Our pets rely on us for food, water, shelter, and companionship, but they also need our help to keep them healthy and prevent diseases. November is Pet Cancer Awareness month, and there is no better time to learn about common types of pet cancer, what treatment options are available, and how to diagnose it in its earliest stage.
What is Pet Cancer?
As it does in us, pet cancer can develop in any part of a pet’s body when abnormal cells grow and divide rapidly. Often these cells are benign (non-cancerous) and will not affect other cells or spread. However, if the cells become malignant, they are considered cancerous and will grow and spread. Cancer cells can arise in any body part, including bone, blood, soft tissues, and organs. Malignant tumors spread to surrounding tissues and metastasize to additional areas in the body.
Early Warning Signs of Cancer in Pets
A pet affected by cancer may have various symptoms depending on the type of cancer. Please schedule an appointment with your veterinarian if your pet displays any of the following:
- A new lump or bump or one that has recently changed
- Unexplained and rapid weight loss
- Decreased appetite
- Decreased activity level
- Coughing or breathing problems
- A wound that won’t heal
- Foul odor
Common Types of Cancer in Cats and Dogs
The prevalence and type of cancer in dogs and cats differ, but it helps to know some of the most common cancers affecting our pets. Some commonly diagnosed cancers are:
Lymphoma – One of the most common types of cancer in dogs and cats, lymphoma is often found by noticing swelling in the lymph nodes of the neck, shoulders, or behind the knees. In many cases, lymphoma responds well to chemotherapy.
Oral tumors – In dogs, melanoma often occurs in the oral cavity and is most commonly malignant. Aggressive surgery is the first line of defense; chemotherapy and radiation can sometimes be effective if surgery is not possible. In cats, squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is the most common oral tumor and requires aggressive treatment.
Skin tumors – Mast Cell Tumors (MCT) are the most common skin tumor in dogs and requires a biopsy and microscopic analysis to diagnose. SCC on the nose can be common in cats due to sun exposure, especially if they are white or light-colored.
Osteosarcoma – Osteosarcoma (OSA) is an aggressive bone tumor characterized by painful bone destruction and distant organ metastasis. Dogs with osteosarcoma often come to the veterinarian for limping, so if you notice your dog limping or holding up a leg, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian immediately.
Hemangiosarcoma – HSA is a malignant tumor of the blood vessels and lining and most commonly occurs in the spleen, liver, and heart, although HSA can appear anywhere. HSA tumors are at risk of rupture and may result in blood loss into the abdomen or space around the heart, resulting in weakness, lethargy, pale gums, and collapse.
Bladder cancer – The most common cancer of the urinary system in dogs and cats is transitional cell carcinoma (TCC). A complete diagnostic workup is necessary, and treatment may include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or a combination of these.
Treatment Options for Cancer
Treatment for cancer in pets depends on many factors, such as where the tumor is located in the body, what type of cancer is present, your pet’s overall health, and how advanced the cancer is. If your veterinarian suspects cancer, they will perform a detailed physical examination and advanced diagnostics to determine the cancer stage and recommend a treatment plan. Treatment may be composed of several complementary modalities, including surgical removal, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, immunology, cryotherapy, or palliative care. Sometimes, your veterinarian will refer you to a veterinary oncologist if specialized care is appropriate.
Pet Cancer Prevention
Keeping your pet’s regularly scheduled annual or twice-a-year wellness exams is critical. During your pet’s time with your family veterinarian, they can detect or test for cancer symptoms. Early disease detection is the one of the most significant predictors of good outcomes for a cancer diagnosis.
Although it’s not possible to eliminate the chances of your pet getting cancer, specific lifestyle changes can decrease your pet’s chances of developing some kinds of cancer. Be sure to:
- Keep your pet’s scheduled annual wellness exams
- Discuss having your pets spayed or neutered
- Limit sun exposure
- Avoid toxins (carcinogenic household cleaners, bleach, pesticides)
- Do not smoke near your pets
- Make sure your pet gets regular exercise
- Keep your pets at a healthy weight
Animal Emergency Hospital Volusia is here for you and your pets 24/7/365. If you have questions about your pet and cancer, schedule an appointment with your family veterinarian.