as those used on humans! There are blood tests and x-rays, chemotherapy, radiation and surgery.
We as pet owners are pretty good at detecting changes in our pets’ health. Where we are reluctant, I think, is in bringing these changes to the attention of our vets. I know I am.
We don’t want to hear bad news about our beloved fur babies. But early detection through an annual veterinary exam is the best prevention of cancer death in pets, so don’t put off having that lump on Frisky’s belly checked out. I am making an appointment with my vet to have my Lucy checked out. She is 8 years old, and I found a lump under her right arm last week. Wish me luck!