All pet owners dread the big C in their dogs. We always hope and pray our pets will never develop cancer, and we never want to discuss this at all.
But we have to be aware if our dog has it as early as possible. Early detection will allow us to seek and provide medical intervention immediately. Through this, we can save our dog’s life, or buy more years for our baby.
“Cancer is a topic that no pet parent wants to think about. But the fact is that one in three dogs will eventually develop some form of cancer during their lifetime,” said veterinarian Natalie Stilwell in 10 Signs of Cancer in Dogs in Petmd.com.
The good news is “If caught early, roughly half of all canine cancers are treatable,” Stilwell said.
This is why pet owners should know the most common signs of cancer in dogs.
“Just remember that many conditions, not just cancer, can cause similar clinical signs and that the signs may vary depending on the type of cancer,” Stilwell clarified.
After identifying the symptoms, the next step is to visit your veterinarian to make the correct diagnosis.
The common signs
1. Unexplained lumps and bumps
Several kinds of cancer can cause lumps or bumps on a dog’s body, including a mammary gland tumor.
Mammary gland tumors in dogs primarily develop in female dogs who are not spayed or those spayed after two years of age. But it is also possible for a male dog to develop mammary tumors, Stilwell said.
Certain breeds have an increased risk. These are Poodles and various spaniel dog breeds.
Most times, one can see and feel one or more nodules in the nipple area. They may be inflamed and swollen.
“Malignant mammary tumors tend to spread to nearby lymph nodes and mammary glands if left untreated,” Stilwell said.
But not all noticeable tumors are malignant. Stillwell said these can be lipomas which are benign fatty tumors that grow in the layer just beneath the skin.
You can see or feel the lipomas in the trunk, armpit, and groin areas.
But other lipomas can grow internally.
“It is not uncommon for elderly dogs to develop multiple lipomas, which feel like soft, moveable lumps under the skin,” Stilwell said.
Bring your dog to the vet for a proper diagnosis. All lumps should be assessed by the vet.
“While lipomas are not life-threatening, they can interfere with movement if they become large enough, and internal lipomas may compress internal organs,” Stilwell stressed.
The most common bone cancer in dogs is osteosarcoma. While the tumors usually develop in the long bones of the limbs, osteosarcoma can affect any bone, Stilwell said.
“This bone cancer grows very quickly and frequently spreads to other areas of the body, especially lymph nodes, lungs, and other bones. Because of its aggressive nature, osteosarcoma is usually detected after cancer has already spread,” she said.
Dogs suffering from this kind of cancer coma may appear to be in pain and walk with a limp. The affected limb may also be swollen.
“Large and giant dog breeds have the highest risk of developing osteosarcoma,” Stilwell said.
3. Pigmented Sores
Another kind of cancer in dogs is melanoma, a cancer of the pigment-producing cells.
There are darkly colored sores in dogs with this kind of cancer.
“Melanomas in dogs tend to affect the mouth and lips, and they can also be found on their nail beds, footpads and eyes,” Stilwell said.
Specific signs include a swollen paw, eye discharge or sores in the mouth.
Dogs with darkly pigmented oral tissues, like the Chow Chow, have an increased risk of developing melanoma.
“Surgical removal can be difficult, as malignant melanoma tends to be locally invasive and spreads to deeper tissues and bone,” Stilwell said.
4. Swollen Lymph Nodes
Some kinds of cancer can cause lymph nodes to feel more prominent.
“Lymphoma is a common malignant cancer that accounts for up to 20% of all canine tumor cases. This cancer affects the lymphocyte, a type of white blood cell that plays an important role in immune function. While most lymphoma cases begin in the lymph nodes, lymphoid tissues in the visceral organs, skin, and bone marrow can also be affected,” Stilwell explained.
Lymphoma can affect any kind of dog and dogs of all ages. But Golden Retrievers and Boxers are more prone to this type of cancer.
The first thing the humans notice is the swollen lymph node in the neck, knee, or armpit regions.
Melanoma, osteosarcoma, and mammary gland tumors can also spread locally to nearby lymph nodes, Stilwell said.
5. Wounds that won’t heal
Mast cell tumor is an aggressive form of cancer that is associated with a skin lesion that won’t heal.
“This cancer affects mast cells, which are immune cells involved in allergic and inflammatory reactions. These cells are located throughout the body, but tumors tend to concentrate in the vessels and nerves near the skin, mouth, and nose,” Stilwell said.
“Less commonly, the gastrointestinal, respiratory, and urinary systems may be targeted,” Stilwell added.
The abnormal growth of these cells leads to an uncontrolled release of histamine, irritating the area surrounding the tumor.
This kind of cancer is most common in older, purebred dogs, including the Boxer, Boston Terrier, Bulldog, and Schnauzer.
6. Gastrointestinal Problems
The massive release of histamine can also lead to problems with the gastrointestinal system, which may in turn cause stomach ulcers, vomiting, and diarrhea.
“Less dramatic signs of GI upset, such as decreased appetite, may occur from several other forms of cancer, including osteosarcoma and lymphoma,” Stilwell said.
7. Sudden weakness or collapse
Although weakness can be caused by a lot of factors, Stilwell said the sudden collapse is “an alarming but common symptom of hemangiosarcoma, a cancer of the cells lining the blood vessels.”
“Hemangiosarcoma is a rapidly spreading form of malignant cancer that most frequently targets the heart, skin, spleen and liver,” Stilwell said.
This is most common in the German Shepherd, Golden Retriever, and other large breeds.
“Since dogs usually show only mild warning signs, cases of hemangiosarcoma may not be detected until cancer has reached an advanced stage,” Stilwell said.
Unfortunately, sudden collapse is one of the most common initial signs of hemangiosarcoma. This is due to massive internal bleeding, usually because of a ruptured spleen.
8. Labored breathing
Most types of cancer can spread to the lungs and cause respiratory distress.
“Melanoma, hemangiosarcoma, mast cell tumor, and osteosarcoma can all cause labored breathing and coughing with metastasis,” Stilwell said.
9. Unexplained weight loss
If your dog is losing weight for no apparent cause, it may be a side effect of cancer, particularly with hemangiosarcoma, lymphoma and osteosarcoma.
“Weight loss typically occurs because of the metabolic demands of the tumor, or because your dog is in pain and discomfort, resulting in anorexia and decreased activity,” Stilwell said.
Dogs with oral melanoma will have difficulty eating and swallowing. This will result in weight loss.
Cancer causes increased sleep and a dog’s reluctance to exercise and play.
Lethargy has been observed in dogs with lymphoma and osteosarcoma.
Once you see one or two of these signs, please bring your dog to the vet for tests and diagnosis.
You may just save your pet’s life.