How to Spot Early Cancer Signs in Your Dog


It’s a six-letter word no one wants to hear, and it affects 50% of senior dogs older than ten (though dogs of any age can get cancer). While that alarming statistic has grown in recent years, the good news is, many cancers are treatable if caught early. In fact, half of all cancers are curable if caught early enough to be treated. Other cancers can be treated and managed well enough to send the cancer into remission and/or to give a good quality of life for longer than in years prior. These facts mean it's vital that dog owners know what signs and symptoms to look for and get their furry friends timely medical attention.

Why are so many of our four legged friends developing this terrible disease, though? Many professionals believe, in large part, it’s because our dogs are living longer - because we take better care of them, have better medical care for them, feed them better diets, keep them indoors (away from cars and roads!), etc. Of course, those longer lives create more opportunity for disease to occur. As cancer has become an epidemic with the longer-lived human population, it makes sense that it affects our pets too. 

What type of cancer might your dog get? Like people, dogs are susceptible to many different kinds of cancers, though some are more common than others.


Common Cancers that Affect Dogs

Some of the most common types of cancer that can affect dogs are:

  • Lymphoma affects the lymph nodes and causes them to swell up, sometimes to the size of golf balls. Lymph nodes are found all over the body, including under the chin, at the back of the leg, near the leg joint, and around the shoulder.
  • Mast Cell Tumors can be in any tissue, but in about 20% of dogs, you’ll see them on the skin. They often look like lesions or swellings. If they’re on the skin, a surgical procedure may be able to remove them.
  • Osteosarcoma is a type of bone cancer. It typically affects the long bones, particularly near the shoulder, wrist, and knee. If your dog shows signs of pain like limping, or there’s unusual swelling in those areas, you’ll want to make an appointment with your veterinarian as it is a very aggressive type of cancer.
  • Mouth and Nose Cancers symptoms include difficulty eating, abnormal growths on the gums, and facial swelling. These can be aggressive forms of cancer so if you see anything unusual, you’ll want to make a veterinary appointment quickly.

There are several other types of cancer that affect dogs too, from melanomas (skin cancer) to mammary carcinomas (breast cancer) to hemangiosarcomas (cancer of the cells lining the blood vessels).


Dog Cancer Symptoms

There are many different signs and symptoms of early cancer in your dog, and, while many of them could also indicate other, less serious, problems, it's always a good idea to get them checked out by your veterinarian as soon as you notice them. The earlier treatment can be started - whether it's for cancer or for another condition - the more likely it is to be successful.

Like in people, signs of cancer can include:

  • unusual lumps, bumps or swelling,
  • wounds that don’t heal,
  • changes in appetite or behavior,
  • sudden lameness,
  • abnormal bleeding,
  • unexplained foul odors, etc.

Unfortunately, some cancers have no definite early symptoms, so if your dog's behavior just seems "off" or has noticeably changed even without other physical symptoms, it's time to schedule an appointment with his/her veterinarian. 

It's also important to make sure you take your pup to his/her doctor for regular wellness exams (annually for younger pets, twice a year for those 7 years and older). During these exams, your veterinarian will look for typical cancer symptoms - sometimes, especially if things start slowly or subtly, it takes fresh eyes to notice them. If your veterinarian does detect something of concern, s/he will recommend further testing to make a definitive diagnosis. If cancer is found, s/he will discuss your options with you. Treatment plans are usually determined by the health and age of your dog as well as the type and stage of cancer. In addition to surgery, many canine cancers can be treated with chemotherapy and (in specialized facilities) radiation therapy. Immunotherapy is even being developed for some canine cancers!

If you're worried or would like to get a baseline exam done, give us a call or fill out our online form to schedule an appointment!

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