In addition to vaccinations (such as rabies vaccine for dogs and cats), there are other ways to help keep your animal companion healthy throughout their lives. Unfortunately, they still get sick at some point and may even develop cancer.
Cancer is a scary diagnosis for any fur parent. But it’s important to remember that cancer is not a death sentence for your pet. With early detection and treatment, a lot of pets can survive and lead long, happy lives.
Read on to find some important facts about pet cancer and learn about your treatment options.
What Is Cancer in Pets?
Cancer in pets is the abnormal growth of body cells. These cells can grow and spread quickly, crowding out healthy cells and causing damage to organs and tissues. This is why experts warn pet owners about the importance of cat & dog wellness exams, which can help catch diseases early, including cancer.
In fact, statistics say that cancer is the top cause of death among older dogs and cats. Most types of pet cancer are similar to the types that affect humans. However, some are unique to animals. For example, dogs can develop a kind of bone cancer called osteosarcoma.
What Causes Cancer in Pets?
The exact cause of cancer in pets is unknown. However, some risk factors have been identified. These include:
- Age: Older pets are more at risk for developing cancer than younger ones.
- Breed: Certain breeds of dogs and cats are more prone to certain types of cancer. For example, Golden Retrievers and Boxers have an increased risk of developing bone cancer, while Siamese cats are more likely to develop lymphoma.
- Gender: Similar to humans, only male dogs can develop prostate cancer, while female dogs are more at risk for developing breast cancer.
- Previous exposure to cancer-causing agents: Pets that have been exposed to certain chemicals or viruses (such as the feline leukemia virus) are at an increased risk for developing cancer.
- Hereditary: Some forms of cancer are passed down from parents to offspring.
Symptoms of Cancer in Pets
The symptoms of cancer in pets vary depending on the type and location of the tumor. However, some general signs may indicate your pet has cancer, including:
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Difficulty breathing
- Abnormal swellings or lumps under the skin
- Sores that don’t heal
- Bleeding or discharge from any body opening
- Pale gums
- Change in bathroom habits (e.g., urinating outside of the litter box)
Most Common Types of Cancer in Pets
Many different cancer types can affect pets. Here are five of the most common:
- Skin Cancer. It is one of the most common cancer types in dogs, accounting for about 20% of all cases. It can also affect cats, although it’s not as common. The most common type of skin cancer in pets is melanoma.
- Lymphoma. This cancer type affects the lymphocytes, a type of white blood cells. It’s the most common cancer type in cats and the third most common in dogs.
- Bladder Cancer. Dogs get bladder cancer more often than cats, affecting animals over ten years old. The most common type is transitional cell carcinoma.
- Breast Cancer. Breast cancer is more common in female dogs than male dogs and usually affects animals over six years old.
Cancer Treatment Options for Pets
Treatment for cancer in pets depends on the cancer type, severity, and overall health of your pet, but here are the most commonly available:
Surgery is often the first line of treatment for cancer in pets. It can be used to remove tumors and, in some cases, cure the cancer entirely.
Chemotherapy is among the most prevalent cancer treatments that use drugs to kill cancer cells and can be administered intravenously, orally, or topically. It is often combined with other treatment options such as surgery or radiation therapy.
This is a therapy type that utilizes high-energy waves to kill cancer cells. It is often combined with chemotherapy or surgery for enhanced tumor destruction. Not all vet clinics offer this type of service, so you may have to travel to a specialist.
Make sure to find a reputable one with many years of experience providing this type of procedure. Ask your current veterinarian for a referral or look online. For example, search for “radioactive iodine for cats near me” to limit your search within your location.
Targeted therapy is a newer cancer treatment that uses drugs or other substances to target specific molecules responsible for the growth and spread of cancer cells. This helps to avoid damage to healthy cells.
Immunotherapy is a targeted therapy that uses your pet’s immune system to fight cancer. It is not as common as the other treatment options but is becoming more available.
Palliative care is a treatment that relieves symptoms but doesn’t cure the cancer. It is often used to improve the quality of life for pets with terminal cancer. For example, it can help with pain management to make your pet more comfortable.
The Bottom Line
Cancer is a serious disease affecting any pet, although some are more at risk than others. If you observe significant changes in your pet’s health or behavior, make an appointment with your veterinarian right away. They can run tests and determine if cancer is the cause. If so, they will discuss treatment options with you and help you decide on the best course of action for your pet.