ThinkstockAwareness is a key part of cancer prevention, for people and for pets. In fact, November is Pet Cancer Awareness Month. But what does "awareness" mean when it comes to cancer? It can cover everything from education to fundraising. In my role as chief veterinary officer at Veterinary Pet Insurance, however, my greatest concern is with prevention - specifically, raising awareness of the ways in which you can reduce your pet's cancer risk.
See Also: What Causes Cancer in Pets?
In 2012, Veterinary Pet Insurance received more than 55,000 claims for pets diagnosed with cancer. That may surprise you, but it's not news to those of us in the veterinary profession. In fact, cancer is the No. 1 disease-related cause of death in pets.
That's the bad news. The good news is that there are three things you can do to help reduce that risk:
Keep your pet lean and fit. More than half of all pets are overweight or obese, a statistic that - not surprisingly - tracks with human health figures. For pets as well as people, obesity is linked to increased incidence of many serious health problems. VPI data shows that close to $20 million in claims are filed every year for conditions and diseases that can be caused by excess weight - many of those for cancer. Your veterinarian can help you learn how to reduce your pet's weight through proper nutrition, with healthy food and treats offered in appropriate portions, and adequate exercise, such as walking your dog or playing active games with your cat.
Manage environmental risks. Because they share our lives so closely, pets are routinely subjected to substances linked to an increased cancer risk, including secondhand tobacco smoke, landscape chemicals (outside) and fire retardants (inside). Choose chemical-free fertilizer options and products that have not been treated with flame retardants, which have been linked to health problems in both pets and people, and consider giving up smoking - or at least committing to not smoking around your pets.
Know the warning signs. The key to your pet's health is a regular comprehensive wellness examination by your veterinarian. Catching cancer early through regular veterinary exams could save your pet's life and could allow for treatment options that may give you both months or even years together that you wouldn't have had otherwise. Between veterinary visits, conduct your own wellness checks on your pet at least monthly, and make an appointment with your veterinarian to check your pet if you see any of the following:
- Abnormal swellings that persist or continue to grow
- Sores that do not heal
- Unexplained weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Bleeding or discharge from any body opening
- Offensive odor
- Difficulty eating or swallowing
- Hesitation to exercise or loss of stamina
- Persistent lameness or stiffness
- Difficulty breathing, urinating or defecating
When in doubt, check it out with your veterinarian.
Just like in human medicine, veterinary wellness care can help prevent some illnesses and catch others early enough that treatment may be more effective. Not surprisingly, we in the pet health insurance industry have been offering more support for wellness care because we know this approach works better for pets and their loved ones. That's especially true when we talk about cancer.
Despite all your good efforts, your pet may still get cancer, and if that happens, don't blame yourself. While we are all initially terrified when we hear the word "cancer," there have never been more options for care, especially when cancer is caught early - which is one more reason to commit to consistent wellness care.
Awareness also means supporting research, which is why we have our VPI K9K Pet Cancer Awareness Walk each November. You may not be able to participate in person, but you can still help with a donation to the Animal Cancer Foundation.
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* 5 Once-Popular Dog Breeds Sadly Losing Popularity