November is Pet Cancer Awareness Month, a reminder to stay in-the-know about cancer symptoms, treatment options and possible causes so you can enjoy the longest, healthiest life possible with the animals you love.
Cancer accounts for almost 50% of deaths in pets over 10 years old. It’s more common in dogs than in cats.
While pet cancer statistics are hard to come by, especially figures from the past, veterinarians are saying that they’re seeing more cancer patients than ever.
A possible cause is the fact that we’re taking better care of our pets – keeping them indoors, providing preventative care – so they’re living long enough to suffer from the ailments of old age.
Common Symptoms of Cancer
Pets can get cancer at any age, though it’s more common in older pets. Some breeds are predisposed to certain types of cancer, though it affects purebreds and mutts alike.
If your pet shows any of these symptoms, see a vet for advice.
- A lump or bump larger than a pea, that persists for more than 3 weeks
- Decrease in appetite
- Sudden weight loss
- Unusual bleeding from any area of the body
- A wound that won’t heal
- Difficulty urinating
- Distended belly
- Dizziness or confusion
- Limping from no known injury
Many early symptoms are similar to those of other conditions. Lumps and bumps that look ominous are often benign and easily cured. The only way to know for sure is to have your vet aspirate any lumps and take blood work to find out what’s going on inside your pet.
The Important Role of Diet
The best way you can prevent cancer in your pets is by providing the right diet.
Obesity has strong links to mammary, kidney bladder and colon cancer in pets. Cats and dogs thrive on a diet that is low in carbs and high in protein, and can have fresh produce to keep them satisfied with smaller portions.
Many processed pet foods contain known carcinogens. Yet, not every pet owner has the means to serve up fresh foods. Processed kibble and canned food is typically complete with all the vitamins and nutrients pets need.
Pet foods that don’t contain carcinogens, fillers, grains, and other undesirable ingredients do exist, and they’re not always the most expensive options available. Read the ingredients, do your research, and feed your pets the best diet you can give them.
Do Flea and Tick Treatments Cause Cancer?
Pesticides are great at killing fleas and ticks that can plague our pets, but they can also be deadly to the ones we love. Flea and tick sprays, flea collars and lawn treatments may contain chemicals that could cause cancer in both humans and animals.
Those chemicals include glyphosate, diazinon and tetrachlorvinphos – all linked to cancer, all commonly found in pest control products, even ones designed to be applied directly to our beloved pets.
Essential oil based pesticides and flea and tick treatments can be effective at keeping bugs away, but you typically have to apply them often in order for them to work consistently.
Always research the ingredients in the products you use on your animals and around the house.
Do Vaccines Cause Cancer?
There have been some cases of cats and dogs developing malignant tumors at their injection site. It’s more likely to happen to cats than to dogs. It can occur days, weeks, even years after the vaccine is administered.
Rabies is the only vaccine required by law for dogs and cats. For all other vaccines, take into account the risks and benefits of each of them when deciding what ones your pet should receive, as well as your pet’s age, overall health, previous vaccination history, risk of contracting the disease, and your veterinarian’s recommendations.
Instead of vaccinating your pet annually, you can opt for titer testing. A titer test is a blood test that measures the amount of antibodies your pet has made made against a particular disease. A positive titer indicates immunity and no need to vaccinate your pet while a negative titer indicates no immunity, in which case you may want to consider vaccinating your pet for that disease. Some boarding kennels, groomers, and doggy daycares will even accept a positive titer test instead of a vaccination certificate for certain diseases.
When you do vaccinate your pets, just to be safe, monitor your them closely afterwards. If any lump or bump appears at the injection site, take your pet back to the vet right away.
How Is Cancer Treated in Pets?
Sometimes, cancer is treated by surgically removing the tumor. The veterinary surgeon will have to remove more surrounding tissue to decrease the chances of any malignant cells getting left behind and spreading to other parts of the body.
Chemotherapy is often an option for pets with cancer. Animals tolerate chemotherapy better than humans. Most don’t lose their hair, and they don’t usually feel too sick afterwards.
Radiation is sometimes used with chemotherapy or surgery. It works best on tumors that have not spread. The beam will damage both cancerous and normal cells, though side effects can be temporary.
Some types of cancer can be cured if caught early, while others are managed. Many pets live happily for years after their diagnosis. If you suspect something is wrong, don’t hesitate for a fear of bad news.
Let’s Start a Conversation About Cancer in Pets
The more we know about cancer in pets, the more we can do to prevent it and stay optimistic about curing and treating affected loved ones.
Share this post with your friends with pets – you might just save a life.