How can you identify cancer in your pets? Well, first and foremost it is important that we clarify a few of the myths that surround pet cancer. People may believe that if their pet has cancer he would be sick, show signs of pain and discomfort, and that there would be some symptom. These are myths. Check out Dr. Ken Wyatt’s Pet Cancer Myth Busters here. Here are some facts that will help you understand pet cancer better.
Cancer can cause symptoms because:
- There is a lot of it. It forms lumps or tumours and these squash something else stopping it working. For example, some dogs with anal sac carcinoma, a tumour that grows right next to their bum, will show constipation as their first symptom because the tumour leaves no room for anything to pass.
- It is leaking a hormone into the blood. Example? Lymphoma in some dogs produce a hormone called PTH-rp. Normally, we all make tiny amounts of this before we are born. If the cancer switches on production again, the hormone strips calcium from the bones, which makes the blood calcium go high, which stops muscles working, making the dogs lethargic and not want to eat (because the gut muscles become weak too).
- They leak fluid. Sometimes watery fluid. Sometimes blood. Most often INSIDE the body which then means the first symptoms are shallow breathing (if the fluid is in the lung – note NOT coughing) or a swollen belly. External bleeding from the nose, mouth or bum is easier to notice and of course can be due to things other than cancer.
- They can invade into nearby body parts. Example? Bone cancer invades through the normal bone nearby, causing pain – usually lameness.
- If it grows on the outside it may be an obvious lump. Don’t expect your vet to have magic fingers. Few tumours can be reliably diagnosed by looking at them or feeling them. In fact, I see more cancers that are MIS-DIAGNOSED because a biopsy wasn’t done (the lump was assumed to be harmless) than I see tumours CORRECTLY diagnosed without ‘needing’ a biopsy.
So, how to pick up cancer in your pet? Lumps obviously should be checked, and tested (or repeat measures are made and tested if growing). Any dog or cat that seems old before their time needs a check-up. ANY symptom that isn’t going away or responding to symptomatic treatment needs review, and referral . If your vet doesn’t think cancer is likely, then ask for referral to a specialist in Internal Medicine (basically the best people to diagnose difficult cases). If it IS cancer, they can pass you on to an Oncologist. It is true that early diagnosis doesn’t help EVERY cancer patient, but late diagnosis hurts many.
This article was written by Dr Ken Wyatt, BSc BVMS FANZCVS, Registered Specialist in Veterinary Oncology with Perth Veterinary Oncology, Perth Veterinary Specialists. This blog was published in collaboration with Dr. Ken Wyatt, by the furry family at Petplan Australasia. Petplan Pet Insurance specialises in animal and animal industry insurance. Our practices keep the role that pet insurance plays in responsible pet ownership and the health of the pet at the forefront. For tips to keep your pet healthy, make sure you follow us on Facebook.