The Dreaded Diagnosis


Canine Cancer 

CANCER is a word that strikes fear into our hearts, whether it is about our health, or that of our beloved pets. Unfortunately cancer is very common in dogs and to a lesser degree, cats.  To see the latest statistics on a possible cause of this high rate of cancer in dogs, read this article.

But here is the sobering news; one in four dogs will develop some type of cancer.  Certain breeds of dogs are very prone to developing cancer as in the case of the Golden Retrievers where up to 60% of these wonderful dogs die of cancer.  In fact, the Morris Animal Foundation has undertaken the largest study ever attempted on cancer in this breed.  For over 20 years they will follow 3,000 Golden Retrievers, from puppyhood to death, in an incredible detailed fashion.  At the end of the study they expect to know what causes this great dog to have so much of this horrible killer.

Of all the cases I see in my end-of-life practice, about 70% of them are end stage cancer.  And while we have many treatments that range from surgery to radiation and chemotherapy to “cyber-knife”, this killer takes far too many pets far too soon.  I recently lost my own sweet Great Dane to bone cancer. Her story is here called “My Personal Journey Through Bone Cancer With Taylor Dane”.

The striking notice that your pet has cancer can wreak havoc on your emotions. The cost to diagnose and treat cancer-related diseases can also take a huge bite out their bank account.

It’s not uncommon to have a $2,000 to $3,000 veterinary bill, and that is for a minor case. These would include cancer of the foot pad, mouth or eyelid for example.  Other cancers are found in much more serious organs such as cancer of the lymph system, bone cancer and cancer of the nervous system. The cost of treating these could run above $10,000.

My dog’s battle with bone cancer that involved 14 months, two major surgeries, chemo-therapy, a prosthetic leg and lots of medications cost over $30,000.  Had it not been for pet insurance I could not have afforded that.  But those 14 months were mostly very good and I would not have taken anything for that time with her.

Pet insurance companies see many thousands of claims due to cancer and keep close records on the types of cancer and the treatments.  The ten most common cancer-related claims were for:

  1. Lymphosarcoma
  2. Mast cell tumor
  3. Cancer of the spleen
  4. Cancer of the eyelid
  5. Liver cancer
  6. Bone cancer
  7. Cancer of the thorax
  8. Cancer of the bladder
  9. Cancer of the brain or spinal cord
  10. Oral cancer

Lymphosarcoma is consistently the number one cancer-related claim seen by insurance companies.

Insurance company’s policyholders spent $12.8 million last year on pet with these top 10 cancer-related illnesses. Cancer of the brain or spinal cord was the most expensive to diagnose and treat, the company said. Policyholders spent an average of $752 to diagnose and non-surgically treat those cancers. Pet owners who pursued surgical treatments spent an average of $4,000.

It is very important for you to learn the signs and symptoms of cancer in their dogs and cats because (and you’ve heard it before) early detection makes all the difference in treatment outcomes.

Symptoms pet owners need to watch include:

  • Growing lumps or sores that don’t heal;
  • Drastic changes in a pet’s appetite or weight;
  • Offensive odors;
  • Bleeding or discharge from any opening in the body;
  • Difficulty chewing or swallowing;
  • Unwillingness to exercise;
  • Persistent lameness or stiffness
  • Difficulty breathing, urinating or defecating

Your best weapon in the battle against pet cancer is regular exams and early exams when you see any curious symptom.  You should also need to be financially prepared in case you hear the dreaded diagnosis. The best way to do that is go online and get your pets insured now.  It is not expensive and they pay an amazing amount of the veterinary fees.  Look for a company that has no per-incident or per-year limits.

Facts About Canine Cancer

FACT: Cancer is the leading cause of non-accidental death in dogs.

FACT: Lymphoma is the leading cancer diagnosed in dogs.

FACT: Nearly 60% of pets over the age of 10 will develop some type of cancer.

FACT: The increasing incidence of cancer in dogs is due the compressed timeline that dogs live.  They pack a human 70-80 year life into 10 or 12 years, and that means during that shortened life-span, we see what looks like a much higher incidence of cancer.

If you see a Lump or Bump, see your veterinarian immediately.  Better to be safe than face cancer treatment.  Remember: if you SEE Something, DO Something.

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Dr. Jim Humphries has been a veterinarian for 40 years and provides hospice and end of life care for pets in the Colorado Springs area.  He has served in the US Army Veterinary Corps, and as the veterinarian at CBS News and CNN. He is a consultant for several veterinary pharmaceutical companies. In addition to practice, he also serves as a Visiting Professor at the College of Veterinary Medicine at Texas A&M University. www.HomeWithDignity.com.  

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