Cancer. A single word that carries a heavy load of emotion—dread, unease, shock, disbelief, maybe a hint of fear. It’s a word that none of us want to hear and a diagnosis that is not met with easy acceptance when it touches a loved one, family, friends, or even ourselves.
Now, imagine this word extending its reach to our adored animal friends. Our furry companions fill our lives with love, happiness, and warmth, and the thought of cancer affecting them is not one that we readily entertain. Yet the reality is—their susceptibility to this disease is more common than you might want to think, and a diagnosis is sure to leave you worried and concerned about the health and future of your beloved fur baby. Pet cancer is a health concern that affects a significant number of pets globally, claiming the lives of as many as 50 percent of our furry friends. Even more astonishing, the National Cancer Institute estimates that a staggering 6 million dogs and nearly 6 million cats are diagnosed with the disease each year!
The risk factors contributing to the development of cancer in pets are diverse—ranging from genetics, age, and carcinogens to obesity, environmental elements, and more. However, the truth of the matter is—cancer can occur in some pets for reasons that are still not fully understood.
In this post, we aim to not only inform you with intriguing facts, but empower you with knowledge surrounding the landscape of pet cancer. Our goal is to shed some light on the prevalence of the disease, potential causes, and insights that you—as devoted and loving pet parents—should be aware of!
Keep reading to learn more!
The Most Common Type of Cancer in Dogs and Cats Is Lymphoma
The types of cancer seen in pets are diverse—such as melanoma, osteosarcoma, hemangiosarcoma, mastocytoma, and fibrosarcoma—however, lymphoma is one of the most common types of cancer in dogs and cats. It is a type of cancer that affects the lymph nodes and lymphatic system—a part of the immune system responsible for fighting infections and balancing body fluid levels—and can occur in various organs, such as the intestines, kidneys, bone marrow, spleen, and white blood cells.
In dogs, lymphoma accounts for approximately 15 to 20 percent of new cancer diagnoses and is more prevalent in middle-aged and older dogs. Pet owners should keep an eye out for swelling of the lymph nodes in areas such as under the jaw, behind the knees, chest, groin, neck, and in front of the shoulders because these are where they can manifest. There are several types of lymphoma in dogs, with three of the most common types being Multicentric lymphoma—which affects lymph nodes throughout a dog’s entire body, Alimentary lymphoma—which affects the gastrointestinal tract and lymph nodes, and Cutaneous lymphoma—which can cause itchy, reddened lumps.
On the other hand, lymphoma is more common in cats, making up around 30 percent of feline cancer diagnoses. Though cats of any age can develop lymphoma, most are usually older and typically between the ages of 10 and 12. Some of the most notable types include Intestinal lymphoma—which ranks as the most prevalent type in cats, accounting for more than 50 percent of lymphoma cases and affecting the gastrointestinal tract, Nasal lymphoma—characterized by tumors in the nasal cavity, and Mediastinal lymphoma—associated with the development of chest masses in cats.
However, it can be hard to detect lymphoma in felines. Unlike in dogs, where enlarged lymph nodes are more common and observable by pet owners and veterinarians, cats with lymphoma may not develop noticeable lumps. Additionally, cats are known to be masters at hiding their pain and discomfort! Though they may exhibit subtle symptoms of feline lymphoma, such as vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss, and changes in appetite, these symptoms can easily be attributed to other health issues or mimic other conditions. As a result, it can be hard to differentiate lymphoma from less serious illnesses due to similarities in symptoms, enhancing the need for thorough testing.
For both dogs and cats, a definitive lymphoma diagnosis cannot be made solely based on clinical observations. Therefore, veterinarians will typically rely on a combination of diagnostic tools such as blood tests, urinalysis, bone marrow biopsies, and fine needle aspirate to make an accurate diagnosis.
Cancer Is the Leading Cause of Death in Dogs!
Did you know that cancer stands as a primary threat to the well-being of our furry canine companions? According to insights from The Veterinary Cancer Society, approximately one in four dogs, at some stage in their life, will develop or be diagnosed with cancer. It’s a predominant factor that influences the mortality of pets who are beyond middle age, meaning that as our tail-wagging buddies age and gracefully enter their golden years, cancer will loom as a formidable adversary. Remarkably, it is especially prevalent and the leading cause of death in almost half—47 percent to be exact—of dogs, especially those over the age of 10!
Female dogs, particularly those who are older and unspayed, exhibit a higher likelihood of developing cancer than male dogs—often attributed to their increased incidence of mammary tumors, which account for 42 percent of all diagnosed tumors. About half of mammary tumors are malignant, indicating their cancerous nature. However, with early detection, when they are small and have not spread, surgical intervention can be a potential treatment. Generally speaking, dogs are said to get cancer at roughly the same rate as humans and are actually susceptible to many of the same cancers that can affect people. For instance, dogs are the only non-human species that can naturally develop prostate cancer. On the feline side, this is notably rare.
Nonetheless, there are over 100 possible types of cancers that can affect dogs! As a result, pet parents must remain vigilant and proactive when it comes to monitoring their furry friends for symptoms or unusual changes in behavior. Stay informed and always consult with your veterinarian, who can help you navigate the challenges of canine cancer and provide the best possible care for your furry friend!
Signs and Symptoms Can Vary
Pet cancer is complex! The signs and symptoms can vary widely due to its diverse nature and the type of cancer, often making it a challenge to identify the disease in our precious pals. However, potential indicators may include changes in behavior, lumps or bumps, abnormal odors, difficulty eating or swallowing, unexplained weight loss, non-healing wounds, abnormal bleeding, and others.
Recognizing these signs not only requires astute observation of your cuddly companion, but it is crucial for early detection. Be sure to familiarize yourself with these common cancer symptoms, and if you notice anything out of the norm, seek veterinary attention immediately!
Tobacco Smoke Can Contribute to Cancer in Pets
Exposure to environmental elements, such as both second-hand and third-hand tobacco smoke, can increase the risk of cancer development in pets—much like with humans! This risk can apply to pets living in households where people smoke indoors or in other environments where smoking occurs.
Second-hand smoke occurs when pets directly inhale the smoke, putting them at risk for respiratory issues such as bronchitis, coughing, wheezing, and asthma exacerbation. Third-hand smoke happens when the chemicals and smoke particles linger on surfaces and in the air. For instance, if smoking inside a home, these toxins not only settle on the walls, furniture, and flooring, but they can also linger on surfaces like food, pet toys, water, their fur, and more. As you know, our furry companions groom and keep themselves clean by licking their fur—but by doing so, they may ingest these smoke particles, potentially exposing them to the harmful carcinogens and toxins present in tobacco smoke. So, more than just inhaling it—our cuddly friends are eating it as well!
Dogs and cats that live with second-hand or third-hand smoke are more at risk for developing certain cancers like lymphoma, nasal, and oral cancer. According to the American Lung Association, dogs—especially those with long snouts—are around 2 to 3 times more likely to develop lung and nasal cancer, while cats are more than three times likely to develop cancer in the mouth (squamous cell carcinoma) or lymphoma.
Wonder what you can do as a pet lover or pet parent? Stop smoking—not only for your health but for the sake of these precious animals! If you find that you must smoke, ensure that you do it away from your pet. Smoking outdoors, changing your clothes, washing your hands, and improving indoor ventilation are other actions you can take to help minimize your furry friend’s exposure.
Some Pet Breeds Are More Prone to Cancer Than Others
Just as genetics plays a pivotal role in human health, it also has a significant influence on pet cancer as well. In fact, some dog and cat breeds carry genetic predispositions that elevate their susceptibility to developing specific types of cancers, often due to their genetic makeup, thus shaping their health outcomes. Among dogs, Boxers, Beagles, Scottish Terriers, Golden Retrievers, Burmese Mountain Dogs, Rottweilers, German Shepherds, and Great Danes are particularly prone to cancer due to their distinctive genetic makeup. This genetic influence becomes more evident in specific vulnerabilities! For instance, while Boxers are more prone to mast cell tumors, Golden Retrievers may exhibit an increased likelihood of developing hemangiosarcoma—a cancer of the blood vessels. Cat breeds like Siamese and Persian both appear to be predisposed to mammary cancer and are typically diagnosed when they are at a young age.
The risk of cancer in pets can often correlate with size and age as well. For instance, large and giant dog breeds may be at a higher risk of developing osteosarcoma, a form of bone cancer, due to their size. Additionally, older pets—regardless of species—are generally more susceptible to various types of cancer. No matter the case, regular veterinary check-ups are essential for early detection and preventative care!
Cancer Is NOT a Death Sentence for Your Pet!
It can be heartbreaking and quite emotional to receive a cancer diagnosis for your lovable furry companion. The word in itself is scary to think about—much less say aloud. But please understand that cancer does not equate to a death sentence for pets! While there is no cure, many cases of cancer can effectively be treated and managed with veterinary care to prolong and improve your pet’s quality of life.
Veterinary oncology has evolved, expanding the range of treatment options available including surgery, chemotherapy—a specific medication or combination of drugs employed to target and kill rapidly dividing cancer cells by way of injection or tablets, radiation therapy—uses radiation beams to shrink or damage tumors, and immunotherapy—uses your pet’s own immune system to combat cancer. Using alternative therapies can also help supplement these conventional treatment methods. For instance, integrating holistic approaches, such as herbal supplements or acupuncture, can aid in managing any side effects while helping to strengthen your pet’s body. The choice of treatment depends on factors like the type of cancer, its stage, and the overall health of your pet. It can be used alone or in conjunction with other cancer therapies. Every case is unique, and a tailored treatment approach enhances the success. With timely and targeted treatment, some pets can achieve long-term remission. The key? Early detection and intervention!
The field of veterinary oncology and medicine is dynamic and constantly evolving with ongoing research and advancements. The progress being made not only helps to refine our understanding of cancer prognosis in pets, but also provides veterinarians and pet parents with valuable insights—enhancing the ability to make well-informed decisions!