When you get the news that your dog has cancer, as a pet owner, you may be breathing a sigh of relief that the cancer has been caught in time with early diagnosis.
There's no way to know for sure whether a dog has cancer without a veterinary examination. But there are signs and symptoms that serve as a early detection signal to schedule an examination with your vet sooner rather than later. Here are 10 of the most common clinical signs and symptoms of cancer in dogs.
1. Lumps and Bumps
Any kind of growth that you can feel when petting your dog should be checked out by your veterinarian. Lumps in the abdomen are usually the first place you will encounter one when petting your dog, but they can be found on any part of the body -- small or large and hard or soft.
2. Odd Odors
Bad breath, flatulence, or odd odors coming from the ears or any other parts of a dog's body. Tumors in the nose, ears, or anus often generate offensive smells. Problems with eating or vomiting up food can result from tumors in the throat or neck.
3. Abnormal discharges from the dog's mouth, ears, eyes, or rectum
A thin, brown, foul-smelling discharge is a sign that a tumor could have broken through the tissues that surrounded it. Discharge associated with cancer tends to be thin rather than thick, and brown rather than yellow, white, or green.
4. Wounds and sores that won't heal
When cancer is stealing nutrients from your dog's body, there may not be enough of the right amino acids to repair breaks in the skin. A crusty sore that won't go away even when you apply antibiotics and topical ointments is a sign that a vet exam is urgent.
5. Unexplained weight loss despite a strong appetite
Cancer causes a condition known as cachexia. Cancer cells multiply rapidly, requiring a constant supply of amino acids to make their proteins. Your dog's diet may not contain all the amino acids that cancer cells demand for growth, so your dog's body will break down healthy tissues to release them. This spiraling cycle may be interrupted by the right mix of fats, protein, and certain amino acids.
6. Reluctance to eat
Dogs that have growths in the back of the mouth and throat will have trouble swallowing. These tumors often ulcerate and bleed, so your dog may bleed from the mouth. Neck tumors often make dogs drool a lot and cause bad breath. Dropping food may also be a sign of a growth in the mouth or throat.
7. Difficulty breathing or coughing
Cancer often causes swollen lymph nodes even before tumors can be felt. Swollen lymph nodes may make breathing difficult or uncomfortable, depending on the dog's position.
8. Depression or lethargy
Dogs have an instinct to get out of the way when they feel bad. Even if your dog isn't whining in pain, there can be extreme sensitivity to bright light, loud sounds, and strong odors. Your dog just wants to curl up and heal.
9. Changes in bowel habits
Tumors anywhere along the digestive tract can change your dog's frequency of trips outside. Both diarrhea and constipation can be caused by cancer.
10. Evidence of pain
Dogs won't necessarily tell us when they are in bearable pain. Pain may be indicated through a dog's behavior and lose interest in play or not want to be petted on sensitive areas.
There are also some dogs that are at higher risk for developing cancer. Here are some situations in which you need to be on the lookout for signs of cancer so you can get treatment early.
Your dog is one of the breeds that has high rates of cancer
Rottweilers, German Shepherds, and Golden Retrievers have generally higher rates of all kinds of cancer than other breeds. If your dog is mixed breed or some other breed, you can have DNA testing that will tell you if your pet carries genes for cancer and needs closer monitoring to get timely treatment. You should never assume, however, that just because your dog has genes associated with canine cancer that getting cancer is inevitable. Genetic testing just enables better surveillance of your dog's health.
Your female dog has never been spayed
By far the biggest risk factor for cancer in female dogs is not spaying them. Puppies are wonderful and choosing to allow you dog to breed is a legitimate choice. But you need to know that female dogs that have never been spayed have an increased risk and are eight times more likely to develop breast cancer or malignant mammary tumors. Even male dogs can, in rare instances, develop breast cancer. Breast cancer in dogs tends to cause brown discharge from the nipples, and firm lumps in the abdomen.
Your male Golden Retriever, Labrador Retriever, German Shepherd, or Cocker Spaniel was neutered before the age of one year
Golden Retrievers and Cocker Spaniels are three times as likely to develop a kind of cancer known as lymphoma if they are neutered before they are 12 months old. There are also increased risks of other cancers in Labrador Retrievers and German Shepherds that are neutered in the first year of their lives. Scientists have studied links between early neutering and cancer in 35 breeds.
None of these signs, symptoms, or risk factors, however, means with certainty that your dog has cancer. But any of them is a reason to take your dog to see your vet.
Jot down some notes of the symptoms that concern you about your pet's health before you take your dog in for a cancer exam. Be able to tell your vet what, when, where, and how you observed the warning signs. If your vet doesn't already know, be ready to provide information on when your pet was neutered or spayed.
If you receive a cancer diagnosis from your veterinarian, then get a head start with the right canine cancer diet.
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Canine Biologics is the only nutrition company dedicated solely to helping dogs with cancer. Let us help you give your dog a fighting chance.