Cancer & Our Pets 

Cancer & Our Pets

Summary: Cancer is a very common illness in animals and human, often with no real answer as to the cause. Understanding how to continue to care for your fur baby after their diagnosis can help keep your routines, life and schedules in track, while still giving your pet the best years of their life. Not all types of pet neoplasia are treatable, but the diagnosis alone does not mean an instant death sentence. Here you can learn about pet neoplasia and how you can prepare your life to live with your ill pet.

Cancer and neoplasia in our pets are very common. More than half of elderly pets will face cancer, while only some take treatment to attempt to fight the disease. Many are simply too old to handle the treatment load and side effects. A neoplasia is an abnormal growth of cells or tissues within the body, and they can be benign or malignant. Benign neoplasms grow more slowly than malignant growths, which are very unpredictable. Malignant tumors can be very invasive and spread rapidly to the surrounding tissues or metastasize to other parts of the body.

Neoplasia is very common in dogs and cats, as well as many other mammals. Almost one in four dogs will develop some form of cancer in their lifetime, and over half over the age of ten will also fight the battle. Animals get cancer at about the same rates as humans, although the information for cancer in cats is still being developed. Certain forms of cancer seem to appear more frequently in the feline species. One of those types of cancer is lymphoma.

Tests like a physical exam, x-ray, or blood tests may be done to help confirm the diagnosis. Ultrasound exams may be completed to help see the tumor or growth in a better light. These tests can quickly give the basic information about the tumor type and can confirm the diagnosis of cancer. Biopsies, cytology and tests of other tissues may be needed to confirm the malignancy of the cancer, or how far the neoplasm has spread. Animals may end up having many of the very same tests done that humans do, including computer tomography scans and Position Emission Tomography scans.

The study of cancer and oncologists specializing in animals are on the rise in veterinary care. Veterinary oncologists are animal doctors who have taken the time to specialize in cancer care and are then certified by the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine. These doctors will work with you and your main vet to care for your cancer-stricken pet.

Can I prevent my pet from getting neoplasia and cancer?

The unfortunate answer is no. Just like we cannot determine why cancer affects so many humans, the cause for many neoplasia are simply unknown. Some studies have shown that avoiding certain lifestyles and chemicals can help to reduce your pet’s risk for developing cancer. In dogs, studies have shown that secondhand smoke increases the risk of certain cancers in dogs and cats.

Spaying dogs helps to lower their risk for mammary cancer, which occur in over half of the neoplasm cases diagnosed. In over eighty-five percent of breast neoplasms in cats are malignant. Neutering male pets helps to reduce the risk of testicular cancer. Spaying and neutering before the age of twelve months seems to lower risks for these issues.

On the flip side of this argument, many studies have also shown that in spaying and neutering your pet, their risk increases for other types of cancer, along with their genetic disposition. Talk with your veterinarian about the risks for your pet and their specific breed.

What are the signs of neoplasia and cancer in my pet?

Just like a human, pets can develop cancer and neoplasia anywhere inside of their bodies. This cancer can affect any organ and any tissue anywhere. Some signs and symptoms may be observed based on the tissue involved and severity of the cancer. If you notice any of these things happening with your pet, do not wait to contact their vet today.

  • Abdominal swelling
  • Bleeding from the mouth, nose or other body openings
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Difficulty eating
  • Lumps, bumps or discolored skin
  • Non-healing wounds
  • Persistent diarrhea or vomiting
  • Sudden changes in weight
  • Unexplained swelling, heat, pain or lameness
  • Visible mass or tumor

These symptoms can also be signs for other illnesses and issues with your pet, so never assume until you know. Neoplasia are frequent and treatable, and with early detection and diagnosis your veterinarian can help restore your pet’s quality of life.

How will my vet treat my pet’s neoplasia?

Each type of cancer and neoplasia is different and will require individual care. Treatment may be solely one variety, or a combination of many. Surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, cryosurgery, hyperthermia or immunotherapy could be done. Usually, pets can tolerate and handle chemotherapy better than humans. Your vet may recommend a different diet and advise you on pain management as well. Once you have a diagnosis, your vet will discuss your pet’s best treatment options with you.

Some types of cancer in pets can be treated, and others simply cannot be. For those untreatable types, your vet can help you to manage your pet’s pain up until their very end. The biggest factors in determining the success of your pet’s neoplasia treatment is:

  • Stage – how large it is and how far it has spread in the body
  • Type – this indicates the chance for response to therapy, as well as both local invasion and the rate of spread to other parts of the body

In cases where the diagnosis and prognosis are not good, euthanasia may be considered, especially if your pet will be experiencing pain and side effects. When treatment begins to hinder your pet’s quality of life, you may need to think to the future and your pet’s best life. Making the best choice for your pet and your family is always the best decision.

How can I educate myself on get used to my pet having cancer?

Facing a cancer diagnosis of a loved one is difficult on many levels. When your companion animal has been diagnosed with cancer, it is easy to feel helpless. There are steps that you can take to educate yourself and care for your animal with cancer. Read the following suggestions to help transition to living with and caring for your ill pet.

  • Recognize that cancer in pets is very common. The fact that your pet developed cancer is not unusual. As your pet ages, their immune system weakens and cancer becomes a higher risk, just like in humans. You and your pet are not alone during these difficult times. The Veterinary Cancer Society states that cancer is the main cause of death in over forty percent of dogs, especially dogs over age ten, and over thirty percent of cats. Dogs get cancer around the same rate as humans, while cats have fewer cancers. There are over one hundred types of cancers in dogs. Most times cancer is found in aging animals, but some breeds have higher rates of cancer than others. It may be helpful to join and attend a support group of other pet owners coping with their sick animals. This can help to counter some of your fear, isolation and worry. 
  • Learn About Your Pet’s Cancer. Your pet has been diagnosed with cancer. Cancer is a disease that results from the uncontrolled growth of cells in the body. Cancers are often named for the type of cell that is growing out of control. The terms cancer, malignancy, and neoplasia may be used interchangeably, which are just different ways to say cancer. There are many types of cancer and each behaves differently. Some forms of cancer have the ability to spread to other sites in the body, which may be far from the original site. This occurs because these cancer cells can enter the blood or lymph vessels and be carried to other organs. When the cancer has spread to other areas of the body, it is called metastasis. As for any diagnosis, in pet or person, educate yourself on the options, costs involved, pros and cons to treating your pet and make an informed decision.
  • Understand Your Pet’s Treatment Options. There are several types of therapies used to treat cancer in companion animals. These include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and immunotherapy. For some cancers, treatment will consist of a single type of therapy, while others may require combination therapy. In an effort to test newer and hopefully more effective forms of therapy, you may be asked to enroll your pet in a clinical trial. The purpose of these trials is to learn more about the specific type of treatment that may be of value to humans and other pets with cancer, as well as hopefully providing a benefit to your pet.
  • Find a Veterinary Oncologist. When your pet is diagnosed with cancer, you may be uncertain about the choices presented to you. Just as we do in human medicine, get a second opinion from a board-certified veterinary oncologist. This may confirm a chosen course of treatment or open up new options for your pet.
  • Educate Yourself on Terminology. The veterinary oncologist will tell you what your pet’s body is going through. Understanding veterinary medical terms will help you better understand what the veterinary oncologist is suggesting for your pet. Do a little reading before your visit to become more familiar with some of the terms used. Bring a notebook along to your veterinary oncology visit so that you can take notes about treatment options and next steps. Do not be afraid to ask questions.
  • Understand How Veterinarians Test Tumors. To gather information to help determine the extent of the cancer, your veterinarian may order several tests. These can include blood tests, urinalysis, radiographs like X-rays and ultrasound, tissue aspirate, and biopsy. Tests done by your local veterinarian might be repeated at a cancer specialty center due to the changing nature of your pet’s illness. Other tests that may be used include: ultrasound, specialized radiologic studies, bone marrow aspirate, lymph node aspirate, endoscopy with the direct examination of the stomach, colon, or lung with a specialized scope & camera, and immunologic studies. Once this testing has been completed, your veterinarian will be better able to discuss treatment options for your pet. The goal of therapy will also be discussed.
  • Think about Your Pet’s Quality of Life. Cancer treatment for animals focuses on alleviating pain and suffering, along with extending life, as long as the quality of that life can be preserved. Treatment is typically much less aggressive than in humans. What makes your pet’s day? Is it a swim in the local pond, sunbathing on the front porch, a long walk in the woods, or just snuggling up with you?  When your animal cannot enjoy these activities, or they cause more discomfort, their quality of life is compromised. Sometimes your veterinarian can offer symptom management to alleviate pain and suffering, and sometimes, when quality of life is impacted, we need to think about euthanasia. 
  • Take Financial Responsibility for your pet. Medical care for pets can be costly. If you have pet insurance, now is the time to use it! If not, CareCredit, is a financing option available for veterinary care, but the veterinarian providing care must be a registered provider with CareCredit. Ask your vet’s office if they accept CareCredit. CareCredit can help you pay for out of pocket expenses for your pet’s care at fixed interest rates with more flexibility for repayment than traditional credit cards. But be sure to read the fine print and think about the long-term debt you could be incurring. You may also want to think about crowd sourcing/fundraising through websites like GoFundMe. Finally, some pet support organizations may be very useful when you are unable to afford the vet bill.
  • Keep a normal routine. Fun activities like exercising, walks, and playtime will help to maintain a healthy mindset for both you and your pet. Our pets like routine. It helps them stay active and engaged, especially if they will have to make many visits to the vet for treatment.
  • Be hopeful, and realistic. Our pets need us, and we need them. Although some animals may experience transient discomfort from therapy, treatment of most pets with cancer can be accomplished without major distress or taking away from your pet’s enjoyment of life. Just because an animal has been diagnosed with cancer does not mean its life is immediately over. Your commitment to your pet and your veterinarians’ dedication to providing state-of-the-art care will work together to keep your pet as happy as possible.

If you suspect your pet has neoplasia cancer, contact your veterinarian today to begin testing and treatment. Just as cancer is with humans, the earlier it is detected the better!

Resources Used:


Reclaiming Intimacy

AKC Pet Insurance dot com

VetStreet dot com

Back to blog