Dog Cancer: Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment
Hearing the “C” word from your veterinarian can be scary to comprehend and take in.
Even though it can feel overwhelming and some cancers are certainly life-threatening for dogs, there are also other types that are curable and manageable. If you suspect your beloved pooch has cancer, reach out to a local veterinarian for proper diagnosis and treatment.
Types and Causes of Cancer in Dogs
There are many different types of dog cancer, most of which are similar to ones that humans may acquire as well. Some of the more common types of cancer a dog may develop are:
- Cancers of the skin
- Bone cancer
- Brain cancer
- Cancers of the oral cavity
- Cancers affecting organs, such as the heart, lungs, spleen, liver, stomach, colon, and intestines
- Cancers of the blood, such as leukemia or lymphoma
Just like in people, cancer in dogs can be caused by multiple different things at once. We’re often in the dark about the true reason for the cancer to develop in one dog versus another. It is true and unfortunate that some breeds are more likely to develop certain types of cancer due to a genetic predisposition, such as the Golden Retriever.
Signs of Cancer in Dogs
Cancer can be very mysterious and, depending on the type, dogs may not show any outward clinical signs. Here are some of the more obvious signs of cancer in dogs:
- Weight loss
- Increased thirst
- Increased urination
- A growth on a visible part of their body
You know your dog better than anyone else and, if they just don’t seem right to you, it is best to have them evaluated by your veterinarian to be on the safe side. Your veterinarian can examine your dog and recommend necessary tests to determine if cancer may be an underlying reason for your dog’s symptoms.
Diagnosing Cancer in Dogs
Dog cancer can be very difficult and frustrating to diagnose. If your veterinarian is worried about cancer, he or she may check bloodwork to determine if it is present. Oftentimes, however, blood work can be completely normal. Additional diagnostics - such as x-rays or abdominal ultrasound - may be needed.
If your dog has a visible lump or growth, your veterinarian can do a “fine needle aspirate” (FNA, for short) and poke the growth with a needle to collect cells to look at under a microscope. If not enough cells from the FNA can be collected, then a full-thickness biopsy of the growth will need to be done in order to get a bigger sample to evaluate. Doing these things will help determine if it is, indeed, cancer, what type of cancer it is, and the grade or aggressiveness of the cancer. All of these things taken together will help us determine what the best treatment options are for your dog, as well as your dog’s prognosis.
Treatment for Cancer in Dogs
Depending on the type of cancer, there are various modes of treatment that may be available. If the cancer can be surgically removed, that is usually the first and best treatment option. Sometimes the cancer may be too large, so radiation therapy can be started to try to shrink it down to a size that’s more amenable to surgical removal.
Even after a tumor is removed surgically, the dog will often need to have follow-up chemotherapy to decrease the risk of the tumor coming back. There are also certain types of cancer that are diffuse throughout the body, such as lymphoma. These must be treated with chemotherapy and other medications as, unlike with tumors in dogs, there is no way to surgically remove the cancer.
Therefore, cancer treatment depends on the type of cancer and how aggressive it is, but the options that are available include surgery, chemotherapy (injectable and oral), targeted radiation therapy, oral steroid medications, and, in some instances, certain vaccines.
Prognosis for Dogs with Cancer
Some cancers are completely curable with surgical removal alone. For other types of cancer, there is no permanent cure and a dog may need to be treated for the rest of his or her life. Generally, the prognosis for dogs with cancer depends on the type of cancer and how aggressive it is, its location in or on the body, and the age of the dog.
Unfortunately, there is no real way we can tell you to prevent your dog from getting cancer. Making sure they are kept at a healthy weight is a recommendation, as there is some evidence that overweight and obese dogs are more prone to cancer. Unfortunately, however, we also see plenty of dogs that are not overweight getting cancer.
Cancer is a very frustrating disease that is just as common in our dogs as it is in people. If your dog happens to be diagnosed with cancer, your veterinarian can help you through the process of deciding upon what would be the best treatment options for your faithful friend.
Again, if you suspect your dog may have cancer, reach out to veterinarian near you sooner rather than later to take a proactive approach to treatment.