This week, our Sunday Dog is a cat named Lion. This healthy, young fellow starred in one of Penny's City Paws newpspaper columns about the warning signs of cancer in dogs and cats. Happily, he's part of a smart and caring family who will take good care of him and be alert for any sign of illness.
Now that summer is here, we spend a bit more time outside sitting with our dogs and inside enjoying the air conditioning and stroking our cats. This is the perfect opportunity to take a good look at our furry friends and combine cuddles with a bit of detective work.
This closeness can contribute to longer, healthier lives if we use that proximity to notice little changes in our companion animals that might be an early warning sign of cancer. Just as with people, early detection and treatment can save lives.
The Animal Cancer Foundation estimates that 1 in 3 people, 1 in 4 dogs, and 1 in 5 cats will develop cancer in their lifetimes.
If you’ve learned to watch for signs of cancer in yourself and your human family members, you already know some of the things to look for in your dog or cat.
- Lumps and bumps (especially those that are new, changing, or growing) and coughs (especially dry coughs with signs of difficult breathing) should be reviewed by a veterinarian.
- Wounds or sores that don’t heal, abnormal discharges, and swollen lymph nodes need a professional check. Ask your veterinarian to show you how to feel the lymph nodes behind the jaw and knee. Once you know what normal feels like, you can check anytime you’re petting or grooming your pal.
- If you brush your dog or cat’s teeth, you should take the time to look around the mouth and to sniff for any abnormal odors. A foul mouth odor can be a sign of an oral tumor. You should also be alert for changes in the way your dog or cat chews food, treats, and toys.
- Changes in digestive habits from chronic vomiting, straining to eliminate, diarrhea, or blood in urine or stools means a visit to the vet. There are many other causes for these symptoms and your doctor may prescribe other treatments first. But, if the problem continues, it may require a biopsy or other techniques to rule cancer in or out.
- Unexplained weight loss and loss of appetite, especially when combined with another sign, are causes for concern. This is a reason to weigh your cat or dog regularly and to keep a weight chart. You can teach larger dogs to sit on a scale or you could stop by your animal hospital between visits and ask to use theirs. With small animals, stand on a scale holding your critter and record that number. Then, weigh just yourself. Deduct your weight from the combined total and you have the animal’s weight.
- Signs of pain, lethargy, or depression without another explanation could be a red flag. Pain in a dog or cat can be anything from limping to inactivity. You may notice that your cat doesn’t want to play or your dog is reluctant to go for a walk.
You should have a discussion with your vet about the warning signs you need to be most vigilant in reporting about your companions. Certain breeds of dogs have a genetic predisposition to specific types of cancer and the slightest change should put you on alert.
You must be watchful on behalf of your dog or cat. Get them used to having you check their paws, ears, mouth, and run your hands along their body. Have your vet show you how to look for cancer signs and give you some idea of the ones that should be considered urgent and those that should be communicated at the next visit.
Words: Penny Cherubino edited for BostonZest from her CIty Paws Newspaper Column.
Photography: Laurie Thomas