Everything You Never Wanted to Know About Cancer in Pets

A white dog being comfortedCancer is not pleasant, whether you have two legs or four. Longer pet lifespans and better diagnostic capabilities are great, but it also means we are diagnosing cancer in pets more than ever before. All Creatures Veterinary Hospital of Brooklyn wants our pet lovers to know that cancer is not always a death sentence. We are here to walk you through it.

Cancer Defined

While many of us use the word cancer in day-to-day conversation, not everyone understands what it really means.

Cancer is a term that describes a disease process in which cells within the body grow out of the normal controls due to changes (mutations) in the DNA of cells.

There are many different types of cancer and effects of cancer. Different types of cancer can have different consequences depending on the cells of origin, location, and behavior. Malignant cancers are tumors that behave aggressively, with disruption of the surrounding tissues and a propensity to metastasize, or spread. Benign tumors, on the other hand, often remain localized and may not cause any notable damage.

Catching Cancer in Pets

Because the consequences of cancer in pets can vary greatly, it is important for us to catch this disease process as early as possible. While symptoms can vary greatly depending on the type of cancer, there are some signs to be on the lookout for.

A pet with cancer may have:

  • A new lump or bump or one that is growing/changing
  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Decreased energy
  • Decreased appetite
  • Coughing or heavy breathing
  • Digestive upset that does not resolve
  • A change in typical habits/behaviors
  • A bad odor

While these could mean cancer, there are also many other possible explanations for these symptoms. It is important to call us right away and schedule an appointment to see a veterinarian if your pet is exhibiting any of these signs so that we can get to work investigating.

We will likely recommend some form of diagnostic testing, which is important to identify the problem. Procedures such as blood and urine testing, radiographs (x-rays), ultrasound, and tissue sampling often hold the clues we need to make a diagnosis.

Battling Cancer in Pets

If your pet is diagnosed with cancer, no need to panic. Cancer treatment options for our furry friends have advanced tremendously over the last few decades. Many pet cancers can be cured or managed, which offers a longer and better quality of life for our patients.

When treating pet cancers, it is our primary goal to benefit your pet’s overall well-being. This means that providing an effective treatment plan with as few side effects as possible is extremely important. A pet with cancer may undergo:

  • Surgery — When it is an option to physically remove cancerous tissue, this is typically the mainstay of cancer treatment. In some cases, having a surgery alone can be curative. Removing most of a tumor, or debulking, can be beneficial as an adjunct to other treatments or temporarily improving quality of life.
  • Radiation therapy — The use of focused, high-energy particles to target and kill fast-growing cancer cells is an effective means of controlling cancerous tissue in a small area.
  • Chemotherapy — In certain situations, the use of injectable drugs to target cancerous cells throughout the body can be very effective. People undergoing chemotherapy often report very unpleasant experiences. In pets, however, we strive to use less aggressive protocols to extend life rather than cure the disease, which results in using lower doses and ultimately less intense side effects.
  • Adjunctive treatment — Other treatments such as acupuncture treatments can be beneficial in both battling the cancer and supporting quality of life.

Other supportive care can be offered to pets with cancer, whether they are undergoing treatment or not. A good nutritional program, pain management, and other efforts to maintain a happy pet are often key.

Keeping Cancer at Bay

There are some things that you can do as a pet owner to help stop cancer in its tracks and catch it quickly if it does occur.

  • Avoid exposing your pet (and yourself) to known carcinogens such as cigarette smoke, herbicides, and excessive sunlight
  • Bring your pet in once to twice a year as recommended for wellness exams  and care so that we can screen for signs of trouble
  • Make yourself familiar with your pet’s breed and what types of cancer tend to occur more commonly
  • Provide your pet with a good nutritional and exercise program
  • Spay or neuter as recommended to decrease the risk of mammary and other cancers

Cancer is not anyone’s idea of a good time, but we can certainly work together to make sure that we do our best to beat it. There is no sense in worrying too much about something that hasn’t happened. Do your best to prevent cancer in pets where possible and remember that we our on your team should it show up in your pet’s life.