Cancer: A pet health concern

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By: Dr. Jack L. Stephens, DVM
Pets Best Insurance President
A veterinarian pats a large white dog on the head.
Although it’s not a condition humans typically associate with animals, cancer is becoming more and more prevalent in our pets.

The increase in cancer is possibly due to the fact that our pets are living longer, thanks to the sophisticated diagnostic tools now available to veterinarians. These tools provide more definitive diagnoses, resulting in better-focused treatment.

Cancer is the uncontrolled growth of destructive cells that overwhelm an organ or body, and most cancers develop slowly internally without being visible on the outside. Cancer in cats is not as common as in dogs, but when it does occur, pet health may deteriorate more aggressively.

The destructive cells that cause cancer are abnormalities that can be caused by genetics, environmental influences, toxins, viruses and even the natural aging process.

As the body is overwhelmed by the cancer, normal immune mechanisms are not able to stop it and the normal cells are robbed of their nutrients.

While not all lumps and bumps are cancer – many are simply benign growths – according to the Morris Animal Foundation, one in four dogs will die from cancer, and cancer is the number one cause of disease-related death in dogs over the age of two.

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Many pet owners are unaware that certain breeds are more susceptible to cancer. Larger dogs, such as Bernese Mountain dogs, Boxers, Chow Chows, Cocker Spaniels, Golden Retrievers and Labrador Retrievers are often diagnosed with the disease; this is thought to be genetically driven.

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It’s important to know which cancers are most common for your pet’s breed, so you know what to look for. This could help you detect cancer earlier.

Early detection and identifying the exact type of cancer is critical to determining which course of treatment should be taken. Here are some tips that can help you and your pet:

1. Be aware of the types of cancer that are most common for your breed.
2. Provide proper nutrition based on pet health and age to help prevent and cure cancer.
3. Schedule annual veterinary exams (every six months for senior pets) and basic screening tests to evaluate your pet’s overall health and internal organ function.
4. Spay or neuter your pet, as this will eliminate the potential for several types of cancer to develop.
5. Keep your pet away from harmful chemicals in the yard or house.
6. Ensure your pet gets enough exercise, as it is good for pet health and wellbeing.
7. Should your pet develop a cancer, seek veterinary care and know your options. Ask your veterinarian about your pet’s prognosis or potential outcome based on the type of cancer with which your pet has been diagnosed.
8. Determine the estimated cost to treat your pet so you can be financially prepared. If your pet is insured, check your pet insurance policy so you can set a budget.
9. And lastly, maintain a positive attitude. Many forms of cancer can be controlled or cured, and it doesn’t have to mean the immediate loss of your pet.

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