Spotlight on dog cancer: know the early warning signs

Senior pet care tips by Animal Friendly Life

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

Statistics show that approximately half of all canines aged 10 and over are diagnosed with some form of dog cancer.

And, one in four dogs will get it at some stage in their life.

Pet Cancer Awareness Month is a crucial reminder to educate ourselves and others about dog cancer.

Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about dog cancer, including its types, early detection, available treatments, and the importance of raising awareness.

Dog cancer, also known as canine neoplasia, refers to the abnormal growth of cells in a dog’s body.

November is Pet Cancer Awareness Month, and it plays a big role in highlighting the prevalence of cancer in pets.

The month is dedicated to educating pet owners about the detection, treatment, and prevention of cancers in animals.

Pets are just as susceptible to cancer as we are, and dog cancer is sadly a real concern for pet owners – the above stats highlight that.

In fact, millions of dogs are diagnosed with cancer every year.

Cancer is a leading cause of death in pets every year, particularly those who are middle-aged or older.

As we already shared, according to veterinarians, nearly 50% of dogs over the age of 10 will develop some form of cancer.

Cats are also at risk, though the types of cancers they encounter may differ from those more commonly found in dogs.

We will spotlight cat cancer in our next article.

senior black dog potrait close up of face for pet cancer awareness month spotlight on dog cancer.
Nearly 50% of dogs aged 10 or older will develop some form of cancer (image: Unsplash)

Common types of dog cancer include lymphoma, mast cell tumours, and bone cancer.

Lymphoma is one of the most common forms of canine cancer, accounting for approximately 20% of all dog cancers.

Lymphoma is a cancer that affects the lymphatic system, which plays a vital role in the dog’s immune system.

It occurs when lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell, undergo uncontrolled growth and accumulate in lymph nodes, organs, and tissues.

Common symptoms of lymphoma in dogs include swollen lymph nodes, weight loss, decreased appetite, lethargy, and changes in behaviour.

white and black dog at vets having lymph nodes checked for dog cancer early detection this Pet Cancer Awareness Month
Regular vet check ups and home checks can help detect any unusual lumps (image supplied)

On a mission to find a treatment for lymphoma in dogs, biotech company PharmAust says unusual lumps may be a sign of cancer.

Dr Kim Agnew says this is why owners should regularly check their pets for unusual lumps and bumps.

“This is something you should do regularly; the most noticeable symptom of lymphoma is swollen lymph nodes,” says Dr Agnew.

“They can be detected in several locations, including under the jaw, under the armpits, inner thighs, and behind the knee.”

Pet cancer infographic showing lymph nodes owners should check for pet cancer awareness month and signs of cancer in dogs
Guide to checking lymph nodes in dogs (Animal Friendly Life)

Early detection is key in managing dog cancer.

Cancer that is caught early improves the prognosis and treatment options for dogs with cancer.

Pet owners should be vigilant and regularly examine their dogs for anything that looks unusual.

While symptoms vary, there’s a few signs that owners should take notice of, including:

  • Persistent sores
  • Swelling
  • Sudden weight loss
  • Lethargy, or
  • Changes in appetite.

Additionally, scheduling routine veterinary check-ups and discussing any concerns with a veterinarian can aid in identifying potential signs of cancer at an early stage.

  • Always praise your dog for being tolerant of being touched all over and offer rewards (food or praise) throughout the process. Your pooch will be happy to be petted on a regular basis and love the extra attention!
  • Best way to check your dog’s body for lumps and bumps is to take a nose to tail approach
  • Using gentle pressure, start with feeling your dog’s head and run your hands around his face, paying particular attention to under the jaw and around the neck
  • Move your hands down the chest, over the arms and feel under the armpits. Then run your hands across the underside of the tummy paying particular attention to the mammary area in female dogs
  • When your dog stands up, look under the tail and check around the back passage, then run your hands down the legs. If you do find any lumps or bumps on your dog, particularly if they look sore or ulcerated, visit your vet!

Treatment options for pet cancer have advanced significantly in recent years.

Veterinarians work closely with pet owners to develop personalised treatment plans that aim to maximise success while targeting the cancer cells.

Though dog cancer treatments do vary depending on the type, stage, and overall health of the dog.

Common treatments include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, immunotherapy, and targeted therapies.

While treatment options have come a long way, Dr Agnew says there’s no cure for B cell lymphoma.

“Studies show only 50% of dogs with B cell lymphoma will survive without treatment for around 30 days,” says Dr Agnew.

“Currently, the best treatment option for canine cancer is chemotherapy, which comes with its own set of challenges.

“However, 20% of dogs can expect to live for two years, but unfortunately, relapse can occur within six to 12 months of treatment.”

PharmAust is recruiting dogs with B cell lymphoma to finalise the evaluation of new anti-cancer drug Monepantel (MPL).

“MPL is already approved for veterinary use for a different indication and species, and PharmAust is aiming to repurpose it as a safe and effective cancer treatment,” said Dr Agnew.

Black labrador on couch feeling sick for early detection of pet cancer, lethargy is  a sign to watch for
Lethargy is a common symptom of dog cancer (image: Unsplash)

While it’s not always possible to prevent cancer in dogs, understanding and managing certain lifestyle and health factors can significantly reduce their risk.

Here’s a closer look at what pet owners can focus on:

A good diet is crucial for a dog’s overall health and can help in reducing the risk of cancer.

High-quality dog food that’s appropriate for the dog’s age, breed, and health status is essential.

Some studies suggest that diets rich in omega-3 fatty acids and low in carbohydrates may help reduce the risk of cancer.

However, it’s important to consult with a veterinarian before making any significant changes to your dog’s diet.

Regular exercise not only helps in maintaining a healthy weight but also boosts the immune system.

Obesity in dogs has been linked to increased cancer risk, so keeping your dog active is a key preventive measure.

Activities like walking, playing fetch, or agility training can be beneficial.

Reducing a dog’s exposure to known carcinogens is another important preventive step.

Like humans, this means avoiding second-hand smoke, lawn chemicals, and certain household cleaners.

Using natural, pet-safe products can help reduce the risk of exposure to harmful chemicals.

Desexing is known to reduce the risk of certain types of cancers.

For instance, desexing a female dog before her first heat significantly reduces the risk of mammary cancer.

Early detection of cancer can greatly improve the chances of successful treatment.

Regular veterinary check-ups, including routine blood work and physical examinations, are vital.

These check-ups can help in detecting any abnormalities early on.

Some dog breeds are more predisposed to certain types of cancers.

And with the amazing advancements in science, it’s now possible to test your dogs’ genes for any alarming markers.

Being aware of these genetic predispositions can help in early detection and prevention strategies.

For breeds at higher risk, more frequent veterinary screenings may be recommended.

Just like humans, dogs can get skin cancer, particularly those with light skin and fur.

Limiting sun exposure and using pet-safe sunscreen on exposed areas like the nose and ears can help prevent these types of cancers.

poodle on walk for pet cancer awareness month dog cancer early detection
An active and healthy lifestyle can help prevent cancers or lead to better outcomes (image supplied)

Pet Cancer Awareness Month also focuses on support for pet owners navigating a cancer diagnosis in their pets.

Many veterinary hospitals and animal organisations offer resources and guidance during this challenging time.

The awareness month also serves as an opportunity to support ongoing research efforts that focus on understanding and treating dog cancer.

By contributing to organisations that focus on canine cancer research, pet owners can help advance scientific knowledge, develop innovative therapies, and improve the overall well-being of dogs with cancer.