As our pets, like us, continue to live longer, we should all be able to recognize potential signs of cancer. This month’s newsletter focuses upon sources, types, and potential treatment for cancer — hoping that you’ll never have to act upon this knowledge.

However, one in four pets will develop some type of tumor in their lifetime. Fortunately, with advances in technology, today your pet has the best possible chances of being a survivor.

Healthy Pet
Sources
The sources of cancer among our pets is varied and widely unknown. As with people, there are many factors that may play a role including diet, exercise and overweight conditions. Most cancers occur due to the damage of a pet’s DNA. The damage can occur through lifestyle or environmental factors, or due to a genetic predisposition toward inheriting damaged DNA.

Particular breeds such as Golden Retrievers and Boxers tend to have a higher incidence of cancer. The underlying source can be, at times, traced to breeding practices or the specific genes of the breed itself.

Importantly, the willingness of the pet owner to have their female pets spayed also has a dramatic impact upon reducing mammary cancer risk over their lifetime. Similarly, neutering male pets reduces the risk of testicular cancer.

Types

Neoplasia is the uncontrolled, abnormal growth of cells or tissues in the body. Neoplasms or tumors can be benign or malignant. Benign versions tend to grow slowly, displace body tissue and typically do not spread throughout the body. Malignant tumors can grow at unpredictable rates, invade surrounding tissue and spread to other parts of the body.

Types of Cancer
There are several types of cancers that are most prevalent among pets, including:

Hemangiosarcoma
Also called HSA, are malignant tumors that grow from the cells that form the inner lining of blood vessels. HSA in dogs typically shows up in the skin, the spleen and the heart. While less common in cats, it’s typically seen in the skin, internal organs or oral tissues.

Lymphoma
Cancer of the lymph system. In cats, the majority of lymphoma is intestinal, but in dogs, more than 80% of lymphoma cases involve all lymph nodes.

Mammary Cancer
Both canine and feline friends can develop mammary tumors. Approximately 50% are malignant in dogs, but more than 90% are malignant in cats. This cancer can quickly spread to nearby mammary glands and lymph nodes.

Mast Cell Tumors
The result of uncontrolled proliferation of mast cells, a normal part of the body’s immune system. They have a wide range of sizes, shapes and locations, which can make them hard to diagnose without fine needle aspirates or biopsies.

Melanoma
Cancer of the pigment-producing cells of the body, most frequently occurring in the mouth of dogs or iris of the eye.

Osteosarcoma
The most common kind of bone cancer in dogs is osteosarcoma, an aggressive and fast-growing disease which most often occurs in middle-aged to elderly dogs, though it can occur in young dogs and cats.

Detection
One of the more common methods of detection by owners is the emergence of bumps or lumps under the skin. Often, these can be felt while brushing or simply petting your dog or cat. Additional indications that your pet may require attention include:

  • Dramatic lack of energy
  • Sudden lameness
  • Sustained loss of appetite or rapid weight loss
  • Swollen abdomen
  • Bleeding from the nose or mouth
  • Persistent vomiting or diarrhea
  • Difficulty breathing

If you see any of these signs, please contact us immediately to make an appointment for your pet. We’ll conduct a thorough physical examination and undertake diagnostic tests to determine if your pet has cancer — and which type. The diagnostic tests may include an x-ray, ultrasound, blood test, cytology (withdrawing some cells from a mass to examine under a microscope) or biopsy.

Depending upon the results, we may refer you to a trusted pet oncologist for highly specialized treatment and care.

Treatment
Depending upon the age of your pet, we’ll outline the risks, treatment options and the potential side effects based upon the stage and type/aggressiveness of the cancer. Potential treatments may include surgery to remove any masses and to help contain the disease, chemotherapy (much more easily tolerated by pets than humans) to help kill the cancer throughout your pet’s body, or even radiation to isolate cancer cells with pinpoint precision. Additional approaches may include cryosurgery (freezing), hyperthermia (heating) or immunotherapy. At times, a combination of these approaches may yield the best possible result. We may also suggest dietary changes and provide medications to help alleviate any pain.

Happy Pets
Regrettably, at times, the best course of action may be to simply spend as much quality time with your pet as possible.

Positive Outcomes
With today’s advances in medicines and diagnostic tools, your pet has the best possible chance of becoming a survivor. To increase the chance of success, early detection is essential. So, we encourage you to schedule your annual pet wellness examination to maximize the longevity of your pet and ease your mind.