November Is Pet Cancer Awareness Month: 6 Pet Cancer Myths

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That lump on Fifi’s leg seemed pretty innocuous at first. But seemingly overnight, it blossomed into a writhing, painful mass. As we wait for the biopsy results, we can’t help but fixate on the c-word. We’ve watched it wreak havoc on our human family, and now it seems to be coming for our furry one. Head in hands, we try to battle through a storm of questions: Should we have brought her to the vet sooner? Is it even worth treating? Although about 25-percent of our pets will one day be diagnosed with cancer, many pet parents begin that battle in ignorance. Read on to learn more and stifle a few of those common misconceptions many hold.

MYTH 1: There’s Nothing Vets Can Do for Cancer

November Is Pet Cancer Awareness Month: 6 Pet Cancer Myths | Vet OrganicsFalse. Veterinary medicine has come a long way in the last few decades. It’s true that cancer is the leading cause of death in senior dogs and cats, but it’s no longer the death sentence it once was. In fact, it only takes a quick Google search to find dozens of survivor stories. Nowadays, pet owners not only have access to advanced imaging techniques but also things like stereostatic radiosurgery and melanoma vaccines. When caught early enough, most cancers can be treated and subsequently cured.

MYTH 2: My Pet Can’t Have Cancer! They seem fine!

False. A lack of symptoms doesn’t necessarily equate to good health. Some cancers can be completely asymptomatic until their later stages. Even cancers that aren’t asymptomatic can be difficult to spot. Here are 10 signs of cancer all us pet parents need to watch out for:

  1.      Limping or other evidence of pain
  2.      Lumps and bumps
  3.      Abnormal discharges
  4.      Abnormal odors
  5.      Wounds that don’t heal
  6.      Sudden weight loss
  7.      Difficulty breathing
  8.      Appetite changes
  9.      Lethargy and fatigue
  10.    Changes in bathroom habits

As no one but a trained vet can determine if cancer is to blame for any of these symptoms, it’s important that we take our fur baby to the vet as soon as we notice something off this list. When it comes to cancer, an earlier diagnosis typically leads to a better prognosis.

MYTH 3: Mutts Are Less Likely to Develop Cancer

November Is Pet Cancer Awareness Month: 6 Pet Cancer Myths | Vet OrganicsFalse. This urban legend finds its roots in a kernel of truth. Some purebred dogs really are more prone to cancer than others. Bassett Hounds, for example, are genetically-predisposed to Lymphoma and Squamous Cell Carcinoma. As mutts tend to originate from a mixture of two or more breeds, they often face a lower risk of certain types of cancer. This does not mean, however, that they are immune. Even pets with a Heinz 57 pedigree can and will develop life-threatening cancers. So, while mixed breed dogs have their fair share of advantages, they’re not without their health problems.

MYTH 4: X Causes Cancer

It Depends. Cancer is a complicated disease with hundreds of potential causes, ranging from obesity to overcooked food. There are four, however, of particular concern to pet parents:

Spaying and Neutering

The jury’s still out. Though multiple studies have been done on this, scientists have reached contradictory conclusions. One study showed that spaying and neutering increased the chances of developing more common cancers such as mast cell tumors and lymphoma. Another research group, meanwhile, concluded that sterilization decreases the risk of cancers related to the reproductive systems and leads to a longer average lifespan. For those of us worried by the incremental risks, there are other, less-invasive sterilization methods available.

Tobacco Smoke

True. Second and third-hand smoke can lead to an increased risk of lung and nasal cancer in dogs and cats. Though the former is more dangerous for human children, the latter often proves most deadly to our furry ones. Tobacco smoke often coats our animal’s toys and bedding. Frequent washing of these materials can decrease the risk of toxin exposure. The only way to completely eliminate the risk of is to stop smoking.

Obesity and Diet

Maybe. Just like in human cancer, there’s no special diet that can completely eliminate the risk of cancer. Some studies have shown that certain vegetables and herbal supplements, such as mushrooms and mushroom powder, can help lower it. Certain researchers also believe that modern-day pet food fillers may be at the root of rapid increases in certain cancers; there exists little evidence to prove their claims, however.

Myth 5: Chemotherapy Will Ruin My Pet’s Life

November Is Pet Cancer Awareness Month: 6 Pet Cancer Myths | Vet OrganicsUsually false. A lot of pet parents worry that treating cancer will just make their pet miserable. But we need to remember that vets hate their patients suffering just as much as we do! They’re not about to recommend chemo to pets if it won’t help. And, while vets often use the same drugs as human oncologists do, they use them at much lower doses. This reduces the risk of side effects and just 25-percent of animal chemo patients experience adverse side effects. In fact, when asked to rate their pet’s quality of life during chemotherapy, the average pet guardian gave a score of 8.9 out of 10. So, in most cases, the chemo is worth it.

There are few words as scary as cancer. But, much of this fear stems from rumors and myths started when our grandparents were but a twinkle in their mother’s eyes. Even after diagnosis, many pets live happy, healthy lives. So, when we see that lump, we just need to take a step back and trust that our vet knows their stuff.

Further Resources:

Michelle Lievense

Michelle is a writer and ghostwriter, specializing in wellness, sustainability, and global social change. She is particularly fond of serving ethical organizations who contribute to a better life for people and animals through humane and environmentally responsible missions. At Vet Organics, Michelle uses her time as a vet tech, her academic studies in animal science and behavior, and nearly a decade working on a ranch teaching animal husbandry to write on a variety of cat and canine health topics. When she isn't writing, Michelle can be found hiking in the mountains of Colorado with her dogs or snuggled up with a good book and her cats.

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