In our quest to raise awareness about pet health and the early detection of cancer in animals, we had the privilege of sitting down with Dr. Carra Walters. Dr. Walters is a veterinarian with a wealth of experience in the field, and she shared her insights on common warning signs of cancer in pets, how to distinguish normal signs of ageing from cancer symptoms and the importance of regular checkups. We also discussed breed-specific cancers and the options available for pet owners when faced with a cancer diagnosis.
What are some of the most common warning signs of cancer that pet owners overlook or miss?
Well, different cancers can affect pets at different ages, but one of the common misconceptions is that cancer only affects older pets. While it’s true that the majority of cancers occur in older animals, some cancers can strike at a younger age. Pet owners may overlook signs in younger pets because they don’t expect it. Common signs to watch for include unexplained weight loss, increased thirst, increased urination, changes in appetite, lethargy, and sometimes, enlarged lymph nodes, which would be noticed during a vet’s examination.
How can pet owners distinguish normal signs of ageing from symptoms that could indicate cancer?
It’s often challenging for pet owners to distinguish between normal ageing signs and potential cancer symptoms. That’s why regular health checks with your vet are crucial. Vets conduct thorough clinical examinations that include checking the colour of gums, listening to the heart and lungs, feeling for abnormal masses, and monitoring body weight. Subtle changes, like slow weight loss over time or changes in muscle mass, can be detected during these check-ups. The responsibility of monitoring these changes falls on the vet, so it’s essential to visit your vet at least once a year, even if your pet seems healthy.
Are there any noticeable differences between cancer warning signs in dogs versus cats?
Cancer warning signs don’t significantly differ between dogs and cats. What can vary is how engaged you are with your pet. If you have a close bond with your pet, you’re more likely to notice subtle changes or symptoms. Indoor cats and dogs may exhibit signs differently from outdoor pets. It’s more about the individual pet’s behaviour and how much physical contact and attention they receive rather than a strict difference between dogs and cats.
What are some silent indicators of cancer in pets?
Silent indicators of cancer often depend on the type of cancer and its location within the body. For example, slow weight loss over time, coughing (for lung tumors), vomiting and diarrhoea (if affecting the intestinal system), and in some cases, changes in behaviour or energy levels can be subtle signs. The difficulty with cancer is that the symptoms are associated with the specific area it affects, so it’s crucial to rely on your vet’s expertise to detect and diagnose these indicators.
In your experience, which cancers tend to be diagnosed at a later stage due to missed or early symptoms?
Cancers that are often diagnosed at later stages are those located in the abdomen, like splenic tumours, which don’t have external signs and can grow unnoticed. When they rupture, it can lead to a sudden deterioration in a pet’s health. These hidden abdominal tumours are challenging to detect without a vet’s examination, making early diagnosis crucial.
What preventative screening tests do you recommend for catching cancer early in pets with no symptoms, and when should you start these tests?
I advocate regular visits to your vet and building a good working relationship with them. At these appointments, your vet will conduct a full clinical examination, including checking the colour of gums, listening to the heart and lungs, feeling for abnormalities, and monitoring body weight. If any concerning signs are detected, further tests, such as blood work, may be recommended. These regular check-ups should be scheduled at least once a year for healthy pets. Depending on your pet’s health, more frequent visits may be necessary.
Are there breed-specific cancers that pet owners should be aware of?
While there may be genetic predispositions to certain cancers in some breeds, it’s not always straightforward. For example, some large breed dogs may be more prone to osteosarcomas, which are bone tumours. On the other hand, certain cats may be susceptible to squamous cell carcinoma due to exposure to sunlight. There’s no one-size-fits-all rule for breed-specific cancers, and individual factors such as genetics, environment, nutrition, and family history can play a role.
Do you have any additional notes or advice for pet owners regarding cancer in pets?
It’s essential for pet owners to understand that a cancer diagnosis doesn’t necessarily mean the end. The approach to managing cancer varies based on the type and stage of cancer. Treatment options, including chemotherapy, are available, and they don’t necessarily lead to the severe side effects that humans experience during chemotherapy. It’s important to discuss treatment options with your vet, considering factors like the potential for extending your pet’s life and their quality of life. Decisions should be made on an individual basis and align with your pet’s needs and your circumstances.
Understanding the early signs of cancer in pets and the importance of regular check-ups with a veterinarian is crucial for pet owners. Dr. Carra Walters provided valuable insights into common warning signs, the distinction between ageing and cancer symptoms, and the need for preventative screening. Additionally, she highlighted the importance of a good working relationship with your vet when diagnosing and treating cancer in pets and the potential for positive outcomes with early intervention.
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