Did you know that dogs and cats get breast cancer too? In fact, breast cancer is the most common tumor in female dogs and the third most common tumor in female cats. Now is the perfect time to learn how to check yourself and your pet!
How do I check my pet for breast cancer?
In addition to a routine veterinary visit once or twice yearly, I recommend a monthly "whole body check"—from the tip of the nose to the tail and out to the ends of the toes! In addition to looking at your pet’s eyes, ears, mouth, skin, and hair…make sure you get a good feel as well! Run your hands along their head, neck, back, sides, down the legs and under the belly to check for any lumps, masses, swellings or sore spots. While people have only two breasts and there is no trick to finding them, dogs and cats have many breasts (also called mammary glands), and they are found in two straight lines extending from the left and right armpit, down the chest and into the groin area.
Feel for breast lumps while your pet is standing and then allow them to roll over on their back so you can look at the area also. First, while they are standing, move your hands under their belly all the way up into their armpits. Then slowly move your hands back to their groin area (where their legs attach to their body). Some overweight dogs and cats will have quite a "pooch" in this area and you may need to massage the skin and fatty tissue to detect any lumps or swellings.
What if I find a lump?
If you feel a lump, contact your veterinarian immediately. Breast tumors have an 80-90% chance of being malignant in cats and 50% chance of being malignant in dogs. Don’t wait to see if the lump grows or changes from month to month….get it looked at right away. It is always best to detect and deal with breast cancer early for the best outcome.
What can I do to minimize my pet’s risk of developing breast cancer?
Spay your pet! The single most important thing you can do to is to spay your dog or cat prior to their first heat cycle. Spaying has been well-documented to reduce the risk of breast cancer to miniscule numbers. For example, cats spayed prior to 6 months of age had a 91% reduction in the risk of developing malignant breast cancer when compared to unspayed female cats. These numbers are even more impressive for dogs spayed before their first heat. If you have adopted or rescued a pet (and we hope you do!) and are unsure if they are spayed, your veterinarian can help you determine that. Many pets spayed later in life do not develop breast cancer…but you should be on the look-out with that monthly exam and notify your veterinarian if you find anything amiss.
Go Natural! Choose a natural pet food that avoids the use of preservatives, artificial colors or other synthetic chemicals. Although there is no proven link to canine or feline breast cancer specifically, many synthetic chemicals have been linked to serious human reproductive and other health problems. See my article here.
Stay lean and fit! Fat doesn’t increase the risk of breast cancer per se, but extra pounds can certainly hide a lump. Keeping your pet at a healthy weight will help you detect not only breast lumps, but any unusual swelling or abnormality on your pet’s body. Wellness exams and early detection are key to successful outcomes with most cancers or other medical conditions.