PAWS AND REFLECT | Detecting cancer in pets

November happens to be Pet Cancer Awareness Month. Cancer affects almost as many pets as it does humans. While cancer is typically seen more often in geriatric or adult pets, pets of any age can develop this affliction. Certain breeds of dogs and cats may also be predisposed to certain types of cancer.

Just like with us, regular check-ups and annual blood work with your veterinarian is a great way to help catch an issue before it progresses into something more serious. Early detection and diagnosis helps to improve the odds of successful recovery and treatment.

Your pet may alert you that something is off in the way that it is behaving. Symptoms include:

•Lethargy — If you happen to find your pet is not its usual bubbly self and prefers to keep hitting the snooze button, rather than get up and play or go on a walk.

•Weight Loss — Has your dog or cat found its waistline to suddenly or rapidly shrink despite not being on a diet?

•Change in appetite — While dogs and cats do not suddenly stop eating without a cause, there are numerous reasons why they may decline meals — oral abnormalities may be a factor. In some cases of oral abnormalities such as an oral tumor, foreign body or dental issue, the mouth may emit a foul odor, in addition to your pet suddenly becoming inappetant.

•Change in urination/defecation — Difficulty going or frequent trips to the bathroom, straining to go, diarrhea or blood in stool or urine.

•Coughing and/or abnormal breathing — Has your pet abruptly developed a wheeze or honking cough, or does it have trouble catching its breath after climbing the stairs? These symptoms may be caused by heart disease, lung disease or kennel cough, to name a few, but they can also be a symptom of cancer, as it can metastasize in the lungs.

•Pain — If your pet limps or shows discomfort after extensive walking, running or playing, this can be associated with age-related arthritis or joint disease, but it could potentially be a sign of a more serious problem, such as bone cancer.

•Growths — Periodically run your hands over your furry friend’s body to check for any new masses or masses that you may already be aware of but have enlarged. An opportune time for this is when you are relaxing with your pet while watching television or delving into an intriguing book. This attentiveness will not only bring any new growth to light, but it will also provide your four-legged family member with the affection they crave.

Not every lump or bump present is malignant, however; some can be benign. Having any suspicious mass examined and/or tested by your veterinarian is recommended.

Of course, not every symptom listed means that cancer is the culprit. These symptoms can also be caused by a number of other reasons. If your dog or cat develops any of these symptoms, an exam with your veterinarian is recommended. If necessary, your veterinarian may recommend blood work, radiographs (X-rays) or other diagnostic tests, such as ultrasound or biopsy, depending on their findings.

Should your beloved pet be diagnosed with cancer, take heart in knowing that veterinary medicine is constantly advancing and there are options available — such as chemotherapy, surgery or radiation — to help your pet continue to live a happy, fulfilled life.

As with cancer in humans, treatment and overall longevity vary depending on the type and progression of the disease the animals are diagnosed with. Your veterinarian may also refer you to a veterinary oncology specialist to determine the ideal course of treatment.

For more information about cancer in pets and how to help donate for ongoing research, visit 

MEGAN L. FOUCH is the office manager at the Madison Park Veterinary Hospital ( To comment on this column, write to