Cancer. Even the word is terrifying. It causes images of loved ones slowly wasting away while going through seemingly endless rounds of treatment, tempered only by the hope of recovery. From portrayals in popular media and possibly even through witnessing it in our own friends and family members, we have a pretty good idea about what cancer looks like in people — but what about dogs?
That’s right. As horrible as it is to think about, your furry, four-legged companion can potentially suffer from cancer just like you can. In order to help prevent cancer in dogs and catch it as early as possible, there are several things that you should know.
Dog cancer: common types
Just as there are many different types of cancer that people can suffer from, it is also possible for dogs to contract cancer in a number of ways.
The most common type of bone cancer in dogs is osteosarcoma, which typically affects older, large-breed dogs and involves abnormal bone production. This incredibly aggressive disease can be treated, but almost all dogs who suffer from it eventually succumb to it.
It’s not uncommon for dogs to get mast cell tumors (MCTs), where cells create nodular skin tumors. Usually, these degenerate and can cause ulcers or lesions, but sometimes MCTs become malignant and spread. Alternatively, if you find a firm mass on your dog’s chest, mouth, or legs, it is possible that it might be a soft tissue sarcoma — tumors that appear in the connective tissue and commonly affect older, larger dogs.
This type of cancer is the most common in all of veterinary medicine and involves the lymph tissue. Often vets have to treat the liver, spleen, lymph nodes, and even the bone marrow if the disease progresses too far.
Also known as blood vessel cancer, this starts in the lining of blood vessels and can spread to the skin, liver, heart, spleen, and more. Male and female dogs are equally likely to contract it as they age.
Over half of all cancerous tumors in female dogs are mammary tumors, which makes breast cancer the most common type for females. To put this in perspective, breast cancer is three times more common in dogs than in people. Female dogs are more likely to suffer from breast cancer if they were never spayed or were spayed after their first heat cycle, if they eat diets high in meat, and if they are overweight and more than a year old. It also seems to be more common in German shepherds, pointers, English springer spaniels, and miniature and toy poodles.
Signs of dog cancer to watch out for
Pet owners should keep an eye out for the following signs that may indicate your dog is suffering from some form of dog cancer:
- Trouble going to the bathroom
- Bad breath
- Lameness that comes on suddenly
- Stools that are tarry and black
- Sores that don’t seem to go away
- Sudden weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Difficulty breathing
- Abnormal discharge (from anywhere on the body)
- Loss of energy/sudden lethargy
Treatment options for cancer in dogs
Cancer in dogs can be treated in many of the same ways that human cancer is treated. It really depends on two things: what type of cancer your dog is suffering from, and what stage the cancer is at. If you believe your dog may have cancer, take them to the vet immediately. They may suggest a number of different treatment options:
If you decide not to have your dog go through treatment, it is still possible to offer them pain relief and other kinds of palliative care to ease their discomfort. The most important thing is to have them examined by your vet so you know what’s going on and understand your options.
How was your dog first diagnosed with cancer and what type is it? Share your experience with us.