Pet Cancer Awareness Month
Posted November 14, 2017
Many of us know someone whose life has been impacted by cancer.
Unfortunately, cancer can also occur in our pets. As part of Pet
Cancer Awareness Month, Dr. Heather Wilson-Robles, associate
professor, and Dr. Brandan Wustefeld-Janssens, a fellowship-trained
surgical oncologist at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary
Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, discussed everything owners
need to know about cancer in pets.
One of the most common types of cancer in pets is skin cancer,
Wustefeld-Janssens said. Primary care veterinarians can usually
treat cancerous skin tumors without referring the pet to specialty
care. However, more serious types of cancer—including tumors that
appear in the bone, mouth, glands (such as anal sacs), or lymph
nodes—may require surgery, radiation, and/or chemotherapy.
In some situations, Wilson-Robles said a combination of
treatments may be necessary to prevent the cancer from relapsing.
For example, an animal may undergo surgery to remove a cancerous
tumor, but that doesn’t mean the animal is free of cancer cells.
The animal may still need chemotherapy to remove remaining cancer
cells from the body, which can help prevent the cancer from
One thing to consider when looking for a cancer treatment is
finances. Though pets are often considered family, cancer treatment
for our furry friends can get expensive. Wustefeld-Janssens
suggested working with your veterinarian to find the most
cost-efficient treatment plan.
In addition, Wilson-Robles suggested looking into pet insurance
(when you first get your pet) to help cover the cost of cancer
treatment. There are also clinical trials you can find at
vetcancertrials.org or the American Veterinary Medical
Association’s online database. Clinical trials are partially or
fully funded programs that determine the effectiveness of a
“Ultimately, clinical trials are an experimental therapy,”
Wilson-Robles said. “If we knew everything about it, we wouldn’t
need to do the trials. However, your animal could be getting
cutting-edge medicine that they otherwise wouldn’t have access
However, Wilson-Robles added that in some situations, there are
no good options for cancer treatment. This may be because the
animal is not strong enough to ensure cancer treatment or the
cancer is too complicated and dangerous to treat.
“(Instead,) you may consider taking your pet home and keeping
him comfortable,” Wilson-Robles said.
This includes providing the pet with any veterinarian-prescribed
medications, clean bedding, any comfort items (such as toys), and
food and water. If desired, you can even look into hospice
You may be wondering, “How can I know if my pet has cancer?”
There are signs that may indicate cancer, but these symptoms can
also be associated with other diseases and conditions. Report any
abnormalities, such as a lump or a bump on the body, unexplained
weight loss, limping or lameness, swelling, or bleeding to a
veterinarian. The sooner you do this, the better.
“Early intervention is important,” Wustefeld-Janssens said. “If
you notice something abnormal, do not wait to show it to your
veterinarian; a tumor the size of a grape is a lot easier to treat
than one the size of a football.”
Keeping your pet in general good health is the best way to help
prevent cancer, Wustefeld-Janssens added. This includes regular
exercise, feeding your animal a well-balanced diet, and seeing the
veterinarian for regular (at least once-a-year) checkups.
Though a cancer diagnosis can be scary, there are many treatment
options available. However, the best treatment is preventative
care. Remember to practice healthy habits with your pets and report
any abnormalities to your veterinarian in a timely manner.
Pet Talk is a service of the Texas A&M College of
Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences. Stories can be
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