Breast cancer in pets

Just as in humans, there are many types of cancer which affect pets. Fifty percent of dogs over the age of ten will die of cancer. Breast cancer, also known as mammary cancer, is common in dogs and about half as common in cats. However, approximately half of the mammary tumors discovered in dogs are deemed non-malignant. In cats about 90 percent of mammary tumors are cancerous. Early detection and an aggressive treatment plan are important in battling this disease. See your veterinarian immediately if you have any suspicion that your pet may have breast cancer.

This cancer is particularly prevalent among middle-aged unspayed dogs and adult cats. Spaying a pet prior to their first heat almost eliminates their risk of breast cancer. For every year they remain unspayed this risk increases. This is thought to be due to the decrease in certain hormones that occurs after spaying.

Signs that your pet may have breast cancer include:

• Firm mass under the skin – usually starts as a small pea-sized lump
• Abnormal swelling – does not go away, grows
• Sores – do not heal
• Weight loss – loss of appetite, difficulty eating or swallowing
• Blood/discharge – from body openings
• Lethargic – loss of interest, loss of stamina
• Vomiting
• Breathing difficulty

Tumors are often discovered in the course of every day handling of your pet. You should incorporate a breast exam into your routine. This involves palpitation of the mammary glands anywhere from once a week to a minimum of once a month. An annual physical exam by the veterinarian is an important part of detecting the disease and at exam time they can show you how to perform the palpitation.

Diagnosis usually occurs with a biopsy. Treatment is similar to human treatments. It may include anti-hormonal drugs, chemotherapy, radiation and surgery.

The most important preventative step is spaying your pet prior to their first heat. A high quality diet is important to maintain a strong immune system. Avoid exposure to cancerous materials including second-hand cigarette smoke and some weed control products and household cleansers. Vaccinate your cat against FelV as an occurrence of that disease often correlates to a development of tumors.

There has recently been an increase in comparative oncology. Cancer specialists for humans are researching natural cancer occurrences in pets in order to better understand and treat cancer in humans.