May is Pet Cancer Awareness Month. It is designed to bring awareness to pet owners about the leading cause of death in pets, cancer.
Dr. Heather Wilson-Robles, assistant professor for Small Animal Clinical Sciences at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM), said cancer accounts for nearly 50 percent of all disease-related pet deaths each year.
“50 percent of all dogs over the age of 10 will die from cancer, and 25 percent of all dogs get cancer,” Wilson-Robles said.
Certain breeds, such as Golden Retrievers, Rottweilers, and German Shepherds are considered at-risk breeds and have a higher risk of getting cancer. Wilson-Robles said these breeds can have up to a 70-80 percent chance of getting cancer in their lifetime.
Wilson-Robles added that the number one type of cancer in dogs is Lymphoma, accounting for 24 percent.
One goal of Pet Cancer Awareness Month is to inform pet owners of symptoms to look for in their pet. Wilson-Robles said to pay attention to bigger lymph nodes or, for oral cancer, bad breath and blood on a toy. Sometimes, the owner may notice the dog’s activity to be lower or a decrease in food consumption, Wilson-Robles said.
A lot of times, she said, the dogs feel fine so the owners do not notice a change in the pet.
“Once [the dogs] start treatment and . . . start feeling better, [the owners] did not realize how much [the cancer] was affecting [the dogs],” Wilson-Robles said.
Wilson-Robles stressed that wellness checks every year or six months are key to cancer prevention.
“Sometimes, in many cases, by the time [the animals] are already effected and sick it may be too late [for treatment],” Wilson-Robles said.
To ensure the cancer is detected in time, she urged pet owners to take a dog to the veterinarian if cancer is suspected and let them do blood work and biopsies.
If cancer is spotted, Wilson-Robles said there are various treatment options for most types of cancer.
“Once you know what it is you’re fighting then we can talk about various treatment options . . . there is usually something we can do,” she said.
Cancer treatment in dogs is similar to that of humans. Wilson-Robles said different treatment options for different cancers include chemotherapy, radiation, surgery, and therapy. There is also different experimental research such as clinical trials. The CVM, for example, has eight different clinical trials currently ongoing and various options using the new Diagnostic and Imaging Cancer Treatment Center or oncology services, Wilson-Robles said.
Although frequent wellness checks allow for a better chance to detect the cancer, there are not many ways to actually prevent the disease. Wilson-Robles recommended a few tips that may help reduce the risk of cancer. She said that, as with humans, cancer in dogs has been tied with obesity. For this, she suggested keeping dogs fit. She added to avoid chemicals such as yard sprays and limit the UV exposure of dogs and cats with light-colored skin by using sunscreen, UV shields on windows or T-shirts.
Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University