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Breast Cancer Awareness and Your Pets

October has special meaning for many women. It is a time of year set aside to raise awareness of breast cancer issues. So, it’s also a great time for us to review how breast cancer can affect our pets, too.

Our dogs and cats cannot perform a self exam. But, as conscientious pet owners, we can do a breast exam for them.

Dogs and cats have a row of mammary glands rather than just two breasts. So, checking for lumps and bumps takes a little bit of time. First, have your furry pal lie on her or his side and gently massage each teat and the surrounding tissue. Note any abnormalities that can range from smooth pea-sized growths to lumpy larger masses.

Not all breast enlargements are tumors, so don’t be alarmed if you do feel something unusual. Nursing mothers or females in heat will have enlarged mammary tissue due to hormone-associated changes. Additionally, overweight females may have fatty deposits in the mammary area.

Although not all bumps or lumps are actually tumors, they should still be checked out by your veterinarian. Since mammograms are not standard practice in veterinary medicine, your pet’s doctor will carefully examine the mammary glands and may do ultrasound to check as well. It isn’t always possible to detect breast cancer by simple exam, so, your pet’s doctor may take a sample from the mass and have it analyzed by a pathologist.

Sampling may be as simple as a fine needle aspirate (FNA), in which cells are collected with a small needle and syringe while the pet is awake. Or, a biopsy may be performed in which a small portion of the mass is surgically removed while under anesthesia. Or, your veterinarian may elect to remove the entire mass without taking a sample first. Portions of the mass are submitted for microscopic analysis to determine if cancer is present and, if so, the nature of the breast cancer.

Only about 50% of mammary tumors are malignant in dogs while approximately 90% are malignant in cats. Unfortunately, breast cancer can spread or metastasize to other areas of the body in both cats and dogs. That means that early detection is vital to stopping the cancer.

Cats and dogs have 8 to 10 mammary glands used to nurse several babies simultaneously. These mammary glands are connected by blood vessels which make it easy for the tumors to spread from gland to gland. Since multiple glands may be affected, surgical removal may involve a large excision area. Your veterinarian may also want to remove associated lymph nodes to further assess the cancer’s spread. He or she may advise blood work and/or radiographs to monitor the cancer’s potential spread to other organs.

In addition to the surgical removal of the mass or masses, your veterinarian may advise radiation or chemotherapy to treat cancer. These options may be expensive but often yield good results and may be covered by veterinary pet insurance plans.

Breast cancer is a tragedy in people and pets. One way to decrease the risk of breast cancer in dogs or cats is to spay females at an early age, preferably before their first heat cycle.

With people and pets, early detection is key to a successful outcome. Be sure to check your dog or cat regularly for mammary tumors and see your veterinarian if anything seems unusual.




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Mon - Fri 7:30am - 5:30pm
Sat: 8 AM – 10 AM (Boarding and food/prescription pickup ONLY)