We’ve been looking at signs of cancer. So today, let’s look at a really obvious one that can fool all of us.
One of the first things I review during a patient intake is the body weight. Next, I compare this weight with the numbers over the last couple of years.
So am I just interested in seeing if Fluffy has gotten chubby?
No, although body weight (in particular excess body fat) does have cancer links, especially with mammary and bladder cancer in dogs. Today we are interested in weight loss.
The reason why this is tricky is that weight loss is expected once we have a cancer diagnosis. After the fact. We look back at the slowly dropping weight, and it makes sense now that we have our answer.
But what about before that?
Gradual weight loss can be quite difficult to catch. We see our dogs every day, and often we simply cannot detect the slow change. Here’s where you can rely on your vet to help. Almost all of us vets will weigh our patients with every visit, and keep a record of it.
And this can be used to track changes.
Weight loss is common in cancers, especially if they have been growing internally for a while.
Why do dogs often lose weight with cancer? Easy question, complex answer. First, they use a lot of calories. Cancers are very busy, very active. Abnormally so. They divide and invade faster than most body cells. And it takes a lot of energy making all these new cells.
Secondly, cancers are capable of literally hijacking the body’s natural fuel sources. The interfere with the ability of other tissues in the body to obtain energy. The quite literally rob normal tissues of fuel sources.
Third, at least later, they can cause drop in appetite. When this happens, there is less fuel for the whole body.
When weight loss is severe, we call it cachexia. There is abundant good research on this subject.
Many vets suggest examinations more than once a year, especially if a dog is elderly. One of the things that can be caught at these more frequent visits is weight loss.
Now, to make sure there is no confusion, weight loss is not a sign of cancer only. Many other problems, like diabetes, liver and kidney disease, pancreas issues, and other problems can all cause weight loss as well.
You can also weigh your dog at home. It is best to keep a log of these weights written, so you are able to keep track of the trends.
Don’t forget to keep diet and exercise in mind. If you change your canine companion’s food to a lower calorie diet, this can promote weight loss. Similarly, increased exercise can cause weight loss as well.
But, if you see a gradual drop in weight and you have no real explanation for it, please get your dog checked thoroughly with your vet.
A good rule of thumb would be a weigh-in every 3 months.
For more information on signs of dog cancer, specific cancer types, and Full Spectrum cancer treatment, check out The Dog Cancer Survival Guide.
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.