May is cancer awareness month!

posted on May 01, 2015 by Dr. Jamie Hartman

Cancer is a disease that touches many of our lives.  Unfortunately, our four legged furry friends are not immune to it either.  According to www.petcancerawareness.org, about 1 in 4 dogs will develop cancer in it’s lifetime, and being the number 1 natural cause of death in older pets, about 50% of dogs over the age of 10 will die of cancer.

Just like in humans, early detection is key.  Symptoms of cancer can vary widely, as cancer can affect almost any system or area of the body.  Things such as vomiting, diarrhea, straining to defecate, weight loss, swelling or weight gain, non-healing sores, pale gums, limping, weakness, lethargy, lumps or bumps, bleeding, or coughing could all indicate a tumor.  It should be noted that many of these signs are very non specific however and may indicate many other illness or issues as well.

For this reason, we recommend yearly to semi-annual examinations in all pets, regardless of whether they are “due for shots”.  A yearly to twice yearly exam allows us to look in your pet’s mouth, feel the skin and subcutaneous layers for masses, check lymph node size, weigh your pet, perform a rectal examination, and palpate the abdomen for internal changes.

We also recommend yearly to semi-annual bloodwork.  Lab tests can help look for anemia, can see changes in white blood cell counts which could indicate lymphoma or leukemia, look for changes in liver or kidney enzymes, checks electrolytes, blood sugar, and blood proteins.  While there is not a test that looks specifically for cancer, these tests can alert us to changes occurring in the body which serve as early indicators that something else is going on.

If we find lumps or bumps or masses, we may recommend a fine needle aspirate or biopsy to collect a sample to test so we know what it is.  If internal changes are found, x-rays and/or ultrasound may be recommended.

If we do diagnose your pet with cancer, surgery to remove it is often the first treatment.  Catching it early means it’s small, and less likely to have spread, both of which increase the chance of success.  Sometimes follow up such as chemotherapy or radiation is recommended as well.

Since cancer is so prevalent in our pets, it is imperative that we find and diagnose it early to offer your pet the best chance at a cure or good quality of life.  If you notice any of the changes above, or your pet develops a new lump or bump, it is always a good idea to have a doctor examine them.  Please give us a call today!