Pet Cancer: What You Should Know
In July of 2000, Bullet was a strong, healthy, 9½-year-old Siberian Husky. I took him to the vet because I felt enlarged lymph nodes in his throat, but a diagnosis of cancer was the last thing I expected. It was late stage lymphosarcoma (lymphoma). After the initial shock wore off, I resolved to do whatever I could to help him survive.
Bullet stole my heart in September of 1992. I found him, a year and a half old, at my local shelter and he became my constant companion. I was constantly enthralled by his beauty, his grace and his bemusing, confounding and humiliating antics. (If you’ve ever lived with a Siberian, no explanation is necessary!) I couldn’t imagine not fighting for this wonderful and vibrant creature’s survival. Bullet received medical treatment in the form of chemotherapy and I created a home care cancer-fighting program for him, borrowing and combining bits and pieces from consultations with holistic vets, research and experience.
Hundreds of thousands of dogs and cats are diagnosed with cancer each year, yet shock is a typical reaction among caretakers who learn that their pet has cancer. There are about 64 million pet dogs in the U.S. today and the experts predict that half of them will have some type of cancer in their lifetimes... eighty percent of dogs over the age of 10 will die from cancer... the dismal statistics go on and on. There are, however, two pieces of good news. First, there are precautions that you can take to lower your pet’s risk for developing cancer. Second, if your pet is diagnosed with cancer, there are options available to you.
Precaution = prevention. Naturally, prevention is preferable to treatment! The chemicals used in many lawn care products are cited as a leading cause of lymphoma in dogs. Failure to spay or neuter leads to mammary and testicular cancers in dogs and cats. Over vaccination and exposure to the sun may cause many cutaneous cancers, including mast cell cancers as well as some sarcomas and carcinomas. Diet and genetic predisposition are also factors. In light of the statistics, having a medical insurance or discount plan for your pet makes a great deal of sense. When all precautions fail to stop cancer from developing, such a plan may succeed in making treatment affordable and possible.
Until the past decade, pets diagnosed with cancer were generally not given treatment. In fact, until 15 years ago, veterinary oncology didn’t even exist as a board certified subspecialty of veterinary medicine. Now, state of the art cancer treatment for pets is nearly on a par with human cancer treatment. Because there are approximately 160 veterinary oncologists to date [note that this article printed in 2006] and there are millions of cats and dogs with cancer, many general practice veterinarians are learning to provide treatment as well, usually under consultation with an oncologist.
Many types of pet cancer can be treated successfully with surgery, chemotherapy or radiation therapy. Additionally, because a great deal of research is underway in the field, entering a pet into a clinical trial program is another possibility. Cutaneous cancers and mammary cancer are the most common types of cancer in pets.Third is lymphoma, and while human lymphoma may be Hodgkins or Non-Hodgkin’s, only the malignant (Non-Hodgkin’s) type appears in pets. This is a very aggressive cancer with a typical survival rate of only 4-6 weeks without chemotherapy, but it is also a cancer that responds well to treatment. A course of chemo may earn a pet an extra year to 18 months of survival—borrowed time—in excellent health.
The most important components of a successful fight against pet cancer:
Taking the cancer journey with a pet can be a rewarding experience regardless of the outcome.When cancer threatened to take the life of my four-legged companion I said,
NOT TODAY AND NOT WITHOUT A FIGHT!
and the depth of my commitment to him crystallized.
Laurie Kaplan is the author of “Help Your Dog Fight Cancer: An Overview of Home Care Options.” This book, Bullet’s legacy, has helped thousands of dogs and caretakers in their fight against cancer. Information at www.HelpYourDogFightCancer.com. Kaplan is the administrator of The Magic Bullet Fund, a program of the 501(C)(3) Perseus Foundation. The Fund helps caretakers with financial constraints get cancer treatment for dogs with good prognoses. Apply or donate online at www.TheMagicBulletFund.org or by mail at Magic Bullet Fund, PO Box 2574, Briarcliff NY 10510.
Not Today and Not Without a Fight!
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