Although many forms of cancer in pets can be treated, it is always better to prevent a disease when possible. Pet owners can reduce the risk of cancer developing in their dogs and cats with some standard health care techniques. Mammary cancer (breast cancer) is a frequently deadly disease in dogs and cats. In dogs, we can prevent this cancer nearly always by spaying) a puppy prior to her first heat cycle. A spay surgery between the first and second heat cycles reduces a dog’s risk for mammary cancer by 75%. After that second heat cycle, a spay surgery will not decrease the lifetime risk of mammary cancer in that dog, although it will prevent any ovarian or uterine tumors, or infections. In cats, an early spay (prior to first heat cycle) will also greatly decrease the risk of mammary cancers, although not completely eliminate it. Avoiding hormonal supplements, especially with progesterone, also decreases the risk of mammary cancer in cats. While neutering male dogs does not prevent prostate cancer, it does protect against the development of benign prostatic hyperplasia, prostatic abcesses, and prostatitis, as well as, eliminating any risk of testicular cancer or perianal adenomas (a skin tumor that occurs around the base of the tail and anal region).
There are several other forms of cancer from which we can help protect our pets. Squamous cell carcinoma, a common skin cancer, is caused by too much exposure to the sun. Cats and dogs at risk for this tumor have white faces, noses, or ear tips, and spend lots of time outdoors. Keeping these color pets indoors will prevent this tumor from developing. Pet owners can also prevent viral infections in their cats by keeping them indoors – bite wounds or mutual grooming between cats spreads these viruses.
What else can a pet owner do to prevent cancer? Feed a balanced food to a dog or cat, provide regular exercise, a safe environment, and lots of tender loving care. If a dog or a cat is showing sign of illness including drinking or urinating too much, changes in bowel habits, unexplained weight loss, lumps or bumps on or under the skin, unusual odors or discharges, or any other symptoms of illness (vomiting, seizures, inappetence, etc.), the pet should be examined by a veterinarian.
Compliments of Sara E. Sheafor, DVM, DACVIM, Board Certified in Oncology, Southpaws Veterinary Referral Center 703-569-0300.