Pet Cancer In Dogs

What I Need To Know About Cancer In Dogs

photograph of sweet dog looking at camera

Dogs are often referred to as “man’s best friend,” but your dog is even more special than that. He or she is a member of your family. When a dog is diagnosed with cancer, it is devastating. Did you know that more than 6 million dogs are diagnosed with cancer every year? Canine cancer is especially prevalent in dogs over the age of 10, at a rate of 50%. 1

Fortunately, many types of cancer can be treated successfully, resulting in a better quality of life and more time with your pet. Early detection helps — but would you know if your dog was suffering from cancer? Many dog owners don’t and we want to help you understand all the basics about cancer in dogs.

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Canine Tumor Risk Factors

While any dog can get any type of cancer, there are both genetic factors and environmental stressors that increase the risk of cancer and tumors in dogs. Also, some breeds are simply more susceptible to certain types of cancer. An example is lymphoma, which is a cancer of the lymphatic system. It is the most common type of canine cancer, but certain breeds — including Golden Retrievers, Boxers, Scottish Terriers, Rottweilers and Bullmastiffs — seem to develop lymphoma more than others.

Notable risk factors for various types of cancer also include (but are not limited to):

  • Age
  • Obesity
  • Sun exposure
  • Exposure to pesticides and/or herbicides
  • Exposure to tobacco smoke

Most Common Types Of Cancer In Dogs

There are myriad types of cancer that can afflict dogs. Some types are more aggressive than others, and some respond better to treatment. It’s worth noting that if your dog has a tumor (a mass), it isn’t necessarily cancer. Some tumors are benign. Here are some of the most common types of tumors and cancer that dogs get:

  • Lymphoma. This is the most common cancer seen in dogs. It originates in the lymphatic system (lymph nodes) and can spread to a dog’s bone marrow and internal organs. In rare instances, it also can spread to the skin and/or the lungs. Lymphoma is treatable but not typically curable. Because it is a systemic cancer, treatments typically target the entire lymphatic system or the dog’s entire body. Chemotherapy is the mainstay of treatment, however, radiation, a bone marrow transplant, oral drugs or some combination of these may also be employed. Enlarged lymph nodes are a key sign to look for among many symptoms.
  • Mast cell tumors. MCTs are relatively common skin cancer tumors. They can be invasive and spread to lymph nodes, internal organs and bone marrow. The typical sign to look for are lumps and bumps (masses on or under the skin). At times, an enlarged lymph node may accompany this skin mass. Surgical removal is ideal, but if complete removal is not achieved or the cancer has spread, radiation therapy and/or chemotherapy likely would be recommended.
  • Bone cancer. Osteosarcoma, the most common type of primary bone cancer, is extremely aggressive, so it’s vital to recognize symptoms to catch it early. Signs of bone cancer can include persistent lameness involving a limb, swelling of the affected bone, including a leg bone or around the skull, jaw or ribs. If a limb is affected, amputation is often the treatment of choice though stereotactic radiation therapy often can successfully control the cancer while preserving the affected limb. Chemotherapy often recommended once local control (amputation, stererotactic radiation) is achieved as osteosarcomas can quickly metastasize (spread).
  • Brain tumor. There are several different types of brain tumors. Some are benign; some are cancerous and aggressive. Early diagnosis is the key to better treatment outcomes. Depending on the type of cancer, dogs can do well for quite some time. For instance, after advanced radiation therapy for meningioma — the most common type of brain tumor in dogs — the median survival time is 20 to 24 months. Important signs to look for are seizures, abnormal behaviors such as increased aggression or lethargy, vision loss, circling in one direction, and unsteadiness in the gait. A veterinary exam is in order if your dog is experiencing these symptoms.
  • Nasal tumors. Dogs have an amazing sense of smell, but their noses can also hold trouble. Tumors that grow in the nasal cavity are difficult to detect, and about 80% of them are malignant, with carcinomas and sarcomas the most common. They can spread to the regional lymph nodes. Some nasal tumors can be aggressive and can damage surrounding tissues and bone. To be vigilant, look for signs of nasal discharge, excessive sneezing, a bloody nose, unusual snoring or sometimes even difficulty eating. Radiation therapy, including innovative Stereotactic Radiation, is the preferred treatment along with pain management.
  • Oral tumors. Several types of tumors can form in a dog’s mouth. Most are malignant. Surgical removal is an option but sometimes means a dog’s teeth or part of all of its jaw have to be removed. Radiation therapy, including Stereotactic Radiation, might be recommended as an option or in combination with surgery. Early detection can prove helpful, so be mindful of potential symptoms — including but not limited to bad breath, difficulty eating, weight loss, drooling and “ropey” (and possibly bloody) saliva.

Symptoms Of Cancer In Dogs

Be observant to any changes in your dog’s physical appearance and behavior. Not all cancer warning signs are apparent right away, with some changes developing over time. Much like in people, early detection can significantly increase the likelihood of a good outcome.

If you notice any of these symptoms of cancer in your dog, contact your veterinarian to check things out. In the event that cancer is diagnosed, know that a wide variety of cancer treatments are available. Even if the cancer is not curable, there is almost always something that can be done to improve your dog’s quality of life.

  • Enlarged or changing lumps and bumps
  • Sores that do not heal
  • Chronic weight loss or weight gain
  • Change in appetite
  • A persistent cough
  • Persistent lameness or stiffness
  • Unpleasant odor from the mouth
  • Difficulty breathing, eating or swallowing
  • Difficulty urinating or defecating
  • Bleeding or discharge from any opening

Regular wellness exams will provide your veterinarian the opportunity to check for signs of cancer, but you can take a more proactive approach to your dog’s health by looking for these warning signs regularly. When in doubt, get it checked out.

What To Do If Your Dog Has Cancer

If your dog has been diagnosed with cancer, get in touch with one of our Pet Advocates at (833) 738-4376 or your local PetCure Oncology center. Our experienced, compassionate team is here to help and answer your questions about cancer in dogs and the various treatment options.

Payment Support

Our client care representatives can help you understand all fees and payment options relating to your pet’s cancer treatment. They are also available to assist with submitting claims for insurance or to apply for financing. Many pet insurance companies provide coverage for cancer care, although the policy must be in place before a cancer diagnosis is made. The PetCure Oncology national network also offers financing options through CareCredit.

RELATED: Would You Know If Your Pet Was In Pain?, Questions You Need To Ask Your Vet About Pet Cancer, Tips for Caring for a Dog with Cancer, Resources To Help Pet Parents When Their Furry Kids Are Diagnosed With Cancer, 7 Pet Cancer Myths Debunked, When to Euthanize A Dog With Cancer, What Can You Do To Help Save A Pet With Cancer?
1. Pet Owner Disease Information from the National Cancer Institute Center for Cancer Research. Accessed July 23, 2018
2. Canine Cancer Library from the National Canine Cancer Foundation. Accessed July 23, 2018
Types of Cancers in Dogs

If your dog is displaying any symptoms of cancer or has been diagnosed with cancer, sort below by cancer type or tumor location to learn more about the most common types of cancer in dogs and available treatment options. Click on the links for more specific information on treatment and real patient stories.


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