Owning a pet is a huge responsibility. Part of that responsibility is caring for your dog or cat when they are unwell. Unfortunately, some of the symptoms of cancer often appear to be other illnesses or are hard to spot. AVES wants all pet owners to know common symptoms of cancer so that these pets can be brought in for treatment.
Since all types of cancers can manifest differently in different pets, it is important to note that what signals cancer in one pet may not be the same in another pet. For this reason, many pets are not brought in for treatment early on. Some pet owners never associate the symptoms their dog or cat are exhibiting as those linked to cancer.
Signs of Cancer in Dogs
While there are numerous signs of canine cancer, there are a few that are easy for owners to spot, such as:
- Collapsing: Collapsing without the ability to get back up is very serious in dogs. While this can signal a few different health issues, most of them will require immediate veterinary care, so it is important to get your dog to a veterinarian if they collapse. Additionally, both weakness and lethargy can be symptoms of cancer.
- Coughing: Coughing can be a sign of numerous health problems, such as heart disease, but a continuous cough that lasts more than a few days should be treated seriously and could signal lung cancer.
- Unexplained or rapid weight loss: Unexplained or rapid weight loss is the number-one sign of cancer in dogs, so you will want to seek veterinary care immediately if you notice that your dog is dropping weight quickly or without reason.
- Unexplained or rapid weight gain: If your dog suddenly gains a lot of weight or appears to be bloated, you could be looking at cancer, especially if your pet seems to be eating very little. Additionally, if your dog suddenly seems hungry all of the time, you need to see a veterinarian.
- Changes of the mouth: The onset of sores or lumps in the mouth can be a sign of oral cancer—especially in older dogs. You may also see a change in gum color, bleeding, or an odd odor. Frequently checking your dog’s mouth for any abnormalities can help owners recognize these changes. Oral cancer is most common in older dogs.
- Nosebleeds: If your dog has a nosebleed, he or she should be evaluated by a veterinarian quickly, particularly if your pet is an older dog, as it can be a sign of a nasal tumor.
- Diarrhea: Occasional diarrhea is probably nothing to be worried about, but persistent diarrhea or diarrhea containing blood is worrisome as it can be a sign of cancer.
- Discharge: Discharge from the eyes or nose can be concerning for veterinarians. Discharge can indicate an infection, but can also be a symptom of facial and eye tumors.
- Seizures: Brain tumors often cause seizures in dogs. These seizures can manifest as sudden, uncontrolled spurts of energy, jerking of the body, or foaming at the mouth.
- Skin changes: If you notice any bumps or other skin changes on your dog, you should get it checked out by a veterinarian. While lumps and bumps can be benign, they can also be something that needs to be evaluated as soon as possible. Since there is no way to tell if a bump is benign or malignant without taking a sample of it, it is always a good idea to get those spots checked out. You will also want to make sure all sores or wounds heal.
- Masses or swelling: Masses that keep growing under your dog’s skin can be the signs of a tumor. It may just look like a bump or a swollen spot, but it should be taken Your veterinarian will want to perform a biopsy on the mass to see if it is benign or malignant.
Signs of Cancer in Cats
Cats experience the same symptoms of cancer as dogs do, but there are a couple of additional symptoms for which cat owners should be on the lookout. Additional feline cancer symptoms include:
- Excessive hiding: Cats are known for hiding, but if you go for an extraordinarily long time without seeing your cat, there may be a problem. Sick cats are known for hiding for extended periods of time, and they will often miss feeding times. While excessive hiding is often a sign that your cat is ill, it doesn’t necessarily mean signal cancer. However, it is still a good idea to bring your cat to a veterinarian.
- General pain: Pain is a good indicator that something is up with your cat. It can be hard to tell if your cat is in pain, but if you go to pick up your cat like you normally would and it cries, you could be dealing with something serious.
Seeking Treatment for Pet Cancer
When it comes to seeking treatment for pet cancer, your regular veterinarian will probably refer you to a specialist. In the cases of cancer, these specialists are called veterinary oncologists. Oncologists are experts in providing care for pets with cancer, just as human oncologists specialize in cancer treatment in people.
Veterinary oncologists will examine pets to determine a proper diagnosis and staging of any tumors present. These doctors work with pet owners to come up with a treatment plan that can often extend a dog or cat’s life and increase the quality of life.
Like in humans, chemotherapy is a common treatment method. Our pets are given a less aggressive treatment that allows them to better deal with the treatments. Many pets don’t see the side effects that humans experience during chemotherapy treatments. For example, animals do not lose their fur during chemotherapy the way people lose their hair.
Tumors in pets can sometimes be surgically removed or debulked (made smaller). Some pets may receive chemotherapy or other treatments prior to surgery to help shrink the tumor to a more manageable size for removal.
Radiation therapy is also available for some pets with cancer. The goal of radiation is to kill the cancer cells in your pet while limited damage to normal tissues. Radiation is often most effective when utilized before or after other treatments, such as surgery or chemotherapy.
Immunotherapy helps your pet’s immune system attack malignant cells in the body to eliminate cancer. With this treatment, the immune system is either stimulated so that it attacks cancer cells or is given whatever it needs to fight the cancer, including antibodies.
In many cases, veterinary oncologists will employ numerous methods of treatment to manage pet cancer.
If you are in the Austin area and looking for care for your pet with cancer, have your family veterinarian contact AVES today at 512-343-2837. There are only 300 board-certified veterinary oncologists in the United States, and AVES is proud to have one of them at our practice to help pet owners in our area cope with and treat their pet’s cancer.