In this new post we will be looking at 12 signs your dog may have cancer.
Are there really signs your dog may have cancer? The short answer is yes, but a more in depth answer would be that the signs for cancer can also signal the presence of other diseases, as symptoms can be similar. It is also worth noting that signs will vary depending on the type of cancer your dog is afflicted with.
For that reason I always encourage anyone who sees changes in their dog’s behaviour or physical appearance, no matter how slight, to see their vet sooner rather than later.
How common is cancer in dogs?
It seems that cancer is responsible for about half of all deaths in dogs over the age of 10. Dogs can get the same types of cancers as humans, but they metastasize at a much faster rate, meaning time is not on their side, and procrastination can lead to a very sad outcome, very quickly.
Examples from my own life
Since I have never had a dog with cancer, I will use three of my cats who did have it as an example, and you will see how the signs were completely different in each.
One of my cats (her name was Tyler) had oral cancer, and it was discovered because I noticed what looked like a piece of dried food on the side of her mouth, but she would wince whenever I tried to get at it. After taking her to the vet we discovered she had cancer, and had to have part of her jaw removed. Had I waited much longer, there would not have been enough jaw to save, and she would not have survived. No other treatment was required, and she adjusted very well, very quickly. She lived a few more years after that, until the cancer had spread to the bone under her eye. That was discovered because her eye was tearing constantly.
Another cat (Night Night) had been losing weight, and couldn’t settle for long. He was constantly getting in and out of his litterbox, peeing, trying to pee…. My vet initially treated him for a urinary tract infection, as the slight presence of blood indicated. When it didn’t clear up after a second course of antibiotics, an ultrasound found a tumour, and sadly there was nothing more to be done.
TT (Night Night’s brother) developed cancer a few years earlier. I bring up this example to show the importance of checking your dog for lumps and bumps. One day I was petting him, and felt a lump on the side of his neck almost the size of a ping pong ball. I may be exaggerating slightly, but not by much. He was all black with tons of fur, and there’s no way you could have eyeballed that.
It was a very fast growing tumour, that I am sure was not there long because I always pet my animals and would have noticed. It could not be operated on as it sat on his carotid artery, so chemotherapy was our only option. A few rounds shrunk it enough, and a course of chemo meant it took longer for the tumour to re-grow, until it stopped working. A second drug had an effect, though not for long. After that we let him be, and sadly he died a few weeks later. It was a very aggressive form of cancer, with a poor prognosis from the start.
These are just 3 examples of how different cancers will manifest themselves in different ways – some obvious, some not.
How do I know if it’s cancer?
Below I will provide you with a list of signs that, if your dog is showing any of them, should mean a vet visit as soon as possible.
To answer this question though, you don’t. The very best advice I can give, and have given in my previous posts is this – if you notice any changes in your dog’s behaviour, no matter how subtle, don’t make the mistake too many pet parents of senior dogs make.
Not everything can, or should be, attributed to the natural ageing process, and only your vet and modern medicine, can help distinguish between what is “normal” and what is not.
Cancer can be very fast acting, so you don’t want to wait to have it checked out.
Here are the 12 signs that should lead to a vet visit
Lumps or bumps on, or under, the skin
Get into the habit of petting your dog (I know you already do, but this time you have an ulterior motive!!) and check for any lumps or bumps. This includes his face, ears…
Sudden weight loss in a dog whose diet and eating habits have not changed, is a cause for concern.
Changes in appetite
Lack of interest in, or difficulty eating does not necessarily signal cancer, but dogs (and cats) don’t stop eating without a reason.
Unusual or offensive odours
Foul odours coming from anywhere on your dog’s body (mouth, ears, nose or anal region) can signal a tumour.
It’s good to know what your dog’s mouth looks like when he’s well, so you will know if there are any changes that could signal illness. For example, pale gums could indicate blood loss, and cancer is one of the illnesses linked to this sign.
Lethargy/loss of stamina
There is a difference between a senior dog slowing down, and true lethargy. You know your dog, so if he is spending more time sleeping, not so playful, lost interest in walking, speak to your vet. Again, this does not prove he has cancer, but combined with other signs, can be worrying.
Changes in bathroom habits
Peeing more often, difficulty peeing or pooping, presence of blood, even accidents in the house.
Open sores or wounds that don’t heal
Open sores or wounds that aren’t healing, could be signs of conditions such as a skin disease or infection, but….
Evidence of pain
Limping, lameness, stiffness when your dog walks, unwillingness or inability to jump on the couch like he used to and the like, are typically the result of arthritis, which is very common in senior dogs. However, there is also the possibility it is the result of cancer, especially bone cancer.
Respiratory problems/ difficulty breathing
Coughing, shortness of breath, general difficulty breathing can indicate heart disease as well as cancer.
Vomiting, diarrhoea, bleeding or discharge
Vomiting, diarrhoea, and/or bleeding and/or discharge from any part of your dog’s body needs to be checked out immediately.
Behaviour changes include some of the signs listed above, in addition to things like spending more time away from everyone, snapping, aggression. These behaviours can mean your dog is experiencing discomfort, or outright pain.
That’s the thing. Sometimes there are no signs, or should I say no obviously visible signs, like my cat with the tumour in his neck. There were no changes in behaviour, or anything else that would have made me think there was a problem – and I am very vigilant when it comes to paying attention to behaviour changes in my animals.
Putting your mind at ease
I know how intense this article is, and how easy it is to jump into panic mode, but just because your dog shows some of these signs, does not mean he has cancer.
12 signs your dog may have cancer – conclusion
I’m not one to say don’t worry because of course you will. All I am saying is – don’t live with the panic, just go and take some action. Make an appointment to see your vet, as soon as possible and if he’s busy and it will take a few days to be seen, stress to them your concern over the signs you have observed.
I can be quite persuasive, and often end up crying – not on purpose for effect, that’s my blind panic shining through and I can’t stop it, and they usually squeeze me in.
I know this post on the 12 signs your dog may have cancer can be frightening, but seeing any of them shouldn’t make you panic, just see your vet so you can find out what’s going on.