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Dog cancer types, symptoms, diagnosis & treatment options

Dog cancer types, symptoms, diagnosis & treatment

Cancer is a devastating disease that our beloved dogs are unfortunately not immune to. Dog cancer comes in many forms, and the symptoms and treatment options vary depending on the specific type. As a pet owner, it's important to know the signs of cancer in dogs and to seek veterinary care if you suspect that your dog may have cancer. 

With early detection and appropriate treatment, many types of cancer in dogs can be effectively managed, allowing your dog to continue to enjoy a happy and healthy life. 

Can dogs get cancer?

Cancer is a disease that can affect dogs just like it can affect humans. It occurs when abnormal cells grow and divide uncontrollably, these abnormal cells can also spread to other parts of the body. 

Cancer is the leading cause of death in dogs who are over the age of ten, but does often affect younger pups as well as older dogs. One in four dogs will be diagnosed with cancer. Just like humans, dog cancers that are caught early have a better chance of being effectively treated or even cured.

What are the warning signs of cancer in dogs?

The signs of dog cancer vary depending on the type of cancer and where it is located in the dog's body. However, some general signs that may indicate cancer in dogs include:

  • Lumps or bumps: New or changing lumps or bumps on your dog's body should always be checked by a veterinarian.
  • Difficulty eating or swallowing: Dogs with tumors in their mouth or oral cavity may have difficulty eating or swallowing.
  • Weight loss: Unexplained weight loss can be a sign of cancer, especially if your dog is eating normally.
  • Decreased appetite: A common symptom of many ailments, dogs with cancer sometimes lose their appetites.
  • Changes in bathroom habits: Any changes in your dog's urination or bowel movements, including blood in the urine or stool, should be evaluated by a veterinarian.
  • Lethargy or weakness: Dogs with cancer may seem tired, weak, or less energetic than usual.
  • Persistent coughing: A persistent cough or wheezing that doesn't go away could be an indicator of lung cancer in dogs.
  • Difficulty breathing: Dogs with tumors in their chest or lungs may have difficulty breathing.
  • Lameness or stiffness: Bone cancer can cause lameness or stiffness in dogs in parts of the body affected.
  • Abnormal odors: Strong, offensive odors coming from your dog's body, particularly from their mouth, can be a sign of cancer.

It's important to note that these symptoms can also be caused by other serious and mild health conditions. If your dog is showing these symptoms, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian. 

What do I do if my dog shows signs of cancer?

If you suspect that your dog may have cancer, it is important to schedule an appointment with your local veterinarian as soon as possible. 

They can perform a physical exam and may recommend further diagnostic tests such as blood tests, X-rays, ultrasound, or a biopsy of lumps, lymph nodes, or other abnormal lesions to determine if your dog has cancer.

Early detection and treatment is the best way to improve your dog's chances of a successful outcome.

What should I do if my dog is diagnosed with cancer?

While cancer can be a devastating diagnosis for any dog owner, it's important to keep in mind that a cancer diagnosis does not mean your dog's life is immediately over. 

Treatment options are available and more accessible than ever to help manage the disease and improve your dog's quality of life. You and your veterinarian or veterinary oncologist will work together to develop a treatment plan that is tailored to your dog's specific needs. 

They can also provide you with detailed information about the prognosis and potential outcomes of treatment. The recommended treatment will depend on the type, location, and stage of cancer. 

Work closely with your veterinarian to monitor your dog's progress during and after treatment. You may need to make lifestyle adjustments, such as changing your dog's diet or providing them with extra care and attention, to help them through their treatment and recovery. 

Your veterinarian can help you make informed decisions about your dog's care and can provide guidance and support throughout the process.

In addition to medical treatment, there are several things you can do to help support your dog's health and well-being, such as providing a healthy diet, ensuring they get regular gentle exercise, and keeping them comfortable and free from pain.

How is dog cancer treated?

The most appropriate treatment for canine cancer will depend on the type, location, and severity of the cancer, as well as the dog's general health and age. The most common methods for cancer treatment in dogs include:

  • Surgery: Complete surgical removal may be recommended to remove tumors or masses that are causing discomfort, affecting the function of vital organs, or are suspected to be cancerous.
  • Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy is a drug treatment used to destroy cancer cells. It can be used to shrink tumors before surgical removal or prevent the spread of cancer to prolong a dog's life.
  • Radiation therapy: Radiation therapy kills locally aggressive cancer cells. It may be used alone or in combination with other treatments to shrink tumors and prevent the spread of your pet's cancer to healthy cells in other organs.
  • Immunotherapy: Immunotherapy uses the body's own immune cells to fight cancer by stimulating the immune system to attack cancerous cells.
  • Clinical Trial: A research study conducted to evaluate new treatments, therapies, or diagnostic tools for dogs with cancer. Clinical trials are designed to test the safety and determine the effectiveness of the treatment.
  • Palliative care: Palliative care may be recommended to help manage pain and improve the pet's quality of life for dogs with advanced stages or extremely aggressive cancer.

In addition to these options for treating cancer, your veterinary oncologist may recommend supportive care to help manage the side effects of treatment and improve your dog’s overall well-being. This may include pain management medications, anti-nausea medication, nutritional support, and physical therapy.

Unfortunately, it can be expensive to treat cancer in your dog. Your veterinarian will discuss treatment options with you and help you make an informed decision about the best options for your dog.

If your dog is considered a breed commonly affected by cancer, consider opting into pet insurance to help cover potential financial costs.

What is the most common cancer in dogs?

Skin tumors, including benign and malignant melanomas are common in dogs. Malignant skin tumors can be aggressive and require prompt treatment. Other common cancers in dogs include:

  • Lymphoma: This is a cancer of the lymphatic system and accounts for up to 24% of all tumors in dogs.
  • Hemangiosarcoma: This is a type of cancer that affects blood vessels.
  • Osteosarcoma: This is bone marrow cancer most commonly found in the limbs of large and giant breed dogs.
  • Mammary tumors: These are tumors of the mammary glands and are more common in female dogs that have not been spayed.
  • Mast cell tumors: These are tumors of the immune system; they can occur anywhere on the body.

It's important to note that cancer can affect any part of a dog's body, and any breed or age of dog can be affected.

What dog breeds are most likely to get cancer?

Cancer can affect any breed of dog, but certain breeds may have a higher predisposition to developing certain types of cancer. Some of the dog breeds that are more commonly affected by cancer include:

  • Golden Retrievers
  • Labrador retrievers
  • Boxers
  • Rottweilers
  • Bernese Mountain Dogs
  • Great Danes

It's important to remember that just because a breed is predisposed to certain types of cancer does not mean that every dog of that breed will develop cancer.

How can I reduce my dog's chances of getting cancer?

While there is no way to completely prevent canine cancers, pet owners can help to reduce the risk of cancer for their dog in several ways:

  • Keep your dog at a healthy weight: Obesity has been linked to an increased risk of cancer in dogs.
  • Feed a healthy diet: Give your dog a balanced, nutritious diet tailored to their age and activity level. Choose high-quality food options that are free from fillers.
  • Limit exposure to toxins: Toxins such as pesticides, herbicides, and chemical cleaners are common in most homes. Choose natural alternatives when possible and keep all toxins out of the reach of your pets.
  • Regular vet check-ups: Routine wellness checks are critical to your dog’s health.
  • Spay or neuter your dog: Spaying or neutering your dog can reduce the risk of mammary gland tumors and can completely eliminate the risk of testicular tumors in male dogs.
  • Limit sun exposure: Protect your dog from excessive sun exposure, especially if they have light-colored fur or are prone to sunburn.
  • Regular grooming: Regular grooming can help to detect any new lumps or bumps on your dog's skin early.

While these steps can help reduce the risk of cancer in your dog, it's important to remember that not all cancers can be prevented. Regular veterinary check-ups and early detection are the best ways to catch dog cancer early and get successful treatment.


The information provided and contained herein are the opinions of Pethealth Services Inc. which are based on external publication. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional veterinary advice. Pethealth Services Inc. assumes no responsibility or liability for any loss, claims or damages arising out of the within content.


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We help reunite lost pets

Reuniting over 3,000 lost pets with their families every month. Rest assured if your pet goes missing, we’re here to help.

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