A: October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  Breast cancer is one of the many cancers that affect both people and pets.  Since many projects begin with animal studies, support for breast cancer research often benefits both people and pets.

Dogs are particularly prone to breast cancers.  With each and every heat cycle, a dog’s body goes through a sixty day hormonal stimulation of the mammary tissue.  This constant stimulation for four months a year leads to very high cancer rates.  Fortunately, 99% of canine breast cancer can be prevented by spaying dogs before their first heat.

While breast cancer is less common in cats, it does occur.  The risk is also drastically reduced when cats are spayed.  Also, just like in people, reproduction and nursing reduces the risk of breast cancer in intact dogs and cats.

One ongoing effort to learn more about cancer and its root causes is the Morris Animal Foundation’s Golden Retriever Lifetime Study.  This is the largest and longest effort undertaken to better understand cancer in dogs.  It involves following 3,000 privately owned Golden Retrievers for ten to fourteen years.  Participating veterinarians collect blood, hair, and toenail samples during examinations.  Owners and veterinarians also regularly submit health, nutrition, and lifestyle information to the study database. Golden Retrievers were selected due to their popularity and their high incidence of cancer.  Researchers hope to use this information to improve our knowledge of cancer in all breeds of dogs – and indeed in all animal species, including people.

Of course, one of the keys to successful cancer treatment is early detection.  Maybe not so coincidentally, October is also National Pet Wellness Month. In human medicine, it is widely accepted that time and money spent on wellness programs drastically reduces the pain and high cost of serious illness while increasing the effectiveness of treatment.  The same is true for our animal patients.  The American Veterinary Medical Association, American Animal Hospital Association, American Association of Feline Practitioners, and the Virginia Veterinary Medical Association all strongly recommend examinations every six to twelve months for all pets.  Many of these organizations also advocate regular wellness screenings including complete blood counts, blood chemistry panels, urinalyses, intestinal parasite checks and heartworm screenings.  Ask your veterinarian for information on National Pet Wellness Month.  More importantly, if it has been more than six months since you pet’s last checkup, schedule a wellness visit with your family veterinarian today.