What Your Vet Wants You to Know About a Diagnosis of Cancer in Your Pet

A diagnosis of cancer in our beloved pets can be truly terrifying.  Sadly, cancer is the number one disease related cause of death in both dogs and cats.  As pet parents, if we’re privileged enough to watch our pets live very long and full lives, there is a chance we may deal with this diagnosis in our pet or pets.

There are many distinct types of cancer that can affect various organ systems, and while in most cases we don’t know why an animal is inflicted with a cancer diagnosis, there are some predisposing factors that can contribute to the likelihood of a pet developing particular types of this disease.  For example, certain breeds, like Golden Retrievers and Boxers, are more likely to develop certain types of cancers like mast cell tumors, than other types of dogs.  Many breeds of large breed dogs for example, like German Shepherds or Rottweilers, are often diagnosed with osteosarcoma (a type of bone cancer) versus other breeds.  Pets over the age of 10 are also more likely to be diagnosed with cancer than younger pets are.  That doesn’t mean if you own a Golden or a Rottie, or if you have a senior pet, that they are definitely going to be diagnosed with cancer, and many pets don’t read the book when it comes to following disease trends.

It’s important that as a pet parent you have awareness on early signs of pet cancer, and what to do if your pet is diagnosed with this disease.  Here are a few things to know about pet cancer:

  • As a veterinarian, the single most important piece of advice I can give you is to know your pet. Know the common warning signs of pet cancer, and if you notice something suspicious about your pet, it’s always better to have them evaluated by their veterinarian sooner, rather than later.  Many of the common warning signs of pet cancer can be indicative of other, unrelated, disease processes, so always follow your gut – you know your pet better than anyone else, so don’t be afraid to advocate for their health and wellness.
  • If your dog is the 1 in 4 (or your cat is the 1 in 5) to receive a diagnosis of cancer, please know this is not a death sentence! Recent years have brought incredible strides in the diagnosis and treatment of pet cancer, and so many novel local and oral therapeutic options that have very few side effects.  The goal of treatment will always be to improve your pet’s comfort and longevity.
  • Pet cancer treatment is not just for the well-off. Veterinarians, including veterinary oncologists, understand that there are financial considerations, along with other factors, that may play a role in the management of your pet’s disease.  Talk openly with your veterinarian about what your intentions are so that they can offer you a spectrum of therapeutic options that fit both yours and your pet’s needs.

*Source: NCSU Veterinary Hospital Common-Signs-of-Cancer.pdf (ncsu.edu)

A diagnosis of cancer doesn’t mean the end of the road for your pet.  Your veterinarian is there to support both you and your pet through their disease process, so don’t ever hesitate to reach out to them.

By: Victoria Carmella, DVM, FFCP (Veterinary)