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Cancer - a word no pet parent wants to hear. Almost always, cancer comes uncalled for and catches every pet and their parents off-guard. As much as we hate to see our dogs suffer from cancer, knowing a few warning signs can help the veterinarian with early detection and prompt treatment.
What causes cancer in pets?
Genes: If either of your pets’ parents have had a history of cancer, it is likely that your pet might get it too, simply because it’s in their genes. More often than not, puppies bought from puppy mills or backyard breeders suffer from cancer either because their parents were raised in stressful environments or unhygienic surroundings that cause internal infections.
Stress: Although stress isn’t the primary cause of any cancer, it is an aggressive aggravator of any underlying condition. Stress in pets can stem from under exercising, lack of mental stimulation, separation anxiety, being tied/kenneled etc.
Environment: Pets that live in environments with second-hand smoke, herbicides, weedicides, pollutants etc expose themselves to these carcinogens that may have an adverse affect on their health.
Quality of Food: Over time, an unbalanced diet, i.e. one where all the nutrients are not in sufficient amounts to meet dietary requirements according to age and activity levels can cause nutritional deficiency and suppressed immunity. In such cases, a weakened immune system predisposes itself to cancer and other infections.
Prolonged Infection: Certain infections and autoimmune diseases have a lasting impact on a pet’s immune system - it makes them weak and unable to fight off secondary infections. Moreover, certain viruses act as contributors to leading causes of certain cancers.
Obesity: Obesity and obesity-related health complications like heart disease, diabetes, respiratory disorders etc., can cause cancer in pets. Most often, obesity stems from overfeeding, under-exercising, and a lack of mental stimulation.
What are some of the warning signs of cancer in pets?
Unexplained Bleeding: Bleeding that hasn’t stemmed from any particular cause, such as, injury or inflammation can be a cause for concern. Unexplained bleeding refers to sudden, unexpected bleeding from the nose, gums, penis, and vagina. Oftentimes, bleeding from wounds that have already healed or from wounds that refuse to heal need to checked at the veterinarian.
Stiffness: Sudden stiffness in active and sedentary pets, especially in those younger than 7 years of age requires medical intervention. Stiffness in dogs and cats translates to difficulty getting up, difficulty in walking, difficulty laying down etc. In short, any action that requires movement of the limbs is either painful or uncomfortable.
Lethargy: When a super energetic pet wakes up one morning feeling a bit blue, it doesn’t necessarily mean cancer. However, if these ‘mornings’ repeat themselves often, regardless of your pet’s activity level, it might help to get it checked at the vet. Lethargy is often accompanies with stiffness, pain, loss of appetite, vomiting, and/or diarrhoea.
Unexplained Vomiting: Vomiting that occurs repeatedly and is of the same texture and colour, along with other symptoms such as loss of appetite, weakness, weight loss, and/or stiffness can indicate an underlying cancer. More often than not, unexplained vomiting can be the start of something as trivial like a stomach infection or as dangerous as cancer. Either way, it is best to consult a veterinarian if vomiting occurs more than once.
Unexplained Constipation/Diarrhoea: Like vomiting, constipation and diarrhoea that is accompanied with other warning signs can mean cancer. However, since constipation and diarrhoea are almost too common in pets, unless it occurs with more than three or more warning signs, it doesn’t usually indicate a cancer.
Wounds That Don't Heal: Wounds that don't heal or those that start bleeding suddenly after healing may be a cause of concern, especially if this is accompanied by other signs and symptoms.
Coughing: A cough in pets sounds like a deep-throated honking noise. Coughs can be for several reasons ranging from a tiny infection to developing cancer.
Foul Odours: Odours that are horribly smelly, remain for a long time, and are from the mouth, ears, and skin requires immediate medical attention to rule out the possibility of cancer. Remember that some odours may just mean an infection, but it is best to consult a veterinarian either way.
Tartar: Tartar is the yellow buildup on your cat's teeth that doesn't look like it'd come off easily. Tartar leads to Gingivitis, which leads to oral cancer if left undetected without treatment. The best way to tackle tartar is through dental scaling and chew bones.
Pain: Pain can be for many reasons, but if it is chronic, at the same place, and keeps recurring, you must contact your vet to rule out cancer.
Lumps, Bumps, Sores: Like how lumps and bumps are a sign of cancer in humans, it is in pets too. Abnormally shaped lumps that grow continuously, bumps that are pus-filled or hard to touch, and sores that won't go away despite repeated medication often may require medical attention to rule out certain cancers.
Discharge: Discharge that is coloured (yellow/green), foul-smelling, persistent/re-occurring from the eyes, ears, and nose can indicate the presence of facial and eye tumours.
Urinary Problems: Urinary problems in male pets can mean prostate cancer, while that in female pets often shows up as mammary gland cancer. Some urinary problems are trivial, but some are a little more serious. Ensure you consult a veterinarian/oncologist when urinary infections don't go away or repeatedly occur, especially if your pet is old - over seven years for dogs and over ten years for cats.
Change in Appetite: A sudden change in your pet’s appetite along with other warning signs should be checked at the vet.
Remember, the earlier you spot these warning signs, the easier it is for your veterinarian to detect the cancer early and nip it at the bud! So, watcha’ waitin’ for? Get your pet screened for cancer today!