Signs & Symptoms of Cancer in Dogs

Cancer is a scary word. It is a scary word for humans, and unfortunately this disease can impact man’s best friend as well. It is a pet owner’s worst nightmare to think of their canine companion in any sort of pain, especially cancer.

Although thinking about your beloved pet being diagnosed with cancer is not the most pleasant topic, as a responsible pet owner, it is important to be proactive about your dog’s health instead of turning a blind eye to this disease.

To combat this issue, there are a number of cancer warning signs that you can be on the lookout for. By being educated about canine cancer and being aware of the symptoms, you can help get your pup the treatment he or she needs in order to fight the disease and alleviate any pain.

What is Canine Cancer?

Before exploring the various symptoms your dog may experience if he or she has cancer, it is important to be educated about how cancer functions within dogs. Just like with humans and other animals, cancer occurs when abnormal cells divide uncontrollably, often forming a mass and destroying healthy tissue in the impacted area.

However, cancer typically develops at a much faster rate in dogs than it does in people. Almost everyone knows someone who has been impacted by cancer in some way, shape or form, and it may come as a surprise that the same can be said for canines. In fact, the National Canine Cancer Foundation reported, “one out of every three dogs will get cancer.”

With over 30% of our four-legged friends developing a form of cancer, it is important to take your dog’s health into your hands by being on the lookout for cancer indicators alongside regular checkups with your veterinarian.

Types of Dog Cancers

There are a wide range of cancers that can impact your dog, but some are more common than others. Melanoma is one of the most common dog cancers, with tumors often found in the mouth. However, Melanoma can occur anywhere throughout the skin.

Osteosarcoma, or bone cancer, is also a common type of cancer found within dogs. The third most common cancer is Lymphoma, which is a form of cancer that impacts a type of blood cell. Additionally, Hemangiosarcoma, mast cell tumors, bladder cancer and mammary cancer (breast cancer) are all cancers that are likely to be found in dogs.

Signs of Cancer in Dogs

Although dogs young and old can be impacted by a multitude of cancers, there are also a number of symptoms you can regularly check for so that you can begin treatment as soon as possible. Below are some common signs of cancer in dogs.

Lumps and Bumps

One of the most recognizable symptoms of cancer in dogs is when a lump forms either on the skin’s surface or underneath your furry friend’s skin. You can check for this cancer indicator by regularly looking for any unusual bumps, or let your pup thoroughly enjoy this “examination” by giving extra belly rubs and scratches behind the ears while you peek around.

Even the tiniest cancer lump can quickly become invasive, so it is crucial to get them tested by a veterinarian. These bumps often do not bother the dog, so it is your responsibility to ensure that a minor growth is not something more serious. New bumps, especially ones that are bleeding or have discharge, should be looked at by a professional as soon as possible.

On the other hand, while some lumps can be cancerous, dogs can develop completely harmless skin growths as well. If you find a bump on your dog, do not jump to conclusions and go into full-panic mode. Simply take your dog into the vet so he or she can be properly diagnosed.

Unusual and Unpleasant Odors

The next symptom can be a bit more unpleasant to identify, but is a key indicator nonetheless. Unpleasant odors coming from your dog’s mouth, ears, and rectal region can be a sign that there is a larger issue at hand. However, dogs are dogs, and a typical case of bad breath or some unusual smells after rolling around in the yard are no reason to cause any alarm.

However, if you notice an abnormal change such as you your dog’s breath smelling continuously worse that it did previously, this may be a symptom of cancer. Take your dog to the veterinarian to check out the problem, or at least give you some doggie dental tips!

Stubborn Sores and Wounds

Another symptom that may be a result of cancer is when your dog is not able to heal at a regular rate. For example, if your dog gets a small wound or scratch that will not seem to heal, it may be a result of a more serious disease.

If you notice sores that will not to go away, it is a good idea to have your vet examine the area to see if it is simply a pesky wound that is taking time or heal, or if the delayed healing process is the result of a health complication such as cancer.

Signs of Pain

Although this may seem like an obvious symptom, evidence of pain in dogs is a symptom you can watch for. If your dog seems to be in pain when he or she goes on a run or walk, this may be a result of bone cancer. On the other hand, arthritis is also very common in our four-legged friends, especially older dogs.

If you notice your dog is in pain, have your veterinarian take a closer look at the issue to see if it is cancer or another common occurrence such as arthritis. Either way, no one wants to see his or her pup in pain, so a trip to the vet is the safest route to take.

Huffing and Puffing

Just like humans, dogs are susceptible to lung cancer. If you notice that your dog is huffing and puffing after very little exercise, you may want to look into the issue further. Again, if your pooch is not very active to begin with and you try to take him or her on a multi-mile run around the neighborhood resulting in him panting at the end, you should not panic.

The key here (as with many of the symptoms) is to looking for changes in behaviors or appearance. If you notice that your dog is wheezing, coughing, or experiencing shortness of breath during unexpected times, this may be a result of lung cancer or another health complication. 

Abnormal Aggression

Is your dog spending more and more time away from you? Is your once friendly pal snapping and acting uncharacteristically aggressive? This could be a sign that your dog is in pain. As a defense mechanism, your dog may be acting moody or aggressively in order to protect himself from pain.

Of course you are not trying to inflict pain upon your beloved pup, but when your dog is not feeling well physically, they may retreat into seclusion. You can also be on the lookout for other pain indicators such as limping, lack of appetite, and unwillingness to play. If you notice an overall drastic change in behavior and disposition in your canine companion, this could be a symptom of cancer.

Belly Bloating

Another symptom that reveals your dog is experiencing a health issue is abdominal bloating. If you notice that your dog’s abdomen is distended or bloated, this could be the result of discharge happening within the body.

If your dog’s stomach happens to look a bit bigger after a meal, there is no need for alarm (although you may want to work on your portion sizes). However, if the irregular bloating is consistent, you should take your dog to the veterinarian for an accurate diagnosis.

Loss of Appetite

If your furry friend usually lives for dinnertime but has recently been turning his or her nose up at the dog bowl, this could be a symptom of cancer. Oral tumors, often linked to cancer, can cause pain and difficulty when eating, leading to your dog’s disinterest in dinner or treat time.

Although there are a number of potential health complications that could be associated with your pup’s picky palate, cancer is unfortunately one of them. By paying attention to your dog’s dietary habits, you could help identify cancer before it spreads further.

Feeling Down in the Dumps

If your once happy and playful pooch is not acting like his or her usual self, this may be a result of cancer. When your dog experiences a major health problem such as cancer, this can manifest in depression or lethargy. If you notice that your dog is constantly tired and does not want to play or go on walks, you should consult a veterinarian to see if a disease such as cancer is at the root of the issue.

As previously noted, you should be looking for major changes in behavior. If you have a dog that prefers basking in the sun to playing in the yard, this does not necessarily mean your dog has cancer. Any drastic changes in behavior are the symptoms you should be aware of.

Vomit and Diarrhea

Vomit and diarrhea are two symptoms that could be a result of cancer; however, these ailments can be associated with a number of health issues in dogs ranging from extremely minor stomach aches to life threatening diseases. When you notice these side effects in conjunction with some of the other symptoms of cancer, you should seek professional advice as soon as possible.

Alternately, if your dog is experiences vomiting and diarrhea for only a day or two, he or she probably got into some spoiled food that upset their stomach. However, if the symptoms persist, you should look into the issue further by taking your dog to the vet.

In addition to the larger health issue that is triggering the vomit and diarrhea, your dog is also immediately at risk for dehydration. Make sure that your dog is getting plenty of water and consult your veterinarian for further advice.

Sudden Weight Loss

Another indicator that is sometimes associated with cancer is weight loss. Once your dog reaches a mature age, his or her weight should stay about the same throughout their adult life.

Although as your dog gets older he or she may become less active, this usually leads to weight gain. If you notice that he or she suddenly loses weight, you should take a trip to the veterinarian for an accurate diagnosis.

Lightly Colored Gums

A dog’s gums can say a lot about their health. For example, if your dog’s gums appear blue, they may not be getting the oxygen they need. Additionally, if your dog’s gums appear to be a very pale pink, almost white, this indicates blood loss, a symptom often linked to cancer or other serious health complications.

Make a habit of examining your dog’s gums once a month. Simply check the color and perform a quick test by pushing on their gums with your finger for a second. At first the gum should turn white, but then quickly return to a healthy color similar to bubblegum pink. If the gums stay white, consult with a veterinarian.

With cancer leading the charts as one of the most common causes of death amongst dogs, pet owners should be on the lookout for the symptoms in order to help their pets lead long, healthy lives. Unfortunately, there are various types of cancer and associated symptoms, making it difficult to pinpoint the issue.

Although there is not one clear symptom that will directly tell you if your dog has cancer, you can regularly check your dog and carefully observe his or her behaviors so that if any of these symptoms develop, you can react as quickly as possible.

Since every dog is different in regards to appearance, health, and habits, the best way you can identify a symptom is by identifying major changes in their regular patterns. If you habitually check your dog, you will take notice when they develop a new bump or if they are not acting like themselves. Your dog is part of the family, and as a pet parent, you want to do everything possible to ensure that they are not in unnecessary pain.

By staying educated about your pet’s health and common cancer symptoms, you are one step closer to keeping your four-legged friend as happy and healthy as possible.

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