Making sure your pet is a cancer survivor

When a family member is sick, the whole family is affected. And when the family member happens to be the family pet, it is not much easier.

Like humans, pets can suffer everything from common colds to cancer. You know when your pet has the sniffles, but how would you know that your pet has cancer, and how would you treat it?

What is cancer?

Cancer is a general term that describes any tissue in the body (human or animal) that is no longer behaving in a normal manner. Most of the time it means the tissues are growing and developing outside of the body’s normal use.

Cancer is sometimes described as a “tumor” or “mass,” which means the tissue cells have grown together into a large area. These can be benign (good) or malignant (bad). Cancer disrupts the body by attaching itself where it does not belong or metastasizing (spreading to other organs), causing more problems.

How to detect cancer

Detecting cancer in a pet can be difficult, since your dog or cat cannot tell you how he or she is feeling. Regular visits to your veterinarian for checkups can help. He or she can run blood tests and check for any abnormalities in your pet.

At home, you can be on the lookout for some of the more common signs of cancer:

— Abnormal swellings that persist or continue to grow.
— Sores that do not heal.
— Weight loss.
— Loss of appetite.
— Bleeding or discharge.
— Offensive odor.
— Difficulty eating or swallowing.
— Hesitation to exercise or loss of stamina.
— Persistent lameness or stiffness.
— Difficulty breathing, urinating or defecating.

If you see any of these symptoms, check with your veterinarian immediately. He or she can run tests and take internal scans to verify any diagnosis.

Treatment options

Should the diagnosis come back that your pet has cancer, do not panic. Today, there are many advanced treatment options, such as chemotherapy, radiation and surgery. Your veterinarian may recommend referral to a highly trained specialist such as an oncologist or surgeon. Together, they will help you to come up with a personalized treatment option for your pet and their type of cancer.

While cancer is serious, most forms are very treatable. However, chemotherapy, radiation and surgery all can come with side effects such as nausea, issues with anesthesia or bleeding problems. Each can also represent a considerable investment. Chemotherapy starts at $200 per session, radiation around $2,000 and major surgery around $1,500. Working with your veterinarian, you can weigh the pros and cons of each treatment and their costs.

Even in the case of untreatable cancers, there are many options that can increase a pet’s lifespan, quality of life and pain tolerance. These can also be discussed with your veterinarian and pet medical specialists to find the right course of action for your pet.

Another important factor to consider with your treatment option is your pet’s quality of life. You should work with your veterinarian to make sure any treatment regimen will improve your pet’s general well-being rather than just prolong the animal’s suffering.

Fortunately, there are many case studies confirming situations where pets have survived cancer and gone on to live happy and fulfilling lives with their owners.

For more information, visit www.ncvma.org, follow NCVMA on
Twitter at @NCVMA, or call (800) 446-2862 or (919) 851-5850.

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