Nobody wants to think about the “C-word,” but unfortunately, cancer is a leading cause of death among dogs. According to veterinary oncologist Dave Ruslander, 50% of dogs over age 10 will develop a type of cancer.
As the body ages, its disease-fighting immune system weakens, and it becomes more vulnerable to disease. It’s important, therefore, to learn the early signs of cancer and the different types of canine cancer to keep your dog as healthy as possible for as long as possible—in addition to providing a wholesome diet, age-appropriate exercise, and mental stimulation.
There are many symptoms that point to the possibility of dog cancer. Each one of these symptoms can be caused by another condition. However, if you notice your dog having a few of these warning signs at the same time, it’s best you bring your dog to a vet for a check-up.
Collapsing is a major warning sign for dogs. This is because dogs are usually active and playful when they are awake. If a dog is always napping or sleeping instead of greeting you when you are near, it is a sign that there is something is out of the ordinary happening. Pay attention to the baseline of activity of your dog so that you will automatically notice when it is collapsing from lethargy.
And don’t wait out to see if your dog is fine after some time. The symptoms of collapsing, lethargy, and weakness are usual signs of dog cancer. Bring it to a vet for attention as quick as you can. This is particularly true in the large breed dogs, like the Great Dane or Saint Bernard breeds. Even though they may collapse and seem fine the next time, it could be a sign that there’s a tumor of the spleen.
14- Wounds that won’t heal
Like tumors, persistent wounds can be signs of cancer in dogs. Typically, a small wound or lesion should heal over time, with visible signs of healing (i.e. scabbing and skin and hair regrowth). If your pet has a recurring lesion or wound that just won’t heal, it’s time to see the vet to rule out cancer or another serious health issue.
Red, irritated lesions could indicate mast cell tumors, one of the most common skin tumors found in dogs. Though more commonly found on the skin, MCTs can also spread to bone marrow or other organs.
13- Lethargy or Depression
If you notice your pet is not acting like itself – sleeping more, less playful, less willing to go on walks or to exercise – this can also be a sign of cancer. Once again, lethargy or depression is not a symptom confined to cancer, but an accumulation of any of these signs is reason enough to speak with your veterinarian.
It is quite rare for a dog to be cough. Though it can happen if something gets caught in its throat. For example, when it chokes on food or when a piece of fur or dust enters the dogs mouth. Also, some small breed dogs can develop coughs due to problems with their windpipes. We wouldn’t be too concerned if your dog only coughs once or twice every once in a while. Some dogs do that to clear the airways to their lungs.
However, if your dog is coughing continuously throughout the day for a few days in a row, bring your dog to a vet quickly for a checkup. It may be a sign that your dog has developed infections in the airway due to dirt, or grass that it sucked in. There’s also a chance that your dog may have bronchitis or pneumonia. Worst case scenario, your dog might have lung cancer.
11- Weight Loss
When it comes to dog cancer, weight loss is one of the top symptoms that vets tend to see. Just as sudden weight loss is a big health warning for human beings, it’s a bad sign for dogs as well. It is certainly good practice to weight your dog on a consistent basis. This will give you a true measure of its weight as opposed to just trying to guess by sight.
The presence of gastrointestinal tumors can cause sudden weight loss in dogs. Dogs stop eating as much as they do because of these gastrointestinal tumors. And even if your dog eats as much as it usually does, it can still lose weight due to cancer.
So no matter if your dog is a big or small dog breed, if you realize that your dog is losing weight either quickly or slowly bring it to a vet for immediately attention.
10- Change in Appetite
Dogs and cats do not stop eating without a cause. While a lack of appetite does not automatically indicate cancer, it is still something to be discussed with your veterinarian. Oral tumors can also cause difficulty or pain when eating or swallowing.
9- Abnormal discharge or bleeding
Abnormal discharge or bleeding anywhere on the body is cause for concern, but this dog cancer symptom is most visible on the face. Funky eye discharge or a sudden bloody nose can indicate certain types of canine cancer, such as eye and skin cancers.
Similarly, sores and bleeding in the mouth can be a sign of oral tumors, which often go undetected because people assume the discharge and odor is a normal sign of aging.
While bad breath is common in older dogs, unusual odor, discharge, or bleeding is cause for concern.
8- Mouth Changes
When it comes to detecting oral cancer, your dog’s mouth offers a lot of clues. Oral tumors can grow quickly and spread around the rest of a dogs body. It is among one of the most challenging cancers to treat, so the earlier you detect it, the better. It is also more common amongst larger dog breeds compared to smaller ones.
Though you may not be as experienced as a vet, there are several tell tale signs that tell you that a dog potentially has cancer. Firstly, you can check for bleeding of the gum. This shouldn’t be too hard to spot, as traces of blood would be left on the ground or on the fur near its mouth. Secondly, look out for any unexplained loss of teeth. A weak gum would leave loose dog teeth and may eventually fall out of the mouth. Also, look out for swollen glands near the neck area. That’s where the lymph nodes of your dog are located.
7- Diarrhea or Changes in Bathroom Habits
Occasionally, your dog may have diarrhea from eating the wrong foods. Dogs sometimes like to scavenge the table or floor for leftover foods and this can cause disease and infections in the intestine. The result is loose excrement. Besides infections from eating the wrong foods causing diarrhea, it could also be caused by dog cancer. Tumors in the intestine could be upsetting its functioning. So, if you find your dog having persistent diarrhea, bring it to a vet immediately. The vet will perform a diagnosis by performing a fecal examination. If not, the diagnosis can be done through either ultrasound examination or colonoscopy.
Vomiting is another cause for concern. Like diarrhea, vomiting could be caused by a dog eating the wrong foods. It could also be caused by intestinal tumors affecting the dogs digestive functioning. Another sign of intestinal tumors is if blood is found in a dogs urine or feces.
Seizures, are a neurological condition where there are unusual, uncontrolled spikes of electrical activity in your dog’s brain. Signs of seizure include sudden bursts of activity, like chomping and chewing, shivering, and foaming at the mouth. At times, they loose so much control over their bodies that they can unknowingly poop or pee during a seizure.
The main thing you should do when you see your dog having a seizure is to make sure it is not near any sharp objects or furniture near it’s head. Then, gently comfort your dog by stroking it’s fur. Never put your hand near its mouth when its having a seizure as it may unknowingly chomp on your hand.
Seizures in older dogs may be a strong sign of dog cancer. If you have an older dog, or if you find your dog having constant seizures, bring it to a vet for a diagnosis immediately.
5- Unusual poop
You know your dog, and you see her “output” every day. You probably have a sense of the difference between normal poop, somebody-got-into-the-cat-food-again poop, and something more concerning. Persistent diarrhea, hardened stools, and straining can all be symptoms of cancer in dogs.
If you’re concerned about something in your dog’s output, don’t hesitate to call the vet. In particular, watch for black, tarry stools, which can indicate ulcers, a symptom of mast cell tumors.
4- Skin Changes
If you see any lumps or changes on your dog’s skin, it could either be benign or cancerous. When you see this, its best to bring your dog to a vet to check on it. When you pet or touch your dog, take the opportunity to feel for lumps or swelling. You can even schedule in routine checks on its skin.
If you do spot something unusual on your dog’s skin, the only way to tell whether it is benign or cancerous is to take a sample. So if you do spot something unusual, bring your dog to a vet quickly. Also take note of sores that don’t heal or lesions that cause constant itch on your dog. They too could be a sign that your dog may have cancer. This cancer symptom is more common among older male dogs.
So if your dog falls into that category, pay particular attention to its skin.
3- Weight Gain
If you see your dog rapidly getting bigger, it may be a cause for concern. Just as sudden weight loss may be a sign of cancer, so is sudden unexplained weight gain. Of course, its important to know when the sudden weight gain is normal and abnormal. Normal causes of sudden weight gain could be a sudden increase in your dogs meal size. Another normal cause of rapid weight gain is if your dog has been under-exercising.
And when assessing its weight, be measure it objectively. Sometimes, our eyes play tricks on us. Your dog may look bigger at certain times of the day, especially after meals. So the best way to objectively know if your dog is suddenly putting on a few pounds is to routinely weigh it. If you do find that your dog has sudden unexplained weight gain, bring it to a vet immediately for a cancer diagnosis.
2- General Pain or Discomfort
If your dog is in constant pain and discomfort, it’s a sign of potential dog cancer. So how to tell if your dog is in pain? The most obvious indicator of stain is when the dog is vocal about it. If for no telling reason your dog starts to whine, it could be in pain. This is especially true if it whines when you’re near it. It could be trying to communicate it’s in pain to you. Another sign is if it is panting heavily when the weather is not hot or when it did not perform any strenuous exercise.
Lastly, your dog could be in pain if you notice that it has lost its appetite to eat. Generally, dogs love to eat and have a good appetite for food.
1- The Bottom Line
Cancer is scary, but you don’t have to live in fear of it. Remember: modern dogs live a lot longer than their ancestors did. The fact that dogs routinely live beyond age ten is a great indication of how far pet care and veterinary medicine have advanced.
The good news—canine cancer treatments have improved significantly, and pet owners now have the option to pursue treatments like surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy.
So track your dog’s health, and see the vet if you notice something unusual. The rest of the time, continue enjoying life to the fullest with your four-legged best friend.