Pets 101

Cancer: Crossing the Animal-Human Divide

Woman Smooching a Doberman

By Taylor Ervin

If Fluffy started showing signs of cancer, would you be able to spot them? And if you were able to spot them, would you know where to go or what to do? If you answered “no” to either of those questions, don’t feel too badly. According to PetCancerAwareness.org, 80 percent of pet guardians know little or nothing about cancer in their pets.

Cancer in animals, though, actually differs very little, if at all, from cancer in humans. It occurs at about the same rate, accounting for the highest number of disease-related deaths among pets, and often affects the same body parts, including breasts, skin, and testicles.

“Cancer isn’t species specific,” says Veterinary Pet Insurance Company’s Chief Veterinary Medical Officer Carol McConnel. “[Cancer] crosses all species because it’s at the cellular level. At the cellular level, it’s equivalent between humans, dogs, and cats.”

If you are worried that your pet may have cancer, be on the lookout for signs like weight loss, difficulty exercising, loss of appetite, sores that don’t heal, and offensive odors.

Fortunately, like human cancer, many canine and feline cancers are treatable. Modern practices like surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation are able to treat and eliminate some cancers. Other cancers, though, cannot be cured. Even if the cancer cannot be fully cured, veterinarians can use the same techniques as are practiced on humans to decrease the spread of cancer and ensure the animal remains as healthy as possible.

The success of treatment also depends on several factors, including the type of cancer and how early it is spotted. To determine the cancer type, a veterinary oncologist will remove a piece of cancerous tissue from the subject and then examine it under a microscope.

“The biggest thing that makes or breaks treatment of cancer is what that parent cell is under the microscope and what its behavior or characteristics are,” says McConnel.

Treatment for cancer in animals is improving every day. Veterinary professionals are continuing to learn more about canine and feline cancer through research at institutions with top-notch veterinary programs like Oregon State University, the University of Tennessee, and Cornell University.

Other organizations like the Morris Animal Foundation are actively raising funds to support cancer research for dogs and cats and are taking steps to raise awareness.

“A lot of people are still uneducated about the fact that canines and a handful of other animals can even get cancer,” says Tina Martinez, marketing manager for the Morris Animal Foundation.

The foundation is making progress, though. It recently held a benefit run/walk in northern California that raised nearly $20,000 for research of cutting-edge treatments.

Unfortunately, treatment is still not cheap. Some cancer treatments can cost close to $1,000 per visit and could entail up to 20 visits. Do the math, and you’re looking at some serious cash to keep your pet healthy.

A number of companies, such as Veterinary Pet Insurance Co. (VPI) and Embrace, provide insurance plans that cover cancer treatment, making your pet’s health care much more affordable.

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