Even Pets Have Breasts

October is widely known as Breast Cancer Awareness Month for people. Well, lately, it’s also become a month to raise awareness for the risk of breast cancer in pets, too! Yes, that’s right, Fluffy and Bella can also get breast cancer. Unlike women, your pets can’t check themselves for lumps.

Cats & dogs have multiple breasts, or mammary glands, that are aligned in two chains. Normal swelling can be noted if pregnant or nursing, but in any other case, a lump may be abnormal. After animals have been spayed, they can accumulate fat in these areas and these would be non-concerning lumps. You can feel along the chain for an abnormal lump that would be at least the size of a small marble. This is when you should schedule an appointment with your veterinarian, not waiting to see if it goes away. It can only get worse if you wait until it’s the size of a lemon.

Your veterinarian will start with a general exam and then discuss some diagnostics to further evaluate the lump. Just feeling the lump is often not enough to be able to tell you everything you need to know. No, we don’t have a mammogram machine in our office. Our diagnostic plan can include a fine needle aspirate to try and get some cells to look at under the microscope, but sometimes this is not sufficient. Alternatively, we can move forward with chest X-rays to assess for the spreading of the tumour and then surgery. Submitting the whole lump to a pathologist will give us a more certain diagnosis to be able to determine future treatment and prognosis.

Surprisingly, we have some good statistics when it comes to breast cancer cases in dogs. It’s a 50-50 chance of the mass being benign. Unfortunately, in cats, the numbers are 90% malignant (cancerous) and only 10% benign (non-cancerous). Surgery can often involve the removal of the lump and the one next to it, or sometimes the entire mammary chain. Typically, when your veterinarian is talking about breast cancer in your pet, they are focusing on middle-aged or senior pets. You can help your pets by spaying them early. Spaying before their first heat cycle greatly reduces the risk of breast cancer.

So do your pets a favour; check them for breast lumps. And if you see a lump, don’t wait to see if it goes away…it likely won’t!

Written by Dr. Ryan Llera