The one word that pet parents fear hearing the most is cancer. It sets off a wave of dread and fear, realizing that the dog they love and cherish is sick. Dogs can develop cancer at any time in their lives, but they are most susceptible to the disease once they become middle-aged. Cancer is the leading cause of death in senior dogs and dogs over the age of ten. In this article, we’ll look at common dog cancers, the symptoms associated with them, and the available treatments.
Common Types of Cancer in Dogs
Much like cancer in humans, dog cancer symptoms will vary depending on the type of cancer a dog has developed. Cancer can cause a rapid decline in pet health and pets that show any unusual symptoms should be examined by a veterinarian as soon as possible. Although there are numerous types of dog cancers, there are four types that seem to affect canines the most including:
- Skin cancer
- Bone cancer
- Breast cancer
One of the most common types of cancer is lymphoma, accounting for 10-20% of all cancers found in dogs.2 Lymphoma causes swelling of the lymph nodes, which can often be detected in the most noticeable lymph nodes located on the sides of the neck and inside the armpit area.
Another common cancer found in dogs is skin cancer. Malignant (cancerous) tumors tend to grow fast and usually have an irregular shape.4 Certain dog breeds are more prone to skin cancer, as well as dogs that have light colored hair and spend a lot of time in the sun. If your dog is lighter in color, ask your veterinarian if he might be at risk for skin cancer.
Bone cancer, also known as Osteosarcoma, accounts for 5% of all cancers found in dogs.1 This type of cancer occurs in the limbs of dogs 75-85% of the time and is often identified when pets develop a limp.1 Bone cancer is most common in older giant breed dogs.
Mammary Tumors and Cancer
Breast cancer is another common cancer in dogs. Breast cancer is a unique pet health problem because it is preventable in most cases. Spaying a dog before her first heat cycle can nearly eliminate her risk of getting breast cancer.3 One in four un-spayed dogs over the age of four will develop breast cancer. Dog insurance will help cover the cost of having your dog spayed, which can keep her from developing this devastating disease.
Symptoms and Signs of Cancer in Dogs
When a dog has cancer, he can exhibit one or numerous symptoms associated with the disease. The following is a general list of cancerous symptoms your dog may exhibit:
- A lump or bump, especially one that slowly changes
- Sores that do not heal
- Weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Bleeding or discharge from any opening on the body
- Offensive odor
- Difficulty eating or swallowing
- Weakness or loss of stamina when exercising
- Lameness or stiffness
- Difficulty breathing, urinating or defecating
It’s important to note that these symptoms might also be due to other illnesses. Always take your dog for routine trips to the vet in order to screen out any illnesses they may have with these symptoms.
Treatment Options for Dogs with Cancer
Diagnosis of Fatty Lumps
If a lump is discovered, it is important to determine whether or not it is cancerous. A fine needle aspirate of a mass can usually be performed on an outpatient visit and sedation is not necessary. If the lump is simply a fatty mass, a veterinarian will usually leave it in place and monitor it for changes in size and consistency. However, if there is rapid growth or the lump is already big, the veterinarian will probably recommend surgery.
Surgery to remove fatty cancerous tissue can often cure the animal of cancer. Even if it is not completely curative, it can decrease the size of the tumor and help the veterinarian give an accurate diagnosis.
Chemotherapy treatment has been shown to significantly extend the lives of dogs with cancer and has been especially effective in treating lymphoma. Animals with chemotherapy treatment generally have fewer side effects and hair loss than humans, and the doses are much smaller. If your vet does not specialize in chemotherapy or surgeries for cancer treatment, there are many animal cancer centers. Ask your vet for a referral.
Holistic Options for Dog Cancer Treatment
Some animal cancer treatment centers also offer holistic services such as acupuncture and herbal doses to reduce pain and improve the pet’s immune system. They may also prescribe pain medications formulated specifically for animals, as well as a modified lifestyle regimen that includes fresh whole, and vitamin-enriched foods and plenty of exercise.
Reducing the Chances of Dog Cancer
There are some things you can do to help keep your dog healthy. Experts generally agree that mixed breed dogs, while not exempt from cancer, live about 10% longer than their purebred counterparts. Adopting a mixed breed dog can be one way of reducing your pet’s chance of developing cancer.
In addition, keeping your pet fit and lean is very important. Obesity has been linked as a predisposition to a whole slew of health problems in dogs, including some cancers. It’s also a good idea to bring your pet in to your veterinarian for annual wellness and routine care exams. Some dog insurance companies, like Pets Best Insurance, will even help to pay for a portion of wellness care if the optional Wellness Plan has been added to the policy.
If you find out that your pet has cancer, don’t get discouraged. New diagnostic methods are helping to detect animal cancer earlier, and the improvement of treatment methods yields better success rates and fewer side effects for your pet. Having pet health insurance will allow you to get your dog diagnosed and treated quickly. Due to the nature of cancer, a delay in getting your pet checked out could be the difference between life and death.