Cancer in Pets

Our veterinarians are highly knowledgeable in diagnosis and offer aggressive treatment plans to help your pet endure a long, healthy life. With extensive training and experience treating pet cancer, our veterinarians and staff can provide quality care and support throughout the therapy process. We know that a positive cancer diagnosis can be difficult, troubling, and confusing. Our staff is here to offer our complete support throughout your pet’s treatment, and we are here to help your family through this trying period.

While a cancer diagnosis in domestic pets was once unheard of, it is becoming increasingly common due to advances made in veterinary care. Feline cancer, however, is less common than canine cancer, and the more prevalent types of feline cancer can usually be prevented through early vaccination and spaying or neutering. Because cancer is quite prevalent among elderly dogs, early detection is critical in effective treatment planning, and prompt discovery can increase survival rates.

Symptoms that possibly indicate cancer in pets: 

  • Bleeding from body openings
  • Difficulty making bowel movements or urinating
  • Hesitation to move
  • Inclined to sleep more throughout the day
  • Lethargy
  • Sudden and unexplained collapse
  • Trouble breathing
  • Unexplained weight loss

Diagnosing pet cancer

Currently, there are several tests that help detect cancer in pets. Depending on the location of the tumor, the oncologist will determine the method that will best help to visualize the area in question. The following are some of the methods utilized in diagnosis: 

  • Biopsy – Remove a sample mass of the affected area and have it lab tested for cancerous cells. If those tests are positive, more samples might be necessary to see if cancer is spreading. 
  • Blood tests/chemistry functioning – Test doesn’t diagnose cancer, but major changes in the composition of blood indicate health problems. High white blood cell count, low red blood cell count, and changes in kidney and liver functioning are all examined. 
  • Bone marrow aspiration – Involves removing and testing bone marrow. 
  • CT scan/MRI – Used to identify tumors near the bone that cannot be seen with an X-ray. 
  • Endoscopy – A thin tube with a camera attached is inserted into the mouth and nose to discover tumors. Similar to an ultrasound, a biopsy is then required to test the findings. 
  • Fine needle aspiration (FNA) – Similar to a biopsy, but does not require removal of a mass. Cells are extracted for testing from the mass with a needle. If those cells test positively, more cells might be tested to see how far cancer has spread. 
  • Immunologic studies – Entails testing the dog’s immune system response. 
  • Lymph node aspirate – Requires removing and testing lymph node fluid.
  • Surgery – Enables veterinarian to examine all potentially cancerous areas in question.
  • Ultrasound – Typically used to indicate tumors in the abdomen; a biopsy is then performed to verify the findings. 
  • X-ray – Allows veterinarian to detect and visualize tumors in chest, bones, and lungs.

Treating pet cancer

In planning your pet’s cancer therapy, we utilize different approaches depending on the type of cancer and how far it has progressed. In learning about various forms of treatment, it is important for pet owners to understand cancer and how it advances.

Cancer is more commonly referred to as a tumor, and it manifests itself as a bump internally or just under the surface of your pet’s skin. Tumors (collections of cancer cells) come in two forms: 

  • Benign: Slow growing; don’t spread. Usually surgically removed, but sometimes left alone if they are considered a non-threat. 
  • Malignant: Also called carcinomas, sarcomas, and lymphomas; spread to other parts of the body. Can lead to pet death.

While healthy cells within a feline age and die, they are also limited in the number of times they can replicate. Malignant cancer cells are mutated and don’t age, enabling them to reproduce an unlimited number of times. This mutation allows cancer cells to outlive healthy pet cells, slowly outnumber them, and take over. In treating pet cancer, we strive to kill these mutated cells and stop the cancer before it spreads.

The most common cancer treatment methods for pets include chemotherapy, cryosurgery, electrocautery, immunotherapy, radiation, and surgery. Depending on your pet’s circumstances, one or multiple treatments might be appropriate for their particular cancer. Also, some pet cancer cases might need to be referred to an oncology specialist. If your pet requires treatment beyond what we offer in-house, we may refer you to a specialist that we are in close contact with.

The following briefly describes what each treatment method entails:

Electrocautery/Cryosurgery – Surface tumors are removed by electrically burning them off or by freezing them off.

Chemotherapy – Chemotherapy kills cancer cells along with normal, healthy cells. “Chemo”, as it is commonly referred to, tends to be more toxic to the cancer cells rather than healthy cells, but can kill both, leaving a pet fragile and potentially more susceptible to catching a viral or bacterial illness.

Immunotherapy – The veterinarian injects the patient with antibodies that engage the patient’s immune system to help kill malignant cancer cells.

Radiation – Radiation localizes energy waves to penetrate cancer cells, killing them by damaging their DNA and stopping them from multiplying. The veterinarian focuses treatment only on the affected area.

Surgery – Completely removes certain cancers and makes others much less substantial. Surgery is typically performed before cancer cells further replicate and advance to other areas of the patient’s body.

If you have any questions about pet cancer, please contact our veterinary practice. We will try our best to answer any and all questions, or we can refer you to a pet oncologist who can further meet your needs.


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