Unfortunately, cancer is common in dogs and cats, especially those canine or feline friends that are middle-aged or older. It’s estimated that approximately 25% of dogs and 20% of cats will develop cancer at some point in their lives with us. Cancer begins with the abnormal growth of cells that eventually overwhelms an animal’s immune system. Any type of cell anywhere in a dog’s or cat’s body can begin uncontrolled growth. These cancerous cells eventually form a mass that absorbs vital nutrients, impinges on surrounding tissues, and may eventually cause death. Click here for a list of the more common types of cancer in dogs and cats.
What are the Signs of Cancer in Dogs and Cats?
In the early stages of cancer in dogs and cats, symptoms can be difficult to recognize as the same symptoms show up in other diseases. For instance: lethargy; unusual joint stiffness or lameness; offensive body odor; increased thirst; vomiting; changes in breathing. Here are some other signs that cancer might be present.
- Rapid weight loss, especially if your dog or cat is eating well. Conversely, loss of appetite or difficulty eating may also indicate cancer.
- Abnormal swellings. Abdominal cancers are hard to recognize early because the abdominal wall effectively conceals them.
- Difficulty passing stools or urinating or changes in stool or urination frequency. Increased urine urgency/frequency, as well as blood in the urine, may indicate bladder or prostate cancer.
- Masses along the jaw or gum line and bleeding coming from the mouth. Some oral cancers can spread rapidly to the lymph nodes and lungs. Other signs of mouth cancer are drooling, and difficulty in eating.
- Blood oozing from the rectum may be an indication of anal gland cancer.
How Does a Vet Confirm Cancer in Dogs and Cats?
Any dog or cat suspected of having cancer needs a complete workup by a vet. This includes a thorough physical examination, blood work, and urine testing. If there is any obvious abnormal swelling or lump, it may be possible to make a preliminary diagnosis via a needle aspiration. X-rays and ultrasounds of the chest or abdomen can help to determine whether the cancer has spread to any internal organs. In certain cases, MRIs or CT scans can show whether the cancer has spread to the central nervous system.
Tissue Biopsy – Definitive diagnosis of any cancer, however, is only possible with a biopsy. Tissue samples are taken and evaluated by a veterinary pathologist. Biopsy results can determine a pet’s prognosis and guide therapy. Treatment may include surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation. Medication will be prescribed to ease any pain.
The Importance of Regular Checkups
Especially as dogs and cats start to age, twice-yearly checkups become more important. A vet is trained to spot early signs of cancer and the earlier it is diagnosed, the better your pet’s prognosis. If the cancer is caught early, many dogs and cats can go on to live several more pain-free years. CVETS is not an oncology center for dogs and cats, but it is a state-of-the-art pet emergency center in the Columbia, South Carolina area. So, if you have a dog or cat emergency, don’t hesitate to bring your pet to us.