Pets, Asbestos Exposure, and Mesothelioma
Pets, like their human caretakers, are susceptible to becoming ill from asbestos exposure. Dogs, cats, and other animals can develop mesothelioma and other asbestos-related illnesses, with devastating consequences. As with humans, mesothelioma in pets is an aggressive and deadly type of cancer. The treatment options are even more limited and the hope of survival minimal.
Pets may become exposed to asbestos in many of the same ways people are. Older homes with worn and exposed asbestos insulation, for instance, can send fibers into the air that humans and animals alike may inhale. If the owner works around asbestos and brings fibers home on clothing, this too can lead to exposure in pets. Mesothelioma in pets is rare, but it is possible. It is important to minimize exposure risks for people and animals in the household.
Asbestos Exposure Causes Mesothelioma in Pets
Evidence that points to asbestos as a cause of mesothelioma in humans is already overwhelming. Research into pets with mesothelioma is much more limited, but it does exist. One study, for instance, examined the tissues of 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. Most of the dogs in the study were found to have asbestos in the affected tissues, providing a link between the cancer and exposure to asbestos. 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 case reported of a dog that died from mesothelioma. The devastated owners reported that their dog had sniffed asbestos-containing materials that had been dumped at old building sites in the woods where they regularly walked. After thousands of dollars in vet bills the dog could not be saved.
How Pets May Be Exposed to Asbestos
Although mesothelioma is rare, it is strongly linked to exposure to asbestos so pet owners need to be aware of the asbestos risks and should take steps to minimize any possibility of exposure. One of the most likely ways in which an animal may be exposed is through secondhand contact. If you come home from work with fibers of asbestos on your clothes, your pet is likely to inhale those fibers or even ingest them.
Pets may also be exposed to asbestos that is in the home. Homes built before the 1980s most likely contain asbestos in insulation, HVAC systems, flooring, siding, ceiling materials, and other areas of the house. If that asbestos is disturbed, worn down, or damaged, the fibers can become airborne where they can be inhaled by anyone in the house, including pets.
This 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 keep them temporarily out of the home, at someone else’s house or at a kennel or boarding facility. While humans can wear protective gear, animals cannot. Also, dogs may lick things on which asbestos dust has settled.
Like the dog in the United Kingdom that died after being exposed to asbestos on walks, exposure outside of the home is a rare but possible risk for pets, especially dogs. Dogs that go outdoors for walks or spend a lot of time out in the yard may be at risk for exposure from any 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 have your dog or cat diagnosed and treated, you may be able to extend the life of your beloved pet. There is no way to cure mesothelioma in cats or dogs, but early detection can give you more treatment options and a better chance of giving him or her a better quality of life for as long as is left. Dogs are more likely to develop mesothelioma than cats.
With pleural mesothelioma, a pet may exhibit signs such as labored breathing, rapid breathing, or shortness of breath, and a cough. With peritoneal mesothelioma, an animal may display abdominal discomfort, abdominal swelling, or vomiting. Other symptoms of any type of mesothelioma may include fatigue and 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 your pet to the vet immediately. If you have any reason to believe your pet may have been exposed to asbestos, inform your veterinarian so that your animal will get a complete diagnosis. As with humans, diagnosing mesothelioma can be tricky. Your vet will begin with a physical exam and likely a blood and urine analysis. From there your vet will probably want to do imaging tests, like an X-ray, to look for tissue abnormalities. The next step would be a biopsy to remove fluid or tissue for examination.
Much of the treatment given to an animal for mesothelioma will be palliative, to keep the pet comfortable. However, there are some cancer treatments that may slow the progression of the disease and give you more time with your pet. In one small study, a specific combination of chemotherapy drugs allowed a dog to go into remission, although other animals in the study did not. Palliative treatments for an animal with mesothelioma include medications for pain and procedures to drain fluid from the abdomen or chest cavity.
Help Your Pet Live with Mesothelioma
A diagnosis of cancer in a pet is devastating news, especially when the prognosis is not favorable. There are things you can do to make sure your pet lives the rest of his or her days in the most comfort possible. Limiting activity is important, especially for a pet with pleural mesothelioma. Taking slower and shorter walks can give your dog a chance for exercise and fresh air without overexertion, for instance.
Your pet should also be given a quiet and comfortable place in the home to rest. Make this area easy to access, but out of the way of noise or disruption so that he or she can rest as needed. Regular visits to the vet are also important so you can be sure that you are doing the best for your animal and providing all the care that is necessary for maximum comfort. When the time is right you may need to make the difficult decision about letting your pet go, but your vet can help you make that choice. The loss of a pet to a disease like mesothelioma is terrible and the only way to prevent it is to keep your pet safe from asbestos.
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