November 18, 2020

Common Illnesses in Pets: Treating and Preventing Cancer and Diabetes

It’s #PetCancerAwarenessMonth and #PetDiabetesMonth, which means it’s a great time to discuss these two pet illnesses and raise awareness of them. That’s why we interviewed our own staff veterinarian, Dr. Arnold – so that we can discuss preventing, identifying, and treating both cancer and diabetes. That way, your furry friends can live long and healthy lives!

Cancer 

How do you prevent cancer in pets? 

Preventing cancer in our pets is difficult, as we do not know the cause of most neoplasms. Some neoplasms, also called tumors or masses, are benign and do not carry major concern. Neoplasms that progress to true cancers are malignant and can cause major problems throughout our pets’ bodies and organ systems.

We can help to decrease the risk of some cancers like mammary (breast) cancer as well as testicular and prostate cancer by spaying and neutering our pets before 12 months of age. Regular vaccinations and health checks with your veterinarian will help to prevent disease and other risk factors for cancer. Regular veterinary care is also crucial in early identification of cancerous processes. Starting treatment as early as possible is important to keep the cancer from spreading and causing more serious harm to your pet.

How do you identify cancer in pets?

Cancer is usually identified by recognizing abnormal growths on your pet. Pet owners normally are excellent at bringing these abnormalities to their veterinarian’s attention. Some cancers are identified based on clinical signs of organ dysfunction, such as vomiting, that can be associated with known cancerous processes. In these scenarios your veterinarian would likely perform blood work and imaging like X-rays or ultrasounds to help rule cancer in or out. If there is a concern that your pet may have cancer, more advanced diagnostics, such as biopsies, MRI, or a CT scan, may be required for a definitive diagnosis.

How do you treat cancer in pets?

Cancer is treated in a variety of ways depending on the type and location of the cancer. Benign tumors that are slow-growing and not likely to invade on any critical organ systems may be treated very conservatively. For example, a lipoma, a type of fatty tumor, can often just be monitored for any changes. These types of tumors can safely remain on your pet for a lifetime. Other masses may require surgical removal, either as a precaution or because a definitive diagnosis of a malignant tumor has been made. Sometimes removal of a tumor will require complete removal of one of your pet’s legs. More aggressive or further progressed cancer may require chemotherapy and radiation therapy to shrink the size of the cancerous process. Multiple modes of treatment are often required for aggressive cancers.

You should discuss your pet’s cancer with your veterinarian to help you understand the best course of action for you and your pet. Informational resources are also available from the American Veterinary Medical Association and from Colorado State University’s Veterinary Cancer Center.

Diabetes

How do you prevent diabetes in pets?

Diabetes is a disease process that has several different known modes of action, but the result of all of them is insufficient glucose (the body’s main source of energy) delivered into cells that require it. While we do not know everything about this disease in our dogs and cats, there are some steps that pet owners can take to help decrease the likelihood of their pet developing diabetes. The best action to take is to perform regular health checks and preventative medicine with your veterinarian. This helps to ensure that your pet is as healthy as possible which promotes normal hormonal and organ function, decreasing the risk of diseases like diabetes. Obesity is the most common risk factor of diabetes in our dogs and cats. Maintaining a healthy diet and exercise regimen will help your pet maintain a healthy weight, which greatly reduces the risk of diabetes. Your veterinarian can help guide you on the proper food for your pet, as well as help you to recognize if your pet is becoming overweight. Remember there are many great treats out there that are low in sugar that your pet loves just as much as those diabetes-causing sugary ones.

How do you identify diabetes in pets?

As with most diseases, vigilance from pet owners is the best tool we have for identifying diabetes. The most common sign that you can easily recognize in your pet is excessive water consumption and excessive urination. These can be signals of other diseases like Cushing’s or Addison’s, but it is also very common in diabetic pets. Your veterinarian will be able to perform a few lab tests, such as blood work and a urine test, to confirm if your pet is diabetic. Depending on the type of diabetes and other potential complicating factors, additional diagnostics may be required to determine the best course of treatment and to confirm that treatment is effective.

How do you treat diabetes in pets?

Diabetes in our dogs and cats is treated from a few different directions. A special food may be prescribed for your pet, and there will certainly be diet recommendations from your veterinarian. A healthy exercise regimen should also be prescribed to help with weight loss and to encourage normal organ function in your pet. Your pet may also require lifelong treatment with insulin administered once or twice daily. If insulin administration is necessary, under the instruction of your veterinarian, you can perform this at home. The most important aspect to remember is that diabetes will be a long-term condition for your pet. This means that regular blood work with your veterinarian will be required. Oftentimes treatment requires adjustment through the course of the disease and pet’s life. With proper care, there is a possibility, particularly with our feline friends, of the diabetes going into remission. Diabetes is fairly common in our lovely dogs and cats, so your veterinarian will be very prepared to guide you through diagnosis, care, and treatment of your pet.

Now that you know more about preventing, identifying and treating cancer and diabetes in your pets, we encourage you to schedule regular check ups for your pets with their veterinarian. That way, you can catch any medical issues as soon as they arise so treatment can begin immediately. Stay healthy!

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