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Every pet owner dreads hearing the words “we’ve found something suspicious” at the vet’s office. Our pets are not just animals – they’re our best friends and part of our families, and as such, we want them to live happy, healthy lives with us. Finding out your dog has cancer is devastating news and is something no dog owner ever wants to go through.

However, early detection and being aware of the symptoms of cancer can play a vital role in giving your dog the best chance of survival if they are unfortunate enough to be diagnosed with this condition.

The signs to look out for

Unexplained lumps and bumps

Most lumps and bumps on your dog will be benign (non-cancerous), however some of them can be malignant (cancerous). There are many different types of malignant bumps, such as:

  • Mast cell tumors
  • Fibrosarcomas
  • Melanomas
  • Squamous cell carcinomas
  • Mammary carcinomas

Your dog has a higher chance of getting malignant lumps the older they are, so it’s important to consistently check for unexplained lumps and bumps on your pet. A good idea is to check your pet for unexplained lumps and bumps whenever you brush or bathe them, or when you’re playing or having a nice petting session.

If you detect a malignant lump or bump early then your vet will be able to surgically remove it (after it’s been confirmed as being cancerous) to prevent cancer from spreading inside your dog’s body. Chemotherapy and radiation treatment may also be used to help stop the spread.

Lethargy and labored breathing

Lethargy and labored breathing can both be signs of cancer in dogs. Cancer causes dogs to want to sleep more and to be reluctant to play or exercise. Lethargy has been observed in dogs with both lymphoma and osteosarcoma. Similarly, types of lungs that spread to the lungs can cause respiratory distress in dogs. Be aware of if your dog is sleeping excessively or showing signs like struggling to breathe or coughing.

Unexplained weight loss

You should have full control over your dog’s diet and what they’re eating day-to-day, so it should be easy to gauge whether there’s a reason for them to have lost weight. If your dog is losing weight for no apparent reason, then it may be a side effect of cancer, as tumors often have high metabolic demands on dogs’ bodies.

Gastrointestinal problems

Cancers affect mast cells, which are located throughout the often and can often lead to the gastrointestinal system being targeted. When these cells grow, the body detects abnormal growth and releases an uncontrolled amount of histamine to try and irritate the area surrounding the tumor. This large amount of histamine can cause symptoms like stomach ulcers, vomiting, and diarrhea. For more subtle signs, also remember to look out for your dog’s appetite decreasing. The mast cell tumors that cause these kinds of symptoms are common in older, purebred dogs, such as Schnauzers, Bulldogs, Boston Terriers, and Boxers. Dogs heavily rely on their stomaches to make good choices, to feel good and to make sense of their world, so an upset tummy short or long term is something that pet parents would benefit by proactively choosing the healthiest food for their dogs.

Swollen lymph nodes

Lymphoma is a common type of malignant cancer that accounts for up to 20% of all tumor cases in dogs. Lymphoma affects the lymphocyte, a type of white blood cell that supports the function of a dog’s immune system. Lymphoma can affect dogs of all shapes and sizes, so it’s important to be on the lookout for swollen lymph node regions in your dog’s neck, knee, or armpit areas.

How early detection can save your dog from cancer

Regularly checking your dog for symptoms such as these can ensure that if they do have cancer, it is detected early and they are able to be treated promptly. Early detection is the key to giving your dog the best chance of survival, as your veterinarian will be able to respond quickly with the appropriate type of treatment – whether it’s lump removal, chemotherapy, or radiation therapy.

Having a dog as a part of the family is a true job, however, it’s your responsibility to make sure their health is taken care of. Your dog is unable to share with you if they’re feeling unwell, so it’s important to be proactive in looking for signs and symptoms to ensure that you can help them in detecting cancer early.

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