Pet Cancer Awareness Month: Warning Signs and Treatment Options
The unfortunate reality is that cancer is the leading cause of death in pets. It is estimated that approximately half of all dogs and one in three cats will, at some stage of their life, develop a form of cancer. The goal of treatment is focused on improving the affected pet’s quality of life as well as curing the disease. Slowing down the progression of the cancer, decreasing pain related to the cancer, and improving the overall well-being of the pet are paramount.
Oncologists at HOPE are making strides to develop novel therapies that enable us to diagnose cancers earlier and offer new treatment options to pet owners. As industry leaders, we have access to many new treatment agents that target the cancer while sparing normal tissue. As a result, pets undergoing radiation and chemotherapy do not experience the severity of side effects often seen in humans undergoing the same treatments. In fact, the majority of pet-owners agree that their dog or cat’s condition improved once treated was started.
What Is Chemotherapy?
Chemotherapy helps control the cancer cells by preventing their growth and ability to divide and spread. Unlike humans, the side effects of chemotherapy in pets are relatively mild and most pets maintain an excellent quality of life. Some drugs must be given intravenously; others may be given under the skin, or orally. Doses of drugs and treatment schedules are calculated by the oncologist to effectively fight off the cancer but minimize discomfort to the pet. Many chemotherapy protocols involve a series of treatments, followed by a monitoring period with defined recheck examinations with your oncologist. The top priority in any cancer treatment regimen is a pet’s quality of life.
What Is Radiation Therapy?
Radiation therapy (RT) is the use of beams of radiation, or high-energy, to kill cancer cells. Typically, RT is used for localized forms of cancer, such as skin cancer or nasal cancer, but other treatable types of cancer include bone cancer, brain tumors, and thyroid tumors. Depending on the type of cancer that is diagnosed, RT will be prescribed accordingly by a board-certified veterinary radiation oncologist. There are some cancers that are treated with four to six once-weekly doses of radiation, and there are others that are treated more aggressively by using daily doses of radiation for a total of four weeks.
Sometimes, RT will be combined with chemotherapy in order to best combat the cancer. This is determined by the type of cancer diagnosed and where it is located within the body. Often, radiation is also combined with surgery, either before RT or following it, to rid the body of as many cancer cells as possible. There are some types of chemotherapeutic drugs that have been proven to be even more effective when given in conjunction with radiation therapy, so this is a strategy that is frequently employed by oncologists to help pets fight their cancer.
How Do I Know If My Pet Has Cancer?
Below are some of the most common warning signs owners should be aware of, especially as their pets get older. If you believe your pet might be showing one of the following symptoms, it’s important to schedule a consultation with your primary care vet as soon as possible.
Common Symptoms Can Include:
- Lumps and Bumps
- Abnormal Odors
- Abnormal Discharges
- Non-Healing Wounds
- Weight Loss
- Change in Appetite
- Coughing or Difficulty Breathing
- Lethargy or Depression
- Changes in Bathroom Habits
- Evidence of Pain