The month of May is National Pet Cancer Awareness Month. This gives us a chance to raise a topic that can be intimidating and worrying for many pet owners. It is important for owners to know what to look for when screening for cancers and also to know what things can be done to decrease risk factors.
Unfortunately, just like humans, our pet companions can be affected by cancer. In both dogs and cats, skin cancers and blood cell cancers are among the most common types.
Cancer in dogs
Dogs are also prone to cancers of blood vessel cells and bone cancer. Since mammary cancers are also common in unspayed female dogs due to the increased estrogen in their bodies, we recommend spaying female dogs at a young enough age to decrease the estrogen associated risks.
Cancer in Cats
Cats are prone to cancers associated with the digestive tract and the mouth. Cats that are infected with either of the cat retroviruses, Feline Leukemia Virus or Feline Immunodeficiency Virus, have increased incidences of cancers, especially of the white blood cells. For cats, viral screening tests and preventative vaccines for Feline Leukemia are important to decrease the risks.
Cancer can show up differently in our pets. Some are tumors or lumps that appear on the body. (Do remember that every lump or bump, while technically a tumor, is not necessarily malignant!) Some are inside the bones or internal organs and cannot be seen. Others may simply be a population of cancerous cells in the blood vessels, bone marrow, or internal organs.
It is important to bring to your doctor’s attention any changes that might concern you.
While the symptoms listed below could be a sign of cancer, it is good to keep in mind that they can be caused by other diseases.
- Lumps or bumps anywhere on the body (in females especially in the mammary tissue)
- Changes in energy level or appetite
- Coughing or breathing changes or increased nasal discharge or congestion
- Increased drinking or urination or difficulty and pain with urination
- Vomiting or Diarrhea, change in stool size or consistency or straining to defecate
- Weight loss
- Limping, not walking on a leg, or neck and back pain
- Unusual bleeding or bruising
- Enlarged or painful abdomen.
When you visit the vet with any of these symptoms, a comprehensive physical exam is the first step towards finding an explanation. Diagnostics tests for cancer may include blood work, x-rays, ultrasound, needle aspirates or biopsy.
It is important to not overlook symptoms if we want to catch cancer as early as possible and start a course of treatment. Many cancers respond very well to surgery or chemotherapy and can be cured or go into remission.
Don't hesitate to contact your veterinarian if you have any questions or concerns about your pet's health.