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The Importance of Cancer Screening for Pets

Published on November 1, 2023 in Cat Health, Dog Health

Early detection and timely intervention are crucial in managing and treating cancer in animals. Cancer screening in pets is a proactive approach to monitor their health and detect potential issues before they become life-threatening. It’s vital for the following reasons:

  1. Early Detection: Regular screenings can uncover cancer at its earliest stages when it is often more treatable and manageable.
  2. Improved Prognosis: Identifying cancer early increases the chances of successful treatment and a better prognosis.
  3. Enhanced Quality of Life: Early intervention can alleviate pain and discomfort in pets, preserving their overall well-being.
  4. Reduction of Treatment Costs: Treating advanced cancer is more expensive and can be emotionally and financially taxing. Early detection can help in controlling costs.

Signs of Cancer in Pets

Cancer can manifest in various ways, and recognizing the signs is essential for timely intervention. Be vigilant for the following potential indicators of cancer in your pets:

  1. Lumps and Bumps: Unexplained growths or lumps on or under the skin can be a sign of various cancers, including mast cell tumors or lipomas. To determine if your pet’s lump is cancerous, our vets take samples of the cells through a technique called aspiration, they place the samples on a microscope slide and view the cells under the microscope. They will discuss with you if they believe the slide needs to be reviewed by a board certified pathologist and options for removing the lump.
  2. Changes in Appetite or Weight: Unexplained weight loss or loss of appetite can be indicative of gastrointestinal or other cancers.
  3. Lethargy: Persistent fatigue or low energy levels may be a sign of an underlying health issue, including cancer.
  4. Difficulty Breathing or Coughing: Respiratory issues can be a symptom of lung or heart cancer.
  5. Changes in Urination or Defecation: Frequent urination or difficulty in passing stool may be linked to bladder or gastrointestinal cancer.
  6. Unusual Odors: Foul odors emanating from the mouth, nose, or body may indicate oral, nasal, or skin cancer.
  7. Wounds That Don’t Heal: Slow-healing wounds or sores may signal underlying infections, resistance, or cancer.
  8. Change in Behavior: Drastic changes in your pet’s behavior, such as aggression, fearfulness, or restlessness, can be linked to underlying health conditions or various cancers affecting the nervous system.

Commonly Diagnosed Cancers in Pets

  1. Lymphoma: Lymphoma is one of the most common cancers in pets, affecting the lymphatic system. It can occur in dogs and cats. If you notice lumps under your pet’s jaw, behind their knees, or in their armpits, schedule an appointment with our veterinarians.
  2. Osteosarcoma: This aggressive bone cancer often afflicts larger dog breeds and typically requires amputation of the affected limb. Your pet may have a hard lump around the joint of their lower limbs, and it is often painful. If you notice these or if your pet experiences a sudden limb fracture, schedule an appointment with our veterinarians.
  3. Mammary Gland Tumors: More common in unspayed female dogs, mammary gland tumors can be malignant and require surgical intervention. Your pet may have large mammary glands that are warm to the touch, have discharge, or the skin eruptions.
  4. Melanoma: Often seen in dogs, melanoma is a type of skin cancer that can also affect the mouth and eyes. You may notice an extremely foul odor or bleeding coming from your dog’s mouth.
  5. Hemangiosarcoma: This cancer of the blood vessels is most commonly found in dogs, particularly in breeds like Golden Retrievers, German Shepherds, and Labrador Retrievers. In pets with hemangiosarcoma, you may notice weakness, lethargy, or pale gums.
  6. Squamous Cell Carcinoma: Predominantly seen in cats, this cancer usually affects the mouth or nose. You may notice skin eruptions that are ulcerated or are oozing fluid.

Diagnostic Methods for Cancer Screening in Pets

  1. Physical Examination: Routine physical exams by a veterinarian may uncover lumps, changes in organ size, or other abnormalities that warrant further investigation.
  2. Blood Tests: Blood tests can reveal abnormal levels of certain markers, indicating the presence of cancer.
  3. Radiography (X-rays): X-rays are used to detect tumors or abnormalities in the internal organs, bones, or lungs.
  4. Ultrasound: Ultrasound can provide detailed images of organs and tissues, helping identify tumors and their characteristics.
  5. Biopsy: A biopsy involves taking a sample of tissue to determine whether it is cancerous, what type of cancer it may be, and the grade of cancer.
  6. Fine Needle Aspiration (FNA): FNA is a less invasive method where a small needle is used to extract a sample of cells or fluid from a lump or tumor for analysis.
  7. Cytology: Cytology involves the examination of cells under a microscope and is often used to diagnose skin tumors or fluid-filled masses.
  8. Endoscopy: Endoscopy allows for the visualization and sampling of internal organs, useful in diagnosing gastrointestinal cancers. We will refer your pet to a specialty center for this procedure.
  9. MRI and CT Scans: These imaging techniques provide detailed images of soft tissues and can help identify cancer and its extent. We will refer your pet to a specialty center for these procedures.

If you are concerned about your pet’s health, schedule a consult with our veterinarians at (303)938-9474 for advice on cancer screening and ensure your pet receives the best possible care to protect their health and happiness. Early intervention can make all the difference in your pet’s life and the bond you share with them.