Pet column: Pet cancer awareness can prevent heartbreak

Dawn Armstrong
Special to the Tribune

November is Pet Cancer Awareness Month. There’s good news as well as bad news and awareness can help prevent bad news. I just observed the anniversary of my dog Cher’s death from cancer. The choices were very hard and the treatments very expensive. Perhaps other pet owners can be spared by doing being fully aware of any changes in a pet. While cuddling and petting, check every day for lumps and bumps. Learn the difference between a skin tag, a “wart”, a benign or a suspicious growth. Check between toes. Monitor a limp, the first sign of Cher’s cancer. Many pet medical issues are breed specific for higher risk, including cancer. Pay regular attention to changes in your cat’s face and lips. Assess the risk in your pet’s environment.

For some time, pets sharing space with smokers, including marijuana users, have been identified at risk. According to Dr. Julian Peters, they are particularly susceptible to the dangers of passive smoking because they constantly lick their fur, which holds the residue. This is especially true of cats, who groom themselves. Cats in a smoking household are 2.5 times more likely to develop cancer, specifically cancer of the lymph nodes, than a cat who is not exposed to smoke. Statistics show that long-nosed dogs, such as collies, are 2.5 times more likely to develop nasal cavity cancers if living in smoke. Short-to-medium-nosed dogs, such as bulldogs and pugs, are 1.6 times more likely to develop lung cancer when they inhale smoke. The toxic dose of nicotine for dogs is between 20-100 mg and a cigarette contains 15-30 mg. Chewing less than one cigarette could cause serious harm. Pot is poison. Smoking products and foods containing them must be out of reach. Passive smoking also can be a factor in respiratory diseases. Pets who live in households with smokers should be health checked regularly. Mouth cancer can be discovered during dental checks. Daily grooming can help remove toxins from fur.

Writing for VetStreet, veterinary oncologist Dr. Ann Hohenhaus states it isn’t just humans who need to be concerned about too much sun exposure. “The good news is that veterinarians can usually treat skin cancer successfully as long as it’s promptly identified. Both dogs and cats can develop the same common forms of human skin cancers, such as melanoma, squamous cell carcinoma and basal cell carcinomas. Fortunately, basal cell carcinomas are relatively uncommon, but melanoma and squamous cell carcinoma are all too common.”

Research has picked up to find ways to prevent and treat the pet cancers. Principal investigator: Dr. William C. Kisseberth, Ohio State University, published a report stating that about 10 percent of all tumors in cats are oral squamous cell carcinoma, making this the third most common tumor in cats. The location of the tumor combined with the pain it causes prevent the cat from eating, swallowing or grooming, and most cats survive less than three months after diagnosis. Although many types of treatment have become available, quality of life and survival times haven’t improved. His study investigates a new class of anticancer drugs that inhibit tumor growth, kill human OSCC and various canine cancer cell lines, and may hold promise for treating felines.

Principal investigator: Dr. Stuart C. Helfand, Oregon State University, is researching Hemangiosarcoma, the cancer which killed my Cher and which remains one of the most aggressive canine cancers. Despite treatments such as chemotherapy, immunotherapy and surgery, dogs rarely live beyond six months after diagnosis. His study expands on previous research into a novel class of drugs that may have the potential to control the growth of hemangiosarcoma and may lead to new treatment options.

As humans strive to lead healthier lives, they owe it to their pets to be aware and provide a healthy, pet safe environment as well.

Provided by the Lake Tahoe Humane Society and Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to help “Keep Tahoe Kind”. Dawn Armstrong is the executive director.

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