Cancer is one of the most frightening and difficult illnesses for pets and their owners to handle. As with humans, cancer in dogs comes in many forms and can appear in many parts of the body. With dogs living much longer now than they once did, there is more opportunity for cancers to develop in later years. Decisive early treatment can often save your dog’s life. There are also many new treatments available today that can help your dog recover from cancer.
The American Veterinary Medical Association has published the following ten common signs of cancer in small animals:
- Abnormal swellings that persist or continue growing
- Sores that won’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 notice your dog exhibiting any of these signs you should take your dog to your veterinarian to see what is causing the problem. With cancer it is vitally important to catch the disease early. The earlier you identify the problem, the better your chances of stopping it. It’s much easier to remove a tumor while it is still small and perhaps benign than after it has become large and invasive. The sooner you identify a problem the more options you are likely to have for your dog. You may even be able to rule out cancer as a possible cause of the problem.
Cancer takes many different forms and the cancers go by different names depending on what part of the body is involved.
Hemangiosarcomas: Hemangiosarcoma is an aggressive cancer that can occur anywhere in the body. It is primarily seen in the spleen, liver, heart and skin. The skin form of the disease usually has a better prognosis. Early, aggressive treatment can help your dog live longer but the cancer is metastatic (it spreads). Total remission is rare. Treatment usually consists of surgery and chemotherapy.
Lymphoma: This is a common cancer affecting the lymph nodes, spleen, liver and other organs. It can be aggressive and it usually leads to death if left untreated. Chemotherapy has been very effective in treating lymphoma. Lymphoma mostly affects dogs that are middle aged and older.
Mammary Cancer: Most common in unspayed female dogs between 5 and 10 years old. Mammary tumors can usually be easily treated by removal of the affected mammary gland if detected early.
Mast Cell Tumors: Mast cell tumors occur frequently on the skin and in other body tissues. They contain histamine and other immune system enzymes. They can be found anywhere on your dog’s body and can come in different shapes and sizes. The histamine in the tumors can make some dogs ill. Your dog may vomit or have blood in his stool. Mast cell tumors are usually treated by surgical removal. If you suspect that your dog has a mast cell tumor you should have your vet examine it. Some mast cell tumors can be serious.
Osteosarcoma: Osteosarcoma is an aggressive bone cancer. Most malignant bone cancers are osteosarcomas. They are more common in large breeds of dogs, especially male dogs. It is thought that the rapid growth of large dogs puts them at greater risk for osteosarcoma. Osteosarcoma most often develops on the lower legs. There is often metastasis to the lung. Treatment usually involves amputation and chemotherapy.
Testicular Tumors: Testicular tumors occur in male dogs which have not been castrated. This particular kind of cancer can be prevented by castration.
Cancer is a devastating disease. If you suspect that your dog may have some form of cancer don’t waste any time. Take him to the vet immediately. Early and aggressive treatment can often stop the disease in its tracks. Remember that cancer is not a death sentence but it does have to be taken seriously.
If you and your dog are coping with cancer or going through treatments one of the most important things you can do is to take advantage of any system of support that is available to you. There are support groups for dog patients and their owners which can help you deal with some of the emotional strain. There are numerous online communities with people who have been through cancer with their dogs. There are even some groups around who can help raise funds for cancer treatment. Reach out to people and let them help you and your dog through this difficult time.