Cancer is an uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells and is the leading cause of death in companion animals.
As with people, we don’t know exactly what causes each type of cancer to occur, but there are certain genetic and environmental factors that influence the growth of abnormal cells. It seems more people have either had one of their own pets or know someone that has had a pet diagnosed with cancer.
Keep in mind there is a larger population of geriatric dogs and cats due to advances in health care which allow them to live longer.
Also, our ability to detect cancer with radiographs (X-Rays), ultrasound and blood work has led to the next step in treatment options like surgery and chemotherapy.
Early detection of cancer is our best hope for successful treatment. Early warning signs that pet owners can be watching for include:
- A growth that doesn’t go away or starts to change in its size or the way it feels
- Unexplained weight loss
- Decreased appetite, or difficulty eating or swallowing
- Chronic vomiting or diarrhea
- Changes in breathing or loss of energy
- Persistent limping
- Bleeding or discharge from the nose, mouth or anus
Remember you know your pet best! If you think your pet is having any of these symptoms or they are not acting normal, please have your pet seen by your veterinarian. The first step to diagnosing cancer is a thorough history and physical exam.
Blood work, radiographs, and ultrasound are all tools to help “stage” or get the big picture of where and what the cancer is doing, and what course of action is best. In addition, your veterinarian may recommend a consultation with a veterinary oncologist (cancer specialist) to discuss additional treatment options like chemotherapy and radiation.