Most Americans are now working remotely at least part of the time as a result of the pandemic and some positions may stay remote as the “new normal.” What does that mean for your pets? You may not know it, but your pets are thrilled that they get to see you more. Even better, your presence at home can actually save your pet’s life. As you spend more time at home and less time in an office outside your home, you are also spending more time with your pet and are naturally noticing things more quickly. When it comes to cancer in pets, the earlier you find it, the better your chance for a cure for your pet! That is great news for you and your furry family members.
Top 10 Pet Cancer Warning Signs
Here are the top 10 signs of cancer in pets to be watching for as you are working from home, shared by board-certified Veterinary Medical Oncologist Marie Janson, DVM, Diplomate ACVIM (Oncology) here at our Castle Rock veterinary hospital:
- A change in exercise ability or willingness – Every pet should be thrilled to exercise, especially those that get to go on walks outside. Walks should be the highlight of their day. And since the great outdoors is often safer than being inside with others right now, walks should also be the highlight of your day! If your pet suddenly has a decreased interest in walks, shows any signs of limping after a walk, or is out of breath after a walk, they may be showing early warning signs of cancer. Other underlying conditions like arthritis or heart disease can also cause similar signs, but either way, it’s a good idea to get your pet into your family vet to get their symptoms checked out.
- New lumps, bumps, or swelling – As you are working from your home office (or couch), your pet has the benefit of receiving extra petting and cuddling time, especially if they can hide on your lap while you work! As a result, you can and will find new lumps, bumps, or swelling that comes up on your pet’s skin under their fur. It’s a good idea to pet them backward sometimes, too, against their coat to be better able to see what’s hiding under their fur. There is no way to tell if a new lump or swelling is benign or cancerous without testing it at your primary vet, which they will initially do with a needle biopsy and slide. A good rule of thumb is that if there is a lump that is greater than the size of a pea or if a lump has been there for longer than a month, or if a lump is growing, then it is time to take your pet into your vet to have it tested. Remember, the sooner you find cancer, the better the chance for a cure.
- Insomnia – Did you know that pets can get insomnia, just like their people can? If a pet is having trouble sleeping, it may be because they are having difficulty getting comfortable, or having trouble breathing at night, or need to go outside more often. Being at home more almost always means more exercise and stimulation for your pet during the day, so they should be tuckered out when it’s time for sleep. If your pet is up most of the night, roaming around, having trouble getting comfortable, or asking to go out, then it’s time for them to visit your primary vet to see what the underlying cause could be.
- Change in weight – Both a weight gain and a weight loss can be early signs of cancer. Even though you may be snacking more at home, your pet should not be fluctuating in weight at all, especially in a short amount of time. If you notice a weight gain, especially in the belly area only, that can be a sign of bloating from a mass internally. If you notice weight loss, especially without a change in appetite, then that could be an early sign of internal cancer as well. Either way, it’s a good idea to get your pet to the vet to run some tests and see what might be going on inside their body.
- New behavior – Working from home gives you extra time to notice any subtle behavioral changes in your pet. Behaviors like excessive licking of one area, staring off into space, hiding more, seeking especially cool or very warm areas, selective listening (which may be a sign of hearing loss), bumping into things (which can indicate vision loss), accidents in the house, increased clinginess, or aggression can all be signs of underlying cancer. Not all of those signs will lead to a cancer diagnosis, but they are changes that could indicate an underlying medical problem that warrants a visit to your vet.
- Change in elimination – Every pet will experience a change in their elimination at some point in their life. But what needs to be paid attention to is a persistent change that occurs. Look for chronic loose stool, constipation, an increase or decrease in urination, an increase in the frequency of their elimination, a change in color of the stool (especially dark in color), or a change in the size of the stool (more ribbon like). These can all be signs of early cancer affecting the urinary or intestinal tract. If you spot these changes, it’s time to visit your vet to run some tests and see what might be going on internally.
- Change in appetite or thirst – Your pet should be eating the same amount every day even when you are home more. If there is more food left in their bowl than usual or if they just seem ravenous, these could be indications of an internal cancer or an endocrine disorder. Keep an eye on your pet’s eating and drinking and don’t hesitate to schedule a vet visit if you notice a persistent change in appetite or thirst.
- Change in smell – Chances are you are spending a lot more time next to your furry friend. If you start to notice a bad smell coming from their mouth, nose, or back-end, you may be smelling signs of cancer in those locations. Your vet can perform a thorough exam that can sometimes include a mild sedation in order to get a good look and run tests to see if there is any indication of cancer.
- Big C’s of Cancer – Collapse, cachexia (severe weight loss/muscle wasting), or cough? Always get to your vet quickly if you notice any of these signs.
- Big P’s of Cancer – Pain and persistent changes in any of the above signs means a vet visit is needed.
What Cancer Tests Does My Pet Need?
If you have spotted any of the top 10 signs of cancer in your pet, you may want to discuss and request the following tests with your vet:
- A general recommendation for any pet over the age of 7 years old is to see your primary veterinarian every 6 months, or sooner if you notice any of the above signs, for a thorough physical exam and discussion of any new signs you are noticing at home
- Any new lumps, bumps, or swelling should be measured and sampled
- Routine screening bloodwork should be performed to check white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelet lines
- Internal organ function should be screened, and the endocrine system tested if indicated
- If possible, chest X-rays and an abdominal ultrasound will give a very good internal snapshot of your pet and a baseline to compare to later if needed
Working from Home, Watch for Top Pet Cancer Warning Signs
There are many things to enjoy about working from home. Spending more time with your pet means you can watch for the top warning signs of pet cancer as shown above. Being home more means that you are in a unique position to save your pet’s life since you can spot pet cancer warning signs early.
Enjoy the time with your furry friends and contact your family vet if you have questions. Please also feel free to contact our Castle Rock emergency and specialty veterinary hospital with questions or to book an appointment with our veterinary oncologist.