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Awareness is a key part of cancer prevention, for people and for pets. In fact, November is Pet Cancer Awareness Month. But what does “awareness” mean when it comes to cancer? It can cover everything from education to fundraising. In my role as chief veterinary officer at Veterinary Pet Insurance, however, my greatest concern is with prevention — specifically, raising awareness of the ways in which you can reduce your pet's cancer risk.
In 2012, Veterinary Pet Insurance received more than 55,000 claims for pets diagnosed with cancer. That may surprise you, but it’s not news to those of us in the veterinary profession. In fact, cancer is the No. 1 disease-related cause of death in pets.
That’s the bad news. The good news is that there are three things you can do to help reduce that risk:
Keep your pet lean and fit. More than half of all pets are overweight or obese, a statistic that — not surprisingly — tracks with human health figures. For pets as well as people, obesity is linked to increased incidence of many serious health problems. VPI data shows that close to $20 million in claims are filed every year for conditions and diseases that can be caused by excess weight — some of those for cancer. Your veterinarian can help you learn how to reduce your pet’s weight through proper nutrition, with healthy food and treats offered in appropriate portions, and adequate exercise, such as walking your dog or playing active games with your cat.
Manage environmental risks. Because they share our lives so closely, pets are routinely subjected to substances linked to an increased cancer risk, including secondhand tobacco smoke, landscape chemicals (outside) and fire retardants (inside). Choose chemical-free fertilizer options and products that have not been treated with flame retardants, which have been linked to health problems in both pets and people, and consider giving up smoking — or at least committing to not smoking around your pets.
Know the warning signs. The key to your pet’s health is a regular comprehensive wellness examination by your veterinarian. Catching cancer early through regular veterinary exams could save your pet’s life or allow for treatment options that may give you both months or even years together that you wouldn’t have had otherwise. Between veterinary visits, monitor your pet regularly at home, and make an appointment with your veterinarian to check your pet if you see any of the following:
Unexplained weight loss
When in doubt, check it out with your veterinarian.
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