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Filed in Cats, Dogs, Health

Dogs and cats get cancer just like humans do -- and for many of the same reasons.

Cancer researchers are quite certain about three things: Cancer is influenced by genetic programming, so the tendency to get cancer can be hereditary; cancer can be influenced by various elements in the environment, including secondary cigarette smoke, radiation, radon gas, diet and toxic chemicals; and cancer takes advantage of weak immune systems, which in cats can be caused by such diseases as the feline leukemia virus (FeLV) or feline AIDS (FIV).

Cancers can affect any organ system. Primary cancers originate in one organ and then can spread or metastasize form one site to other organ systems by the blood or lymph systems.

Skin cancers are the most common types of tumors. Squamous cell carcinoma and basal cell tumors often are caused by excessive sun exposure, especially in white and pink-skinned dogs and cats. The cancers most often appear on the ears or noses, around the eyes and on sun-bathed tummies. Help your pet avoid the sun. Use waterproof No. 15 SPF sunblock on the exposed areas of your pet's skin.

Black dogs are susceptible to melanomas, which are cancers of the cells that produce pigment. Melanocytes can grow out of control in the mouth and skin causing a black mass or swelling. They are highly malignant.

Mast cell tumors occur commonly in the skin of older dogs, especially boxers and boston terriers. If the mast cell spreads to the bone marrow and spleen, it is very serious.

The second most common type of cancer is mammary gland cancer in female dogs and cats. Breast cancers usually occur in older unspayed females. Spaying your female before her third heat cycle reduces the chance of breast cancer to almost zero. A mass or swelling may be the only sign of a tumor.

Blood cancers are the next most common forms of cancer. Leukemia is a cancer of the blood and bone marrow. It affects any of the white blood cells and in cats is caused by the feline leukemia virus (FeLV).

Bone tumors are more often seen in large or giant breed dogs.

Cancer of the lymph nodes is called lymphosarcoma. Lung cancer in pets can be caused by secondary cigarette smoke, just like in humans. Dogs with longer noses are less likely to develop lung cancer but more likely to develop nasal cancer, because the nose acts like a filtration system.

Male dogs sometimes develop cancer in a retained testicle. Females can suffer from ovarian cancer.

Tumors that develop around the eye tend to be benign and grow slowly. However, squamous cell carcinomas may involve the skin around the eye and can be fatal.

There are several ways to help protect your pet from getting cancer.

  • Have your pet spayed or neutered as soon as possible.
  • Keep your pet away from secondary tobacco smoke and check your home for radon gas.
  • Use waterproof sunblock on skin area that are unprotected by the hair coat and exposed to the sun.
  • Feed your pet a high-quality, premium food.
  • Give your pet natural vitamin supplements formulated for a healthier, longer life. Whenever possible, avoid feeding your pet sugars, corn syrup, artificial colorings, flavorings and preservatives.
  • Check your pet for lumps or masses under the skin and watch for suck symptoms as weight loss, vomiting, diarrhea, behavior changes, increased or decreased water consumption or appetite, and unexplained bleeding.
  • Annual physical exams by your veterinarian are very important, and senior pets should have checkups every six months.

Cancer treatments depend on the type of tumor and the stage that it has reached when diagnosed. Early diagnosis is always very important for successful treatment. Surgical removal of the tumor is the preferred treatment. However, if the tumor is diffuse or has spread, radiation and chemotherapy often are used.

Source: Ask the Vet, reprinted with permission by Pet Food Express. Ask the Vet is published by Veterinarian's Best, Inc.

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