Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Guest Column: Canine Cancer Information

Today we are pleased to bring you a guest column by Jen Schneider, the President of The Great Good Heart Animal Cancer Foundation. Cancer affects many pets and knowledge is a good weapon in the fight against the disease. So, without further ado, here's Jen.

Animal cancer is a cause close to my heart, not only because it affects so many pets (and the numbers seem to be climbing year after year), but also because my own dog, Indiana, was diagnosed with cancer back in 2006. Though Indiana is still alive and well today (and cancer-free), our experience was life-altering, and my husband and I vowed to make something good out of something so awful. We created the Great Good Heart Animal Cancer Foundation to help educate others in hopes that just one dog could be saved from this disease.

Though no hard and fast numbers are known (so many cases of cancer go undiagnosed), some estimates say that cancer affects around 50% of all dogs. Some breeds, like golden retrievers, rottweilers, and boxers, have higher rates of specific cancers I’ve seen suggestions that up to 75% of all golden retrievers will be affected by lymphoma alone.

There is no one way to prevent cancer, and certainly genetics, which we can’t personally control, play a large role. However, we as parents can go a long way in helping to reduce our pets’ exposure to carcinogens.Some easy, but vital, ways to help prevent animal cancer include:
  • Forgoing the use of pesticides and fertilizers on your lawn.
  • These products are thought to be the number one cause of lymphoma, one of the most common types of cancer.
  • Using non-toxic cleaners in your home. Your pets walk around in bare feet all the time, they they lick their paws. I feel much more comfortable knowing they’re being exposed to vinegar and baking soda rather than synthetic cleaners.
  • Feeding a high quality diet--the best you can afford. This involves a lot of research, because commercial pet foods aren’t all as safe as we think. Humans thrive on a fresh diet, and it is no different for our pets.
  • Considering titers instead of automatically vaccinating every year. A simple blood test will tell you if your pet’s body contains enough of the vaccine antibodies to keep them safe for another year.
What do you do if your pet is diagnosed with cancer? First, make sure your pet is seen by an oncologist, who is highly trained and deals only with cancer. Second, do as much research as you can (though be careful about the internet--there’s a lot of bad information out there too--and it will just scare you!). Knowledge really is power, and you’ll be able to be confident in whatever decisions you make. There are a number of online support groups, with dog parents who have been or are still dealing with cancer. You’ll often learn little tricks your vet might not know. Plus, the emotional support is invaluable.

Every dog parent dreads a cancer diagnosis, but cancer is not an automatic death sentence. Cancer treatments have come so far. Many people live within an hour or two’s drive from a specialized [animal] cancer clinic, where they have access to top oncologists, high quality diagnostic equipment, and the latest knowledge on treatments and therapies.

We often hear, “I could never put my pet through chemotherapy. My cousin had chemo, and she lost her hair and was sick all the time.” This is one of the biggest misconceptions about animal cancer treatments--that our pets will have the same side effects as our human loved ones. The goal of human chemotherapy is to cure the cancer. The goal of animal chemotherapy is to prolong quality of life. (Though cures can occasionally be achieved.) The dosages are much smaller, and many dogs sail through chemotherapy with few, if any, side effects. That’s why it’s important to consult with an oncologist; you may have more options than you think.

Hopefully you will never be faced with a diagnosis of cancer in your pet. But if you are, there is hope, and there are resources out there to help you and your pet, from finances, to support, decisions, and knowledge. Becoming educated about cancer is perhaps the best thing you can do. Helping to prevent cancer will make a difference in your pet’s future. I’d give anything to have had the knowledge I have now 10 years ago. Perhaps Indiana could have avoided her cancer diagnosis. I’ll never know. But I do know that I learned the hard way and am trying my hardest to make sure you don’t have to.

In addition to Great Good Heart Animal Cancer Foundation, Jen recommends these websites to learn more about canine cancer:

The Perseus Foundation "a wonderful resource for all aspects of animal cancer."

Georgia's Legacy: Canine Cancer Information and Support Resource "My favorite website written by a fellow canine cancer parent."

Things I Learned From My Dog Jen's personal blog where "you can learn more about Indiana and live after cancer."

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