Author: Tracy Reis, DVM
Cancer does not only affect people. It has become the number one disease-related killer of both cats and dogs. While cancer can affect your pet at any age, it is more common in middle-aged and older pets. There are certain signs to look for in your pet that may or may not be the result of underlying cancer. If you observe any of these in your pet, you should immediately make an appointment with your veterinarian to have your pet checked out.
- Pain – Some specific signs of pain that are most noticeable include limping, not wanting to run or not tolerating normal walks. They may have trouble getting up after lying down for extended periods. Many times this is age-related arthritis, but it can also be bone cancer, especially in certain large breed dogs that are genetically pre-disposed to certain bone cancers.
- Change in elimination habits – Increased frequency of urination, diarrhea that doesn’t resolve in a couple of days with a bland diet, or blood in either urine or feces are all possible signs. Often there is another underlying disease, but your pet should be checked to rule out serious illness versus something less serious like a urinary tract infection.
- Lethargy or depression – If you notice your pet is not at his or her normal energy level, is sleeping more, not wanting to play, or any other changes in what is normal for him or her, this may be a concern. While not specific to cancer, have it checked out.
- Coughing or difficulty breathing – While this can be a symptom of many illnesses, including heart disease, asthma or pneumonia, many cancers metastasize (spread) to the lungs.
- Change in appetite – Pets don’t stop eating without a cause. There may be an oral tumor present that makes eating more difficult or some other underlying disease.
- Weight loss – This is particularly important to mention to your veterinarian if it is a sudden, drastic amount of weight. There are other diseases such as hyperthyroidism in cats or diabetes in both cats and dogs, but cancer uses a lot of energy, so it can be a cause as well.
- Non-healing wounds – This could be from infection, skin disease or cancer. Any wound should be checked if it has not improved in a week.
- Abnormal discharges – These can include anything from diarrhea to pus or blood. Sometimes fluid can accumulate in the abdomen or chest that the pet is unable to discharge. So, along with discharges that you can see, if the pet’s belly seems swollen or he’s having trouble breathing, have him or her checked out immediately.
- Abnormal odors – These can come from the mouth, nose and ears, but also from a non-healing wound. These can indicate oral, nasal or systemic cancer.
- Lumps and bumps – There is no way to know if a lump or bump under or on your pet’s skin is cancerous or benign without your veterinarian taking a small sample, usually a needle biopsy. The sample is then reviewed by a pathologist to determine if it is malignant (cancerous) or benign (non-cancerous).
A combination of herbs such as Astragalus membranaceous (Huang Qi), Viscum album (Mistletoe), Echinacea purpurea and Withania somnifera (Indian ginseng) supports immune functioning, acts as a restorative tonic and promotes growth, health and vigor.
Knowing what is normal for your pet and observing him or her daily are both vital to keeping your pet healthy, particularly as he or she ages. There are some cancers than can be cured by surgery or that respond well to radiation or chemotherapy, prolonging your pet’s life expectancy and quality of life.