What You Should Know About Cancer In Dogs

Here's what to do if your dog gets diagnosed.

cancer in dogs

Cancer is scary, so it’s easy to panic if your dog gets that diagnosis. But knowing more about the disease, how it can affect your dog and what your treatment options are can make it slightly less overwhelming.

We spoke with Dr. Hilary Jones, chief veterinary officer at DodoVet, to find out everything you need to know about cancer in dogs.

Cancer has become increasingly more common in dogs.

“As dogs are living longer now, we are seeing more dogs get cancer,” Dr. Jones told The Dodo. “According to the Veterinary Cancer Society, one in four dogs will get cancer in their lifetime, and 50 percent of dogs over 10 will get cancer. It is the number one cause of death in middle-aged dogs.”

Types of cancer in dogs

There are a bunch of different types of cancer that can affect your dog.

“Dogs can get almost all the same types of cancer as people get,” Dr. Jones said.

Some types of cancer dogs can get include:

  • Anal sac cancer
  • Bladder cancer
  • Hemangiosarcoma (cancer that develops in blood vessels)
  • Liver cancer
  • Lymphoma (cancer in the lymph nodes and lymphatic system)
  • Mammary gland carcinoma
  • Mast cell tumors
  • Melanoma (skin cancer)
  • Nose cancer
  • Oral melanoma
  • Osteosarcoma (bone cancer)
  • Squamous cell carcinoma (affects the nail beds and mouth)
  • Stomach cancer
  • Soft tissue sarcoma (affects fat muscles and cartilage)
  • Testicular cancer
  • Thyroid cancer

According to Dr. Jones, some of the most common types of cancer are hemangiosarcoma, lymphoma, mammary gland carcinoma, mast cell tumors and osteosarcoma.

Causes of cancer in dogs

The causes of cancer in dogs aren’t entirely clear.

“There are some predisposing factors like breed, genetics, environmental factors [and] spay/neuter status, but oftentimes, just like in people, we don’t really know,” Dr. Jones said.

Signs of cancer in dogs

There are a lot of things that can indicate your dog has cancer, and those signs are going to vary case by case.

“The symptoms depend on what [type] of cancer it is, where it is and how aggressive it is,” Dr. Jones said.

Signs of cancer in dogs can include things like:

  • Lumps or bumps under the skin
  • Limping
  • Weight loss
  • Decreased appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Abnormal odors
  • Discharge
  • Abdominal swelling
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Visible pain

Finding a cancer lump on a dog

If you find a lump on your dog, you should bring him to the vet for an examination.

“Unfortunately, it is impossible to tell if a lump is cancerous by looking at it or touching it,” Dr. Jones said. “Soft and squishy does not mean it's benign, and crusted and firm does not mean it is cancerous. The only way to tell exactly what a lump is [is] to have your vet get a sample of it for the lab.”

It’s also important to monitor any lump you find on your dog and report any changes to your vet.

“You will want to record when you first notice it, if it is growing in size or shape, [or] if it seems uncomfortable to your dog,” Dr. Jones said.

How often do dogs die of cancer?

“It depends on the type of cancer and what pet parents elect to do,” Dr. Jones said. “Some cancers we do know have a poorer prognosis, such as splenic hemangiosarcoma or canine T-cell lymphoma."

Your vet can help determine your pup’s prognosis.

“Your dog's prognosis is very dependent on the type of cancer, the staging of your pet's cancer (how far it has spread), and any other conditions your pet might have as well,” Dr. Jones said.

Dog cancer treatment

There’s no one way to treat your dog’s cancer.

“The cancer treatment a dog gets depends on the type of cancer they have and also what other health conditions they might have,” Dr. Jones said.

Dog cancer treatment can include:

  • Surgery
  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation
  • Oral medications

“The good news is that dogs tend to handle cancer treatment really well,” Dr. Jones said. “Dogs do not get the same side effects as people during chemotherapy and can have a good quality of life during treatment.”

It’s important to note that treatment can be pricey, so if you have pet insurance, you should check with your provider to see if it’s covered.

And if you don’t have pet insurance, you’ll want to check out Fetch by The Dodo since it's made by and for adoring pet parents, and because it's the most comprehensive coverage in the U.S. and Canada, covering things that other providers don't or charge extra for.

How to make a dog with cancer comfortable at home

If your dog’s battling cancer, pay attention to his symptoms to figure out what accomodations you need to make to keep him comfortable.

“If they aren’t moving around as much as they used to, maybe it means moving their food and water bowls closer to their bed so they don’t have as far to go to have a drink or snack,” Dr. Jones said. “You may also consider ramps or steps to get up on couches or beds. If you have lots of hardwood floors, placing yoga mats in certain places can really help with traction.”

And if your pup doesn’t have much of an appetite, try making his food more enticing to ensure he’s eating.

“Sometimes heating up their food or adding some low-sodium broth on top can make it seem extra tasty,” Dr. Jones said.

How to prevent cancer in dogs

There’s not a lot you can do to prevent cancer in dogs, but spaying your pup can actually help.

Spaying your dog greatly reduces the risk of mammary carcinoma later in life,” Dr. Jones said.

According to the American College of Veterinary Surgeons, here’s how spaying reduces your dog’s risk of developing mammary tumors:

  • 0.5 percent risk if spayed before first heat
  • 8 percent risk if spayed after first heat
  • 26 percent risk if spayed after second heat

While it’s still really scary if your dog gets diagnosed with cancer, at least now you know a little more about what he’s up against and what you can do to fight (and beat!) cancer.

Want access to a vet 24/7? With DodoVet, you can connect via video chat, phone or text with an empathetic veterinary expert who can help you be the best pet parent you can be. Say goodbye to Dr. Google and have all your pet parent questions answered anytime, anywhere. Learn more here.

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