What to do if your dog has cancer | VailDaily.com

What to do if your dog has cancer

Stephen Sheldon
Vail, CO Colorado

Unfortunately, the “C-word” invokes just as much fear for our four-legged friends as it does for us.

By now you know from my columns, dogs and cats are very similar to us ” they live the same lifestyle, have similar physiology and anatomy, and suffer similar diseases. Cancer is no exception.

According to a new Morris Animal Foundation study, one in four dogs will die of cancer. If you are a golden retriever the odds are a whopping 60 percent that you will die of cancer. Past studies revealed that 11 percent of visits to a veterinarian are for cancer-related issues.

I don’t know about you but it makes me happy to see the Morris Animal Foundation launch a $30 million initiative to cure animal cancer in the next 10 to 20 years (and if you are one of those who feel money spent on pets is wasted, this research will be used to help cure human cancer, too).

One of the first indications your dog or cat has cancer are swellings or growths that continue to grow and or change character and color or in other ways. Other signs include:

– Weight loss, weakness or lethargy

– Decrease in appetite

– Difficulty urinating, defecating or breathing

– Difficulty eating or swallowing

– Enlarged lymph nodes

– Abnormal bleeding or discharges from any body parts or openings

Just like in people cancer is mainly a disease of middle-aged to older dogs and cats; however, pets of any age can get cancer.

If you suspect your pet has cancer you obviously need to schedule a visit with your veterinarian. They will perform a good physical exam and then order some tests such as blood counts, blood chemistries, urinalysis and x-rays or radiographs. Often we do a very simple procedure called a needle or aspiration biopsy and take a quick peek under the microscope.

Sometimes a biopsy is needed. A biopsy should be done if it will change the way a cancer is treated. For example, mast cell tumors ” a common skin cancer ” are malignant and require aggressive surgery whereas sebaceous adenomas, another common skin tumor, are benign and require minor surgery.

Cancers also are classified by stage, on a scale of 1 to 4, with 4 being the most severe or widespread. This helps the veterinarian determine whether surgery, chemotherapy or other treatments are needed.

In part 2 we’ll talk about some of the more common cancers and how to treat them. In the meantime visit http://www.morrisanimalfoundation.org and make a contribution to the canine cancer campaign.

Dr. Stephen Sheldon, a member of The Veterinary Cancer Society, practices at Gypsum Animal Hospital. He welcomes your questions and can be reached at 524-DOGS or http://www.gypsumah.com or drsteve@gypsumah.com

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