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Cancer is no longer affecting just people; it's affecting our pets too. In fact, according to the Veterinary Oncology & Hematology Center, cancer accounts for nearly 50 percent of disease-related pet deaths, making it the number one killer of dogs and cats. However, new efforts by veterinarians and animal organizations are making pet owners more aware that cancer is not just a human condition, and that it is the responsibility of a pet owner to look for ways to minimize their pet’s risk and to be cognizant of the signs and symptoms of cancer.

The biggest threats to pets are many seemingly harmless, everyday household products. Toxins can be found in a variety of household cleaners, detergents, floor waxes, furniture polishes, and lawn products. To decrease the threat, pet owners should commit to pet safety by reducing the amount of these potential cancer inducing products in their environment.

"This means reading labels and buying products that use non-toxic plant, fruit or vegetable oils," said Blue Buffalo Foundation for Cancer Research president, David Petrie. He recommends choosing fragrance-free products, as fragrance components (such as air fresheners) have been linked to animal cancer in lab testing. White vinegar is also an excellent natural product to use as a household cleaner.

The Blue Buffalo Foundation for Cancer Research aims to raise awareness, provide information, and raise money for the cause. "We recently made a $2 million commitment to the Morris Animal Foundation," said Petrie, adding that they have begun "a ten year study called the National Canine Health Project that is really going after cancer and how nutrition and the environment really play a role in this terrible disease."

Aside from reducing a pet’s chance of acquiring cancer, pet owners need to be on the lookout for common signs and symptoms of cancer. According to the Veterinary Cancer Group (VCG), these may include:

  • Change in appetite and/or water intake
  • A lump that is enlarging, changing, or waxing and waning in size
  • Weight loss or weight gain
  • Non-healing sore or infection
  • Abnormal odor
  • Persistent or recurring lameness
  • Chronic vomiting or diarrhea
  • Persistent or recurring cough
  • Unexplained bleeding or discharge
  • Difficulty swallowing, breathing, urinating, or defecating

"As the primary guardians of our pets' health, we must recognize clinical signs of illness and immediately pursue veterinary evaluation," said Dr. Patrick Mahaney, an integrative veterinarian who works closely with the VCG.

When it comes to treatment, Dr. Mahaney said, "All medicine should be holistic. We need to take into account the entire body when working with cancer, not just the affected bodily system. Diet, lifestyle, toxic exposure reduction, the reason why the cancer is there in the first place — all these factors need to be utilized in order to come up with a treatment plan."

As an integrative veterinarian and Certified Veterinary Acupuncturist (CVA), Dr. Mahaney believes in combining holistic care with the traditional cancer treatments of surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or immunotherapy.

"Use whole food nutrients — fresh food — not dry foods where the life has all been sucked out. Provide your pet with antioxidants, nutrients from green veggies, Omega fatty acids, and turmeric, which is a natural anti-inflammatory," Dr. Mahaney said. "Also, look to the overall stress level of your pet, as stress can have a negative impact on the immune system."

He also recommends the utilization of tools such as acupuncture, acupressure, and chiropractic work, whether this be throughout treatment to the remission process, or in the worst case scenario, through the final stage of the pet’s life; anything to contribute to the overall comfort and quality of life for the pet.

As with all forms of cancer, whether it occurs in people or pets, catching it early leads to the best results possible. Pet owners should be taking preventive steps by reducing the hazards to their pet’s health, while watching for the warning signs and symptoms of cancer, and immediately seeking veterinary assistance if they suspect something is amiss.

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