Many have a very strong reaction to these words. Breast cancer. How many have a mother, sister, daughter, or friend who have had breast cancer? Many people.
Breast cancer is very well known in people. But not so much in dogs.
Dogs get breast cancer? Yes, they do. We don’t call it by the same name; in dogs we call it mammary cancer, but the mammary gland is the bulk of the body part and the disease is very similar.
Strange that we don’t call it breast cancer in the dog, don’t you think (that is a topic for another day!)
The hardest thing to realize for many guardians out there is that dogs actually have what we would call a breast. When a mass grows in this area, I have never, not once, heard a guardian talk about breast cancer.
Signs of breast cancer in dogs include the following:
- small nodules within the mammary tissue (they feel like BB’s)
- larger nodules within the mammary tissue but still under the skin
- bloody discharge from the nipple
- straw colored discharge from the nipple
- pus-like discharge from the nipple
- larger, deeper growths in the mammary tissue that protrude visibly and can be seen
Female dogs who have been surgically sterilized (spayed) before their first heat, which is usually around 6 months of age, are essentially free of breast (mammary) cancer.
As the spay age increases, this protection drops.
(It should be noted that early spay is associated with increased risks of other types of cancer however, such as osteosarcoma and transitional cell carcinoma).
It is still debated as to whether spaying once mammary cancer has developed in dogs actually help the problem, and the evidence over the last couple of decades is mixed at this time.
The most critical thing to remember is that if you have a female dog who has a bump in the area around the teat (nipple), please get it checked. Many of these growths are life threatening. And if you have a female dog who is not spayed, or was spayed later in life (at more than 6 months of age), examination of the mammary tissue of your dog may be a life saver.
Breast exam in dogs?
Yes, you heard it here first. But absolutely, yes, breast exam in dogs who are not spayed or have been spayed late.
How do you do it?
Many dogs like to lay on their sides or back. This can help but is not critical as a canine breast exam can be done with a dog standing too.
Dogs normally have 10 mammary glands, although you see some extras or some missing here and there as variations. There are two rows of 5 going down the length of the body, one on the left and one on the right.
Find the first teat on the left and right sides. I use two separate techniques. First, keep fingers flat and fan through the mammary tissue up and down the axis of the torso (head to tail) and feel for “blips”, or bumps passing under your fingertips. Go left to right as well.
Next, gently press the mammary tissue between the thumb and the index finger with middle finger. Push your fingers together with the mammary tissue between them and move the thumb across the index and middle finger in a circular motion. Feel for “blips” between your fingers.
How often to do an examination like this on your dog? I would suggest every month or so for female dogs above the age of 7 years.
Isn’t that about right for a breast exam?
Mammary cancer in dogs is best treated with a combination of different Full Spectrum steps. In my patients, I use surgery, diet changes, Apocaps, deliberate efforts to increase life quality, reduction in body fat (a risk factor for mammary cancer), immune boosting and other supplements, touch therapies, and more. This cancer does not respond very well to chemotherapy as a rule.
For more practical tips on diagnosing and treating this condition, check out The Dog Cancer Survival Guide.