As people increasingly view their pets as members of their family and veterinary care improves, we are recognizing and treating more cancer in our furry companions.
Symptoms can vary significantly depending on the type of cancer, but here are some common signs:
- Unexplained weight loss
- Lethargy or weakness
- Asymmetrical and growing masses
- Wounds that won’t heal
- Lameness without an injury
- Ongoing vomiting and diarrhea
If your pet is showing these symptoms, bring them to your family veterinarian for evaluation.
If there is concern that your pet may have cancer, your veterinarian will recommend a series of tests to determine where the cancer is and what type of cancer is present.
- History and physical exam: Your veterinarian will begin by asking you a series of questions about what symptoms you are seeing and how long they have been going on. They will then look your pet over from head to tail.
- Lab work: Full blood work and urinalysis are recommended. While there is no magic blood test for cancer, there are some classic changes that can suggest certain types of cancer.
- Radiographs: Many types of cancer can spread to the lungs and nearby lymph nodes. These changes can often be seen on chest radiographs.
- Ultrasound of the abdomen is used to look for tumors of the liver, spleen, kidneys, gastrointestinal tract and reproductive tract. Lymph nodes in the abdomen can also be enlarged with cancer.
- Needle Aspirates or biopsies: Once an area of suspected cancer is found, submitting samples of the tumor to the lab can help determine what type of cancer is present.
Treatment depends on the type of cancer present. Surgery, chemotherapy, radiation or a combination of these therapies will be recommended. There are often multiple levels of care available. Your veterinarian can help you choose the treatment that is right for your pet and family.
There are a wide variety of cancers that affect dogs and cats. Unfortunately, some types of cancers are very aggressive and carry a poor prognosis–with pets surviving only days to weeks after diagnosis. Other types of cancer can carry a good prognosis. With appropriate treatment, some cancer patients can go into remission and live a normal life for several years.
If you have any questions or concerns about your pet’s health, consult with your family veterinarian. If your pet was diagnosed with cancer and you’d like to learn more about treatment options, ask your family veterinarian for a referral to our Board-Certified Veterinary Internist, Dr. Shadwick.