Cancer in animals
November in CANSA month – a month where awareness is made of cancer – not just the disease but also the victory in treatment. In animals, we have also seen a huge surge in cancers – both in the incidence and diagnosis but also in the successful treatments and cure.
This article is just to highlight a few signs that you, as diligent owner, can pick up on at home. This will hopefully lead to early diagnosis and rapid and positive response to treatment. Cancers ( tumours , neoplasia ) are divided into malignant ( spreads to the local nearby tissue and other body parts ) and benign ( no sign of malignancy and doesn't spread to other parts of the body / skin )
What should alert me :
Lumps and bumps : Most skin cancers start with some sort of lump or bump under the skin that doesn't go away. They normally get bigger and some animals leave them alone, while others are bothered by them and lick or chew them. Remember mammary glands can be a problem in both a male and female animal. Either way – any lump, that you are not comfortable with and that suddenly starts growing, should be investigated. A needle biopsy is commonly done in the consulting room and a veterinarian or pathologist can let you know if the cells are cancerous or not.
Wounds that just won't heal : Any non-healing wound should be examined for possible cancerous cells. They don't have to be malignant but will affect the general ability for wounds to heal completely.
Limping or pain : Cancers in the bone ( long bones , joints , vertebra ) are extremely painful and animals will show severe pain that doesn't respond to normal pain relief medication. Large breed dogs ( Great Danes, Boerboele, Rottweilers etc ) are most likely to get these kind of cancers. Tumours in the abdomen ( organs ) might also show pain depending on where they are positioned and what organs are affected and to what degree.
Lethargy and Depression : The animals generally sleep more, are less active and don't want to go for walks – they just feel down. Once again, lethargy or depression are not a symptoms confined to cancer, but an accumulation of any of these signs is reason enough to speak with your veterinarian.
Appetite changes and weight loss : Tumours are energy hungry with most animals showing some form of weight loss. The appetite changes all depend on where the tumour is based eg. Tumours in the mouth / jaw / tongue will generally be extremely painful with a fowl odour coming from the mouth while at the same time refusing food. Tumours of the oesophagus or stomach will also show with decreased appetite and possible vomiting. Again, weight loss and lethargy are definitely not always a sign of neoplasia or cancer but if weight loss or appetite changes are noted, an examination at your vet would be indicated.
Abnormal discharges : Blood , pus , vomit , diarrhoea or any abnormal substance being discharged from any area / part of the body should be examined. In addition to that, if your dog or cat’s abdomen becomes bloated or distended ( coupled with weight loss over the back in most circumstances ) it could be a sign of an accumulation of abnormal discharge within the body.
Breathing or coughing abnormalities : Rapid shallow breaths or persistent worsening cough, should be examined. Again these normally come hand in hand with most of the above signs, but should be examined if they persist. Most cancers tend to spread ( metastasise ) to the lungs.
This article is not meant to suddenly drive you silly with worry, but hopefully make you aware, that animals too get cancer. As a rule - the sooner they are diagnosed, the more successful and generally less invasive, the treatment required.
CANSA is hosting an informative BARK for LIFE event on Saturday morning 9th November 8h30-11am at the Hartenbos Amfiteater. Various topics will be dealt with as well as a “survivor” round for cancer survivor animals. Your support wwould be lovely …