May is Pet Cancer Awareness Month and cancer is becoming more prevalent as the average canine and feline life expectancy is rising. One-in-four dogs will develop cancer at some point during their lifetime, according to the College of Veterinary Medicine at NC State University
, and nearly one-in-two dogs will develop cancer if they are over 10 years old.
“Dogs and cats are both at a high risk to develop cancer later in life,” said Joni Lindquist, veterinarian at Elk Creek Animal Hospital
. “Though it is more likely for dogs to develop cancer, it is usually more fatal for cats.”
Cats develop cancer at about half the rate as dogs, but generally display more aggressive and fatal cases. Cancers like acute leukemia, mammary gland tumors and fibrosarcomas require more invasive procedures and a combination of therapies like radiation and chemotherapy. The survival rate is less than 50 percent for felines versus a canine survival rate of 60 percent, according to WebMD
Cats aren’t the only pets affected by aggressive forms of cancer, there are some dog breeds that have a predisposition to cancer. Some of those breeds include golden retrievers, boxers, bernese mountain dogs, flat-coated retrievers, German shepherds, and schnauzers. Purebred or pedigree dogs are more prone to cancer than mixed breed dogs.
If your pet exhibits any of the signs or symptoms below, they should be seen by a veterinarian as soon as possible:
- Exercise intolerance
- Change in behavior
- Decrease in appetite
- Abdominal distention
- New or changing lumps or bumps
- Weight loss
- Chronic vomiting or diarrhea
- Unexplained bleeding
- Wounds that won’t heal
- Abnormal odors
Preventative measures that pet owners can take to help prevent cancer or detect it early include:
- Take at-risk breeds or dogs more than seven years old for a veterinary checkup every six months
- Get yearly blood work done on senior dogs and cats
- Get pets spayed or neutered- since pets left intact are much more likely to develop breast or testicular cancers
- Keep up with proper oral care to prevent specific types of oral cancers
The most common treatments for canine and feline cancers are radiation, chemotherapy, surgical procedures and steroids. Cancer is one of the most financially draining pet illnesses. Diagnostic testing costs can range from $200 to $5,000 and treatment costs can range from $1,000 to $20,000, depending on the progression and complication of the case.
“The average cost of a cancer claim is $633 but that includes benign tumors like Lipomas. If those are removed, the average cost goes up to $775,” said Clint Lawrence, Vice President of Sales and Marketing at PetFirst. “We’ve had 102 severe cases where the cost was more than $5,000.”
PetFirst, a pet health insurance company, offers plans that cover veterinary expenses related to pet cancer, as well as comprehensive coverage for other illnesses, accidents, genetic conditions, and emergency care, including chronic conditions, and breed-specific or hereditary conditions. PetFirst also offers insurance plans for senior dogs and cats and multiple pet families.