You take the possibility of developing cancer very seriously—why wouldn’t you offer the same to your beloved furry friends?
BY CORRINA MOSCA
We know what a cancer diagnosis can mean for both our families and ourselves. However, what does it entail for our beloved pets?
Just like us, Fluffy and Fido can potentially suffer from cancer. And, with this aggressive illness accounting for nearly 50 per cent of all disease-related pet deaths each year, it’s certainly not to be taken lightly.
According to Dr. Clayton Greenway, DVM, B.Sc, lead veterinarian at Scarborough’s West Hill Animal Clinic, genetics is most typically at the root of cancer development in animals.
“There are certain breeds that are more prone to certain cancers,” he says. “Because our pets aren’t usually exposed to the same level of carcinogens as us, it’s largely a genetic disease.”
LET’S GET PHYSICAL
The best way to determine whether your pet may have cancer is to perform an at-home physical exam, searching carefully for any strange growths or abnormalities.
“Run your hands all over your pet, keeping in mind that lumps and masses are very difficult to see because of fur,” notes Dr. Greenway, who also hosts Animal House on Newstalk 1010 radio. “Feel and look everywhere—down their limbs, on their bodies, in their mouths—for any types of growths, lumps or bumps.”
Additionally, more internal cancers—such as lymphoma—can present themselves in other ways. Watch your pet closely for other strange behaviours and traits, including abnormal bleeding or discharge, enlarged lymph nodes, anorexia, weight loss, vomiting, diarrhea and/or lethargy.
If your pet exhibits any of these symptoms and is diagnosed with cancer, understand that there are treatment options available to you. Most commonly, these modalities include chemotherapy, surgery and radiation.
“I always find that the discussion of cancer treatment is very discouraging to clients,” says Dr. Greenway. “When you say the word ‘chemotherapy,’ they tend to tune out—there are very negative connotations associated with the word for people.”
However, he says, animals handle chemotherapy very differently from humans. For pets, smaller doses are used to control the cancer, as larger doses—comparable to the ones used on human patients—can cause extremely debilitating side effects.
“The goal is always to eliminate the cancer or put it into complete remission, but if you can control it for a portion of the animal’s life, that is very significant,” he adds.
AN OUNCE OF PREVENTION
As in humans, the best method of cancer prevention for pets is early diagnosis. Because of this, it is imperative that any abnormalities found within your furry friends are quickly examined and evaluated by a veterinarian. While your pet might not seem to mind any small lumps you find, it is best to seek help before it becomes too late.
“The worst sentence that I hear both veterinarians and clients say is, ‘Let’s just watch it,’” says Dr. Greenway. “Those are like curse words to me.”
Just like visiting your general practitioner for a physical, he concludes, it is important to perform regular physical examinations on your pet and have their blood work done. “Out of fear or plain old procrastination, a lot of people just don’t deal with it, though something very sinister can be advancing all the while.”
So, look out for your pets as you would yourself—ensure that they are getting the proper medical attention they need, and they will keep you and your family company for years to come. VM