Get the facts about pets and cancer

Learning some of the myths about pets and cancer can be a great first step for pet owners as they educate themselves about this disease. Valley News/Courtesy photo

TEMECULA – A cancer diagnosis can be gut-wrenching for patients and their loved ones. Facing cancer is difficult on many levels, and is challenging whether the patient involved is a friend, relative or even a companion animal.

The Veterinary Cancer Society indicates cancer is the main cause of death in 47% of dogs and 32% of cats. A pet’s risk of developing cancer is high once the pet lives beyond age 10. The American Veterinary Medical Association said dogs will develop cancer at roughly the same rate as humans, while there is less information about the rates of cancer in cats. Genetic predisposition to some cancers in certain breeds has been reported. However, as is the case with cancer in humans, it is difficult to pinpoint the exact cause of cancer in animals.

Certain myths have prevailed regarding pets and cancer. Accurate information can be invaluable to pet owners, who should always consult a veterinarian if they suspect their pets are ill. Learning some of the myths about pets and cancer can be a great first step for pet owners as they educate themselves about this disease.

MYTH: Spaying and neutering always reduces cancer risk.

The AVMA said spaying reduces the risk of mammary cancer and ovarian cancer in dogs and neutering can eliminate the risk of testicular cancer. However, there is evidence that spaying and neutering may increase the risk of other cancers, such as mast cell tumors and lymphoma. Pet owners should always speak to with their veterinarians about the benefits, risks and timing of spaying and neutering.

MYTH: Microchipping causes cancer in dogs and cats.

Microchips are an ideal way to recover lost pets. Microchips are inserted just under the skin in animals and can be scanned to yield identification information. The AVMA said that reports have indicated that rats and mice developed cancer associated with implanted microchips. However, the AVMA also said that these animals were already being used as subjects in cancer studies, and that the rat and mice strains used were already known to be more likely to develop cancer. Tumors associated with microchips have been found in four instances that involved cats and dogs, though the AVMA said that, in two of those instances, the tumors could be directly linked to the microchip itself.

MYTH: Smoking is not harmful to pets.

Exposure to secondhand smoke and thirdhand smoke, which refers to the contaminants that linger on fur, floors, toys, food, water and more, can cause an elevated risk of nasal cancers like sarcomas and carcinomas among pets. Smoking is dangerous for everyone, including pets, Pet Cure Oncology advised.

MYTH: All dogs have the same risk for cancer.

While cancer can affect all breeds, some are at a higher risk than others, according to the Morris Animal Foundation. Some high-risk breeds include chow chow, collie, Labrador retriever, cocker spaniel and pug.

MYTH: Cancer is a death sentence.

Surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy and immunotherapy are among the cancer treatment options available to pets. A veterinary oncologist can help pet owners navigate cancer treatments and their pets’ prognosis.