2012-03-08 / Pet Tales

The Big C

Cancer is never good news, but many pets are now living longer and living better
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While any dog can be diagnosed with cancer, breeds such as the beautiful Bernese Mountain dog are far more susceptible than others. While any dog can be diagnosed with cancer, breeds such as the beautiful Bernese Mountain dog are far more susceptible than others. When my dogs get older, they get twiceyearly wellness checks. I have come to believe that catching changes and problems early is not only better for my pets, but also for my budget. Recently, after just such an exam, I got the news every petlover dreads: There’s a spot on the X-ray of my 7-year-old flat-coated retriever. The suspicion? Cancer.

Yes, I’m devastated. But because the problem was caught on a routine checkup when my dog has no symptoms or other problems, there’s a good chance it’s not the death sentence it used to be. That’s because canine cancer is more treatable than ever before, with many dogs living for years after their diagnosis with an excellent quality of life.

Of course, it’s far better to avoid cancer completely, if you can, and here are some ways to reduce the risk:

¦ Adopt a healthy dog who fits into your lifestyle. If you’re considering a purebred dog, know that cancer hits some breeds more than others — in breeds such as golden and flat-coated retrievers and Bernese Mountain dogs, the chances of a dog being diagnosed young with cancer is very high indeed. Mixed breeds can and do get cancer, of course, but in those breeds with elevated cancer risks, the situation is more likely “when” your dog will get cancer, not “if.” While reputable breeders are working hard to reduce those numbers, some now believe sweeping change in breeding practices to introduce “outcrosses” to closed gene pools will be needed in many breeds.

¦ Feed your dog a high-quality diet made by a reputable company or a home-prepared diet prepared with the help of your veterinarian. Start with the amount of food recommended for your dog and adjust accordingly with how your pet’s body responds.

¦ Add omega-3 fatty acids (also known as n-3, found in fish oils and other sources) to potentially reduce the risk of developing cancer.

¦ Spay or neuter your dog early in life. Spaying and neutering have been shown to be an effective method of preventing cancer. Spaying has a significant effect of preventing breast cancer if it is done before a dog goes into her first heat cycle.

¦ Keep your dog fit with regular daily exercise.

¦ Eliminate exposure to environmental carcinogens such as pesticides, coal or kerosene heaters, herbicides, passive tobacco smoke, asbestos, radiation and strong electromagnetic fields. Each one of these factors has been suggested to increase the risk of cancer in your dog (and in you).

¦ Get regular wellness exams for your pet. Because the earlier cancer is discovered, the more treatment options you have.

Yes, I did all those things, and still ... cancer. But I know that even for those dogs who cannot be cured, most who are treated are still able to enjoy an improved, robust life for longer than many would have dreamed possible. In most situations, animals undergoing cancer treatment experience limited to no decrease in their quality of life. Almost all dogs with cancer can be helped, with the assistance of a good veterinary team.

That, and money. Which is why I can’t tell you how very grateful I am today that I have long believed in and paid for pet health insurance. Because along with the savings I’ve set aside for just this sort of veterinary crisis, the decisions I’ll be making will be for my dog’s quality of life only, and not because I can’t afford to treat her. ¦

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