We are mammals, you and I. So are dogs, cats, ferrets and even our rats.
What that means is, we are in the group of animals who have mammary glands, and thus produce milk for the young. (Not me personally, but you get the idea). We probably have hair, but other than that, our bodies are pretty species-dependent.
Since October was Breast Cancer Awareness month for humans, I want you to think of your pet’s risk as well.
Cancer of the mammary gland is one of the nastier versions of the “Big C” that we encounter in veterinary medicine. It is more common in females, but males are not exempt.
In our pets, fewer risk factors are known for mammary cancer. Your pet should not have an increased chance because of a smoking habit. But one well-described risk factor is having a heat cycle. This equates to a hormonal cascade that modifies the gland to prepare for theoretical lactation later. If no pregnancy occurs, the hormones reset through a different cascade, and the cycle starts over. Each time the cycle occurs, the risk of mammary cancer can increase.
So the obvious answer here is to have your mammal spayed before ever going through a heat cycle. The old urban or maybe more rural legend about puppies needing to have a first heat before being spayed is disastrously inaccurate. Spaying before that fist cycle is your best bet at avoiding future mammary tumors.
But what if the animal has already had a cycle or two, or has had multiple litters? The risk will still be reduced with spaying. It’s never too late.
In addition, consider the fact that no ovaries means no ovarian cancer, and no uterus means no uterine cancer or infection.
But still, the mammary gland can develop tumors. Be vigilant, and rub the belly when you can. If a lump is there, get it checked out as soon as possible.
And apologies to any non-mammalian readers.
Matthew Sisk is a practicing veterinarian from Habersham County. Have questions about your pet? He can be reached at email@example.com.