By JeanneBennett

Spirit staff Pet Advocate

Thanks to all of the advancements made in the field of veterinary medicine, cancer is NOT… a death sentence.  Without a doubt, hearing that your pet has cancer is a devastating experience and is never easy, but a family needs to be able to make informed decisions about what is best for their pet.

Your veterinarian is an excellent source of information and can provide sound advice and referrals to help you make the right decisions for your pet and family. Using the latest treatments can extend the quality and duration of your pet’s life.

Despite all of the advancements made, cancer is still the number one natural cause of death in older cats and dogs. It accounts for nearly 50 percent of pet deaths each year. Although cancer is the leading cause of death in older pets, it is also one of the most treatable compared with diseases like heart failure or kidney failure.

As with humans, there have been amazing advances in the treatment of cancer that can provide your pet with a high quality of life for years to come.

One of the first steps your vet will take is to recommend a cancer specialist, a veterinary oncologist, to create a total program of expert care. The specialists are not competitors of your primary vet. They are expert outside resources who can help the team achieve the best possible level of care. When the recommended therapy is complete, your pet will be returned to the care of your primary vet. The shared goal is simple. Just like you would go to see a specialist after you receive a cancer diagnosis, so should your pet.

Your veterinarian, although he has done a great job treating every pet you ever had, does not specialize in cancer treatment and may not be the best choice to treat your pet’s cancer. You should keep your vet in the loop and use him as a valuable resource, but don’t expect him to have all of the answers.

The cause of cancer in pets, just like in people, is largely unknown. There are certain breeds that tend to get certain types of cancers more often than others, such as large and giant breed dogs who get bone tumors. There are also environmental factors, such as exposure to the sun, which may be associated with increased incidence of cancer. Unfortunately, not enough is known about the cause of cancer to prevent it.

Most of the cancers seen in dogs and cats are almost identical to the cancers that affect people. They are similar when we look at their biological behavior; how the cancer behaves in the body, what organs it metastasizes (spreads) to, how quickly or slowly the cancer tends to grow. The cancers are also similar in regard to the molecular defects that are the underlying reason for the cell to become malignant or cancerous.

Here are 10 signs that top a veterinary oncologist’s concern, according to vetstreet.com.

  • Bleeding or discharge from any place on the body, such as the mouth, eyes or nose, or in the urine
  • Change in urination or defecation habits
  • Sores that do not heal
  • Bad smell from the mouth or body
  • Difficulty chewing or swallowing
  • Loss of energy; reluctance to exercise
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Swellings or lumps that enlarge
  • Lameness or stiffness

If you notice any of these signs, call your veterinarian right away. Remember, the earlier a diagnosis is made, the earlier the treatment can start and the better the outcome.

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