Dr Adoncia Thian from Landon Veterinary Specialists explains the facts about cancer in animals, and what to do when your pet is diagnosed with it.
Can we prevent cancer in our pets?
Often, when pets are diagnosed with cancer, owners ask if they have done anything wrong, such as feeding their pet the wrong diet. The answer is “no”. Genetics has a lot to do with it, and some breeds are more prone to certain types of cancers. In dogs, for example, pugs and boxers are more prone to mast cell tumours. White cats are more prone to squamous cell carcinomas, because they don’t have pigments in their skin to protect them against UV rays.
What can we do to help our pets?
Early detection and early intervention is paramount to getting the best outcome. Every now and again, when cuddling and patting your pet, feel them to detect any lumps or bumps. If you do find one, do not wait for it to double or triple in size before seeking attention. Small samples can be taken with a small needle (without sedation), to do a preliminary check of the lump. Sometimes, if this method does not yield enough cells to diagnose a tumour type, general anaesthesia may be required to take a larger biopsy sample for laboratory testing.
Internal tumours are more difficult to detect, and may sometimes go unnoticed until you pick up symptoms like intestinal obstructions, or clinical signs. Yearly screening by a veterinarian is a good way to check your pet and make sure everything is fine.
What if cancer is confirmed?
Your veterinarian may stage the cancer to check how far it has spread. If the cancer has aggressive characteristics, your vet may refer you to a specialist surgeon for an in-depth diagnosis. A specialist clinic will have facilities like a CT scanner to check for miniscule spread in the lungs and other abdominal organs. A specialist surgeon will be able to advise on the feasibility of removing the tumour and a thorough discussion will help the pet owner decide on the best plan of action.
To remove a tumour successfully, it’s important to do so with a “clean margin”, which means removing the tumour and some normal tissue around it. Different tumours require different margins, and an experienced surgeon will know how to achieve that margin.
Not all tumours require surgical removal. Some can be treated with chemotherapy. So it’s important to get a correct diagnosis and be advised by an experienced vet on the appropriate therapy early.
Can alternative therapies cure cancer?
This is a common question asked by pet owners who are dealing with the devastating news of cancer in a beloved pet. Unfortunately, there is no scientific evidence that alternative therapies like acupuncture, homeopathy or essential oils can cure cancer. While some owners may decide to try alternative therapies, the tumour will continue to grow and spread until they reach a stage where surgery or chemotherapy have become useless.
Landon Veterinary Specialists are at 41 Eng Kong Terrace, Eng Kong Park.
This article was first featured in the November 2015 issue of the magazine.