Can you spot cancer symptoms in dogs and cats?
While it looks as though cancer affects greater and greater proportions of people in our society, it is also affecting larger numbers of our pets. It might seem like more pets are affected by cancer than in the past, but the hard numbers tell us we are recognizing and diagnosing the condition more frequently.
As our pets live longer and fuller lives with better medical and health care, they are equally subject to cancer in much the same ways we are. A diagnosis of cancer can be confusing, but it is not always a death sentence for our cats and dogs. There are numerous areas in which one should be informed.
Cancer is not one single disease. Rather, it is an overgrowth of damaged cells that can literally spring from any tissue in the body. This means there are many different forms cancer takes. Some times the tumor is benign, or a localized tumor that does not metastasize or spread to other parts of the body. Other times it is malignant, meaning cancer cells may travel to distant sites throughout the body by way of the bloodstream or through the vessels of the lymph system.
Most cancer symptoms in dogs and cats are identified through a variety of different behaviors. These are typically not recognized as cancer warnings by the pet owner. The American Veterinary Medical Association has organized a Top Ten list to help pet owners identify cancer symptoms in dogs and cats:
1. Abnormal swellings that persist or continue to grow
2. Sores that do not heal
3. Weight loss
4. Loss of appetite
5. Bleeding or discharge from any body opening
6. Offensive odor
7. Difficulty eating or swallowing
8. Hesitation to exercise or loss of stamina
9. Persistent lameness or stiffness
10. Difficulty breathing, urinating, or defecating
(Veterinary Cancer Society)
These symptoms are not always cancer related, but they should always be investigated, especially as a pet ages. Many kinds of cancers become more prevalent with age.
Once your pet has received a cancer diagnosis, your veterinarian will want to determine what extent the cancer or tumor is currently at. This is a conventional method of developing both a prognosis as well as the treatment protocol for your pet.
Depending on what kind of cancer it is and where it is located, a variety of tests may be performed including things like blood tests, biopsies, radiographs, ultrasounds, and endoscopy among other things.
Treatment is based solely on the type and extent of the cancer. If it is a localized tumor, surgery is often used to "debulk" and remove it. These tumors have a reasonable chance of removing all cancer. Other times more treatment will be necessary. Additional options include radiation, chemotherapy, and immunotherapy. A concerned pet owner should always ask as many questions as possible and do the right research to understand the situation. It’s okay to ask for a second opinion, especially from a board certified veterinary oncologist.
There is no exclusive answer when treating a pet for cancer. Many factors must be weighed such as the type of cancer, the severity, the prognosis, and the quality of life. For example, if a dog or cat is an elderly animal with bone cancer, will the quality of life be good to remove a limb if the others suffer from arthritis?
In a surprisingly high number of cases the use of alternative medicine and supplements offers an excellent addition to cancer treatment. These therapies can help boost immune systems, relieve nausea, calm digestive tracts, provide necessary anti-oxidants, and remove toxins (like residue from chemotherapy) from the system.
Many times these therapies alone, especially in cases where it seems the options are limited, provide a pet with more quality and quantity of life than expected. Our first job as responsible pet owners is to recognize cancer symptoms in dogs and cats, get informed, then get busy bringing our best friends back to good health.
SEE ALSO: Herbal support for cat and dog immune systems.