Unfortunately, most people know someone that has been affected by cancer. But did you know that our favorite furry friends can be affected by this devastating disease too?
In fact, cancer is the leading cause of death among pets. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, cancer is responsible for nearly fifty percent of deaths of dogs older than 10 years of age. Fortunately, the veterinary profession has worked tirelessly to develop new and effective methods for diagnosis and treatment of canine cancer, and time is our greatest ally in treating dogs with cancer. When detected early, dogs have a better outcome and chance at long-term survival.
What are some signs of cancer in dogs?
Identifying and treating cancer early and quickly will greatly improve your dog’s prognosis. Looking for signs of cancer at home, biannual wellness exams with your veterinarian and diagnostic testing will help to detect cancer early.
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), the 10 most common symptoms of cancer are:
- Abnormal swellings that persist or continue to grow
- Sores that do not heal
- Weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Bleeding or discharge from any body opening
- Offensive odor
- Difficulty eating or swallowing
- Hesitation to exercise or loss of stamina
- Persistent lameness or stiffness
- Difficulty breathing, urinating, or defecating
Scheduling a physical exam with your veterinarian every 6 months is the best way to detect problems before they start. At this visit, your veterinarian will discuss any signs you are noticing at home, check your pet’s weight and perform a full physical exam. Your veterinarian will check your pet’s mouth, lymph nodes, heart, lungs, palpate the abdomen for masses and check the skin for any new lumps. Abnormalities will be discussed and further testing recommended.
Annual diagnostic testing is another important tool to check your pet’s internal organ function. This diagnostic testing will complement your veterinarian’s external exam. Blood and/or urine testing will be recommended based on your pet’s age and condition.
Finally, diagnostic imaging is an excellent tool for cancer detection. An ultrasound probe is gently guided over your pet’s abdomen while they rest comfortably. The liver, spleen, kidneys, adrenal glands, bladder, intestinal tract and pancreas will be visualized for abnormalities in size, shape and texture. If any changes are seen, a treatment plan will be created for your pet.
Are there any particular dog breeds that are especially prone to cancer?
Although any dog (including mixed breeds) can be affected by cancer, certain breeds are more prone than others:
- Golden Retriever
- Scottie and Westie Terrier
- German Shepherd
- Bernese Mountain Dog
What types of treatments are available for dogs with cancer today?
Depending on the type and location of cancer that is diagnosed, there are different treatment options available for our canine friends.
As with human cancer treatment, options available include surgery, radiation therapy and/or chemotherapy. If the tumor is able to be removed surgically, this is the best solution. Once removed, the tumor can be biopsied and an accurate diagnosis and prognosis can be made. A combination of surgery followed by chemotherapy or radiation is used for some aggressive tumors.
There are certain cancers (lymphoma) that are treated primarily with chemotherapy with great results. Most people have known a friend or family member that have been through chemotherapy and have very bad associations with this treatment. In dogs, we are not aiming for a cure. Instead, we focus on palliative care. This means relieving pain and symptoms for as long as possible. We use the chemotherapy drugs at high enough doses to be effective, but low enough to cause minimal to no side effects. Dogs tolerate chemotherapy surprisingly well! Some of our chemotherapy dogs are the happiest patients we know!
Radiation therapy is available for tumors that are too large to be removed surgically, or for more aggressive cancers after surgery. Your veterinarian would refer you to a radiation center to have this treatment performed.
There are also other options to care for our canine cancer patients. Some tumors respond to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as piroxicam. There are also newer oral treatments that have shown to be effective in certain types of cancer.
In some cases, keeping your pet comfortable is all that can be done. In such cases, your veterinarian will formulate a hospice care plan to address all of your concerns and your pet’s needs.
Because early detection is so important, we are inviting all dog owners to have their pet briefly screened for cancer via ultrasound on Saturday, May 12, 2012. For $50, (a $300 value) a brief abdominal ultrasound will be performed to screen the abdominal organs for changes in size, shape and consistency. Call over to Christensen Animal Hospital at (847) 251-2600 for more information and to reserve your pet's spot!