10 Telltale Signs of Pet Tumors You Should Never Ignore

Analysis by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

pet tumor

Story at-a-glance

  • Veterinarians are diagnosing more cancer in more and younger pets today than ever before
  • As a pet parent, it’s important to be aware of the 10 classic signs of cancer in dogs and cats
  • Things you can do at home to help your pet avoid cancer include keeping her at a healthy weight, feeding an anti-inflammatory diet, reducing her exposure to toxins and chronic stress, and refusing unnecessary vaccinations

Veterinarians are seeing more cancer in more and younger pets today than ever before. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), approximately 1 in 4 dogs will develop cancer at some point in their lives, including almost half of dogs over the age of 10.

10 Classic Symptoms You Never Want to Ignore

Dogs and cats can develop cancer almost anywhere in the body, which is why the symptoms vary depending on the tissues and organs involved and the severity of the disease. Make an appointment with your veterinarian if your pet displays any of the following 10 warning signs of cancer in pets:1

1. Unusual swellings that don't go away or that grow — The best way to discover lumps, bumps, or swelling on your dog or cat is to pet him.

2. Sores that won't heal — Non-healing sores can be a sign of infection or cancer and should be evaluated by your veterinarian.

3. Weight loss — Illness could be the reason your pet is losing weight but isn't on a diet.

4. Loss of appetite — Reluctance or refusal to eat is another sign of possible illness.

5. Bleeding or discharge — Bleeding can occur for a number of reasons, most of which signal a problem. Unexplained vomiting and diarrhea are considered abnormal discharges, as well.

6. Offensive smell — An unpleasant odor is a common sign of tumors of the anus, mouth, or nose.

7. Difficulty eating or swallowing — This is a common sign of cancers of the mouth or neck.

8. Reluctance to exercise or low energy level — This is often one of the first signs that a pet is not feeling well.

9. Persistent lameness — There can be many causes of lameness, including nerve, muscle, or bone cancer.

10. Difficulty breathing, urinating, or defecating — These symptoms should be evaluated by your veterinarian as soon as possible.

Many of these symptoms also occur with other disorders and diseases, but regardless, any pet showing one or more of these signs needs prompt veterinary attention.

"Early detection and intervention can be the difference between a cure and a poor outcome, as well as the difference between a short, non-complex procedure or an expensive, extensive treatment protocol," Dr. Brandan Wustefeld-Janssens, an assistant professor of surgical oncology at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, told the Houston Chronicle.2

5 Actions You Can Take to Help Your Pet Avoid Cancer

1. Don't allow your dog or cat to become overweight — Studies show that restricting the number of calories an animal eats prevents and/or delays the progression of tumor development across species. Fewer calories cause the cells of the body to block tumor growth, whereas too many calories can lead to obesity, and obesity is closely linked to increased cancer risk in humans.

There is a connection between too much glucose, increased insulin sensitivity, inflammation, and oxidative stress — all factors in obesity — and cancer. It's important to remember that fat doesn't just sit on your pet's body harmlessly. It produces inflammation that can promote tumor development.

2. Feed an anti-inflammatory diet — Anything that creates or promotes inflammation in the body increases the risk for cancer. Current research suggests cancer is actually a chronic inflammatory disease, fueled by carbohydrates. The inflammatory process creates an environment in which abnormal cells proliferate.

Cancer cells require the glucose in carbohydrates to grow and multiply, so you want to eliminate that cancer energy source. Carbs to remove from your pet's diet include processed grains, fruits with fructose, and starchy vegetables like potatoes.

Keep in mind that all dry pet food ("fast food") contains some form of potentially carcinogenic, highly processed starch. It may be grain-free, but it can't be starch-free because it's not possible to manufacture kibble without using some type of starch. The correlation between consuming fast foods and cancer has been established in humans,3 and my advice is to incorporate as much fresh, unprocessed food into your entire family's diet as you can afford.

Cancer cells generally can't use dietary fats for energy, so high amounts of good quality fats are nutritionally beneficial for dogs fighting cancer, along with a reduced amount of protein and no carbs. Basically, a ketogenic diet.

Another major contributor to inflammatory conditions is a diet too high in omega-6 fatty acids and too low in omega-3s. Omega-6s increase inflammation while the omega-3s do the reverse. Processed pet food is typically loaded with omega-6 fatty acids and deficient in omega-3s.

A healthy diet for your pet — one that is anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer — consists of real, whole foods, preferably raw. It should include high-quality protein, including muscle meat, organs and bone. It should also include high amounts of animal fat, high levels of EPA and DHA (omega-3 fatty acids), and a few fresh cut, low glycemic veggies. This species-appropriate diet is high in moisture content and contains no grains or starches.

I also recommend making sure the diet is balanced following the ancestral diet recommendations, which have much more rigorous standards (higher amounts of minerals and vitamins) than our current dietary recommendations for pets (AAFCO). A few beneficial supplements like probiotics, medicinal mushrooms, digestive enzymes, and super green foods can also be very beneficial to enhance immune function.

3. Reduce or eliminate your pet's exposure to toxins and minimize chronic stress — These include chemical pesticides like flea and tick preventives, lawn chemicals linked to cancer (weed killers, herbicides, etc.), tobacco smoke, flame-retardants, household cleaners, and air scenting products like candles and plug-ins.

Because we live in a toxic world and avoiding all chemical exposure is nearly impossible, I also suggest offering a periodic detoxification protocol to your pet.

Identifying and removing sources of chronic stress in your animal's life is also proving to be important, according to research.4 Intentionally focusing on daily environmental enrichment and opportunities for dogs to just be dogs (play, sniff and run) on a daily basis is important in creating happy, healthy pets.

4. If your pet is a dog, especially a large or giant breed, hold off neutering or spaying until the age of 18 months to 2 years — Studies have linked spaying and neutering to increasing cancer rates in dogs. Even better, investigate alternative ways to sterilize your pet without upsetting his or her important hormone balance

5. Refuse unnecessary vaccinations Vaccine protocols should be tailored to minimize risk and maximize protection, taking into account the breed, background, nutritional status, lifestyle, and overall vitality of the pet. We know vaccines can cause cancer5 and we know titer testing is a responsible way to ensure your pet has adequate immunity in place of over-vaccinating on an annual basis.



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