Cancer is not restricted to human beings. As a disease it is indiscriminate and completely unbiased when it comes to affecting different species. Our beloved pets are not immune with dogs bearing the brunt of the disease, being affected by tumours twice as often as people. Cats on the other hand develop tumours only half as frequently as humans. Cancer occurs most often in older pets and is in fact the leading cause of death among cats and dogs. If you suspect that your pet has cancer it is vital that you get him or her to a vet immediately as the earlier the cancer is detected, the earlier treatment can begin and the better the chances of survival.
Cancer can be difficult to detect in animals especially as they can’t describe their pain or show you exactly where it is. Here are 10 of the most common signs to look out for:
1) abnormal swellings that persist or continue to grow
2) Sores that don’t heal,
3) Weight loss and
4) loss of appetite,
5) bleeding or discharge from any orifice,
6) offensive odour, that is not normal pet odour.
7) difficulty eating or swallowing,
8) hesitation to exercise or loss of stamina, that is not laziness or due to heat,
9) persistent lameness or stiffness and
10) difficulty breathing, urinating or defecating.
Should you see any of these signs you should take your pet to a vet straight away so that the correct tests can be carried out and a diagnosis can be made.
These tests can include x-rays, which will show tumours, abnormal masses of tissue and degradation of bones; blood tests; ultrasonography; a physical exam and a complete medical history. To be entirely sure that it is cancer, however, a biopsy will have to be performed and the tissue graded to assess how serious the cancer is.
Animals get many of the same types of cancers that we do. They even get breast cancer, although spaying your female pets when they’re between the ages of 6-12 months significantly deceases their risk of breast cancer. Breast cancer is also one case where cats are more at risk than dogs, with more 85% of all tumours being malignant in cats and only 50% malignant in dogs. Skin tumours are very common in dogs but quite rare in cats. However, in the case of cats skin tumours are more often than not malignant, while in dogs they are benign. You should take all skin tumours to the vet to be examined. Bone cancer occurs most often in large dogs and seldom in cats. As with humans, it’s most often the joints that are affected, particularly in the legs. Symptoms include swelling in the joint, difficulty walking and persistent pain. Lymphoma is common is both dogs and cats and occurs when one or more lymph nodes in enlarged. Chemotherapy is the most effective treatment for this type of cancer. There are many more types of cancers that animals get; the list is as endless as that for people.
The treatment for animals with cancer is the same as that for people and includes surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, cryosurgery (freezing), hyperthermia (heating), or immunotherapy. Treatment will depend on the type of cancer, its severity, and the breed of dog/cat and its size and also on you, the owner and what you want to do.
In regards to the side effects of treatment, surgery is usually the easiest to recover from with the animal able to return to his or her previous level of functioning within a relatively short space of time. Chemotherapy, however, does have side effects for animals just as it does for people, even though the dosages are much lower. There can be nausea and vomiting accompanied by a reluctance to eat. Your pet may become lethargic and be reluctant to move or even stand. There may be a fever and if this is the case you should call your vet immediately as it can be lethal. In general most animals that have had cancer and gone through treatment, enjoy a good quality of life. They resume their normal activities and play and have fun the same as before.
On a sad note, it is important to add that in most cases the cancer is not cured it is merely in remission, and that it will eventually come back. This must be thought about and discussed amongst the family before the initial decision is made to treat the animal. It will help you to decide if treatment is worth it in the long run. If it looks as if the treatment is not working or if the animal is experiencing pain and discomfort the vet is ethically bound to tell you. They are also bound to tell you that the pets enjoy their lengthened lives and do not know that they are on borrowed time. But you must know that they will have to go through the whole experience again and so will you. It is up to you, the owner to decide what is the right thing for your pet in that situation. It is a difficult decision to make and one that can only be made with love.
Link 1 [http://www.avma.org/communications/brochures/cancer/cancer_brochure.asp]