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Pet cancer awareness: What to look for

Loki, Tom Dock's Indy Eleven mascot, passed away from lymphoma.

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), nearly one in four pets will experience some form of cancer in their lifetime. Some breeds, like Golden Retrievers and Boxers, have much higher risks for cancer.

Rates of cancers in dogs often parallel rates in humans but getting details on the rates of cancer in cats is much more challenging.

While cancer is certainly scary to all of us, it is important to understand that not every lump, bump, mass, or tumor is automatically considered to be a “cancer”. The term cancer is reserved for a malignant abnormal growth of cells. Many bumps, etc are actually benign growths of cells and can be removed via surgery.

Common cancers in dogs include lymphoma (cancer of the lymph nodes), osteosarcoma (cancer of the bone), mast cell tumors (skin tumors), oral melanomas (cancer of the pigment cells, especially in the mouth), and hemangiosarcoma (cancer of the cells lining the blood vessels). Cats are prone to lymphomas and squamous cell carcinomas (cancer of middle/outer layer of skin).

Cancers can develop in almost any body system of the dog or cat and this highlights the importance of regular, routine physical examinations of your pet done by a veterinarian. Some typical symptoms of that might involve cancer can include, but are not limited to:

a. Abdominal swelling

b. Bleeding from mouth, nose, or other body openings

c. Lumps, bumps, masses, discolored skin or changes to any existing mass.

d. Difficulty eating, difficulty breathing

e. Sudden weight changes

Tinkerbell wore a onesie after her lung cancer surgery.

Many of these symptoms can be related to other, non-cancerous diseases or processes. To be safe, when you have concerns about your pet, schedule an appointment with a veterinarian. Diagnostics for cancer screenings will include bloodwork, x-rays, or even an ultrasound.

In some cases, a cytology may be performed by harvesting a few cells from the suspected growth. These cells can be evaluated under a microscope and may require the services of a veterinary pathologist for a final diagnosis.

Our veterinarians are amazing professionals, but even they are not able to definitively diagnose any type of cancer based on their eyesight or by feeling the lump. A true diagnosis must be done via pathology otherwise we are just guessing at whether this lump is truly cancer or not.

What's your story? As we said, 25 percent of pets develop some form of cancer in their lives. Have you had a pet with cancer? Did you opt for treatment? What are YOUR thoughts on cancer treatments for our canine and feline friends?


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