By Dr. Bonnie Jones
from the Lima Ohio News
Those who know me well probably would say I am passionate about two things: veterinary medicine and ending the fight against cancer.
My greatest frustration is diagnosing cancer in pets or learning about a loved one with cancer that has lurked in their bodies too long. As time marches on, I am witnessing the loss of many people, and just as many pets, to cancer. Sadly, the leading cause of death in older cats and dogs is cancer. To that end, I would like to share the following to help you prevent and fight cancer in pets.
Probably the most obvious advice I have is never “watch a lump grow!” All too often, pet owners tell me they are “keeping an eye” on their pet’s lump. After a moment of discomfort, I suggest that the lump either be aspirated to examine some cells under the microscope, or removed and biopsied. The peace of mind that comes with these options can be huge.
If a growth is benign (harmless) like a fatty tumor, you can be informed within minutes of an aspirate. And, early surgical removal and biopsy of a suspicious lump, can result in a cure. If an aspirate proves a growth is benign, you may be able to continue to monitor that lump for rapid growth or changes in shape or texture that warrant a second look.
Occasionally pets are presented to veterinarians when owners find noticeably enlarged lumps under the pet’s jaw line. These swellings are lymph nodes, and when these and other lymph nodes located behind the knees , in front of the shoulders or in the armpits are enlarged, the likely diagnosis is “lymphoma” (cancer of the lymph system). Biopsy or aspiration of these nodes will aid the diagnosis of lymphoma, considered by many to be the most treatable cancer in pets.
On to the mouth. If your pet’s breath suddenly becomes atrocious, oral cancer may be lurking. Tumors in the mouth are not uncommon and tend to be one of three types: squamous cell carcinoma, melanoma or fibrosarcoma. Each tends to be malignant, but they can sometimes be cured with early detection. Keep in mind, that something as simple as brushing your pet’s teeth every day can alert you to an early oral tumor as you may observe an unusual odor or lump upon daily dental inspection.
Note that any unexplained bleeding from the mouth, gums, nose, vagina or penis that is not due to injury should be brought to your veterinarian’s attention. Bleeding disorders do occur in pets, but they are usually diagnosed when pets are younger. Bleeding in an older pet warrants immediate exploration for a cause which could be cancer, and time is of the essence!
While there are numerous reasons why pets cough, a dry, non-productive cough by cats or dogs is the most common sign of lung cancer. Your veterinarian will recommend chest x-rays to further diagnose your pet’s cough. Consider that chest x-rays can provide great peace of mind when your veterinarian delivers the news that your pet’s diagnosis is not cancer.
Weight loss, distention of your pet’s abdomen, vomiting or diarrhea will also warrant x-rays or ultrasound to find cancers of the intestinal tract or outside the abdominal organs. Masses located outside the organs can be benign and just take up space, or serious tumors could be growing in the spleen or liver that may cause abdominal bleeding and collapse. The good news is expedient surgical removal of abdominal masses can sometimes provide a cure.
Persistent straining to urinate or bloody urine not responsive to antibiotics can be a sign of bladder or prostatic cancers. Abdominal ultrasound or bladder biopsies are instrumental in diagnosing urogenital cancers. Familiarity with your pet’s elimination habits will help you detect changes as soon as they occur, and these should be reported to your veterinarian as soon as possible.
Finally, many older pets limp, but if your senior pet develops a new or different limp, it warrants a trip to your veterinarian, especially if your pet is a large breed dog. Unfortunately, bone cancers are diagnosed all too commonly and this cancer, called osteosarcoma, needs aggressive, immediate pain control and treatment.
Please be your pet’s best advocate! Partner with your veterinarian to always be on the lookout for signs of cancer.
Dr. Bonnie Jones has been practicing at Delphos Animal Hospital since 1987.