Wednesday, November 18, 2015

CANCER, A 'LOOMING DANGER' FOR PETS, TOO



Cancer is a six-letter word that can strike fear in even the strongest among us.  Some of us have battled it ourselves, or have fought it alongside family members or with dear friends.  It seems that no one is impervious to it.  Whenever a person learns that they, or a beloved, have cancer, it is a devastating feeling.  That feeling is no different when a guardian learns the same diagnosis about a cherished pet.

While cancer is the leading cause of death worldwide, it may also surprise you to know that it is the number-one disease-related killer of our dogs and cats.  “Just like humans, cancer is a looming danger in the lives of our pets," said Dr. Carol McConnell, DVM, MBA, Vice President, and Chief Veterinary Medical Officer for Nationwide.  "The prevalence of pet cancer continues to increase year over year. “

Pets of any age can develop it, but the disease is typically more common in adult and older animals.  In addition, certain breeds of dogs and cats have a higher incidence of some types of cancers.  For example, the risk of lymphoma increases in Boxers, Mastiffs, Basset Hounds, St. Bernards, Scottish Terriers, Airedales, and Bulldogs.

Early detection is crucial.  Even though a tumor or growth may not be cancerous, it is important for a guardian to seek the advice of their veterinarian if they notice any lumps or bumps.  Regular check-ups are also advisable to detect those cancers that may not be as readily apparent.  In addition to being aware of a lump or bump that is changing in color, size, or texture, guardians should also be on the look-out for the following signs or symptoms.

A change in the pet's appetite or weight may signal something is amiss.  If the pet is losing weight and has not changed its diet or the quantity consumed, it is worth a trip to the veterinarian.  A belly that becomes enlarged quickly, with a bloated appearance, may be indicative of a mass in the abdomen.  Other significant issues to be on the lookout for are: unexplained bleeding or discharge, that is not related to trauma, from any body orifice; unexplained persistent vomiting or diarrhea; a dry, non-productive cough; difficulty breathing (Dyspnea), shortness of breath, or rapid breathing (Tachypnea).

Oral tumors do occur in pets.  A pet may have difficulty in chewing and swallowing, and you may notice that they will prefer something softer to eat, rather than the hard kibble.  You may also detect an unusually strong, foul odor emitting from the pet.  Be aware that these are also indicative of dental disease so, either way, a trip to the veterinarian is in your pet’s best interest.

Lymph nodes are located throughout the body and, when they are enlarged, they can indicate a common form of cancer called lymphoma.  Most of the time, lymphoma in dogs appears as “swollen glands” that can be seen or felt under the neck, in front of the shoulders, or behind the knee.  Guardians should some spend time petting and exploring their pet’s body on a regular basis.  Not only does the pet adore the extra attention, it is also one of the best ways to notice any bumps that can be a sign of early onset lymphoma or some other health problem. 

Dogs and cats get breast cancer, too!  In fact, breast cancer is the most common tumor in female dogs and the third most common tumor in female cats. With this being known, the most important thing a guardian can do to reduce the risk is to spay their dog or cat prior to its first heat cycle.  It has been documented that cats spayed prior to 6 months of age had a 91% reduction in risk of developing breast cancer compared to those not spayed. The numbers are equally impressive for dogs.

In many cases, pet cancer is treatable and, due to advances in veterinary medicine, there are more options for treating our beloved pets, which will help improve not only their length of life but also its quality.  Treatment will vary according to the type and progression of the cancer and may include surgery, radiation, or chemotherapy.

If you are interested in learning more, a number of organizations can provide information about cancer in dogs and cats for pet guardians.  Among those are: The Veterinary Cancer Society (http://www.vetcancersociety.org/pet-owners/links-of-interest/ ), The Veterinary Cancer Center (http://www.oncovet.com/resource-center  ), and The Morris Animal Foundation (http://www.morrisanimalfoundation.org/animal-lovers/pet-health/ ).

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