This topic is every dog owner’s worst nightmare, but cancer awareness can increase the change of finding it in the early state, which will increase our dogs change of survival and quality of life. But it’s a stark reality for many. In fact, one in three dogs will develop cancer, according to the National Canine Cancer Foundation. Cancer occurs in both mixed breed and purebred dogs (depending on the cancer, some breeds like Great Danes, Saint Bernards, Boxers, Boston Terriers, and Golden Retrievers are considered at high risk). Canine cancer can happen at any age but most often it occurs in older dogs, which is partially because dogs are living longer due to modern, enhanced nutrition and veterinary care.
What Is Cancer?
But first it’s important to define cancer. Cancer is a disease where cells grow out of control, invade surrounding tissue, and can spread (metastasize). Just like in humans, cancer can take many forms in dogs. The disease can be localized (in one area) or generalized (spread throughout the body). Cancer is considered multifactorial, which means it has no known single cause but heredity and the environment are thought to be factors.
According to the American Kennel Club’s Canine Health Foundation, the most common types of canine cancer include:
Hemangiosarcoma – also called malignant hemangioendothelioma or angiosarcoma which is a deadly cancer that originates in the endothelium and invades the blood vessels. Hemangiosarcoma is more common in dogs than any other species. It accounts for 5% of all non-cutaneous primary malignant neoplasms and 12% to 21% of all mesenchymal tumors in dogs.
The three types of hemangiosarcomas include: Dermal (found on the skin), Hypodermal (which is found under the skin) & Visceral (which is Found on the spleen, pericardium and the heart).
Other frequent sites include the right atrium, skin and sub-cutis and liver. Cases have also been reported in the lungs, kidneys, oral cavity, muscle, bone, urinary bladder, left ventricle, uterus and retroperitoneum. The skin tumors consist of 2.3% to 3.6%. While splenic malignancies account for 45% to 51% and are therefore the most commonly diagnosed and the deadliest. Hemangiosarcoma is mostly seen in middle-aged to older dogs. Though it can occur in any breed, German shepherds, Golden Retrievers, Labradors have a predilection for the disease. It is also believed that male dogs are slightly predisposed than their female counterparts.
Catch It Early
While canine cancer can be treated (with varying success) using surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and immunotherapy, the best thing you can do is to catch the disease in its early stages — before it spreads. Early detection is critical for successful treatment and recovery.
One of the most common warning signs for dog owners to detect cancer is by finding lumps or Bumps on their dog (the dog typically isn’t bothered by it). But it’s important to clarify, just because you find a lump or a bump doesn’t mean it’s cancer. Still, a veterinarian should investigate it as soon as possible.
Symptoms to Detect
The National Canine Cancer Foundation says there are 10 warning signs your dog might have cancer:
- Abnormal swellings that persist or continue to grow
- Sores that don’t heal
- Weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Bleeding or discharge from any body opening
- Offensive odor
- Difficulty eating or swallowing
- Hesitation to exercise or loss of stamina
- Persistent lameness or stiffness
- Difficulty breathing, urinating, or defecating.
If you find a lump or your dog has any of the other symptoms above, don’t delay in getting it investigated by your family veterinarian. If it’s confirmed your dog has cancer, it’s advised to get a second opinion — possibly by a board-certified veterinary oncologist — to discuss your options.
Some cancers can be cured with one or a combination of treatments, but sadly, many cannot and merely delay the inevitable. Some pet owners opt out of treatment completely and instead help their dogs with pain management (palliative care) throughout the course of the disease.
While not all cancers can be prevented, certain steps pet owners can take to help their dogs have a lower risk of developing it. For example, having your dog spayed or neutered at a young age can help prevent reproductive cancers. Some veterinary experts encourage giving your dog antioxidants in supplement form like vitamins A, C, E, beta carotene, lycopene, and the mineral selenium to help ward off cancer. Healthy nutrition and exercise are also believed to help prevent cancer from developing.
The bottom line: Awareness of cancer symptoms and quick action are key to giving your dog the best chance for survival.