Canine cancer is among the most commonly diagnosed diseases in dogs and the most dreaded by dog owners. However, much like with humans, early detection can mean quick treatment and a favorable prognosis. At Eureka Animal Clinic, we work extremely hard to bring you the accurate information you need. That is why we’ve taken some of the most frequently asked questions on dog cancer and provided some answers for you here.
Of course, you may have additional questions, and we want you to know that we are here to provide screening, diagnosis, and treatment to maximize your dog's comfort and provide all options for recovery. Please feel free to reach out to us at (305) 842-3228.
Is cancer in dogs common?
Unfortunately, cancer in dogs is relatively common, and it becomes even more common as they age. We typically see cancer in dogs after the age of nine, and statistics point to the fact that pets have a 50% chance of developing some type of cancer in their lifetime.
What are the common types of cancer in dogs?
Cancers found in dogs mirror many of those found in humans. The American Animal Hospital Association (AMVA)has mapped out the most common cancers for specific breeds.
The more common cancers found in dogs include:
- Skin cancers – Dog skin cancer is the most common. Lumps and bumps on your dog can mean mast cell tumors or melanoma, both of which are highly treatable in the early stages.
- Brain tumors – Meningioma and glioma are the most common types of brain cancer seen in dogs.
- Lymphoma – Cancer of the lymph system or lymph nodes
- Bladder cancer – Cancer of the urinary tract can affect the kidneys, uterus, prostate, and urethra, with the bladder being the most commonly affected
- Mammary gland tumors – Prevalent in female dogs that were spayed later in life or not spayed at all
- Oral cancers – Cancers of the mouth are twice as likely to occur in male dogs than in females.
- Hemangiosarcoma - Cancer of the spleen and liver, seen most commonly in larger breeds
- Bone cancers – These cancers, such as osteosarcoma, can be very problematic for dogs but are potentially curable with surgery.
What are some of the signs and symptoms of dog cancer?
Much like with humans, tumors growing inside a dog often go undetected for quite some time. Since many dogs won’t show any symptoms, at Eureka Animal Clinic, we conduct annual exams to screen for cancer. We’ll palpate their abdomen and look for any enlarged organs or masses. We might also see lumps and bumps on the body, which may turn out to be benign. We’ll also palpate the lymph nodes for signs of enlargement and conduct an oral exam for cancers of the mouth.
Signs of internal dog cancers may include:
- Weight loss
- Lack of appetite
- Recurrent gastrointestinal problems
- Abdominal swelling
- Breathing difficulties
Unfortunately, symptoms usually appear once the cancer has progressed to an advanced stage. This is one reason why annual exams are essential, but you should also be looking for anything out of the ordinary on a regular basis.
Why is early detection of cancer in dogs so important?
As with humans, when dog cancers are discovered early, we can react quickly with treatment or surgery, which could mean a more favorable prognosis. Some early cancers simply need surgical removal. If they're detected early when they're small, they’re less likely to have spread to other parts of the body.
How would a veterinarian diagnose cancer in your dog?
Diagnosing cancer in your dog is a twofold process – understanding their medical history and finding a concern during an exam. At Eureka Animal Clinic, we may take chest x-rays for a closer look and/or do lab work to learn more about what might be happening inside your dog. For example, a very high white blood cell count, or a very low red blood cell count could indicate cancer.
We also routinely perform biopsies of lumps, including needle biopsies and punch biopsies, to confirm they are benign. A fine needle aspirate is when we insert a needle into a solitary tumor or multiple tumors we can see and feel. The sample is put on a slide and examined under a microscope. In certain scenarios, your dog may need to be sedated so we can safely obtain the correct sample and send it to a laboratory for analysis.
The lab will provide a definitive diagnosis, sometimes noting how aggressive the cancer is. In cases indicating surgical removal, a lab can let us know whether clean margins were obtained.
What treatment options are available for dogs with cancer?
Surgery is a common treatment option, along with chemotherapies and radiation, depending on the diagnosis and progression of the cancer. Some alternative therapies also exist for dogs, including Chinese herbal medications. Virtually anything available for humans in terms of treatment is also available for dogs, depending on their prognosis. For dogs who are in poor health or advanced in age, we may focus instead on options to comfortably prolong their life. Certain cancers can be cured if caught early, such as mast cell cancers, so it's vital to work with us to catch signs early.
The American Kennel Club offers insight regarding treatment options and associated costs.
What are some possible side effects caused by cancer treatment?
The most common side effect of cancer treatment for dogs is an upset stomach, along with vomiting and lack of appetite. Radiation therapies and chemotherapies can cause undesirable side effects in dogs, with some tolerating treatment better than others. Some dogs experience no symptoms, while others struggle with substantial side effects. Fortunately for dogs, they tend to tolerate chemo better than humans, and we have medications for nausea to help them along. The AVMA offers additional insight into cancer in pets, including diagnosis, treatment, and success rates.
If you have further questions about cancer in dogs, and you live in or near Miami, FL, we are here to see your dog for a screening, so please don’t hesitate to call us at (305) 842-3228.