“Cancer” is the name given to an uncontrolled overproduction of abnormal cells in the body. It affects more than just people! In all its many and varied forms, it affects thousands of dogs, cats, and other domestic pets every year, and has been the number one cause of early death in dogs for the past decade.
If your pet is diagnosed with cancer, you may find yourself asking “Why?” Unfortunately, the answers are not always readily available. Because of the direct involvement of DNA, some forms of cancer, in some breeds of dogs, can be hereditary. Cancer is also associated with exposure to environmental elements such as smoke, pesticides, and other carcinogens. In other instances, there may not be any rhyme or reason for the development of cancer.
Cancer can show up as many different forms of tumors, and is able to take up formation on or within every organ system in the body, as well as within the blood and blood-processing systems. It can be incredibly slow to develop and difficult to detect, or it can be aggressive and cause illness within weeks, or even days. It can stay stationary on one organ, or through a process called metastasis, cancerous cells can move through the body to invade other organs.
Treatment can vary depending on the type and stage of cancer, age and general health of your pet. Surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation are common recommendations to slow or stop the cancer growth process.
Cancer is a diagnosis that no pet owner wants to hear, however with advances in diagnostics, surgical procedures, and treatment, cancer does not always have to carry such a grave prognosis anymore.
Common Canine Cancers
While the types and treatments and prognoses for cancer are many and varied, there are some kinds of cancer that are more commonly seen.
Intact female dogs, particularly those who are older, have a much higher occurrence of mammary cancers than those that are spayed. Tumors can develop on the chains of mammary glands along a dog’s abdomen and may involve one, or many glands. Additionally, cancer can develop in the testicles of intact male dogs. The odds of tumor development increases if the male dog has one or both testicles ‘retained’ or undescended from the abdomen to the scrotum. The ideal treatment for these tumors is to remove them, and spay or neuter the dog. Allowing the dog to remain intact means that the body is allowed to continue to produce hormones associated with reproduction, which have been linked to cancer development.
Lymphoma is a disorder attributed to a malignant form of cancer that lives in the lymph system. While some breeds are more prone to Lymphoma, it is not a disease that is selective to any particular age or breed of dog. In healthy dogs and cats, the lymph system is an important part of the immune system, warding off viruses, bacteria, and other infectious agents. However, for reasons yet unknown, the lymph system is also highly prone to developing cancer. Lymphoma is one of the most common forms of cancer in dogs, and can be found in the lymph nodes, liver, spleen, gastrointestinal tract, and even the skin. Surgery and medication can be helpful in the early stages of this disease, depending on the general health of your pet,
Osteosarcoma is a cancer that affects the bone. Typically, tumors develop in the shoulder, wrist, and knee, however tumors in the spine, skull, and other bone structures have been known to occur. Symptoms can start off slowly, or very quickly, with pain in the affected limb being the primary symptom. As the tumor develops, the affected bone becomes very painful, porous and brittle and will break with minor injury. Due to the destructive nature of the tumor, once the bone is broken it will not heal. Osteosarcoma is a very aggressive form of cancer and should be addressed as soon as possible. Unfortunately the most effective treatment for osteosarcoma is amputation of the affected limb. Most dogs are fully capable of leading a normal, active life after amputation and have a guarded, but good prognosis.
Skin is the largest organ of any body, human or animal. It provides a barrier for sensitive internal organs against everyday environmental elements that would otherwise prove to be harmful. Because of the exposure to so many different elements, the range of types of tumors and growths that can develop is incredibly broad. While there are many types of growths that need to be addressed as soon as possible, there are others that are completely harmless and simply a part of the aging process. If you suspect your dog has a growth of any sort, make an appointment to have it checked – The sooner a diagnosis can be made, the sooner treatment can be initiated, and the better your pet’s odds are of living a normal life.
Ten Early Warning Signs of Cancer
(From the American Veterinary Medical Association)
- Abnormal swellings that persist or continue to grow
- Sores that do not heal
- Weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Excessive, uncontrollable bleeding or discharge from any orifice
- Offensive odor
- Difficulty eating or swallowing
- Hesitation to exercise or loss of stamina
- Persistent lameness or stiffness
- Difficulty breathing, urinating, or defecation
If your pet ever suffers from any of the above symptoms, please contact us for further evaluation. Early detection and treatment is the key to keeping your pet healthy and strong for the longest amount of time possible.