Cancer is one of the leading causes of death among pets, which is why we’re committed to raising awareness about the devastating impact of pet cancer. All pets are at risk for developing cancer, and just like humans, pets can develop many different types of cancer. The good news is that with early detection and treatment, cancer is frequently treatable.
Cancer in pets
Neoplasia is the uncontrolled growth of cells or tissues in the body, and the abnormal growth is called a tumor or neoplasm. Like us, pets can develop neoplasia in almost any organ or tissue in their body. Benign (non-cancerous) tumors grow slowly, and do not invade the surrounding tissue or spread throughout the body. Malignant (cancerous) tumors grow unpredictably, and can invade the surrounding tissue or spread to other parts of the body.
The most common types of pet cancer are lymphoma, mammary gland cancer, mast cell tumors, and bone cancer. Lymphoma is cancer of the lymph system, and is the most common cancer seen in cats, usually affecting the intestines. Mammary gland or breast cancer affects dogs and cats, and is the most common tumor found in female dogs. Mast cell tumors are the most common type of skin cancer seen in pets, and bone cancer (osteosarcoma) is an aggressive cancer that usually affects large and giant breed dogs.
Approximately one in four dogs will develop cancer in their lifetimes. Almost half of dogs over the age of 10 develop cancer, and certain breeds are considered at risk: Golden retrievers, German shepherds, and Rottweilers have a 70-80% chance of developing cancer in their lifetime. One in five cats will develop cancer, and cancer is the leading cause of death among older cats. While cancer is less common in cats than in dogs, the cancer seen in cats is usually a more aggressive form.
Possible signs and symptoms of cancer in pets:
- Abdominal swelling
- Swollen lymph nodes, especially behind the jaw or knee
- Unexplained bleeding from the nose, mouth, or other body openings
- Difficulty eating or sudden changes in weight
- Difficulty breathing or a cough
- Persistent diarrhea or vomiting
- Unexplained lameness, especially in large breed dogs
- Skin lumps and bumps or discolored skin
- Non-healing wounds
- Visible mass or tumor
If cancer is suspected from your pet’s medical history and a physical exam, your veterinarian can perform additional tests to confirm the diagnosis. Cytology (studying the microscopic appearance of cells from a mass) can provide information about the tumor type and confirm a diagnosis for certain types of cancer. A biopsy (examining a tissue sample from a tumor under a microscope) can confirm the diagnosis and help your veterinarian determine if the tumor is benign or malignant.
Similar to treatment options for humans, cancer treatment for pets includes chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery. Each type of cancer requires a specific approach, and treatment may involve one or a combination of therapies. An early diagnosis helps your veterinarian deliver the best care possible for your pet.
Preventing cancer in pets
A yearly wellness check is the key to cancer prevention in your dog or cat. If you observe any of the cancer warning signs in your pet, be sure to call the clinic immediately. Early diagnosis and treatment from your veterinarian is important for the health and well-being of your pet.