Unfortunately, pets get cancer at nearly the same rate as humans. Today there are advanced veterinary treatment options that can extend the life and health of your beloved friend. November has been designated as National Pet Cancer Awareness Month with the goal being to educate pet families about the disease, its prevalence, early detection, and treatment options in veterinary medicine. WestVet is pleased to offer the services Veterinary Oncologists Dr. Carrie Hume and Dr. Christine Anderson. In today’s blog, we outline some basic information regarding cancer in pets.
Diagnosing cancer in a pet. Finding cancer in a pet is not uncommon, fortunately, many cancers are treatable. The first line of defense is consistent, routine veterinary care with your family doctor.
An annual physical exam plays a crucial role in your pet’s good health. According to Dr. Hume, “Your veterinarian carefully listens to the heart and lungs, looks for lumps or bumps, feels and evaluates the lymph nodes, touches the pet’s belly for signs of pain or tumors, and evaluates muscle or bone pain. Any abnormalities can be further investigated to look for evidence of cancer.”
If your family veterinarian suspects cancer, you may be referred for oncology care to WestVet Animal Cancer Treatment Center. At this point additional diagnostic tests are routinely performed to quickly confirm the diagnosis and severity.
A needle is utilized for internal tumors or those outside of the body, where cells can be withdrawn for analysis. Internal cancers can be seen with the use of x-rays, ultrasound, CT, or MRI scans. Blood and urine analysis are used to calculate organ function, providing an evaluation of cancerous cells that may be circulating in the blood. WestVet’s team of veterinary specialists, including our laboratory pathologists, will collaborate with Dr. Hume and Dr. Anderson to pinpoint the disease.
“Test results can determine the extent, or stage, of cancer,” Dr. Anderson said. “The stage then dictates treatment options as well as specific information regarding how quickly the cancer is expected to progress.”
Common signs and symptoms of cancer in pets. Similar to human medicine, the earlier cancer is detected—the better the chance of effective treatment. A few indications of cancer in an animal include, but are not limited to:
- Lumps that grow quickly
- Unexplained weight loss
- Sudden weakness
- Difficulty breathing
- Persistent lameness
While any animal may develop cancer, among dogs there are some specific breeds and types of cancers that are more prevalent. This includes:
- Lymphoma, hemangiosarcoma, and mast cell tumors; common in Golden Retrievers and Labrador Retrievers.
- Histiocytic Sarcoma; common in Bernese Mountain Dogs and Flat Coated Retrievers.
- Bone tumors; common in Greyhounds, Great Danes, and Rottweilers.
Another important consideration for pet owners, one of the best ways to prevent mammary cancer in female dogs and cats is to have them spayed before their first heat. Dr. Hume says this procedure significantly decreases the risk.
After your pet’s cancer diagnosis. Upon diagnosis, numerous factors determine the course of treatment. Choosing whether or not to treat a pet’s cancer is a personal, and often, very difficult decision; a consultation with a veterinary oncologist can help determine the best course of action for your family.
Treatment options at WestVet include medication, surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy. Frequently, a combination of treatments offers the best outcome. However, sometimes, the recommendation is to not pursue treatment, as some types of animal cancers cannot be cured, or even put in remission for a significant amount of time.
Overall, the primary goal is to help your pet feel better for as long as possible. “Regardless of the recommended treatment, my job as a veterinary oncologist is to keep my patients happy. Therefore, aggressive cancer treatment protocols that have a high risk of significant side effects are avoided,” said Dr. Hume. “In addition to helping owners choose the right treatment path, my role is to help them recognize a pet’s suffering and when bad days outnumber good days. Regardless of the decisions made, early diagnosis and a trusting, open relationship with a veterinarian can make this difficult time easier.”
Pet Cancer Awareness Month. In 2005, Veterinary Pet Insurance Co. (VPI) partnered with the Animal Cancer Foundation to launch November as Pet Cancer Awareness Month. Cancer-related conditions in pet continue to be one of the most common types of medical claims processed at VPI.