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Dogs, cats and cancer.

DOGS, CATS, AND CANCER

One of my favorite patientsever, a 175-pound Great Dane named Buck, was susceptible to cancer, an unfortunate trait common to his breed. In three years I removed five malignant skin cancers from Buck's head and neck. Buck's owner feared he would lose his companion to this disease, but Buck lived to be 12 before succumbing to congestive heart failure.

A diagnosis of cancer alwaysfrightens pet owners, and with some cause: in a national survey, pet owners reported that cancer was the leading cause of death in their dogs and cats. But cancer is not invariably fatal, as Buck's case shows. Given early detection and proper treatment, a cancer-stricken pet has a good chance of living a full life.

Cancer is a disease of olderanimals. Over a pet's lifetime, inflammatory events cause increased cell division and mutuation. Because the immune response to these mutuated cells peaks at puberty and gradually decreases with age, most tumors occur in dogs and cats at least six years old.

The same conditions that predisposehumans to cancer also affect animals. Dogs that live in polluted areas, for example, suffer more instances of respiratory cancer, just as people who smoke cigarettes or breathe polluted air have a higher risk of developing lung cancer. And overexposure to ultraviolet light can have the same result for lightly pigmented animals as for fair-skinned sunbathers: skin cancer.

And so on. High-fat diets, whichcontribute to colon cancer in humans, may have the same result in pets. Similarly, obesity is no more healthful for an animal than it is for a human; an overweight dog has a greater chance of developing lipomas --fat tumors--in later life. Osteogenic sarcoma, a bone cancer prevalent in tall humans, is also common in breeds of large dogs, such as the Saint Bernard. This cancer most often affects weight-bearing leg bones, perhaps because of stress on these rapidly growing bones when the animal is young; it can spread rapidly to the lungs. Amputation of the affected limb is the most common treatment, and early diagnosis is essential for survival.

Breast cancern, the most prevalenttumor in dogs, is influenced by hormonal production. Spaying a female dog before her first heat cycle will reduce her risk of developing breast tumors; similarly, women who have had an early or artificial menopause have a lower risk for developing breast cancer.

Viral infections in cats have beenshown to cause lymphosarcoma (cancer of the lymphatic system) and leukemia (a malignancy of the blood). Because those viruses do not cause leukemia in humans, an infected cat is not dangerous to anyone in the house--except other cats. Sometimes a cat's own body defenses can eliminate the virus successfully, but fortunately cats have another defense, a vaccine just developed that will protect them from feline leukemia.

As in humans, early detectionof cancers in pets can mean the difference between successful treatment and death. Be alert for these warning signs of cancer in animals:

Abnormal swellings.

Sores that won't heal.

Bleeding from the mouth,nose, urinary tract, vagina, or intestinal tract.

Bad odor, especially fromthe mouth or the anus.

Difficulty eating, swallowing,breathing, or urinating.

Loss of appetite, weight, or interestin activity.

Any rapid swelling of the skinshould be examined by a veterinarian. A pea-sized mass felt in a dog's mammary gland may be the first sign of breast cancer. Swelling in the long bones of large dogs, especially near the joints, should be immediately checked and X-rayed. Chronic nosebleeds, tearing, and facial deformity may be indications of nasal cancer. Be especially attentive to breeds susceptible to tumors, such as basset hounds, boxers, bull-mastiffs, Scottish terriers, and Weimaraners. The susceptibility of the various cat breeds to cancer is unknown.

Animals with cancer are given thesame treatments as human patients: surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. A pet may have to be hospitalized, but if not, the pet owner needs to make the animal as comfortable as possible. Although the pet's nutritional needs should be discussed with the veterinarian before making changes in the animal's regular diet, a few guidelines can be set out here.

Make clean water available at alltimes unless the animal is vomiting profusely.

Feed the pet small, frequentmeals warmed to room temperature.

Tempt animals reluctant to eatwith such high-calorie supplements as peanut butter or such commercial pastes as NutriCal and Pet Kalorie.

Supplement the diet with vitaminsA, B, and C (not megadoses, however) and such protein supplements as soft-boiled eggs, cottage cheese, liver, and finely ground beef, especially if the animal is showing signs of anemia. The animal won't be able to digest fat properly if the cancer is affecting the pancreas, so feed him a low-fat diet.

Sometimes the pet's cancer treatmentswill make eating difficult, but dogs and cats don't seem to suffer from the same side effects associated with chemotherapy for humans. If a pet does have diarrhea and vomiting, give it a low-fiber, bland diet. Live yogurt may be beneficial. An animal with "dry mouth' from radiation therapy should be given extra liquids.

When cancer strikes a pet, we arereminded that we share the same world with animals and suffer many of the same ills. Ideally, medical breakthroughs for one species will lead to more healthful lives for all species.

Questions for the Vet

Dear Dr. Whiteley,

My seven-year-old mixedgolden retriever was operated on twice for the same torn ligament problem within ten weeks. The veterinarian said the clip had broken off. She still is limping and is in constant pain. Another vet said there was nothing he could do. What do you suggest? I am heartbroken.

Mildred ForanLindenhurst, New York

Dear Mildred,

My sympathy goes out toyou. Do not give up without seeking a third opinion. I recommend the specialists in orthopedic medicine at the Cornell University School of Veterinary Medicine in Ithaca, New York. Call the Small Animal Hospital. If you live closer to New York City, try the Animal Medical Center.

Photo: Scottish terriers are among a small group of purebreds highly susceptible to tumors; cats are prone to leukemia.
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Copyright 1987 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Whiteley, H. Ellen
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Mar 1, 1987
Words:1003
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