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Skin Cancer

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1. How do you detect early skin cancer on cats and dogs?
Early cancer lesions are easily missed because they often look quite innocuous. People may think the lesion is merely the result of a fight - just a small scratch or scab on the nose or ears. The difference is that the cancer lesion persists beyond the few days in which you would expect a wound to heal. As time goes on, the lesion begins to ulcerate, forming an open sore, which, if left, will rapidly increase in size and depth.

2. How is it treated?
Treatment depends on the stage to which the cancer has advanced. Very early lesions can often be successfully treated with an anticancer ointment applied daily for three to four weeks. More often the lesions need to be either surgically removed or frozen using liquid nitrogen. This can be fairly radical surgery, sometimes leaving the animal somewhat disfigured. So obviously, it’s better to prevent the cancer occurring in the first place.

Keeping your pets out of the hot summer sun is the single most important way to avoid skin cancer, and is just as important as protecting your children and yourself from those increasingly harmful rays. This is even more crucial for those animals with pale fur and thin hair coats. White cats for instance are notoriously bad, while Bull Terriers often suffer from the effects of the sun. So shut the cat in the house during the hottest part of the day (11am - 4pm). If your cat is an inveterate sunbather, remember that glass and perspex will cut out a high proportion of the harmful rays - let him be an "inside" sunbather. Make sure there will be shade available for your dog when you take it out to the park or beach. Prevention is so much better than cure - cheaper too!

3. We hear about using sun-blocks on our pets - is there one especially formulated that doesn’t lick off easily?
We generally advise the use of an antibacterial sunfilter called Filta-bac. This is a very sticky zinc-based ointment which seems to stay on well, and does no harm if licked by the animals. You need to be careful not to overdo the ointment on very hairy ears so as to prevent the loss of hair when the ointment is removed.

- Virginia Williams & Bert Westera