Pets, Asbestos Exposure, and Mesothelioma
Pets, like their human caretakers, are susceptible to illnesses resulting from asbestos exposure. Dogs, cats, and other animals can develop mesothelioma and other asbestos-related illnesses, with devastating consequences. Mesothelioma is an aggressive and deadly cancer, even for pets. However, our furry friends have even fewer treatment options and minimal hope for survival.
Pets may become exposed to asbestos just like people. For example. older homes with worn and exposed asbestos insulation can send fibers into the air that humans and animals can both inhale. In addition, if a pet owner works with asbestos and brings fibers home on clothing, this can lead to dangerous exposure in pets. Mesothelioma is rare for pets, but it is possible. It is important to minimize exposure risks for all people and animals in the household.
Asbestos Exposure Causes Mesothelioma in Pets
Evidence overwhelmingly points to asbestos as a cause of mesothelioma in humans. While research into pets with mesothelioma is limited, it does exist. For example, one study examined tissue samples from dogs that died from mesothelioma. Researchers saw pleural, peritoneal, and pericardial mesothelioma in the population of dogs studied and even some that had cancerous tissues in more than one part of the mesothelium. Researchers also found asbestos in the affected tissues, providing a link between the cancer and asbestos exposure. Dogs in a control group had far fewer fibers.
Stories of animals suffering and dying from mesothelioma are rare, but heartbreaking. In the United Kingdom there was a reported case of a dog that died from mesothelioma. The devastated owners reported their dog had sniffed asbestos-containing materials dumped at old building sites in the woods. Even after the owners paid thousands of dollars in vet bills, the dog could not be saved.
How Pets May Be Exposed to Asbestos
There is a strong link between asbestos exposure and mesothelioma. Therefore, pet owners should be aware of asbestos risks and take steps to minimize any possibility of exposure. One common method of exposure for pets is through secondhand contact. If you come home from work with asbestos fibers on your clothing, your pet can inhale or ingest those fibers.
Pets can also be exposed to asbestos in the home. Buildings constructed before the 1980s probably contain asbestos in insulation, HVAC systems, flooring, siding, ceiling materials, and other areas. If that asbestos is disturbed, worn, or damaged, fibers can become airborne. Once these microscopic fibers become airborne, they can be inhaled by anyone in the house, including pets.
Risk is especially high during renovation or remodeling projects. This kind of work can disturb previously encapsulated asbestos. The best way to protect animals during home projects is to temporarily remove them from the home. If possible, keep them at someone else’s home or a kennel or boarding facility. While humans can wear protective gear, animals cannot. Also, dogs often lick surfaces where asbestos dust has settled.
Like the dog in the United Kingdom, exposure outside of the home is a rare but possible risk for pets, especially dogs. Dogs that regularly go outdoors may be at risk for exposure from nearby demolition, construction, or mining.
Symptoms of Mesothelioma in Pets
If your pet has been exposed to asbestos, you may see signs of illness. If you catch these early and seek treatment, you may be able to extend the life of your beloved pet. Although there is no cure for mesothelioma in cats or dogs, early detection provides more treatment options. Dogs are more likely to develop mesothelioma than cats.
With pleural mesothelioma, a pet may experience labored or rapid breathing, shortness of breath, or a cough. With peritoneal mesothelioma, an animal may display abdominal discomfort, abdominal swelling, or vomiting. Other symptoms of mesothelioma include fatigue, lethargy, an enlarged scrotum, and unusual sounds in the abdomen or chest.
Diagnosing and Treating Mesothelioma
If you see any unusual symptoms in your dog or cat, you should take him to the vet immediately. If you have any reason to believe your pet was exposed to asbestos, inform your veterinarian. This will help the veterinarian to make a complete diagnosis. As with humans, diagnosing mesothelioma can be tricky. Your vet will begin with a physical exam that will include a blood and urine analysis. From there, your vet will likely order imaging tests such as X-rays to look for tissue abnormalities. The next step, is a biopsy to remove fluid or tissue for examination.
Most mesothelioma treatments for animals are palliative. Because there is no known cure, care will focus on making your pet as comfortable as possible. However, there are some cancer treatments that may slow the progression of the disease, giving you more time to spend with your pet. In one small study, a specific combination of chemotherapy drugs allowed a dog to go into remission. However, other animals in the study did not. Palliative treatments for an animal include pain medication and procedures to drain fluid from the abdomen or chest cavity.
Help Your Pet Live with Mesothelioma
A cancer diagnosis for a beloved pet is devastating news, especially when the prognosis is not favorable. There are things you can do to ensure your pet lives his or her days in the most comfort possible. Limiting activity is important, especially for a pet with pleural mesothelioma. Taking slower, shorter walks allows dogs to get fresh air and exercise without overexerting them physically.
Your sick pet should have a quiet and comfortable place to rest. Make this area easy to access but away from noise or disruption. Regular visits to the vet are also important ensure proper care and maximum comfort. When the time is right, you may need to make the difficult decision to let go. Your vet can help you make that choice. The loss of a pet to a disease like mesothelioma is terrible. Prevention is the key, so do whatever you can to keep your pet safe from asbestos.
Page Edited by Dave Foster
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