Help Your Pet Fight Cancer
By David F. Kramer
It’s estimated that six million dogs and six million cats, as well as more than 12 million of their human friends, will be diagnosed with cancer in the coming year. According to the Veterinary Cancer Society, cancer is the leading cause of death for dogs at 47 percent and cats at 32 percent. Cancers can manifest in the skin, mammary glands, testicles, head or neck, lymph nodes, abdomen, bone or blood.
While far from unavoidable, there are certainly changes you can make in your pet’s diet, exercise and lifestyle that can help keep cancer at bay. Here are the top ways to help your pet fight cancer:
Establish a Relationship with Your Veterinarian
For both pets and their people, establishing a relationship with a doctor is crucial. Regular vet visits are the rare opportunities when warning signs can best be caught early and dealt with long before they become serious – or worse, potentially cancerous and life-threatening.
“Early detection is key to instating early and effective treatment (whether surgical, radiation therapeutic, chemotherapeutic, or a combination thereof),” says veterinary oncologist Dr. Rick Chetney of VRC in Malvern, PA. “Physical examinations with your family veterinarian every six months once your pet has reached advanced age is recommended.”
Keep Your Pet at a Healthy Weight …
Perhaps the two largest stressors that contribute to cancer are diet and environment. When it comes to cancer prevention, keeping your pet in top condition will certainly go to great lengths to keep it healthy.
“Keeping a trim body condition will also limit metabolic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, joint pain and progression of arthritis and benefit a pet with a strong system to withstand treatment if necessary,” says Chetney.
A healthy body weight can be achieved by feeding your pet a proper amount of food and giving them regular exercise, including daily walks and a game of fetch for dogs, or toys for cats to play with in an indoor environment, he added.
… And Provide a Healthy Diet
Veterinary oncologist Dr. MJ Hamilton of Crown Veterinary Services in Lebanon, NJ, fields plenty of owner’s questions about dietary tips to prevent cancer. But it’s not always the answer we’d like to hear.
“Some of the most common questions I get are about diet. There is some chemo prevention that you can get in diet for certain breeds. For example, the Scottish Terrier. There’s a study where they did find that there was a preventative diet you can follow, primarily by adding green vegetables. But as far as I’m aware, that’s the only study, and the only breed,” says Hamilton.
While no diet is sure to eliminate cancer from the equation completely, the best regimen for cancer prevention is simply a healthy diet across the board. Talk to your vet about the best and most nutritionally-balanced diet for your pet. “Some people think that if they feed their dogs only meat that they won’t get cancer,” says Hamilton. “But that’s simply not true.”
Understand Your Breed’s Background …
Some breeds do have a predilection to cancer, mostly due to the breeding process that created them; but they run the gamut in size and shape, and include Rottweilers, Great Danes, German Shepherds, Labs, Bichon Frises, Boxers and other very popular breeds. This is something to keep in mind when deciding which type of pet to get, however, the possibility of cancer doesn’t deter most pet owners from embracing these breeds.
“Certain breeds are predisposed [to cancer], likely due to genetics. When we breed for specific characteristics, we also risk passing down genes that lead to predispositions,” says Dr. Joanne Intile of East End Veterinary Emergency and Specialty Center in Riverhead, NY. “Good breeders are not inbreeding their lines, and we still see cancer in those pets, so the inbreeding that occurs isn’t the only thing to blame.”
Owners can ask their breeders about the health of their puppy or kitten’s lineage, and good breeders will keep that information for years and provide it without question, Intile adds.
… And Their Current Environment
Where you and your pet make your home is also an important factor in the potential for development of cancer. Urban sprawl and suburbanization have certainly improved the lives of millions, but the close proximity of people and the industrial complex has certainly led to health hazards that are almost solely the result of city living – and cancer is no exception.
“There have been previous studies regarding dogs that live in an urban environment having a higher incidence of nasal tumors (also longer nose dogs breeds), and cats living in homes with higher levels of environmental tobacco smoke having a higher incidence of oral cancer due to grooming toxicants from their fur. In this case, avoiding such environmental exposures is recommended,” says Chetney.
Be Mindful of Skin Cancer …
To further complicate things, we can also reduce this to a matter of your pet’s looks, not simply its genetic makeup.
“For certain types of cancers, fur and skin coloration can be a predictor of a potential to form cancer. White furred cats that spend a lot of time outside or in the window in direct sun may develop nose, ear, and eyelid cancer called squamous cell carcinoma – a malignant tumor of surface tissues,” says Chetney.
If your dog is something of a sun-worshipper, that’s also a habit that you might want to keep to a minimum, as prolonged exposure to sunlight can trigger some cancers in our canines. Also, dogs with certain skin pigmentations can be more susceptible.
“Dogs that sunbathe on their backs, with their thinly furred bellies to the sky, may develop cutaneous hemangiosarcoma – a malignant tumor of blood vessels within the skin,” Chetney added. “Dogs with dark pigment to the tongue and inside of their mouths may develop oral malignant melanoma – a malignant tumor of pigment cells that mimics skin melanoma in humans.”
… And Which NSAIDs to Give Your Pet
In recent years, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) have been used to treat many sorts of conditions, including the inflammation that can occur with cancers. While some research suggests that NSAIDs can be used on a curative basis, there is a little evidence that they can be administered as a preventive measure.
“Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as piroxicam, Rimadyl and Metacam act by blocking cell surface receptors called cyclooxygenase receptors. These receptors have been found to be expressed in higher numbers on the cell surface of some cancers of the carcinoma type (surface tissue malignant tumors),” says Chetney.
While there does seem to be some advantage to using NSAIDs to reduce inflammation in active cancers, the use of NSAIDs in your pet is something that should be done only under the close supervision of your vet.
“By giving a dog or cat an NSAID, this medication may help to block these receptors, which relay signals into the cancer cells for growth and reproduction purposes. This is equivalent to a human taking an ibuprofen for their cancer,” says Chetney. “These medications have both anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer benefits. Human NSAIDs such as ibuprofen should never be given to a pet, as kidney, liver and GI-tract damage could result, and sometimes prove fatal.”
While life (canine, feline or otherwise) doesn’t guarantee that cancer will never strike, living a healthy lifestyle, and instilling it in your pet’s life as well, will go far in preventing it.
Think your pet might have cancer? Learn about the top ten signs of cancer in pets and what to do when your dog gets diagnosed with cancer.
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Cancer is a devastating and terminal illness in our pets. This article provides an outline of how to deal with protecting your pet from cancer as well as steps necessary if your pet is diagnosed with this deadly disease. It also has links to additional information necessary to know. We hope that you never have to deal with this insidious disease. But if you find yourself and your fur baby dealing with this diagnosis this article may help.
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