by Jason Smith
Photo by Tony Alter | Source: Wikimedia Commons
According to Dr. Karen Becker (2010), 50% of cats and dogs die from cancer and the current trend is that animals are developing cancer at increasingly younger ages. This should be a serious wake-up call for pet owners. When you adopt a dog or cat, you expect them to be around for a long time. We understand that at some point, our furbabies will die, but we least expect the manner in which they will draw their last breath.
As a veterinary technician, I have participated in euthanizing animals whose owners had to make the difficult decision to end life. Even in times such as these, knowing that the decision is best for the animal in that it ends suffering or reduces pain isn’t enough to ease the grief and pain we experience from losing a loved one. It is never easy to say goodbye to a loved one, whether a biped or a quadruped. When we do have to say goodbye, will we be able to look back and say, “He lived a good life”?
Cancer is probably the most dreaded word in the English language. Its mere utterance invokes fear and sadness in whomever hears it. Some, who have been fortunate to beat cancer, survive knowing the feeling of triumph over certain death but also come out of it with a greater value on things that truly matter in life.
Cancer interrupts the body’s normal cell growth. In a healthy animal, when the body needs new cells, it signals the production of those cells. When it produces enough new cells, it stops production on new cells. In cancer, the body cannot start and stop production normally, so the new growth continues and produces tumors.
A tumor signifies a problem in the body. There are two types of tumors: benign and malignant. While both are abnormal, doctors consider malignant tumors as more serious than benign tumors. A common benign tumor is a lipoma. Lipomas form from fatty tissue underneath a pocket of skin. They are usually benign; however, left untreated, a lipoma could become cancerous.
Malignant tumors are cancerous because a membrane does not enclose the tumor cells. The absence of a membrane allows cancer cells to move about to adjacent tissues and organs where they can cause damage. The cells could also enter the blood stream or lymphatic system and spread to other parts of the body causing secondary cancers.
There are many possible causes of cancer in humans and animals. Nutritional disorders, hormonal imbalances, viral infections, immune system disorders, genetic abnormalities, and carcinogens. Environmental and lifestyle factors could also contribute to cancer.
The best medicine is preventative medicine. If you make changes in the way you care for your pet, you could, in theory, reduce or eliminate your pet’s chances of developing cancer. Even with the intentional care, pets could still develop cancer.
Talk to your veterinarian about nutritional options that could help reduce or eliminate cancer risk. Avoid foods that contain preservatives such as ethoxyquin, BHA, BHT, propylene glycol, TBHQ, or propyl gallate (DogFoodAdvisor.com 2015).
Feed your pets a species-appropriate diet. Cats should get canned, home-cooked, or raw food and dogs should have kibble, canned, home-cooked, or raw food that meets their dietary requirements. Some veterinarians recommend avoiding kibble; however, some kibbles are better than others are. If you choose to feed your dog kibble, choose one with quality ingredients with a higher price. When you skimp on price, you are choosing a lower quality food. The lower quality food could contribute to the development of cancer.
Thousands, if not millions, of animal advocates admonish us to spay and neuter our animals. They argue that it will reduce the growing number of pets occupying shelters and that it could reduce certain cancers in cats and dogs. Despite these recommendations, Ted Kerasote (2010-2015) discovered how spaying and neutering your dog or cat could actually increase the chances of cancer development because of hormonal imbalances. Both estrogen and testosterone bring healthy benefits to your pets. So instead of spaying or neutering your pets, which removes the ovaries and testicles, opt for alternative surgeries such as vasectomies and tubal ligations. These surgeries leave the gonads intact while removing the ability to procreate.
Viral infections & Immune system disorders
When the body responds to viral infections, the body essentially loses its ability to fight other diseases. A weakened immune system could allow for the development of cancer.
Maintain a healthy pet by feeding a healthy diet, exercising your pet regularly, and getting routine health checks from your veterinarian.
Certain breeds of dogs are more likely to get cancer due to genetic factors. In pure breed lines, some inbreeding may occur resulting in genetic abnormalities. A dog may appear happy and healthy, but the underlying genetic code is damaged and could switch on a cancer gene that manifests in the body as tumors. Dog breeds that are highly susceptible to cancer include Golden and Flat-Coated Retrievers and Bernese Mountain Dogs (Spadafori 2012). Because of their predisposition to cancer, we do not recommend spaying or neutering these breeds. The loss of hormones will increase their risk of developing cancer.
In his book, Pukka’s Promise, author Ted Kerasote described the chemical ocean in which we live. According to Kerasote, a dog’s exposure to the chemical ocean is 500 times more than a human’s is. The reason for the increased exposure is simple: dogs are lower to the ground than humans are so as aerosols, gases, and other chemicals settle toward the ground, dogs are much closer to the chemicals than humans are. In addition, chemicals are prevalent in many manufactured items such as dog beds, dog toys, carpet, dog treats, dog food, lawns, etc. Everywhere a dog goes, he faces exposure to chemicals that could be carcinogenic in nature. Limit your dog or cat’s exposure to chemicals to reduce their risk of cancer.
Once upon a time, a cancer diagnosis meant certain death. Today, it is possible to treat cancer and extend the life of your companion animals. In humans, treatment includes surgery, radiotherapy, and chemotherapy. In addition to these life-saving methods, IV antioxidant therapy, Poly-MVA therapy, ozone therapy, and cryosurgery are suitable options for treating cancer in animals.
As you can imagine, the costs associated with treating a pet with cancer could be considerably high. Therefore, we recommend carrying pet insurance to help offset the cost to you. Buy insurance for your pet as soon as possible to ensure coverage for your furbaby in the event of an emergency.
Becker, K. (2010 November 23). Using alternative therapies to fight cancer. Retrieved November 9, 2015 from http://healthypets.mercola.com/sites/healthypets/archive/2010/11/23/pet-supplements-and-pet-therapy-for-cancer-prevention.aspx
Becker, K. (2012 March 5). Mast cell tumor: This is one lump you can’t ignore. Retrieved November 9, 2015 from http://healthypets.mercola.com/sites/healthypets/archive/2012/03/05/common-cancer-for-pet-dogs-and-cats-mast-cell-tumors.aspx
DeVita, V. T., Jr., & Hubbard, S. M. (2015). Cancer. (B. Burtness, Rev.). The New Book of Knowledge. Retrieved November 9, 2015, from Grolier Online http://nbk.grolier.com.proxy.kyvl.org/ncpage?tn=/encyc/article.html&id=a2004450-h&type=0ta
DogFoodAdvisor.com. (2015). These dog food preservatives could be toxic to your pet. Retrieved November 18, 2015 from http://www.dogfoodadvisor.com/red-flag-ingredients/dog-food-preservatives/
Kerasote, T. (2010-2015). Healthy dogs. Retrieved November 9, 2015 from http://www.kerasote.com/healthy-dogs.php
Spadafori, G. (2012 March 12). The big C. Retrieved November 9, 2015 from http://www.veterinarypartner.com/Content.plx?P=A&S=0&C=0&A=3356