The Facts About Cancer in Pets


What to know and what to look for.

By Laura Drucker

With all of the notable trends happening in the pet world right now, none are more disconcerting than the scary incline in cancer rates among our beloved animal companions. Recent research suggests that cancer in pets is growing at a faster rate than in humans. In fact, it is estimated that half of all dogs over ten years of age will develop cancer.

According to data released by VPI Pet Insurance, when it comes to humans versus canines, dogs are twice as likely to develop leukemia, four times as likely to develop breast cancer, eight times as likely to develop bone cancer, and a shocking thirty-five times more likely to develop skin cancer. Cats, too, are increasingly being diagnosed with cancer, although research shows that it occurs half as often in felines than it does in dogs.

So why is this happening? There are multiple possible reasons behind the increase. June LaFave, DVM a founding partner at the Metropolitan Veterinary Center in Chicago, believes the primary cause to be poor overall nutrition. Modern growing and harvesting methods, hormones, pesticides, and over-processing rob our pets’ food of essential nutrients which can in turn compromise their immune systems. Poor diet can also lead to obesity, another leading risk factor.

“Pets are not unlike us. They aren’t designed to eat kibble, and definitely shouldn’t be eating the same thing their entire lives,” says LaFave. “Many of the pet food companies are about selling food for shareholders, and [don’t have] the best interest of the pet in mind. This is not to say that a more nutritious diet will prevent cancer, but I believe it will slow down or prevent the progression.”

Other possible causes can be attributed to harmful micro-particles in the atmosphere (such as those emitted from automobiles and power plants), that settle down towards the ground where our pets’ live and breathe.

As pet parents, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by all this information, but there are some things you can do. LaFave suggests making sure your pet goes in for bi-annual physical check-ups, as early detection is the key to treatment. She also notes some things to be on the lookout for, such as:

Swollen lymph nodes. Lymph nodes are found all over the body, with the easiest ones to find being located under your pet’s jaw, in front of their shoulders, and behind their knees. Enlarged lymph nodes may be a sign of lymphoma, and should be checked by a veterinarian immediately.

Oral odor. Pets with oral tumors may have a change in food preferences and chewing habits, and their breath may emit a strong odor.

Chronic vomiting or diarrhea. “Anytime your pet has unexplained vomiting or diarrhea that continues for more than 24 hours, you should be planning a visit to the vet,” says LaFave, as a possible cause could be tumors in the gastrointestinal tract.

Chronic weight loss. Explains LaFave, “If your pet is losing weight and you haven’t had him or her on a weight reduction program, it’s definitely a sign that something is wrong. This doesn’t always signal cancer, but it needs to be checked out.”

Lameness. Bone cancer can cause lameness in pets, so if you notice your dog or cat unexplainably limping with no sign of obvious distress, head to the vet immediately.

New technologies in veterinary care mean that there are a host of treatment options available should your pet be diagnosed with cancer. These include surgery, chemotherapy, bone marrow transplants, and radiation treatment.

If diagnosed early, there is a good chance that your pet can go on to live a full and happy life. If you see any signs of potential cancer or suspect something may be wrong, visit your vet immediately.

To learn more about cancer in pets, visit PetCancerAwareness.org.

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