October is breast cancer awareness month. This is an opportune time to discuss the fact that dogs and cats can also get breast cancer…known as mammary tumors in animals.
The incidence in dogs is about three times that of humans. Naturally, mammary tumors are far more common in female animals. Although younger dogs and cats do develop mammary tumors, average age of occurrence in dogs is 10 to 12 years old, while cats are 10 to 14 years old at the time of diagnosis.
Mammary tumors are a common type of cancer in female dogs and cats. In dogs, about half of all mammary tumors are benign. Life expectancy of most dogs with a diagnosis of mammary gland tumor is anywhere from one to four years. Many dogs with surgically removed benign tumors can live a normal life. In cats, unfortunately, 90 percent of mammary tumors are malignant and most cats survive only for six months to a year after initial diagnosis. Cats who receive aggressive treatment on early small tumors may live 2 to 3 years. Owners sometimes abandon pets that develop mammary gland tumors . Perhaps they feel overwhelmed by the problem and unable to live up to their responsibilities. Recently, we have helped three dogs with mammary tumors that were picked up stray, taken to Animal Control and never reclaimed by an owner. In effect, their family abandoned them.
Peanut was a small mixed-breed abandoned dog that went into foster care with a rescue group. She was a real charmer and people lover. It was apparent that Peanut had previously enjoyed life as someone's pet. The only real treatment for these tumors is surgical removal and so Peanut's vet did this in the hope that it would improve her quality of life and hopefully prolong it. A few weeks later Peanut's health rapidly declined and she was humanely euthanized one month after the surgery in order to end her suffering.
A spaniel type dog was the next cast off dog that came into the care of Animal Control. Sweetie Pie's tumor was massive yet she still enjoyed getting out for walks and interacting with people. She truly was a sweet and loving dog. It did not seem that her life previously had been so great. A bath and grooming sweetened her up considerably and was a big boost to her spirits. Vet evaluation showed that her tumor had already metastasized thus she was not a candidate for surgery. A rescue in Colorado offered to take Sweetie into their care and give her the best life possible for as long as she remained comfortable.
Lulu is a small mixed breed dog that was recently discarded by owners and ended up at the shelter. She is perky and full of life and adores everyone she meets. The joy for life that she has is uplifting to everyone she meets. Lulu has a relatively small tumor that could be removed but unfortunately, she also has been diagnosed with probable bladder cancer that is inoperable. It apparently is a primary cancer and not metastasis from the mammary tumor. The outcome for her is not certain. It is heartbreaking to think that this healthy appearing, life loving dog may not live another year.
Page 2 of 2 - As Paul Harvey used to say…"and now the rest of the story". There is a guaranteed way that these dogs and thousands of other dogs and cats probably could have lived a tumor free, long, normal life. Peanut could be alive today and Sweetie Pie and maybe Lulu would not be facing an early death. How? If a dog is spayed before her first heat, she has less than 1 percent chance of developing mammary tumors. We also know that the incidence of mammary tumors in cats is reduced by 91 percent in cats spayed prior to six months of age.
Sterilizing pets has many other benefits and is the right thing to do for our beloved pets. Cost cannot be a deterrent since there are many opportunities available for free or low-cost procedures in our area.