Cancer accounts for nearly half of all disease-related pet deaths every year. Dogs get cancer at nearly the same rate as humans (approximately one in four dogs will develop cancer at some point in his life). Half of all dogs over the age of 10 will develop cancer at some point. It is theorized that, as we humans have begun to take better and better care of our pets, their life spans have increased to the point where cancer has a greater chance to develop. While cancer is not as common in cats as it is in dogs, it tends to be more aggressive in our feline companions.
However, there are treatments available, and recognizing the signs and symptoms of cancer in your pets can aid in early detection and treatment.
- Lumps on or under your pet’s skin may be cancerous, but there’s no way to be sure without consulting your veterinarian. Your vet will conduct a needle biopsy of the suspicious lump to determine if it is, indeed, cancerous, or simply a benign cyst that can be easily treated. It is especially important to have a biopsy if a lump persists over a long period of time or changes in shape or size.
- Wounds that do not heal in a reasonable amount of time may be indicative of cancer, as well. Leukemia especially will prevent minor cuts and scrapes from healing normally in humans as well as pets. However, this can also indicate infection or skin disease, and a veterinarian will need to rule out these possibilities before diagnosing cancer.
- Also keep an eye out for sudden and persistent lack of appetite. You may have noticed that your healthy pets are voracious eaters, and pets normally don’t just stop eating without a compelling cause. Oral or stomach cancers can cause pain while eating or digesting that may keep your pet from indulging, which can also lead to weight loss and other complications.
- In addition, coughing, difficulty breathing, lethargy, and drastic changes in bathroom habits can also be cause for concern. Monitor your pets closely if you notice one or more of these symptoms and get them to your vet quickly if they do not resolve themselves.
Of course, the best treatment for cancer is prevention.
- Feed your pets a high-quality food (Cat Food Advisor and Dog Food Advisor can help find the best food for your pet’s breed, or consult your veterinarian for recommendations) and maintain good oral care.
- Spaying or neutering your pet before its first cycle can help reduce the chances of mammary cancers.
- If your pet is a purebred, research the breed’s history to determine if there’s a specific kind of cancer common in that breed and work with your vet on a prevention plan.
Cancer treatment options for pets are similar to those available to humans: surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy have become commonplace. Research is currently underway to investigate immunotherapy vaccines to use the pets own immune system to attack the cancerous cells. The FDA approved the first canine cancer drug in 2009, and further research into medicinal treatment is ongoing.
The cost of treatment for canine and feline cancer varies greatly. Diagnostic testing can cost between $200-1,000. Surgical treatment can range from $1,000 all the way up to $15,000 depending on the severity and complexity of the operation. Treatment in a specialist center will almost always be more expensive than treatment from your local veterinarian, but specialists will have more options to provide and more experience dealing with complex treatments.
PetFirst Pet Insurance covers cancer, as they do any other disease, provided it is not a pre-existing condition to the policy. We cover everything to diagnose (including scans, bloodwork, etc.) and treat (such as medication, surgery), and we also cover the vet visits. Though there is no lifetime cap on reimbursement, there is an annual limit per policy. For more information about our plans, please click here.
The scourge of cancer is a terrible and persistent blight upon our population – human and animal alike. As always, early detection and regular checkups are critical in keeping your furry companion healthy for years to come. Keep an eye out for symptoms and consult your veterinarian for further information if your pet exhibits troublesome signs.