What To Expect When Your Dog Has Cancer? – Signs, Causes, Treatments

Cancer In Dogs

The devastating news that a family dog has cancer can derail the happy life you have built together. Cancer in pets is more prevalent today than ever before and accounts for nearly 50% of all disease-related pet deaths each year. As in humans, many different types of pet cancers exist and dogs can contract cancer nearly anywhere in their bodies. Some pets will be able to beat and ultimately overcome cancer and some will lose their lives quickly to this ultimately unfamiliar disease.

Signs of Pet Cancer

Just as with humans, early detection of pet cancer is paramount in determining the course of the disease and increasing the potential for survival. It is important to check pets regularly and understand possible warning signs of cancer.

Early Warning Signs of Pet Cancer:

  • Abnormal swelling
  • Sores that do not heal
  • Weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Uncommon, persistent odor
  • Difficulty eating or swallowing
  • Lameness or stiffness in joints
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Difficulty urinating or defecating
  • Refusal to exercise, loss of stamina

These symptoms can be early indicators of cancer as well as many other pet diseases. If your dog exhibits any of these signs or you become concerned with your pet’s behavior or health contact your veterinarian for a complete examination.

Most Common Types of Pet Cancer

  • Leukemia (most prevalent in cats)
  • Lymphoma (most prevalent in dogs)
  • Mammary gland cancer
  • Pancreatic cancer
  • Bone cancer
  • Abdominal cancer
  • Cancer of the mouth
  • Prostate cancer (most prevalent in dogs)
  • Skin cancer
  • Testicular cancer

What Causes Pet Cancer?

The cause of cancer in pets is largely unknown. Cancer rates are on the rise, simply due to the fact that more families are bringing companion animals into their homes and keeping them longer. Veterinarians are not able to determine what particularly is causing pet cancer, however, the following factors have an effect on pets’ immunity and the chances of contracting cancer in their lifetime.


Certain breeds of dogs are more prone to cancer than others. Improper breeding (mass breeding with inadequate care) has led to an increase in the prevalence of pet cancer in popular dog breeds. Including:

  • Golden Retrievers
  • Labrador Retrievers
  • Rottweilers
  • Bernese Mountain Dogs
  • Boxers


Research has shown improper, unnecessary and over-vaccination will weaken pets’ immune systems causing them to be more prone to cancer. Initial vaccinations for puppies and kittens are important and necessary but speak with your veterinarian regarding the most important and necessary follow-up vaccinations.

Environmental & Food Toxins

Exposure to hazardous chemicals, including common household poisons and toxins, and daily doses of preservatives or hazardous additives in pet food can be carcinogenic. It is important to keep pet-friendly products in and around the house – from the kitchen to the bathroom and out in the yard. In the same way, we protect children from potentially toxic substances we should protect our pets. Everyday decisions from choosing the right pet food to fertilizing the lawn can have an impact on pets’ possibility of developing cancer.

Treating Pet Cancer

Pet cancer treatment options have improved greatly in the last few years. Pets have a better chance than ever to beat cancer and recover to live a long and healthy life. Treating cancer in pets is very similar to treating cancer in humans.

  • Step 1 — Staging

First and foremost veterinarians will look to determine the type and severity of pet cancer as well as whether or not cancer has spread throughout the body. Common elements of staging include detection and location of malignant tumor(s), assessment of tumor size, physical examination to locate other areas possibly affected by the cancer cells, and blood testing to assess liver, pancreas, and kidney function as well as red blood cell counts.

  • Step 2 — Treatment

In unfortunate cases, staging will determine that the cancer is too aggressive or has spread too rapidly to be treated successfully. Under these dreadful circumstances, assistance from pet insurance can help sorrowful families cope with veterinary expenses related to staging and testing of aggressive pet cancer. In cases where staging indicates a pet is a good candidate for treatment results will help determine the best course of action for the quickest and most successful recovery.

Treatment Options:

  • Surgery
  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation
  • Cryosurgery
  • Hyperthermia
  • Immunotherapy
  • Combinations of the above treatments

With pet insurance, families can be reimbursed for unexpected diagnostics, lab fees, medications, surgeries, and other treatment-related to cancer. During the turmoil of diagnosis and treatment of pet cancer families will have peace of mind from pet insurance coverage to handle personal finances. If you’re considering pet insurance to help offset significant veterinary expenses like cancer treatment, it’s important to activate a policy before cancer develops as pre-existing conditions are not covered by pet insurance.

The cause of cancer in pets, much like in humans, is largely unknown. The disease continues to grow and affect the health and wellbeing of pets on a larger scale each year. Approximately one in four dogs will develop a tumor (either malignant or benign) in their lifetime and nearly one in four dogs will die a cancer-related death. With such startling statistics on the rise it is more important than ever to become aware of pet cancer signs, symptoms, and treatment options to avoid common risks and prepare your family to properly care for your pets should they be dealt such a life-threatening illness.

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