puppy and kitten cuddle on white background

May is Pet Cancer Awareness Month

Cancer is a pervasive illness that affects all people. Everyone has a friend, relative, or pet who has battled cancer. May is Pet Cancer Awareness Month, and now is the time for you to become informed about the causes of cancer, warning signs, and ways you can help prevent cancer in your pets.

Both dogs and cats are susceptible to cancer, but it occurs about twice as often in dogs as it does in cats. Diagnosis in cats can be more difficult, though, due to their ability to hide warning signs. This means that cancer in cats is usually detected later than in dogs when it can be more difficult to treat. There are also certain dog breeds that can be more likely to have inherited a susceptibility to cancer, such as Boxers, Boston Terriers, Golden Retrievers, Great Danes, and Saint Bernards.

Cancer Affects Everyone

A German Wirehaired Pointer getting a check-up at the Vet.

  • 4-8 million dogs are touched by cancer each year
  • 1 in 4 dogs and cats will be diagnosed with cancer
  • Cancer is the number one killer of dogs over 2 years old
  • It accounts for 50% of all disease-related pet deaths
  • Cancer is the number one disease killer of children
  • 16,000 companion animals are diagnosed with cancer daily
  • 50% of dogs over the age of 10 will be diagnosed with cancer
  • 46,000 people are diagnosed with cancer daily
  • 46 children are diagnosed with cancer daily
  • One out of 330 people will develop cancer before the age of 20

Early Warning Signs of Cancer

Here are ten early warning signs, or the “Ten L’s” of canine cancer of which you need to be aware:

  • Lumps
  • Lesions
  • Lameness
  • Appetite Loss
  • Lethargy
  • Weight Loss
  • Loud Odor
  • Loss of Normal Body Functions
  • Loss of Blood or Bloody Discharge
  • Labored Breathing

What Causes Cancer?

Cancer can have several different causes.

  • Naturally occurring. Plants naturally produce chemicals they use to fight off predators, and they can affect you or your pet negatively as well, by causing mutations in your DNA.

Containers of household toxins and cleaners.

  • Man-made chemicals. Pesticides, herbicides, chemical food additives and preservatives, cleaning products, and second-hand smoke are a few examples of man-made chemicals.
  • Irradiation (exposure to the sun). Skin cancer is a big worry for people, but is not as common in household pets, although white or partially white animals with low pigmentation are at a higher risk.
  • Inherited susceptibility. An abnormal gene can be inherited from a parent, and that may make a pet or person more likely to develop cancer at some point in the future, but does not automatically mean cancer will develop.
  • Vaccinations. There is evidence that some healthy dogs have developed cancer and other health issues as a result of vaccinations, and dogs with cancer should not receive vaccinations as they can negatively affect the immune system. Fibrosarcoma, or soft tissue sarcoma, is a type of cancer associated with injections and vaccinations (also called injection-site sarcoma). Read more about vaccinations and cancer here.

Treatment Options

If your pet does get the dreaded diagnosis, there are treatment options available to you:

A chocolate lab laying on a vet table waiting for Vet.

  • Surgery -This is a good option if the cancer is localized and has not spread to other areas of the body, or if it is not in a dangerous place for surgery to be performed.
  • Chemotherapy -This puts toxic chemicals in the body that will kill cancer cells-however it will kill normal cells as well, thus making people and pets very sick as they go through the process.
  • Radiation Treatment -This involves a beam of radiation being directed at cancerous cells while avoiding normal cells. This works only when the cancer is localized to one area.
  • Immunotherapy –Stimulating the immune system to fight off cancer on its own by attacking cancer cells.
  • A combination of treatments
  • No Treatment -Some pet owners will choose not to treat their pet’s cancer depending on budgetary restrictions and prognosis. In these cases pain relief will be the main goal of treatment, and the pet’s continued quality of life should be considered.

If your pet receives a cancer diagnosis and treatment recommendation from your vet, then I recommend that you seek a second opinion, and see if there is a veterinary oncologist near you. Different veterinarians have different opinions on the best course of treatment, and you owe it to your pet to hear all of the options available!

What Can I Do?

The quality of life you provide for your pet can work with, or work against, whatever genes he was dealt! Make sure you do your part to prevent cancer.

A dog having it's ears checked at the Vet.

  • Use green cleaning products and don’t expose your pet, or yourself, for that matter, to harsh chemicals.
  • Feed your dogs and cats good quality food. READ THE LABEL!!! Cheap grocery store brands contain chemical additives and preservatives and they are harmful to your pet, just like eating only processed foods, chips and ice cream every day would be harmful to you.
  • Some dogs can benefit from sunscreen, especially if they are white, short-haired, and spend a lot of time outdoors.
  • Make sure to neuter/spay at 6 months! This will prevent the possibility of testicular cancer in males, and greatly reduce the instances of breast cancer in females.
  • Do your research about vaccinations and see if you think the pros outweigh the cons. There are vaccines that are approved to last 7 years, instead of going to the vet every single year.
  • Watching your dog’s weight and getting plenty of exercise together will also be helpful. People who have a positive outlook and are able to move around and enjoy their lives have been shown to do much better at holding disease at bay, so why wouldn’t this be true for your dog?

If you do these things, you will, at least, be one step ahead of the game! Share your stories about pets and cancer in the comment section below.

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