Dogs and cats can get breast cancer, or mammary cancer just like people and the aggressive forms such as mammary carcinoma are just as nasty as they are in us. Mammary tumors occur most frequently in undesexed females, or those that were desexed as adults. It is more common in dogs than in cats however in dogs about 50% are malignant, whereas in cats almost all are malignant. Neutering or spaying dogs at six months of age and before their first estrous cycle has been shown to significantly reduce the risk of mammary tumors- another reason to desex our pets!There is a similar association between desexing cats and development of this disease. A mammary tumor can often be seen or felt as a ‘lump’ on the underside of the pet, in the region of the mammary tissue. It is usually not painful, but may be so if infection or an abscess has developed as well. It is important to have you pet examined by a veterinarian as soon as possible if you notice these changes. The vet may try to diagnose the nature of the mass with fine needle aspirate or surgical biopsy, but if a malignancy is suspected, surgery would be the next step. Surgery involved mastectomy of the affected mammary gland or of the entire mammary chain if several glands are affected. Prior to surgery, the vet may want to stage the tumor in order to ascertain whether it has spread. This may involve biopsy of the local lymph nodes, chest X-rays, abdominal ultrasound and blood tests. Desexing may be recommended if this has not been done already. Prognosis is fairly poor in cases where the cancer has spread. Mammary tumors in dogs or cats, especially the malignant forms are best avoided if possible by early desexing of our pets.
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