Few diseases evoke as much emotion as cancer. Most people will have had or have a personal experience with cancer either in themselves, a family member or a close personal friend. Increasingly, people are also encountering cancer in their pets as improvements in nutrition and preventative health-care have resulted in longer lives.

Dogs are affected by more forms of cancer compared to other companion animals.  According to The Veterinary Cancer Society, cancer is the leading cause of death in 47% of dogs, especially dogs over age ten, and 32% of cats.

Although cancer is not as common in cats as in dogs, the cancers found in cats tend to be more aggressive e.g. Skin cancer, feline lymphoma.

Not all tumours are cancerous, these benign tumours do not spread to other areas of the body and are rarely life-threatening.

Our knowledge of veterinary oncology has made fantastic advances in the last ten years, resulting in improved quality and quantity of life for a lot of patients.

The key treatments we use are chemotherapy and surgery( radiation therapy is not available for pets in New Zealand) and the best chance of a cure is with early diagnosis and appropriate treatment.

We perceive chemotherapy as always causing harm, yet the majority of pets who undergo therapy experience minimal or no side effects.

As cancer progresses, one of the common signs we see is a loss of weight. This can occur for a number of reasons, one of which is pain. It is essential that any patient with a pain-causing cancer be given painkillers – your veterinarian will prescribe an appropriate one for your pet. (N.B does not give human medication to your pet, unless under the direction of your veterinarian, as these can be very toxic.)

Some of the causes for decreased appetite are related to the cancer itself (for example, tumors may physically interfere with food chewing, swallowing, and digestion process) and some may be related to the side effects of cancer treatment (for example, some chemotherapy drugs cause nausea and vomiting, and radiation therapy can cause mouth inflammation).

Proper nutrition while undergoing cancer treatment is essential to maintain your pet’s strength, improve survival times, quality of life and maximize response to therapy. Adequate nutritional support has been shown to decrease the duration of
hospitalisation, reduce post-surgery complications and enhance the healing process.