While bladder cancer is rarely seen in dogs, it’s important as pet parents to know and recognize the symptoms in the event your dog suffers from this illness and related conditions. Due to the nature of the disease, canine bladder cancer doesn’t always display a lot of warning signs; however, if you are aware of certain abnormalities, you can take a proactive approach in your dog’s health and schedule a veterinary visit for a proper diagnosis.
This article will explore the signs, symptoms, prognosis and treatment, as well as what to expect during your trip to the vet.
What Is Canine Bladder Cancer?
Canine bladder cancer by definition is a tumor of the cells lining the organ that collects urine (i.e., the bladder) excreted by the kidneys. As mentioned, despite the rare occurrence of bladder cancer in dogs, the most common type of canine bladder cancer is known as transitional cell carcinoma (TCC).
A malignant and aggressive form of bladder cancer, it frequently attacks the surrounding urethra and/or ureters, causing an obstruction within the urinary tract and resulting in the disruption of regular urine flow. Approximately 20% of canines with bladder cancer have metastases at the time of diagnosis.
Although TCC most frequently metastasizes to local/regional lymph nodes, it may also spread to any internal organ system via the bloodstream. It should also be noted that while bladder cancer is far more common in dogs than cats, TCC accounts for less than 1% of all reported cancers found in dogs.
Other less common forms of canine bladder cancer include fibromas, adenocarcinomas, squamous cell carcinomas, and other soft-tissue tumors. Over a period of time, the malignant (cancerous) tumor grows, causing urinary obstruction, and then spreads to other areas of the body, including the lymph nodes, bones and lungs.
Symptoms of Bladder Cancer In Dogs: What To Look For
As in the case with any clinical illness, there are certain symptoms to be aware of if you suspect your dog may be suffering from bladder cancer. In addition, it’s important to know the difference between the signs of bladder cancer and such ailments as urinary tract infections (UTIs) or urinary tract stones, which may display similar symptoms.
While the presence of symptoms may be similar to those seen in UTIs or urinary tract stones (which can be treated with antibiotics and dietary changes), bladder cancer is obviously much more serious in nature and requires specific treatment. It’s therefore very important to see your veterinarian right away at the onset of any of these warning signs.
Signs of canine bladder cancer include:
- Frequent and urgent need to urinate with little to no urine passing
- Painful/bloody urination
- Straining during urination
- Urinary incontinence
- Cystitis (inflammation of the bladder)
- Breathing problems
- Abdominal pain
- Poor appetite
- Reluctant to go for a walk or exercise
- In the case of TCC (transitional cell carcinoma), specific symptoms to look for include urinary incontinence, inability to urinate/difficult urination, and blood in the urine
Causes of Canine Bladder Cancer
Although the exact causes of cancer manifestation remain unknown, the disease may be attributed to a variety of environmental and genetic factors. From an environmental standpoint, exposure to second-hand smoke has been linked to bladder cancer dogs. In addition, there are a number of carcinogenic chemicals that may increase your dog’s risk of bladder cancer, including certain types of flea dips, pesticides and insecticides.
Furthermore, there are certain dog breeds who have a higher incidence of bladder cancer, (specifically TCC) including Beagles, Scottish Terriers, West Highland White Terriers, Shetland Sheepdogs, and Wirehair Fox Terriers, as well as obese dogs. In addition, middle-aged and elderly female dogs are most commonly affected by the disease.
While pet owners cannot exercise preventative measures when it comes to genetics or breed, you can practice certain safety precautions to protect your four-legged friends, including using natural insecticides in your yard, avoiding over-the-counter flea dips and shampoos, and not smoking in your home.
Diagnosing Bladder Cancer in Your Dog
In order to differentiate bladder cancer from other possible causes of urinary tract inflammation in your pooch, your vet will need to run a series of tests. These may include X-rays, urine analysis, CBC/chemistry blood tests, and ultrasound imaging to help pinpoint the possible causes of clinical signs.
Recent advancements in medical technology, including a urine bladder tumor antigen test, may be implemented to diagnose bladder cancer. In the instance that the test results are positive, your vet will run additional tissue biopsy tests and ultrasounds to arrive at a definitive diagnosis, as well as an appropriate form of therapy.
Throughout the course of treatment, your vet may need to repeat such diagnostic tests in order to see if the therapy has been effective or needs to be adjusted. Below, a general summary of tests, diagnostics and treatments your vet may implement:
- X-rays, blood work, urine testing and ultrasounds are frequently required to differentiate bladder cancer from UTIs, bladder stones and other causes of bladder inflammation.
- Your vet may run antigen tests initially to diagnose signs of bladder cancer; however, a biopsy is required for a definitive diagnosis.
- Certain types of medication (possibly in combination with chemotherapy) may offer a chance at prolonging your dog’s life – your vet will discuss your options during your visit.
- In the instance of TCC (transitional cell carcinoma), your vet may utilize a combination of tests, including a urinalysis, urine sediment cytology, ultrasound of the bladder/urethra, a bladder tumor antigen testing on a urine sample, and a biopsy of the affected area.