Cancer in pets: what you can do

Cancer in pets isn’t something we readily consider when taking on a new pet. We tend to think of cancer as a ‘human’ disease but like humans, pets are living longer and are at increased risk of cancer. In fact, one in three pets will get cancer.

Types of cancer

Cancer in pets can occur in many forms. Firstly, it is important to understand what cancer is. It is any cell in the body that begins to grow abnormally. It could be a skin cell or a liver cell and it could be malignant or benign. Malignant cells spread to other areas of the body. This is known as ‘metastasising’. Benign growths tend to occur in one area only and don’t spread.

The most common malignant cancers are lymphoma, tumours, mast cell cancers, mammary cancers, melanoma and osteocarcinoma.

Symptoms to look out for

  • Any growth on the body
  • Abnormal swelling
  • Wounds that won’t heal
  • Weightloss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Bleeding
  • Lethargy
  • Paralysis
  • Difficulty eating, defecating or urinating

Can they test for cancer in pets?

There aren’t as many cancer marker blood tests for pets as there are for humans but there are other tests that can be done.

If there is a growth on or under the skin, your vet will aspirate (remove) some of the cells and put them under a microscope. In other instances, she may take a biopsy and send it to the laboratory for testing.

Vets also look at blood tests; they can’t tell us whether a pet has cancer but they can help us understand the general functioning of the organs.

X-rays, CT scans and MRI are also used to look for cancer in the organs.

Can cancer be avoided?

In some instances, yes. Here are three ways:

  1. Vaccinate cats against Feline Leukaemia Virus (FeLV)
  2. Sterilise pets to avoid mammary, uterine and testicular cancer
  3. If your pet has a lot of white skin, particularly on the nose, ears and tummy, try to keep them out of the sun as much as possible

What happens if my pet is diagnosed with cancer?

Talk to your vet. Ask questions. Find out about treatment, prognosis and costs. Sometimes there are additional tests that can be done. In many instances, if there is a growth, your vet will attempt to remove it. There are also options for chemotherapy and radiation.

When do I know it is time for euthanasia?

Again, talk to your vet and consider the following:

  1. Is your pet in the kind of pain your vet can’t relieve?
  2. Is your pet nauseous?
  3. Is your pet still able to conduct his usual daily routine, ie: greeting you, going for a walk, normal urination and defecation?
  4. Does your pet still have an appetite?
  5. Look at the impact of your pet’s illness on your family. Can you handle his nursing requirements? ‎

It is always important to remember that the sooner you act the better your pet’s chances. If you see a growth, unusual behaviour or any of the symptoms described above, get your pet to the vet as soon as possible. The sooner we act, the better the prognosis and, as always, early treatment is significantly more cost-effective than when a disease has progressed.