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Cats and Dogs Can Get Breast Cancer

While everyone is sporting pink ribbons in recognition of breast cancer awareness, many people don’t realize that our pets can also suffer from the disease. Mammary gland tumors are common in dogs and cats–especially those that aren’t spayed or were spayed late in age. You can reduce the chance of breast cancer in your cats and dogs to nearly zero by simply having them spayed before their first heat.

Mammary exams and early detection are key for your pets–just as they are for us. Once your dog or cat is five years old, perform a mammary exam monthly. Gently feel the tissue under and around each nipple, rolling the tissue between your fingers. If you feel even a tiny lump, bring your pet to your veterinarian.

Breast Cancer in Dogs
“Breast cancer in dogs is influenced by female hormones,” explains Bill Craig, DVM and Chief Medical and Underwriting Director at PurinaCare Pet Health Insurance. “Spaying removes the uterus and ovaries eliminating the source of these hormones. If a female puppy is spayed before coming into heat for the first time the odds of developing breast cancer is nearly zero.”

If a female dog has one heat cycle before being spayed (usually occurs at 8-10 months of age) the odds of developing breast cancer later in life increase to around seven percent. If spayed after multiple heat cycles the odds increase to one in four.

Breast Cancer and Cats
“The risk is much greater for cats,” says Dr. Craig. “Unspayed cats are seven times more likely to develop breast cancer compared to spayed cats. Early spay (before the first heat) reduces the risk by 91percent. Spaying after two years has little effect on risk. Over 90 percent of breast tumors in cats are malignant compared to only about 50 percent in dogs.”

Treatment
For dogs, surgical removal is the first treatment method and chemo is sometimes a secondary treatment, depending on the severity of the tumor. For cats, surgical removal of the tumor and aggressive chemo is the recommended treatment; however mammary cancer is usually fatal in cats.

Male Dogs and Cats
“Mammary cancer in males is much less common than in females,” says Dr. Craig. “There is not much data available, but the tumors are generally considered to be much more aggressive than in females. Early detection and surgical removal are the best approach followed by possible chemotherapy depending on the biopsy results.”

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