We all likely know a human who has had some form of cancer. Thankfully, human medicine has made many advancements towards cures and treatments, and the good news for veterinary medicine is that many of these medical strategies are being used to give new hope to our pets. The dreaded “C” word in our pets, is very hard to understand, we hope this article can help and bring comfort to your family.

Approximately 1 in 4 dogs will, at some stage in their life, develop neoplasia. Neoplasia is the uncontrolled, abnormal growth of cells or tissues in the body. The abnormal growth itself is called a neoplasm or tumor. It can be benign or malignant. 

Dogs get cancer at roughly the same rate as humans. There is less information about the rate of cancer in cats. We do know that lymphoma is more common in cats than in dogs.  Oncology is a rapidly growing specialty in veterinary care.  There is still much to learn, and the more we learn, the better we are able to diagnose cancer early, and the more effective our treatments will become.

Like humans, pets can develop neoplasia affecting almost any organ or tissue in their body.  If you notice any of these changes in your pet, contact your vet immediately.  Early treatment of cancers can greatly impact the outcome.  Be reminded that these symptoms do not necessarily indicate cancer but they definitely need to be checked by your veterinarian. 

  • Abdominal swelling
  • Bleeding from the mouth, nose or other body openings
  • Difficulty breathing 
  • Difficulty eating 
  • Lumps, bumps or discolored skin
  • Non-healing wounds
  • Persistent diarrhea or vomiting
  • Sudden changes in weight
  • Unexplained swelling, heat, pain or lameness
  • Visible mass/tumor

If your pet is diagnosed with cancer, the next steps will include working with your veterinarian and/or a veterinary oncologist to decide the best treatment option(s) for your pet.  These options may include one or a combination of therapies such as surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, cryosurgery (freezing), hyperthermia (heating) or immunotherapy. Immunotherapy involves harnessing the power of a pet’s own immune system to destroy cancer. Cancer cells try to make themselves “invisible” to the immune system. The goal of immunotherapy is to overcome these defenses and target the cancer cells. There are also advanced imaging techniques being used that can detect any remaining abnormal tissue following the removal of a tumor (while the pet is still under anesthesia.) Pain management is another important aspect of treatment.

When formulating a treatment program for your pet, your veterinarian will consider the type of cancer, how quickly it grows and spreads (the stage or grade of the cancer), and the location of the cancer.

There are a couple of things you may already be doing to decrease your pet’s likelihood of developing certain cancers.  Animals can develop skin cancer from sun exposure.  This is more common in light colored animals with thin coats. Purchase animal safe sunscreen to protect them outside. Additionally, spaying and neutering your pets will decrease the likelihood of developing certain reproductive cancers. 

While no cure exists to eradicate all cancers, we are learning more and more about managing and treating this disease. We hope this article has helped you understand the dreaded “C” word in our pets.

By: Shana D. Richardson, PhD Vergi24/7 Animal Emergency Hospital