Dr. Gerald S. Post, DVM, Diplomate ACVIM (Oncology), founder of the Animal Cancer Foundation, in Norwalk, Connecticut, has been at the forefront of veterinary oncology for twenty-five years. After studying cancer in people at Memorial Sloan Kettering during his veterinary oncology residency, Dr. Post recognized that the development of cancers, as well as how they were being treated, was largely the same between people and animals. This realization lead Dr. Post to his interest in comparative oncology, which is the study and treatment of naturally occurring cancers in animals as a way to discover and test new methods for treating cancer in people.
The promise of comparative oncology is that it has the capacity to treat cancer in many different species. Comparative oncology works because of the similarities between human and animal cancers, with the greatest amount of overlap between people and dogs. Dr. Post believes so strongly in this model for studying cancer that, in 1999, he started Animal Cancer Foundation (http://www.acfoundation.org), a philanthropic organization that provides support for researchers in the field of comparative oncology and informs pet parents of the prevalence of cancer in our pets.
If you suspect that your pet may be sick, these are ten signs that might be indicative of cancer.
DR. POST’S 10 WARNING SIGNS OF CANINE CANCER
- Enlarging/Changing Lump – Any time you feel a strange lump on your pet you should take them to the vet to have the growth biopsied.
- Swollen Lymph Nodes – Located throughout the body, lymph nodes often swell up as a result of lymphoma, a common form of cancer. The most easily detected nodes are located behind the jaw or knee.
- Abdominal Distension – If you notice that your pet’s belly has become enlarged over a short period of time, this may suggest a mass or tumor. If not that, it could also be internal bleeding. Either way, a vet visit and an ultrasound should be scheduled immediately.
- Chronic Weight Loss – If your pet is losing weight rapidly, or without having been put on a diet, consider going to the vet. While not necessarily a symptom of cancer, it is often a sign that something is wrong.
- Chronic Vomiting or Diarrhea – Often tumors of the gastrointestinal tract can cause vomiting and/or diarrhea. Take your pet to the vet if you notice this occurring.
- Unexplained Bleeding – Bleeding from the mouth, nose, or any other orifice without suffering a physical trauma is often a sign of something else – possibly cancer.
- Cough – A dry,non-productive cough in an older pet should be examined by a vet. This type of cough is the most common sign of lung cancer, but it can also be a symptom of something else.
- Lameness – Unexplained lameness – especially in large breeds – is a common sign of bone cancer.
- Difficulty Urinating – While it can be symptomatic of many things, straining to urinate can also be a symptom of cancer of the bladder.
- Oral Odor – Oral tumors do occur in pets, and when they do, they often cause the pet to change food preference, the manner in which they chew, as well as cause a foul smell.
COPING WITH CANINE CANCER
If you discover that your pet does have cancer, the best thing you can do is keep calm and get as much information on the subject as possible. Here are a few words of advice from Dr. Post on how best to deal with the diagnosis.
“Chemotherapy and radiation therapy in dogs and cats are very different from these treatments in people. Veterinary oncologists and pet parents have made the conscious choice NOT to put our pets through what people go through. Veterinary oncologists have designed protocols to maximize BOTH quality and quantity of life. In addition, there are wonderful new ways to prevent side effects of therapy from ever occurring in the first place. When side effects are anticipated, veterinary oncologists make sure the right medications are used to alleviate discomfort.”
“Cancer is NOT a death sentence. Cancer is much more treatable now than ever before as veterinarians have far more options. New therapies have been developed for the most common types of cancers that have increased life expectancy by over 100% in some cases. With combination therapy, many animals are living with cancer for years and have a wonderful quality of life.”
“Cancer therapy does not have to be expensive–in terms of finances or time. With the advent of oral chemotherapies, metronomic chemotherapies and clinical trials, the cost of treatment is less likely to be a factor for most people. Metronomic chemotherapy is the use of very low dose oral chemotherapy and other medications given daily. This combination of drugs causes almost no side effects and can work to slow down the growth of many cancers. Again, remember that over 95% of patients are treated as outpatients and your clinic visits typically last less than an hour.”
The Median is NOT the Message
“Despite what you may read on the internet or in many scientific papers, the outcome of an individual pet is not known. Statistics are wonderful for comparing groups – either people or animals. However, they have far less meaning to the individual patient. Every pet, just like every person, is an individual, and may respond far better than the average.”
WHAT CAN I DO TO PREVENT CANINE CANCER?
While not a guarantee, there are measures you can take to decrease the likelihood that your pet will develop cancer in their lifetime. First and foremost, diet and exercise are the cornerstones of a healthy pet, so make sure that your pets are eating a healthy diet and are physically active.
Outside of making sure that your pet is living well, the best way to combat cancer in your pet is to catch it before it becomes an issue. Early detection is paramount in terms of increasing your odds of beating cancer, so make sure you check your pet regularly for lumps and lesions, and monitor their bodily functions closely. The best defense is a good offense.