When it comes to our pets, there’s no national organization that tracks the occurrence of cancer. We do know that many common human cancers are not prevalent in pets, but there are other cancers we do acquire in common, including breast (mammary gland) cancer, lymphoma, skin cancer that takes the form of mast cell tumors in pets, and bone cancer.
Four Common Types of Pet Cancer
Mammary gland cancer. Mammary gland or breast cancer is common in both dogs and cats. It is the most common tumor found in female dogs and the third most common in cats.
One of the presumed and much-touted benefits of early spaying of female pets is a decreased risk of mammary gland cancer. However, a study published in 2012 in the Journal of Small Animal Practice found that insufficient evidence exists that spaying at any age reduces the risk of mammary cancer.
Lymphoma. Lymphoma is an incurable cancer of the lymph system, which is part of the immune system. In cats, one in three cancer diagnoses is lymphoma, most often of the GI tract. Dogs also develop lymphoma.
To avoid contributing to your dog’s or cat’s lymphoma risk, make sure your pet isn’t exposed to cigarette smoke or lawn pesticides, especially those applied by professional lawn care companies.
Mast cell tumors. The most common type of skin cancer in pets is mast cell tumor (MCT). MCT is much more prevalent in dogs than in cats. In cats, mast cell tumors are most often seen in the skin of the head or neck, but they can occur anywhere in the body. Cats with these tumors are usually middle-age or older. Unfortunately, kitties with mast cell tumors on the inside of their bodies — typically in the GI tract or the spleen — carry a much poorer prognosis than tumors occurring on the skin.
In dogs, mast cell tumors are most often found on the trunk, limbs, and in between the toes. Prognosis depends on the tumor location, the extent of the tumor, the grade, and the type of treatment given. Mast cell tumors of the skin are very different in dogs than cats. Surgery to remove the tumor is less invasive in cats, and the prognosis for a full recovery is much better in cats than in dogs.
Mast cell tumors with generally poor prognosis are those on the muscle, around the mouth or in internal organs, in the bloodstream or bone marrow, and ulcerated tumors. Mast cell tumors that cause GI ulceration or are large, fast-growing, or recurring also carry a much poorer prognosis.
Bone cancer (osteosarcoma). Osteosarcoma is a common and aggressive bone cancer that invades the long bones of large and giant breed dogs. Even with amputation of the affected limb and chemotherapy, which is the current standard of treatment, the average survival rate is only about a year.
10 Warning Signs of Cancer in Pets
According to the Colorado State University Flint Animal Cancer Center, the top 10 warning signs of cancer in pets are:3
- Unusual swellings that don’t go away or that grow. The best way to discover lumps, bumps, or swelling on your dog or cat is to pet him.
- Sores that won’t heal. Non-healing sores can be a sign of infection or cancer and should be evaluated by your veterinarian.
- Weight loss. Illness could be the reason your pet is losing weight but isn’t on a diet.
- Loss of appetite. Reluctance or refusal to eat is another sign of possible illness.
- Bleeding or discharge. Bleeding can occur for a number of reasons, most of which signal a problem. Unexplained vomiting and diarrhea are considered abnormal discharges, as well.
- Offensive smell. An unpleasant odor is a common sign of tumors of the anus, mouth, or nose.
- Difficulty eating or swallowing. This is a common sign of cancers of the mouth or neck.
- Reluctance to exercise or low energy level. This is often one of the first signs that a pet is not feeling well.
- Persistent lameness. There can be many causes of lameness, including nerve, muscle, or bone cancer.
- Difficulty breathing, urinating, or defecating. These symptoms should be evaluated by your veterinarian as soon as possible.
Tips for Reducing Your Pet’s Cancer Risk
• Don’t allow your pet to become overweight. Studies show that restricting the amount of calories an animal eats prevents and/or delays the progression of tumor development across species.
Fewer calories cause the cells of the body to block tumor growth, whereas too many calories can lead to obesity, and obesity is closely linked to increased cancer risk in humans. There is a connection between too much glucose, increased insulin sensitivity, inflammation, and oxidative stress – all factors in obesity – and cancer.
It’s important to remember that fat doesn’t just sit on your pet’s body harmlessly. It produces inflammation that can promote tumor development.
• Feed an anti-inflammatory diet. Anything that creates or promotes inflammation in the body increases the risk for cancer. Current research suggests cancer is actually a chronic inflammatory disease. The inflammatory process creates an environment in which abnormal cells proliferate.
Cancer cells require the glucose in carbohydrates to grow and multiply, so you want to limit or eliminate that cancer energy source. Carbs to remove from your pet’s diet include processed grains, fruits with fructose, and starchy vegetables like potatoes. Keep in mind that all dry pet food contains some form of starch. It may be grain-free, but it can’t be starch-free because it’s not possible to manufacture kibble without using some type of starch.
Cancer cells generally can’t use dietary fats for energy, so appropriate amounts of good-quality fats are nutritionally healthy.
Another major contributor to inflammatory conditions is a diet too high in omega-6 fatty acids and too low in omega-3s. Omega-6s increase inflammation while the omega-3s do the reverse. Processed pet food is typically loaded with omega-6 fatty acids and deficient in omega-3s.
A healthy diet for your pet – one that is anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer – consists of real, whole foods, preferably raw. It should be high in high-quality protein, including muscle meat, organs, and bone. It should include moderate amounts of animal fat and high levels of EPA and DHA (omega-3 fatty acids, such as krill oil), a few fresh cut veggies and a bit of fruit.
This species-appropriate diet is high in moisture content and contains no grains or starches. I also recommend adding a vitamin/mineral supplement and a few beneficial supplements like probiotics, digestive enzymes, and super green foods.
• Reduce or eliminate your pet’s exposure to toxins. These include chemical pesticides like flea and tick preventives, lawn chemicals (weed killers, herbicides, etc.), tobacco smoke, flame retardants, and household cleaners (detergents, soaps, cleansers, dryer sheets, and room deodorizers).
Because we live in a toxic world and avoiding all chemical exposure is nearly impossible, offer a periodic detoxification protocol to your pets.
• Allow your dog to remain intact (not neutered or spayed), at least until the age of 18 months to two years. Studies have linked spaying and neutering to increasing cancer rates in dogs. A 2002 study established an increased risk of osteosarcoma in both male and female Rottweilers neutered or spayed before the age of one year. Another study showed the risk of bone cancer in neutered or spayed large purebred dogs was twice that of intact dogs.
• Refuse unnecessary vaccinations. Vaccine protocols should be tailored to minimize risk and maximize protection, taking into account the species, breed, background, nutritional status, and overall vitality of your pet.
Canine Kidney Failure: Causes, Treatment and Prevention
Kidney (renal) failure occurs when a dog’s kidneys are no longer able to remove waste and concentrate urine. The bodies of animals produce toxins all day, everyday, and the toxins circulate to the kidneys to be dissolved in water, filtered out and excreted through urination.
A healthy kidney makes highly concentrated urine, meaning a large amount of toxins can be handled and excreted in a relatively small amount of water.
A failing kidney, by contrast, needs more and more water to excrete the same amount of toxins. A dog in kidney failure will drink increasing quantities of water, until eventually he simply can’t drink enough and toxin levels in his bloodstream begin to rise.
There are two types of kidney failure: acute and chronic.
Acute renal failure (ARF) comes on suddenly and can be caused by:
- Ingestion of a poison like antifreeze, a medication meant for humans, or the Easter Lily plant
- An overwhelming bacterial infection
- Dehydration, usually because the dog is left without easy access to fresh drinking water
- Decreased blood flow to the kidneys – a situation that can occur, for example, during a surgical procedure, or as a result of heat stroke, or where there is heart disease
- Urinary obstruction
Chronic Renal Failure (CRF) is a slower process and develops over months or even years. It is most common in older dogs.
Acute kidney failure can be turned around in some cases; in others, it can become chronic. Unfortunately, the majority of chronic kidney disease is irreversible.
Acute Renal Failure Signs and Symptoms
When kidney failure is acute, symptoms come on quickly and are often severe. The top three to watch for are:
- Complete loss of appetite
- Marked lethargy
Other symptoms you might notice:
- Straining to urinate and decreased urine production
- Physical weakness; loss of coordination
ARF is a very serious, life-threatening situation and fast action is required if there is to be any hope of saving your dog’s life.
There’s No Time to Waste If Your Pet is in Acute Renal Failure
If you notice any of the symptoms listed above, or if you know or even suspect your pup has ingested a poison or is suffering the effects of heat exposure or dehydration, call your vet or an animal emergency clinic immediately and prepare to transport her there.
If the diagnosis is ARF, your pet will be hospitalized for intensive treatment. If she survives the initial crisis, and unfortunately many pups don’t, her chances for full recovery of kidney function will depend on how badly the organs are damaged, the underlying cause of the condition, and the treatment she receives.
The goal of treatment for ARF is to provide supportive care while the kidneys recover. It can take anywhere from several days to a few weeks to determine whether an ARF dog will bounce back, and to what extent.
Urine output is a very important indicator for recovery. If a pup continues to have low or no urine output as treatment progresses, sadly, the prognosis is very poor.
If conservative treatment isn’t moving a dog’s health forward, there may be other options, for example dialysis or organ transplant. Decisions about whether to go ‘above and beyond’ will depend on the availability of such resources locally, and even more important, how the pet owner feels about more aggressive forms of treatment.
Chronic Kidney Failure (CRF)
Chronic renal failure is one of the most common diseases seen in older dogs, right up there with arthritis and cancer.
Unfortunately, by the time most dogs show signs of kidney disease, much of the irreplaceable tissue needed for good renal function is already destroyed.
Many pet owners mistakenly think that as long as their dog is peeing a lot – often more than he did in his younger years, in fact – his kidneys are still working well. In fact, the opposite is true.
A dog with developing kidney disease will feel the need to drink and urinate more in an effort to keep his body free of waste – a job his kidneys once did with a whole lot less effort. This cycle of over drinking and over urinating will work for a while, but eventually, no amount of water will be enough to get the job done.
By the time your pet starts showing other obvious signs of illness, for example lack of appetite, weight loss or low energy level, significant irreversible kidney damage has occurred.
Additional symptoms of CRF, which unfortunately are symptoms of many other conditions as well, include:
- Decreased or lack of urination
- Urinating during the night
- Bloody urine
- Vomiting and/or diarrhea
- Hunched posture; reluctance to move
- Poor coat condition
Chronic kidney disease can also cause:
- Mouth ulcers and bad breath from a buildup of toxins in the bloodstream
- High blood pressure, which can result in changes in the retina of the eyes
- Anemia as a result of decreased red blood cell production
- Smaller than normal, enlarged and/or or painful kidneys
- Fluid retention in the limbs and abdomen
If your pup’s CRF is caused by some factor other than damaged kidneys — for example a disease that decreases blood flow to the kidneys or a urinary tract obstruction — it’s possible the problem with the kidneys can be reversed with appropriate treatment of the underlying cause. That’s why it’s important for your vet to determine the source of the CRF.
If the disease is the result of irreversible kidney tissue damage, in many cases renal function will stabilize for weeks or even months at a time. And while the disease will progress and kidney function will continue to deteriorate, your pet’s symptoms can be minimized with supportive treatment.
Fluid therapy is a cornerstone of treatment for dogs with kidney failure, primarily to prevent dehydration due to the large amount of water that is passed out of the body.
Subcutaneous (under the skin) fluid delivery may be necessary, and many pet owners can do this at home after some instruction by their veterinarian. Potassium is often added to the fluids or the animal’s diet to safeguard against muscle weakness and heart rhythm disturbances that result from low electrolyte levels. In some cases, IV fluids may also be required.
Your dog should have round-the-clock access to fresh, clean water. Withholding water, for example overnight, will not solve your pet’s need to urinate in the middle of the night and could cause a real health crisis.
You’ll need to keep careful track of the amount of food and water your pet consumes each day. If consumption decreases, additional fluids must be administered to prevent dehydration. You should also weigh your pet at least weekly to insure she’s getting enough calories to maintain her weight and proper hydration.
The food you feed your dog with CRF is also critically important for disease management and overall well-being. A reduced amount of high-quality protein and high moisture content are essential, but phosphorus intake must be restricted. Since phosphorus is found primarily in high protein food sources, you can quickly see the need for expert guidance on how to best nourish your pet.
Your integrative/holistic vet is your best resource for advice on the right diet for your pet’s condition, and also what supplements, medications if necessary, and other therapies will help sustain your dog’s health and quality of life.
Kidney Failure Prevention
Not every cause of canine kidney failure is known or understood, nor can every case of ARF or CRF be prevented. However, there are a number of things within your control that can go a long way toward promoting the health and longevity of your precious pup’s vital kidney function.
• Many situations of acute renal failure can be prevented by ensuring dogs are kept safely away from toxic substances like antifreeze, heavy metals, rat poison and other pesticides, common household medicines, and certain foods and plants.
•Any dog with a bacterial infection, urinary obstruction or other illness that could lead to compromised kidney function should receive proper treatment, the sooner the better.
•Insuring your dog is never struck or kicked or gets out in a roadway will prevent possible trauma to her kidneys that could lead to renal failure.
• Limiting the drugs, vaccines and surgical procedures your pet is subjected to throughout her life will reduce the amount of toxins her liver and kidneys must process. Kidney failure in elderly dogs is usually the result of worn out organs. The less stress on your pet’s kidneys, the longer they’ll do their job effectively.
• Feeding a balanced, species-appropriate diet instead of commercial pet food will supply your dog’s body with the fundamental nutrition he requires for the health of every organ and system in his body, including his kidneys. Low quality, highly processed pet foods – in particular dry kibble, which lacks the moisture content and quality protein pets need — are being linked to many of the degenerative diseases seen in pets today.
• Take note of even small changes in your pet’s behavior, appetite, thirst and energy level. Don’t assume increased thirst and urination is nothing to be concerned about. Trust your inner voice if it tells you to make an appointment with your holistic vet to discuss the state of your dog’s health.
With any degenerative condition there is opportunity while your pet is in the ‘gray zone’ between health and illness, to slow, halt or even reverse movement toward the black zone and full-blown disease.
• Perform regular at-home wellness exams and make sure your pup gets at least one and preferably two wellness visits with your holistic or integrative vet each year. This is the best way to stay on top of your pet’s health and address problems as they arise.
Cancer and Your Pet: Two Things to Avoid
Expect to see “cancer prevention” processed pet diets coming soon to a store and/or veterinary office near you. It’s just a matter of time.
Obesity Increases Cancer Risk
The PetfoodIndustry.com article also points out that, “Caloric restriction has demonstrated the most consistent delay in the progression and prevention of tumor development across species.”
Fewer calories, it has been shown, cause the cells of the body to block tumor growth.
Too many calories, on the other hand, lead to obesity – and obesity is strongly linked to increased cancer risk in humans. There is a connection between too much glucose, increased insulin sensitivity, inflammation and oxidative stress – all factors in obesity – and cancer. And while there’s been no direct link made yet to obesity and cancer in dogs and cats, it is assumed a link exists.
So in addition to the clearly established connections between obesity and other health problems like diabetes, arthritis, high blood pressure, kidney disease, reduced quality of life and shortened lifespan, there is also increased risk that an overweight pet will develop cancer.
And what is the biggest health problem for pets today? Overweight and obesity. Certainly the increase in cancer rates among dogs and cats is in part attributable to the obesity epidemic.
Overfeeding your pet is not a loving thing to do. Food is no substitute for quality time spent with your dog or cat. And keep in mind that fat doesn’t just sit on your pet’s body harmlessly. It produces inflammation that can promote tumor development.
In order to be the best guardian you can be for your pet, you must insure she stays at a healthy weight. Parents of too-heavy and obese pets need to understand the tremendous harm they are doing to their companion animal’s health and quality of life … before it’s too late.
Inflammation Leads to Cancer
Anything that creates or promotes inflammation in the body increases the risk for serious diseases, including cancer.
Recent research points to cancer as a chronic inflammatory disease. Inflammation kills the cells of the body. It also surrounds cells with toxic inflammatory by-products that inhibit the flow of oxygen, nutrients and waste products between cells and blood. This creates an environment in which abnormal cells proliferate.
Preventing inflammation is crucial to the prevention of cancer.
One major contributor to inflammatory conditions is a diet too high in omega-6 fatty acids and too low in omega-3s. Omega-6s increase inflammation, cell proliferation and blood clotting, while the omega-3s do the reverse.
Unfortunately, the typical processed western diet – for both humans and their pets – is loaded down with omega-6 fatty acids and deficient in omega-3s.
Nutrition for Cancer Prevention
The best diet for cancer prevention is a diet that provides the nutritional components required to maintain healthy cells and repair unhealthy ones.
Cancer cells need the glucose in carbohydrates to grow and proliferate. If you limit or eliminate that energy source, you do the same with the cancer’s growth. That’s one of the reasons I always discourage feeding diets high in carbohydrates. Carbs are pro-inflammatory nutrients that also feed cancer cells.
Carbs you want to keep out of your pet’s diet include processed grains, fruits with fructose, and starchy veggies like potatoes. All dry pet food contains some form of starch (it’s not possible to create kibble without it), which is one of the reasons I’m not a fan of dry pet food.
Cancer cells generally can’t use dietary fats for energy, so appropriate amounts of good quality fats are nutritionally healthy for dogs and cats.
A healthy, species-appropriate diet for dogs and cats – one that is anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer – consists of real, whole foods, preferably served raw. It looks something like this:
High in high-quality protein, including muscle meat,organs and bone (protein should make up 75 percent of a healthy dog’s diet, and 88 percent of a cat’s diet) A few beneficial additions like probiotics, digestive enzymes and super green foods Moderate levels of animal fat A vitamin/mineral supplement High levels of EPA and DHA (omega-3 fatty acids) High moisture content A few fresh cut veggies and a bit of fruit, pureed No grains; no starches
Immune System Support for Cancer Prevention
The health of your pet’s immune system is vital to her ability to defend against disease. Balanced, species-appropriate nutrition is the foundation for a healthy immune system. You can also help keep your dog’s or cat’s immune system balanced and resilient by:
- Insuring regular and adequate exercise
- Brushing your pet’s teeth every day or several times a week
- Eliminating exposure to chemical toxins, including tobacco smoke
- Reducing the number of unnecessary vaccines
- Taking a proactive approach to your pet’s health with regular at-home wellness exams and twice yearly wellness visits to your vet to insure your dog’s or cat’s organs are functioning well and he’s not harboring any silent infections or other illness