Cancer in dogs and cat, as in humans, is essentially an uncontrolled multiplication of cells. Cancer cells do not pay attention to a dog or cat's normal body systems that control cell growth. This explosion of new cells can take over organs and eat away at normal tissues. Cancer can develop in any organ in any pet, but it is much more common in older animals and in certain breeds.
Of course, not all dog and cat cancers are aggressive. Many are relatively benign, often growing very slowly over a period of years. However, even slow-growing tumors can cause a problem in delicate areas for dogs and cats. For example, a tumor in the head may enlarge and put pressure on a particular area of the brain.
Aggressive tumors are termed malignant, often receiving the medical designation of sarcoma or carcinoma. Malignant tumors can rapidly destroy the tissues in which they start. In addition, they commonly spread to other organs such as the lungs or liver, in a process called metastasis.
Sometimes, the progression of a cancer depends on where it is located. For example, pigment tumors calledmelanomas are often benign when on the head but aggressive and malignant when on the lips.
Cancer is a disease of aging, so the risk increases as our pets get older. Certain breeds, such as Boxers andGolden Retrievers, are also at greater risk because of their genetics. Cancer can also be caused by viruses (eg, feline leukemia virus), as well as by particular substances known as carcinogens. However, the specifics regarding exactly how and why cancer starts are still something of a mystery.
Signs of cancer often depend on its location, but some signs are seen in many different types of cancer. For example, weight loss with or without a loss of appetite is common. Some pets may slow down or pant and pace, unable to settle down comfortably. Others may have pale gums from anemia, or they may have a feverfrom the inflammation caused by cancer. Diagnosis often involves a series of clinical tests, including blood tests and x-rays. X-rays are especially helpful to see if the cancer has metastasized to organs such as the lungs.
The prognosis for your pet depends on the type and location of the cancer, as well as on the possibilities for treatment. Surgery to remove a tumor can be the most effective option, especially for tumors that are benign or isolated. Aggressive cancers, leukemias, and cancers that involve more than one location may respond best to chemotherapy or radiation therapy. Your veterinarian can also prescribe medications to ease discomfort and improve appetite and mood.
In many cases, the goal of treatment is often to improve your pet's quality of life for its remaining time, rather than to provide a cure. Your veterinarian will discuss treatment options and prognosis so that you can make the best decision for you and your pet.
Although most pet owners are aware of the importance of spaying or neutering their pets, we still face a serious animal overpopulation problem. Unfortunately, there are still pet owners who don’t appreciate the importance of spay/neuter as an essential part of responsible pet parenting.
First things first: a bit of terminologySome pet owners are confused by the ‘spay’/’neuter’ terminology. What’s the difference?
Spaying of female pets is the surgical procedure in which the uterus and both ovaries are removed.
Neutering of male pets involves the surgical removal of both testicles.
Neither procedure will negatively affect your pet’s behavior; and both procedures bring significant health benefits. Once spayed or neutered, pets can no longer reproduce.
Now, for the important stuff?
Did you know??On average, a fertile cat can produce three litters a year, each with an average of four to six kittens. If you run the numbers, this means that a single cat and her first-year offspring can yield upwards of 150 kittens within a three-year period. A fertile dog can produce up to two litters a year of six to10 puppies each.
The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) reports that every year in the U.S., between six and eight million dogs and cats are turned over to animal shelters; of that number, three to four million are euthanized -- as many as are adopted. These tragic numbers would be greatly reduced if more pets were spayed or neutered.
And if that’s not reason enough . . .Apart from the problem of pet overpopulation, keep in mind that “intact” (i.e. un-neutered) dogs and cats are not the most pleasant companions to have around the house. Here’s why:
Spaying female dogs eliminates the risk of uterine cancer and pyometra -- a serious, potentially fatal uterine infection and dramatically reduces the risk of mammary cancer in both dogs and cats, especially if done before the first heat.
Intact female dogs may go into a period called pseudocyesis, or “false pregnancy”, a condition which can occur after being in heat. Their bodies go through all of the usual hormonal changes associated with pregnancy, including milk production, even though they are not pregnant. This is avoided if females are spayed.
For male pets, neutering eliminates the possibility of developing testicular cancer and reduces the risk of developing prostate illness.
A further benefit to neutering male cats is that it will significantly reduce the risk of infection with Feline Immunodeficiency virus (FIV), a virus that causes a disease in cats similar to AIDS in humans. FIV is carried in the saliva and blood of infected cats.
Intact male cats are much more likely than neutered males to roam and fight. A scratch or bite suffered in such a fight from an FIV-infected male carries a significant risk of FIV infection. The majority of FIV-infected cats are intact males. And even if the wounds are not inflicted by an FIV-positive cat, they may nonetheless result in serious injury and infection.
(For informative videos from HSUS about the benefits of spay/neuter, click here and here. For a useful brochure from the American Veterinary Medical Association, click here.)
It all adds upWhile spaying/neutering are surgical procedures that carry a small element of risk, the scales are heavily tipped toward the benefits side. The incidence of complications from the procedures is quite low.
On balance, it’s a no-brainer: spaying/neutering is one of the best things you can do to improve a pet’s quality of life. Discuss any questions or concerns you may have with your veterinarian while your pet is still young. You will be doing both your pet and yourself a great service.
Dr. Karsten Fostvedt