Every pet family dreads hearing the news that Fido or Fluffy has been diagnosed with cancer. This disease occurs when body cells replicate at an abnormally fast and chaotic rate and form a mass known as a tumor. According to The Veterinary Cancer Society, cancer is the leading cause of death in 47% of dogs and 32% of cats. Early detection is vital for successful treatment and recovery but for many, this diagnosis may come as a surprise.
As veterinarians, it is our sworn oath to protect and heal pets. Therefore, we’ve compiled a helpful list of things that you should be aware of regarding cancer and your pet. Here are five signs to watch for in your four-legged family member:
- A drastic decrease in appetite or weight. Many pets experience a slight decrease in appetite or weight but return to normal eating habits in a short period of time, eventually regaining any lost pounds. Pets that refuse to eat one or more meals or who eat significantly less for more than two days should be examined by one of our veterinarians.
Similarly, owners who notice their pet has lost weight without changing foods or skipping meals should schedule a vet appointment. Cat and small dog owners can easily keep track of their pet’s weight at home by stepping on the scale alone, stepping on the scale with their pet, and subtracting the first weight from the second weight. You are also welcome to come in at any time, without an appointment, to weigh your pet on our scale or you may call us to request your pet’s weight history from previous vet visits.
- Growing lumps or bumps that don’t go away, that bleed, or have a discharge. Lumps or bumps aren’t uncommon, especially in older pets. Some may be benign (non-cancerous) and harmless, but if you notice one or more growths that increase in size we recommend you schedule a vet appointment.
Also, of concern are growths, of any size, that bleed or have a discharge as this can be an indication that the growth contains unhealthy tissue. If you’re not sure if your pet’s growth should be examined, simply e-mail us a photo at firstname.lastname@example.org so one of our vets can review it and make their recommendation.
- Lethargy or exercise intolerance. Normally active dogs who suddenly—or over a short period of time—lose interest in playing, pant after short bouts of normal exercise, or who sleep more than usual should be examined by one of our veterinarians. We know that sometimes the excitement of visiting the vet can mean Fido or Fluffy is more active than what you’ve seen at home—to help our doctors get a better idea of your pet’s mobility issues, we encourage you to record a video on your phone and share it with us during your appointment.
- A sore that doesn’t heal. If your pet has a sore (on any part of their body) that doesn’t heal over a period of a week or two, we recommend you make an appointment with one of our veterinarians. Chronic sores can be as simple as an abrasion that is repeatedly licked or scratched at by a pet. These can also lead to dangerous complications and are sometimes found in pets with cancer. If your four-legged family member has a sore that won’t heal, you may e-mail us a photo at email@example.com for one of our vets to review and we’ll let you know if an exam is recommended.
- Lameness or stiffness that doesn’t improve with anti-inflammatory or analgesic medications. It’s not uncommon for older pets to slow down as they age or for younger pets to injure themselves. Anti-inflammatories or pain medications—prescribed by one of our doctors—may help them feel more comfortable. However, if your normally active pet is limping, has a difficult time lying down or getting up, or seems to be in pain, it’s time to schedule a vet appointment. Our doctors will evaluate the limbs, spine, and any range-of-motion changes that may point to something more serious than arthritis, joint disease, or soft-tissue injury.
Your awareness of possible cancer signs and prompt action can mean the difference between early detection and successful treatment or having to say goodbye too soon to a beloved family member. Should your pet be diagnosed with cancer, we’ll always be available to answer any of your questions and help you navigate this complex disease.