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Cancer in Dogs

Cancer in Dogs

While we hope that our beloved pups never have to experience any serious conditions, the threat of cancer is very real for some. Today our internal medicine vets in Westfield shares the symptoms of cancer in dogs, what to expect and how to help manage the pain.

Cancer in Dogs

Cancer is a serious disease that affects dogs of all breeds, sizes and ages. There are many different forms of cancer and it can affect any part of the body. There is no specific cause of cancer in dogs and early treatment is key to giving your pup the best chance at recovering from this condition. Our internal medicine veterinarians in Westfield share some key information about cancer in dogs and what you can expect.

Types of Cancer Affecting Dogs

Some of the most common cancers seen in dogs are:

  • Lymphoma/Lymphosarcoma
  • Mast Cell Tumors
  • Skin Cancer
  • Bone Cancer - Hemangiosarcoma
  • Fibrosarcoma
  • Mammary cancer
  • Adrenal cancer
  • Pancreatic Cancer
  • Bladder Cancer
  • Lung Cancer
  • Liver Cancer

Symptoms of Cancer in Dogs

Because of a dog's lack the ability to speak, detecting cancer pain in dogs is challenging. Furthermore, understanding the nature of the pain (acute, chronic or intermittent) and the level of the pain (dull or severe) can make understanding how your dog is feeling very challenging!

These challenges are further compounded by the fact that the onset of pain in dogs with cancer can occur and escalate very gradually over a long period of time, or in some cases pain may be caused by cancer treatment rather than cancer itself.

Some of the symptoms that commonly plague dogs that have cancer are:

Unexplained Swelling, Lumps & Bumps

Groom your pet regularly and during your grooming sessions take the time to really examine your pet's skin. Are there any lumps, bumps, or swellings that you hadn't noticed before? Remember, cancer can strike any part of the body so don't forget to check your pet's 'armpits' and other creases.

Sudden Unexplained Weight Loss

Unexplained weight loss is a common sign of many health problems in pets. If your four-legged friend is losing weight but isn't on a diet, it's time to call your vet internist in Westfield to book an examination for your dog 

Loss of Appetite

Of course, this is closely tied to weight loss but it may be a symptom that becomes noticeable before your pet loses a significant amount of weight. If your dog is generally a good eater but is now picking at their food, or ignoring it altogether, there may be a serious health issue involved. Loss of appetite is a symptom common to many health issues in pets and is always worth having investigated.

Repeated or Recurring Bouts of Diarrhea or Vomiting

Most pets experience diarrhea and vomiting at some point during their life. In most cases, vomiting and diarrhea are related to minor gastrointestinal issues but if your pet has repeated episodes of vomiting and diarrhea over the course of 24 hours, or if you notice blood in your pet's vomit or stool, it's time to have your four-legged friend examined by an internal medicine vet as soon as possible.

Unusual Foul Odor

Like people, our pets each have a unique scent of their own. If your dog is suddenly exuding a bad odor - whether from their mouth, ears or backend - it could be a sign of a serious health concern such as cancer. Often cancers of the mouth, nose or anus can lead to offensive odors coming from your pet.

Limping & Persistent Lameness

It is certainly true that limping and other signs of limb pain can be associated with less serious conditions such as muscle strains, ligament tears or even injured paw pads, but it's important to note that lameness is also a common sign of serious and aggressive cancers such as bone cancer. If your pet is limping it's always best to err on the side of caution and have your pet examined by a dog internist in Westfield as soon as possible.

Breathing Difficulties

Breathing difficulties in dogs can result from a number of conditions including asthma, allergies, contact with toxins and of course cancer. Regardless of why it may be happening, if your pet is having difficulties breathing contact your internal medicine vet straight away or visit your nearest animal emergency hospital for urgent care.

Toilet Accidents

If your pet is toilet trained but then begins urinating or defecating in the house this can be a sign of an infection or stress, but it could also be a symptom of a number of different cancers including kidney or bowel tumors. If your pet has a single accident there is likely nothing to worry about but repeated accidents should be investigated by your vet internist.

Diagnosing Cancer in Pets

Your dog internist will begin by taking a detailed medical history of your pet, then perform a thorough physical examination. If your internal medicine vet feels that your pet likely has cancer, a diagnosis will move to the next level.

Several tests may be recommended to help determine the extent of cancer such as urinalysis, ultrasound, digital X-rays, biopsy, blood tests (blood count, chemistry profile) and tissue aspirates. Other diagnostic tests that may also be recommended include CT, PET or MRI scans, lymph node aspirated, endoscopy, bone marrow aspirate and/or immunologic studies.

Once your vet internist receives the results of the diagnostic tests they will be better able to understand the nature of the disease in your pet and determine the best treatment options to meet your pet's needs.

Treatment for Cancer in Pets

As with cancer in humans, the cancers that affect the health of dogs vary in how quickly they grow and spread, and how easily they can be treated. In most cases, the earlier treatment begins the better the prognosis for your pet. The treatment for your pet's cancer will depend upon a number of factors but may include immunotherapy, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, targeted therapy, surgery and/or palliative care when appropriate.

Treating Cancer Pain in Dogs

Because there are so many variables regarding the type of pain your dog may be experiencing and why, there are a host of pain relief medications and strategies that your vet internist may recommend to help improve your pet's quality of life. Below are a few common approaches to managing pain in dogs with cancer. It is also important to note that, your internal medicine vet may recommend a combination of drugs or treatments to address your dog's pain.

Hot & Cold Therapy
  • Hot and cold therapy involving the application of ice packs to painful areas can be particularly helpful in reducing inflammation. Speak to your dog internist about whether this is an appropriate approach for your pup.
  • Accupunture can offer relief to dogs with cancer that are suffering from mild to moderate pain. If you are interested in acupuncture as a way to relieve your pet's pain, be sure to consult a qualified veterinary acupuncturist.
Topical Medications
  • Topical ointments containing lidocaine, benzocaine, cortisone, or dimethylsulfoxide (DMSO) may help to relieve different types of localized pain. Be sure to speak to your vet internist before applying any topical medications to your dog. Many human medications (even topical medications) can be toxic to pets.
Non-Steroidal Anti Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)
  • There are a number of effective anti-inflammatory drugs which your internal medicine vet may prescribe to help relieve your pup's mild to moderate cancer pain, including Metacam, Previcox, Deramaxx and Rimadyl. These medications can impact the liver and kidneys so periodic blood tests will be required to monitor your pet's liver and kidney function while using these medications
  • Tramadol is a common narcotic prescribed to help manage mild to moderate cancer pain in dogs. This medication is well tolerated by most dogs and can be used in a high dose to treat more severe pain, or combined with NSAIDs.
Neurotransmitter Modifiers
  • When used alone, neurotransmitter modifiers can be useful in treating chronic low-grade cancer pain in dogs. When used in combination with other pain medications neurotransmitter modifiers can help to relax dogs suffering from cancer. Some of the most common drugs in this category include gabapentin, amantadine and amitriptyline.

Prognosis For Pets With Cancer

While tumors that have spread to other organs are not typically curable, palliation may help to relieve symptoms and potentially prolong life without providing a cure. Tumors with the best chance of being treated or cured are those that have not invaded surrounding tissues.

Only your dog internist in Westfieldwill be able to provide you with a prognosis for your pet. While some cancers can be treated very successfully, other more aggressive cancers such as bone cancer, can move alarmingly fast once symptoms have been detected. Once your pet has been diagnosed your internal medicine vet will take the time to review your pet's prognosis and provide you with treatment options and potential outcomes.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet. 

If your dog is displaying any concerning symptoms please visit our vet internists in Westfield right away! 

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