Cancer in Avian and Exotic Pets

Detecting and Treating Pet Cancer

Cancer is one of the dreaded diseases that affects humans and pets alike. Unfortunately, birds, rabbits and other exotic pets can suffer from cancer-related diseases, too.

Unlike dogs and cats that can show symptoms in the early stages, rabbits and birds may not show signs of the disease until the cancer has spread.

Therefore, any change in behavior, eating patterns or repeated diarrhea, vomiting or fatigue should be reported to your veterinarian immediately.

Lymphosarcoma Seen In Pets

Lymphosarcoma is the most common tumor of guinea pigs, rabbits, ferrets, pot-bellied pigs and similar exotic pets. And just as with humans, the best way to detect this cancer in pets is to regularly feel for lumps, bumps or swellings.

Preventive Measures


There are ways to reduce the chances of certain cancers. If possible, spaying and neutering your pet prior to their first heat cycle or puberty will virtually eliminate the risk of development mammary cancer, significantly diminish the likelihood of prostate cancer, and for obvious reasons completely eliminate the risk of ovarian, uterine or testicular cancer.

Unlike humans, who suffer from multiple chemotherapy side effects, rabbits, guinea pigs, pot-bellied pigs and such don’t have as many problems. For instance, most small animals don’t have major weight loss and don’t lose their hair following treatments. However, if they are in the advanced stages they can undergo a loss of appetite.

Pet Cancer Treatment Options

Many birds and exotic pets diagnosed with cancer usually have three treatment options:

  • Surgery
  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation therapy

Cancer treatments for exotic pets have advanced rapidly in the last decade.

“The fact that we have new techniques that allow us to diagnose cancer earlier and then initiate treatment sooner has enabled pets to survive the cancer and live full lives,” says Nationwide pet insurance Chief Veterinary Medical Officer Carol McConnell.

“At the same time, our knowledge on chemotherapy and radiation options has grown so we’re able to extrapolate our knowledge of dogs and cats into other species, we have been able to enhance the quality of life of pets for a wider variety of pets. All of these: technology for diagnosis, treatment options for extended life expectancy, and our overall knowledge exchange have helped keep our companion owners and their four-legged family members together longer than they have ever been.”

Pet Cancer Symptoms

If your pet shows any of the ten common signs of cancer, immediately contact your veterinarian.

  • Abnormal swellings that persist or continue to grow
  • Sores that do not heal
  • Weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Bleeding or discharge from any body opening
  • Offensive odor
  • Difficulty eating or swallowing
  • Hesitation to exercise or loss of stamina
  • Persistent lameness or stiffness
  • Difficulty breathing, urinating, or defecating
  • Bird Cancer Can Be Breed Specific

    There are many breeds of birds, each with their own afflictions. A common cancer for some breeds affects the kidneys or reproductive organs, causing lameness. Bird owners often assume their pet bird has an injured leg.

    Some cancers are breed specific. For example, canaries frequently suffer from feather cysts, which require surgical removal. African Grey and Amazon parrots also can develop cancer.

    Bring your pet bird to your veterinarian for regular visits to be sure he is maintaining his good health.