9 Ways to Help Prevent Cancer in Your Pet

November 21st 2018

By Dr. Dirk Dekens, DVM

The general feeling out there is cancer is affecting more pets than ever before.

My veterinary career now spans over three decades and I cannot help but agree with this thinking. In my practice I will diagnose and treat several pets with various forms of cancer on a weekly, if not daily basis.

Since we also provide in-home veterinary care, we will often be called upon to offer palliative and end of life care for our furry companions with cancer.
Not unlike our own species, our pets have an increased risk for some of their cells to go rogue and turn into abnormal cells with the potential to invade and spread into other parts of the body.

The older our pets get, the higher the chances are that they may get cancer.

Why do dogs get cancer more than cats?

Interestingly, though, the incidence of cancer in cats over 10 years of age is about 35 percent lower compared to their canine friends (or foes).

The explanation could be that dogs have been subjected to much more directed and controlled breeding practices compared to cats. Think about the numerous dog breeds that man has created.

The manipulation of genetic material has not only led to major differences in the way dogs look, but has also caused a higher incidence of certain medical conditions, cancers included. It would be rather naïve for me to claim that genetics alone is to blame for the rise in cancer we see in dogs. But it is a part of it.

What Causes Cancer in Pets

When we look at the main risk factors of cancer in the developed world in humans the list goes as follows: tobacco (include cannabis when smoking it), obesity, poor diet, lack of physical activity, overconsumption of alcohol and certain infections (viral or other).

With the exception of overconsumption of alcohol, there are parallels for our pets in today’s society.

Pets can definitely be exposed to secondhand smoke. Obesity has never been more prevalent, mainly due to overfeeding and lack of exercise, most commercial diets are heat processed and viral infections, such as leukemia, still claim many unvaccinated cat’s lives.

And the list of risk factors is far from complete. The world and the homes we share with our pets is steadily getting more polluted with smog, herbicides, insecticides and pesticides. Environmental pollution exposes us all to a variety of carcinogens and these carcinogens build up over time.

Can my pet get skin cancer?

Excessive exposure to sunlight and other radiation sources can all contribute to cancerous changes in the skin of our pets, especially of the hairless areas of their body and more so in animals with short, white coats.

Stress cancer and pets

Maybe one of the biggest factors facilitating the development of cancer is stress.
Stress endured for long periods of time poses a big problem for the body. Stress hormones such as cortisol place the body on constant alert exerting an enormous amount of strain on the immune system. All organ systems in the body are affected and the end result is not only physical disease and mental illness but also a decreased ability of the immune system to prevent or delay the onset of cancerous cell growth.

With this knowledge at our disposal we can now make a list of things we can do to keep our pets healthy long-term and to prevent or slow down the onset of cancer.

So here are 9 tips on ways to help your pet stay healthy and cancer-free:
  1. Become familiar with the common cancerous conditions prevalent in your specific dog or cat breed. Knowing which types of cancers they are at the highest risk of getting regular, combined with regular screening for unusual lumps and other symptoms may offer us a chance to catch the disease and intervene at the early stages of the cancer.
  2. Keep your pets fit. Regular walks and exercise will help keep their immune system strong and offer much needed mental stimulation.
  3. Do not overfeed. Monitor their weight and keep it at an ideal body score - not too heavy and not too thin. Your veterinarian is your best guide to determine your pet’s ideal weight.
  4. Feed healthy. You are what you eat. Avoid foods that are highly processed. Look at the ingredient list on the bag of dog or cat food. If there are a lot of ingredients that are difficult to read or understand, such as chemical preservatives, look them up and find out if there is any potential concern that they may be carcinogenic. It is no different from buying our own foods (I always go for the outer aisles in the grocery store). Maybe you want to investigate making your own food for your pet or even a raw-based diet. Regardless, put some thought into it, the most economical, convenient food isn’t always the best choice.
  5. Keep the immune system strong. Sixty percent of the immune system resides in the gut. A healthy gut can help promote a better functioning immune system. Prebiotics (fiber), probiotics, digestive enzymes and other immune boosting supplements are all examples of things one can add to keep our pets cancer-free longer.
  6. Avoid prolonged and sustained contact with direct sunlight in susceptible breeds. Use sunscreens to mitigate the harm effects of the sun’s rays.
  7. Don’t smoke around pets.
  8. Declutter the shared living space from any unnecessary chemicals and possible carcinogens.
  9. Don’t forget those regular veterinary check-ups. Early detection and treatment may make all the difference!

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