What You Should Know About Canine Cancer

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November marks National Pet Cancer Awareness Month. Over 50 percent of dogs over the age of 10 develop cancer at some point, meaning it’s quite possible that you have been affected by canine cancer, or will lose a much-loved dog to the disease in the future.

It’s hard to think about, but the more you know, the better chance you’ll have of being able to catch it early for a better chance of successful treatment.

Most Common Types Of Cancer In Dogs

Mast cell tumors (mastocytomas) are very common in senior dogs. They can appear on any part of the body. They’re common in short-nosed breeds such as Pugs and Boxers, but can occur in any dog.

Mast cells are white blood cells located in connective tissue throughout the body. When functioning normally, they defend the body against allergic reactions and parasites and assist with wound healing. Abnormal mast cell growth causes a wide range of different symptoms.

Half of mast cell tumors are found on the dog’s torso or perineum. They can also appear on the legs, toes, head and neck. The tumors can actually look like an insect bite, allergic reaction, or no lump may be visible. The body may release histamines, causing itching and swelling.

Mast cell tumors can be surgically removed. Chemotherapy may also be recommended.

Lymphoma is a group of cancers that have different symptoms and prognoses. It affects the lymph nodes, small organs located under a dog’s jaw, on the torso, in the groin area, behind the shoulder and behind the rear knee. Swollen lymph nodes are a common symptom.

The disease may spread quickly or progress slowly over time. It can be treated with chemotherapy or radiation, but most dogs relapse eventually.

Hemangiosarcoma is an aggressive cancer that attacks the spleen or liver. It occurs in dogs 8 to 10 years old. Great Danes, German Shepherds, Boxers and Golden Retrievers are among the most susceptible breeds. The tumor fills up with blood from surrounding blood vessels and may burst, causing a quick, severe blood loss that may lead to sudden collapse or death.

Symptoms include weakness, seizures, weight loss, rapid heartbeat and collapsing. While many tumors can be surgically removed, even if the spleen is removed completely, most dogs don’t live long after diagnosis.

Melanoma is skin cancer, typically found on a dog’s mouth or toes. The tumor may be black or pink. It’s most common in Golden Retrievers, Scottish Terriers, Chow Chows and Cocker Spaniels.

This type of tumor tends to spread and to grow into surrounding bone, making it harder to remove without surgical removal of healthy bone and tissue. It’s most common in Golden Retrievers, Scottish Terriers, Chow Chows and Cocker Spaniels.

If the tumor cannot be removed surgically, it might be treated with chemotherapy. There’s also a vaccine available that helps the immune system fight the cancer.

Osteosarcoma is the most common type of bone cancer in dogs. It generally affects large breed dogs like Rottweilers, Saint Bernards and Great Danes.

The most common symptom is lameness in one limb, not caused by any known injury. It’s very likely to spread to other parts of the body. In 90% of cases, it spreads to the lungs.

Because osteosarcoma is an aggressive cancer, it’s often treated with amputation to prevent spreading. Chemotherapy and pain medication can also help manage the disease and extend the patient’s life.

Mammary cancer affects the breasts of female dogs, especially if they are not spayed. About 25% of unspayed female dogs develop mammary tumors, though just 50% are cancerous. Poodles, Spaniels and Dachshunds are affected the most often.

Mammary tumors are typically removed in surgery, and may be followed up with chemotherapy. Most are treated successfully.

Symptoms Of Cancer

Cancer does not always show up as an obvious lump. Many symptoms can be mistaken for other illnesses, and can even seem misleadingly harmless in early stages.

Possible signs include: 

  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • A wound that doesn’t heal
  • Limping

How To Prevent Cancer

Vets are seeing a rapid increase in pets with cancer. This might be partially caused by the fact that our pets are living long enough to develop cancer because we’re more responsible about keeping them inside than previous generations.

Exposure to chemicals in pesticides and herbicides may cause cancer, but experts don’t seem to agree. To be safe, limit the chemicals your dog is exposed to by using natural lawn treatments and household cleaners.

Your dog’s diet may also affect their risk of getting cancer. Add fresh foods to your dog’s meals whenever possible. Carefully research any processed foods you feed your dog and give your dog the best you can provide.

Obesity may also cause cancer in dogs. Animals that eat less tend to live longer on the whole. Help your dog lose or maintain a healthy weight.

Spread The Word!

Canine cancer does not have to be a death sentence. Many types are treatable, especially when caught early. Share this post to help your dog-loving friends so they can learn more about the common cancers that affect dogs and their symptoms.


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