What you need to know about cancer in pets

Feel your pet for new lumps or sensitive areas

One of the most devastating diagnoses an animal guardian can receive regarding an animal companion is a diagnosis of cancer. Unfortunately, cancer is being increasingly diagnosed in younger and younger animals. With the arrival of Pet Cancer Awareness Month in November, this is a good time for animal guardians to become familiar with possible clinical signs that a pet could have cancer.

Especially as pets get older, it is important to physically examine an animal frequently by running one’s hands across the body of the pet. One should consult with a veterinarian if any lumps, bumps or swellings are detected, especially areas of increased sensitivity. Veterinarians may be able to perform a simple test right in the office called a needle aspirate, which can quickly reveal if these swellings are benign or something that may need more aggressive workup and treatment.

Other signs of cancer can mimic many other diseases seen in animals, including changes in appetite, thirst/urination, weight loss, chronic digestive symptoms of vomiting and/or diarrhea, chronic respiratory difficulty or coughing, etc. Many pets with cancer will develop significant drops in energy and increased lethargy, with some animals becoming more withdrawn, while others become increasingly needy and clingy. Any animal that exhibits any of these symptoms chronically should have a thorough veterinary exam and evaluation, which may include stool testing, comprehensive blood work, urine analysis and radiographic and/or ultrasound studies, depending on the history and particular situation presented.

My approach in clinical practice is to try and be more preventative, with regards to cancer prevention in our companion animals. I always stress a species-appropriate, preferably meat based, minimally processed commercial food or homemade diet, as well as minimizing unnecessary physical and/or toxic stresses on a pet’s immune system. Especially as pets age, the need for routine vaccinations is reduced dramatically, which animal guardians should become aware of, especially since over-vaccination has been linked with immune dysfunction and cancer in some animals.

Routine veterinary exams and evaluation, as well as periodic preventative blood work is also recommended. I suggest to also incorporate a more holistic-oriented veterinary practitioner as well, into a pet’s health program, who might utilize traditional Chinese medicine or acupuncture and/or classical, constitutional homeopathy in practice, which I have found can help lessen the risk and  development of chronic, immune diseases, including cancer.

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