One of the most painful and scary words a veterinarian can use when talking about your pet is cancer. The specter of cancer can cast a fearful shadow over the lives of you and your pet. You’ll be concerned about surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation treatments, or even your pet not surviving at all.
There are certain types of dog breeds that are more prone to cancer such as Golden Retrievers, flat-coated retrievers, Bernese Mountain dogs, and boxers. However, any dog can develop cancer even mixed breeds.
Warning Signs of Cancer in Dogs
The signs of cancer in dogs could include a bump or a lump, enlarged lymph nodes, a wound that won’t heal, swelling, abnormal bleeding, or lameness, according to WebMD. Your pet may have a change in appetite, not be able to urinate, be lethargic or even collapse.
These are the classic signs, but sometimes there aren’t any signs at all. So, if your dog isn’t acting right or not feeling well, a trip to the veterinarian is in order.
Treatment for Cancer in Dogs
There are various treatments for cancer in dogs. Typically, chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation are used either combined or used alone. There are other new treatments as well, such as immunotherapy or antibody therapy.
The type of treatment your dog will receive will be decided by your veterinarian or your veterinary oncologist. The type of cancer treatment will depend on what kind of cancer your pet has as well as other determining factors. Surgery may be the only method of treatment recommended, or it could be used after chemotherapy or radiation therapy.
Chemotherapy can be administered intravenously, topically, orally, subcutaneously, intratumorally, intramuscularly, or intracavitary. Chemo can be used, too, after surgery to help kill any remaining cancer cells. Chemo can be used before surgery to help reduce the size of the tumor. Plus, it can also be used to bring remission for some types of bone cancers.
Radiation is used in a localized location and given once daily for about three or four weeks. The treatment takes between an hour and a half and two hours. The majority of that time is spent waiting for your pet to go to sleep and then to wake up. The actual treatment is only between five to ten minutes. Your pet will be given various levels of sedation, so they lay still. Radiation doesn’t cause pain, but some side effects may be skin problems, some discomfort, and fatigue.
Types of Cancer in Dogs
There are common types of cancers that occur in dogs, reported on PetMD, with about fifty percent of dogs who are over the age of ten developing cancer. Below are some of the most common types of cancer and the treatment for it:
- Lipoma: These are common benign skin tumors which are excess fatty tissue. They appear in axillary regions, under the skin of the trunk and in the groin. Surgery is performed for lipomas when the growth affects your pet with moving, such as along a leg. Lipomas can also be in the hind legs between the tissue of the muscles. The best solution for these types is removal with surgery followed by radiation. Radiation is also used if the tumor is too large to be removed surgically. These tumors can also grow in the abdominal cavity or in the chest which will cause discomfort by pressing vital organs. There are malignant versions of lipomas which are called liposarcomas which can metastasize to other spots. A biopsy which is performed is the only way to be able to tell the difference.
- Oral melanoma: This cancer is the most common of oral cancer seen in dogs. If your dog has darker pigmented gums and tongues, then the risk for this kind of cancer is increased. Melanoma invades the bone and underlying tissue of the oral cavity so obliterating the tumor can be difficult. An aggressive operation initially is the best outcome. Oral melanoma can spread to the neck and head lymph nodes. It can also spread to the lungs as well. It’s extremely important that pre-surgical testing in the lymph nodes and an image of the chest is done. This type of cancer is treated with radiation therapy, surgery, immunotherapy and chemotherapy. A therapeutic vaccine is also available.
- Mammary gland carcinoma: Female dogs that aren’t spayed are at significant risk for developing tumors in their mammary glands. This is because of the influence of hormones on the mammary tissue. About half of the tumors that develop are cancerous and the other half benign. Of the fifty percent which are carcinogenic, half of those most likely will cause the death of the pet. The masses in the mammary glands need to be removed with surgery. A biopsy is performed to access the risk to the dog. A lot of the tumors can be treated just with surgery, but some may need chemotherapy, so it doesn’t spread, or to delay growth.
- Thyroid carcinoma: This type of cancer is more often seen in older dogs. A lump may appear along the pet’s neck which is noticed while your dog is being petted. Or the veterinarian may find it during a routine visit. Some tumors on the thyroid are functional and will secrete thyroid hormone. This can cause your pet to become either hyperthyroid, which shows up as weight loss, panting and hyperactivity. The best choice is to remove the tumor by surgery. Radiation can be used for tumors which can’t be removed by surgery. Chemotherapy can be used to prevent cancer from spreading or to delay it.
- Primary lung tumor: In older dogs, lung cancer occurs more frequently. It’s often found during a routine screening during an annual health visit. CT scans are better at localizing where the tumor is located and for finding smaller lesions in nearby lung tissue. If there is only one tumor, surgery is recommended. There are few complications from this surgery and most dogs recover well. If cancer has spread, chemotherapy can be given to slow down the progression.
- Mast cell tumors: Mastocytomas, or mast cells, are immune cells that are involved in allergic reactions. These cells are all through the body, so tumors can show up in any organ. Mast cell tumors are often found in the skin. The tumors are graded, and the outcome of treatment relies on this grading. A low-grade tumor can be removed with surgery. A tumor which is higher grade is a more aggressive tumor and needs to have several types of treatment. These treatments include radiation therapy, operation, and chemotherapy. These cells can also appear in the digestive and urinary tract. This is rare, but when it happens, the outcome is poor.
- Osteosarcoma: This type of cancer is the most primary kind of bone cancer in dogs. It affects large and giant breed dogs more often affecting the limbs. Osteosarcoma tumors can travel from the original site of the bone to the lymph nodes, lungs, and other bones. This kind of cancer causes a great deal of pain and the limb which is affected may need amputation. Chemotherapy follows the amputation and is effective in keeping cancer from spreading to other areas which give your dog extended life.
Finding out that your pet has cancer can be scary. But watching for signs and then taking them to the veterinarian will allow your pet a better chance at treatment and survival. If you need a veterinarian, find one here.
Have you dealt with cancer in your dog? How did you discover it or treat it?