Cancer in pets: recognising the signs & getting treatment
- by DR Roxanne Jones
- Should I wait and see if it develops?
- Should I take my pet to the vet right away?
- Could it be cancer?
- The vet says it could be cancerous - what now?
In this article, we’ll be covering these questions and guiding you through what to do if your pet is facing the risk of cancer.
Understanding cancer in pets
Cancer develops when normal cells or groups of cells undergo changes and start multiplying uncontrollably. This over-multiplication of cells results in the formation of an abnormal tissue, which often manifests as a lump or growth.
Cancer doesn’t always show itself so clearly. Sometimes, you may notice that your furbaby is under the weather, and their health deteriorating. They may appear sick, listless or weak. The most obvious signs of cancer in pets are:
- Abnormal swellings or growths
- Sores that don’t heal
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Difficulty eating or swallowing
- Loss of energy or stamina
- Lameness or stiffness
- A bad odour
Are all cancerous growths dangerous?
This depends on how quickly the cancer is detected. Some cancers may be limited to a small area and remain localised, having no influence on your pet’s normal functioning and health. In cases like this, the cancer can usually be surgically removed without any serious effects on your pet.
Of course, some types of cancer can be lethal. Those that are left undetected for too long, or which develop very rapidly or spread, can make your animal very ill. They affect your pet’s normal bodily functioning and can cause pain, discomfort and suffering. The most important part is the diagnosis stage: knowing what you’re dealing with means you can treat it effectively and appropriately.
What will happen at the vet’s examination?
Your vet will perform a full clinical examination on your pet. If the lump or abnormal tissue is visible, the vet will be able to examine it.
It many cases, your vet will recommend further investigations in the form of blood tests, X-rays and/or an ultrasound to determine whether the body has been internally affected.
A sample of the lump will be taken and sent to the laboratory for examination. This will determine the type of cancer as well as its likelihood to spread. In some cases, your vet may decide to surgically remove the entire lesion (lump) and then send a sample to the laboratory for analysis.
These tests and procedures will help your vet determine the seriousness of the growth, the prognosis, and if necessary, formulate a treatment plan.
Can I just leave the growth and monitor it?
It’s never recommend that you do this without the guidance of your vet. Lumps and bumps can be deceptive, and something that may seem innocent could actually be deadly. The best advice is to get your pet examined by your vet as soon as possible, and if s/he agrees that it is something that can be monitored, then you can do so under his or her care.
What does cancer treatment entail?
This depends on the type of cancer afflicting your pet. Treatment may involve surgery to minimise the growth or remove it altogether. Like in humans, chemotherapy and radiation therapy may also be used, depending on the type of cancer it is.
In some instances, palliative treatment may be necessary. This is when the cancer has progressed too far and can no longer be treated. Medication can be administered to relieve your pet’s pain and make them more comfortable.
Some cancers will need a combination of therapies which may only be available at specialist facilities. Your vet will be able to guide you.
What should I do as a pet owner?
As a pet owner, you have a responsibility to be a caregiver to your animal. Be observant. If you start to notice things out of the ordinary, take your furbaby to the vet as soon as possible. When it comes to cancer, early detection is your best and most effective defence. Cancer cells can multiply and spread at an alarming rate, so rather be overly cautious than sorry, and get these things seen to as quickly as possible.
Oncologists in the USA estimate that up to 50% of dogs and 33% of cats will develop cancer in their lives. This is a frighteningly high proportion of our fur babies, and it means that you must stay vigilant. Most cancers affect senior animals, but it’s important to remember that the disease can affect younger pets too.
While the hope is that you’ll never have to experience cancer in your pet, treatment is possible if the disease is caught early.
Cuddle your furbabies today and remember - if you notice anything strange or different, get them checked out ASAP. Early intervention can help your pet to overcome the illness and live the rest of its life happily and cancer free.
Disclaimer: Always consult your vet for professional advice. The Zuki.co.za blog is provided as an educational tool and should not be used to diagnose illness or treat an animal.