Many people ask me what to look for to tell if their dogs have cancer. Well, I must confess it is a tough question since there are so many cancers, and they all can present a little differently. I thought I should give you a little summary of some of the biggies.
First, statistically, cancer TENDS to affect older dogs. So, more lumps and bumps on a young dog are benign than cancerous. One hallmark of a cancer is it worsens over time. Cancers you can see usually get bigger. A growth that stays very small for years is not likely to be a true cancer. Again, this is on average and is not a guarantee.
Some cancers are visible, while others are internal. The visible ones can be blackish (melanomas), purplish (hemangiosarcomas), fleshy, inflamed and red (histiocytomas), look like a non-healing open sore (squamous cell carcinomas), be firm, hard and deeply attached (fibrosarcomas), or have any appearance (mast cell tumor, the great imitator).
The internal ones are invisible, so we have to look for overall signs in the dog. When they are far along, cancers usually cause weight loss (cancer cachexia) without an obvious external reason. They often will cause less appetite. Many times dog owners will tell me they think their dog got tired of his or her food. They can cause low energy, where the dog will just lay around a lot.
NOTE: If you are reading this article and worried about your dog, do yourself and your dog a favor and get Dr. Dressler’s The Dog Cancer Survival Guide. It’s the best-selling animal health book for a good reason: it’s helped thousands and thousands of dogs just like yours face and cope — and even beat — cancer. And if you really want to help your dog, get the Dog Cancer Kit we put together for you, based on what’s been most helpful for other people who have faced this terrible illness.
-The Dog Cancer Vet Support Team
(The Team of Dog Lovers Behind This Site Who Understand What It Means to Have a Dog with Cancer)
Internal cancer signs also depend on where the cancer is happening. For example, a bone tumor (osteosarcoma) might cause a limp, or a bladder tumor (transitional cell carcinoma) might cause straining to urinate, blood in urine, or urinating small amounts frequently. A tumor found in the wall of the stomach might cause vomiting, and in the intestine, diarrhea.
Some cancers cause internal bleeding, like hemangiosarcoma of the spleen. This bleeding causes sudden weakness and wobbly legs. A nasal tumor like a squamous cell carcinoma might cause discharge or bleeding from a nostril, or sneezing that won’t go away. Lung cancers (bronchial adenocarcima) or tumors of the heart can cause coughing. Lumps in the breast with discharge from teats could be mammary carcinomas.
The good news is, not all of these signs point to cancer. Lots of other things can cause each and every one of these signs. The important thing to remember is to get it checked out by someone who knows what they are doing. If we are dealing with cancer, moving early is the way to go.
For more information on all the ways cancer can come about and what you can do, you will definitely want to read the Dog Cancer Suvival Guide.
Best to all,
Dr. Demian Dressler is internationally recognized as “the dog cancer vet” because of his innovations in the field of dog cancer management, and the popularity of his blog here at Dog Cancer Blog. The owner of South Shore Veterinary Care, a full-service veterinary hospital in Maui, Hawaii, Dr. Dressler studied Animal Physiology and received a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of California at Davis before earning his Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine from Cornell University. After practicing at Killewald Animal Hospital in Amherst, New York, he returned to his home state, Hawaii, to practice at the East Honolulu Pet Hospital before heading home to Maui to open his own hospital. Dr. Dressler consults both dog lovers and veterinary professionals, and is sought after as a speaker on topics ranging from the links between lifestyle choices and disease, nutrition and cancer, and animal ethics. His television appearances include “Ask the Vet” segments on local news programs. He is the author of The Dog Cancer Survival Guide: Full Spectrum Treatments to Optimize Your Dog’s Life Quality and Longevity. He is a member of the American Veterinary Medical Association, the Hawaii Veterinary Medical Association, the American Association of Avian Veterinarians, the National Animal Supplement Council and CORE (Comparative Orthopedic Research Evaluation). He is also an advisory board member for Pacific Primate Sanctuary.