Pet Talk: What to do if your dog has cancer
Editor’s note: This is the first column in a two-part series on pet cancer in honor of Pet Cancer Awareness Month, which is November.
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 (MAF) study, 1 in 4 dogs will die of cancer. If you are a golden retriever the odds are a whopping 60 percent 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 MAF launch a $30 million initiative to cure animal cancer in the next 10-20 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).
Signs of cancer to watch for
One of the first indications your dog or cat has cancer are swellings or growths that continue to grow and or change character, color etc. Other signs include: weight loss, decrease in appetite, difficulty urinating, defecating or breathing, difficulty eating or swallowing, enlarged lymph nodes (glands), abnormal bleeding or discharges from any body parts or openings, lameness or limping, weakness, lethargy or inability to exercise.
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.
What to do if you suspect your pet has a tumor
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 in-office procedure called a needle or aspiration biopsy and take a quick peek under the microscope. Other times, a biopsy is indicated and sent to a board certified veterinary pathologist.
A biopsy should be done if it will change the way a cancer is treated. For example, Mast Cell Tumors, a common skin tumor, are malignant and require a very aggressive and wide surgical excision, whereas sebaceous adenomas, another common skin tumor, are benign and require a very small surgical approach.
Information is king
Cancer should also be staged. Staging involves determining how extensive and widespread the cancer has become.
Again, this will tell us how to treat the cancer and can save you and your pet needless surgeries, chemotherapies, expenses and suffering. Staging usually involves lymph node aspirates/biopsy, radiographs, and/or an ultrasound. When dealing with cancer, information is king.
In part two, we’ll talk about some of the more common cancers and how to treat them.
Stephen Sheldon, DVM, a member of the Veterinary Cancer Society, practices at Gypsum Animal Hospital. He welcomes your questions and can be reached at 970-524-DOGS or http://www.gypsumah.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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