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The Keys to Improving the Odds of Pet Cancer Survival

The Keys to Improving Pet Cancer Survival

As there's wisdom in the timeless adage, "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure," there's also sound truth that early detection of a disease can boost the odds of a favorable outcome. 

That's why catching cancer in your pet early on is crucial. According to the National Cancer Institute Center for Cancer Research, roughly six million dogs are diagnosed with cancer in the U.S. each year. Moreover, studies show that roughly one in three dogs will get diagnosed with cancer, while one in five cats will receive a cancer diagnosis.  

The good news is that half of all cancers in pets are treatable if detected early enough. And while it depends on the type of pet cancer, in general, you have a greater chance of instituting the appropriate therapy before it gets too advanced. 

Understanding the Effects of Environmental Factors

Just as with humans, exposure to certain carcinogens can increase the risk of cancer in dogs and cats. Therefore, it is important to be knowledgeable of what carcinogens can impact our pets. And while we can eliminate pet exposure to some carcinogens once we learn of the negative effects, some carcinogens will be unavoidable. Knowing they can be harmful, however, can help us more quickly determine how to either reduce exposure or how to prioritize early cancer screenings. Exposure to any of the following may increase your cat or dog’s risk of cancer:

Pets exposed to environmental smoke, including that of tobacco and coal or kerosene heaters, have an increased risk of developing respiratory cancers. This risk increases if smoking occurs in the home. If you are a smoker or live in a home with specific types of heaters, try to get your pet outside as much as possible and find ways to limit their exposure, like not smoking in the house or car.

If you work in an industry in which you are exposed to or handle asbestos materials, such as brake repair, this may increase your cat or dog’s risk or mesotheliomas or lung tumors. When you return home from work, be sure to properly and thoroughly clean off before interacting with your pet to reduce their exposure.

Research has shown that exposure to topical lawn insecticides and herbicides increases dogs' and cats’ risk of cancer, specifically bladder cancer in dogs and oral cancer in cats. If you have pets, be sure to read the labels of any insecticides before you use them, remove all pets and pet accessories or toys from the area you plan to treat, and keep your pets away from the area until it is dry and ventilated.

Many of us love the hustle and bustle of a city, but dogs and cats living in an urban area may be at a higher risk of developing certain types of cancers than those living in rural areas because of air pollution. While there’s no need to pack up and move right away, if you live in a city try to get your pet in and around fresh air on a hike outside the city or on an adventure in the country whenever possible.

Especially when we have furry friends running around our homes, we try our best to keep our houses clean, but be discerning about what supplies you are using to clean. Everything from ammonia to chlorine to bleach to formaldehyde exposure have links to pet cancer. Your best bet is to read labels to select non-toxic, pet-safe cleaning alternatives.

No one likes sunbathing more than our pets, but just like us, increased exposure to the sun can pose cancer risk. When going out, apply a pet-friendly sunscreen on your pet and/ or other protective gear. Every few weeks check their skin for anything out of the ordinary so you can catch a problem as early as possible.

Know the Warning Signs

You’re most likely to catch cancer early on if you are taking your pet for regular physical examinations. Veterinarians are experts and are likely to catch issues most of us would miss at home.

But while your vet may know the ins and outs of your pet’s health, there are some signs of cancer that all pet parents should know and watch out for at home so you can pay the vet a visit as soon as possible. These signs could be indicative of something else entirely, but it is always good practice to make it part of your pet's whole health routine to pay attention to the following:

Besides a foul odor coming from your canine's mouth, it might be a sign that they have an oral tumor. Other signs include a change in preference from hard to soft food and a shift in the way your pet chews his food.

The glands are most accessible underneath their jaw. If enlarged, it could be a sign of lymphoma.

If your pet has a lump, first monitor the area and pay attention to enlargement or changes in size. If you see those types of changes, your vet will likely aspirate before performing a biopsy, depending on the situation

Is your pet's abdominal protruding? While there could be a number of reasons for this issue that vary in severity, you should seek urgent vet care to quickly diagnose the cause.

If you haven't put your dog or cat on a diet and they are exhibiting chronic weight loss, it could be a sign pointing towards cancer.

If your dog or cat is bleeding from the gums without an explanation such as chewing too hard on a toy, or there's blood in their nose, mouth, stool or urine, he/she should be taken in to get examined.

If your dog or cat is bleeding from the gums without an explanation such as chewing too hard on a toy, or there's blood in their nose, mouth, stool or urine, he/she should be taken in to get examined.

While it could be a lot of things, a dry cough could be a symptom of lung cancer and is best to check in with your vet sooner rather than later. 

While this can be caused by a number of health concerns, don’t put off a visit to your vet as it could also be a sign of cancer, specifically in large breed dogs.

While this could be caused by something as minor as a Urinary Tract Infection, it could also be a sign of cancer.

While all these signs do require an immediate vet visit, they could also be symptoms of other health concerns. That is why the most important first step is to take your pet to a veterinarian so they can put your mind at ease by ruling out cancer or providing early detection and a game plan for treatment.

Schedule Regular Checkups

While you will always want to maintain proper attention to potential signs and symptoms of pet cancer at home, don’t forget the importance of maintaining regular vet visits as well.

Veterinarians advise taking your pet in for a thorough physical examination at least once a year. If your pet is senior, it's a good idea to take them in for a routine geriatric physical every six months. On the other hand, puppies and kittens will need to go much more frequently to get all the necessary vaccinations and examinations. This could be as regular as once a month for the first few months.

These visits can also help relieve worry that your pet might be unwell. If the veterinarian suspects something is wrong, there are a number of tests they can perform to detect cancer in dogs and cats.

Seek Professional Advice from a Cancer Specialist

While you trust your vet and have established a rapport with them, if they suspect your pet might have cancer, they will likely guide you to seek advice and treatment from a veterinary oncologist. 

Since the signs and symptoms can be results of other health issues and specialists tend to be more costly, your first stop should be your primary vet. If there are concerns following this visit, you can talk to your trusted veterinarian, who can refer you to a veterinary oncologist. You can also reach out to an oncologist directly and schedule an appointment.

It's anxiety-inducing to think what might happen to your pet should he/she have cancer. But by keeping early identification methods top-of-mind, which includes keeping a watchful eye for signs, scheduling for routine checkups for your pet, and getting a test if needed, can help you detect cancer early.