Our pets have become full-fledged family members of our households. Are you aware that there are more households with pets (43 million!) than with children? We pamper them with days at the spa, take them on vacations and include them in family pictures. And, like full family members, we grieve for them when they get sick and must be put to sleep — my family is still heart broken over the death of our dachshund Lucy from cancer two years ago.
Yes, dogs get cancer. About one in three dogs die from cancer, a rate remarkably similar to their human family members, and after 10 years of age, cancer kills 50% of dogs. To help raise awareness and provide information on the different types of cancer and care for pets with cancer, the AKC Canine Health Foundation has designated May "Pet Cancer Awareness Month."
Toxins like second hand smoke, auto exhaust from living close to busy freeways, and pesticides increase our pets’ risk of cancer, just as they do to their human companions.
What causes cancer in our pets? Many of the same things that cause cancer in humans.
First, there is a huge genetic component to cancer in dogs — some breeds are notoriously prone to cancer. For example, 60 percent of golden retrievers die from cancer-more than twice the average rate for all breeds. (To view a list of the breeds of dogs most at risk for cancer, visit PetHealth.) When selecting a furry friend, look for good genes and good health. Do your your homework and be sure the kennel you’re using has a good track record for breeding healthy animals.
Second, toxins like second hand smoke, auto exhaust from living close to busy freeways, and pesticides increase our pets’ risk of cancer, just as they do to their human companions.
Here are10 common signs of cancer in small animals:
- Abnormal swelling that persists or continues to grow.
- Sores that do not heal
- Weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Bleeding or discharge from any body opening
- Offensive odors
- Difficulty eating or swallowing
- Hesitation to exercise or loss of stamina
- Persistent lameness or stiffness
- Difficulty breathing, urinating, or defecating
While not all cancers are fatal, many times symptoms aren’t obvious to the owner until the disease in its final stages.
Some cancers in dogs and cats respond well to treatment when they are detected early. Surgery, radiation or chemotherapy, alone or in combination, can buy months or years for some dogs. Some of the same chemotherapies used in humans are used in pets' treatments, but side effects are usually milder. Many of these treatments can be very expensive, so you may want to think about purchasing pet health insurance.
Here are some steps you can take at home to improve the quality of life of your pet with cancer:
- Proper nutrition is absolutely essential for your pets’ ability to overcome and upgrade quality of life. Always check with your vet for proper food choices.
- To increase your pet’s appetite some people warm their food to just below body temperature before serving. This increases its aroma and may it more appealing to your pet.
- If your dog isn’t eating, you should ask your vet about appetite stimulants.
If you want to help promote pet cancer awareness, make a donation during the month of May at your neighborhood Petco.