The CWord

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coping with cancer in your canine companion

Dogs, unfortunately, are almost as susceptible to cancer as their human parents. While the gut reaction upon hearing the c-word may be sadness, anger, and tears, there are many types of tumors and growths that can now be treated successfully to allow your dog a long, happy life.

How can I keep my dog from getting cancer?

There is no one specific method of prevention when it comes to cancer. A very healthy dog with the perfect diet, little stress, and regular exercise can suddenly develop a tumor or growth. Many veterinarians do know, however, that the instances in which a healthy dog is afflicted are much rarer than those in which an overweight, sedentary, or emotionally troubled dog develops cancer.

The best methods for prevention are those involved in a healthy lifestyle. Keep your pooch active, feed him appropriately, make sure he drinks enough water on a daily basis, and try to rid his environment of any unnecessary stressors. While it's tempting to give your wallet a break by opting for clinic vaccinations, try to find and stick with a veterinarian who is compatible with both you and your dog, then have him examine your pup annually. This allows the vet to be familiar with your dog's normal appearance and personality and can help him detect problematic growths before they get too out of control.

How does cancer develop?

Just as in people, cancerous tumors and growths develop when something has happened to damage the genes in the body. This means that anything from heredity to genetic damage in areas that control viral processes; some breeds actually have cancer-producing genes built into their anatomy. Other contributors are age, sunlight, poor diet, lack of exercise, stress, and more. It's difficult to pin down exactly what causes cancer in any given dog, but the true cause stems from the fact that cancer cells trick the immune system into believing that the cancer cells are its own normal cells. The immune system doesn't destroy them as it does other abnormal cells, which means they're free to multiply and spread across the body. Benign tumors, those that are not cancerous, grow very slowly, don't spread, and only cause damage if they begin to block necessary processes in the body. Malignant tumors, growths that are cancerous, can spread via blood or bodily fluid, grow very quickly, and often invade multiple areas of the body if not treated successfully.

Did You Know? Metastasis is the process that allows cancer to spread to various places in the body. A cancerous cell detaches from the tumor and travels through bodily fluid to a new location to form a tumor.

Can I tell if my dog has cancer?

You can definitely detect any growths or abnormalities from some strains of cancer, but a definite diagnosis should be made by your veterinarian. If you notice lumps, lesions, or unusual patches of skin, tell your vet immediately. He or she can use x-rays, ultrasounds, MRIs, biopsies, or even cell samples to determine the type and extent of the cancer.

Also pay close attention to any changes in behavior. Listed below are some of the most common indicators of cancer - while they may not seem as harmful individually, the presence of one or more should mean an immediate trip to the vet.

Possible Indicators of Cancer

Unusual swelling with no sign of reduction Weight loss Loss of appetite Lack of energy Discharge from bodily openings

Sores that refuse to heal Trouble urinating or defecating

How will my vet treat my dog for cancer?

That depends upon the type and extent of the cancer. Benign tumors usually don't require any treatment, but your vet may recommend surgical removal to prevent them from interfering with any bodily systems. Malignant tumors can be treated in a number of ways, many similar in method to the treatment of cancer in humans.

Malignant tumors can sometimes be cured, but other times may, unfortunately, leave you and your vet with limited options for treatment. The main treatments for both curable and incurable tumors are surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and immunotherapy. A more detailed explanation of each is listed in the table below and your vet may recommend one or more of these options, but more advanced cases may require the use of either pain control or euthanasia. This is one of a pet owner's most difficult moments, and while a vet can help your decision by making his or her recommendation, it is ultimately your responsibility to decide what is best for your friend.




The most effective - and most popular - way of removing tumors.

This involves removing the tumor, a healthy section of tissue

around it, and sometimes local lymph nodes.


Drugs are used to kill cells of certain types that multiply quickly.

As in humans, this type of treatment can have adverse effects on

your dog's overall health and is therefore only used when a vet is

fairly certain of its effectiveness.

Radiation Therapy

If a tumor is not able to be removed surgically, and is radiation

sensitive, your vet may use local radiation to cure or reduce the



This therapy is a kind of jump start for your dog's immune

system. Rather than forcibly removing or attacking the tumor

externally, immunotherapy triggers the dog's immune system to

attack it on its own.

What are some of the different kinds of cancer?

You've probably heard of several types of cancer - the names typically end in "oma," some of the most common being sarcoma, melanoma, and carcinoma. To help your vet in detecting and fighting cancer, make a habit of running your hands over your dog with the intent to find any abnormalities that weren't present before. Once you're familiar with how your pooch feels on a usual day, it'll be much easier to detect things that are unusual both on and below the skin.

Lipomas are growths comprised of fat cells and are both benign and painless for your dog. Lipomas form under the skin and grow continuously,

sometimes reaching large sizes. Your vet may want to perform a biopsy to be certain the growth hasn't developed into the malignant (but very rare) liposarcoma, but he will probably only want to remove benign growths if they are somehow interfering with your dog's quality of life.

Melanomas are usually benign and are typically dark lumps on the skin accompanied by a light crust. If you detect what you think may be a melanoma near the nail bed or in your pup's mouth, it's time to see the vet as these locations can indicate malignant melanomas.

Papillomas are also benign. These appear as small pink warts, usually with the cauliflower appearance typical in standard warts. While large areas may develop at once and look somewhat icky, you only need to worry if the area starts bleeding or becomes infected. Papillomas typically disappear on their own.

Osteosarcomas are painful tumors that develop in older dogs' legs, jaw, or ribs. You may notice your dog yelps or becomes upset when you place pressure on a certain area of his body. If so, a vet can determine whether or not it truly is a tumor through an X-ray. The treatment is typically amputation above the affected portion.

Sarcomas are malignant tumors in the soft tissue of your dog's body and usually include a prefix that indicates the location (fibrosarcomas form in the fibrous connective tissue, lymphosarcomas in the lymphatic tissue). These tumors often require several methods of examination before diagnosis and are nearly always removed surgically.

Prostate tumors are rare in older dogs who have not been neutered, while those who are neutered are at a far greater risk for prostate cancer (but a much lower risk for prostate enlargement). These tumors can be both benign and malignant and are difficult to detect without a full examination. Malignant tumors require removal of the prostate gland.

Canine Cancer Online

There are a large number of websites and online communities dedicated to helping fellow owners of

dogs with cancer. Do a quick search

to find support groups in your area

or start at one of the ;

sites below:

Vetlnfo: Veterinary Medicine:

Dogs In the News:

CancerLinks Pet Page:


Helpful hint: If your dog begins running into doors or seems to lose depth perception, he may have a neurological or brain tumor. The quicker you get him to the vet, the better the prognosis can be.

Mammary tumors most commonly occur in unspayed, older females, and they occur in multiple instances near the dog's teats. They can be either benign or malignant, but most are painless. You can typically feel these tumors just under the skin of your female, so if you detect a small, harder area of tissue, get your pup to the vet. Treatments for breast cancer can vary according to severity.

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