13 Symptoms How To Tell If A Dog Has Cancer

The sooner we detect the cancer, the more we can do for your dog. Treatment aims to cure your dog, if possible. Or to ensure that your dog has a good life with the cancer.

We teach you how to tell if a dog has cancer, and guide you throughout the process so that you can make difficult choices and know where you stand.

What is Cancer?

Dogs are getting older. This is one of the reasons we are seeing more and more cancer in dogs. About 25 to 30 percent of dogs will sooner or later develop a benign or malignant tumor.

To find out in time, it is important that you have your dog checked by the vet at least once a year.

how to tell if a dog has cancer

Benign tumors do not spread. We can therefore treat these tumors more easily than malignant tumors: malignant tumors can spread to other places in the body.

Often it is precisely this spread of the cancer cells, also called metastasis, that causes the greatest problems.

Some malignant tumors do not have the ability to spread or only late in their development, but their growth can cause serious problems.

How does cancer develop in dogs?

The development of tumors, in both humans and animals, has to do with unhealthy living conditions, contact with harmful (carcinogenic) substances, hereditary predisposition and the functioning of the immune system.

Sometimes cancer develops from something in your dog’s environment, such as exposure to excessive sunlight, carcinogens such as second-hand smoke and radioactive radiation.

Cancer is also more common in some breeds than in others. For example, large dog breeds are often more likely to suffer from tumors in the bones.

In addition, the immune system plays a role in the development of the disease. In a healthy body it is possible to recognize cancer cells early and to make them harmless.

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However, under certain circumstances this is no longer possible and a tumor can continue to grow or spread.

So many causes are possible. It is often a combination of circumstances, in which coincidence plays a major role.

Cancer in pets is not contagious

Finally: cancer is not contagious – not even in humans. You, as the owner, and also other animals cannot get cancer from contact with an animal with cancer.

How To Tell If A Dog Has Cancer: The Symptoms

The suspicion that your dog has a tumor often arises after you feel an unusual lump in your animal. Or when a swelling appears on the body.

Sometimes a tumor is discovered during research for other vague complaints, such as weight loss. Or because certain organs no longer work properly because they are affected by the tumor.

Symptoms of Cancer in Dogs

The most common symptoms that could make you or your vet suspect a tumor or cancer in your dog:

  • abnormal lumps (growths);
  • bumps, especially when they change in size;
  • losing weight or change in appetite;
  • breathlessness or coughing;
  • your dog is more tired;
  • pain;
  • lameness or stiffness;
  • drinking and urinating a lot;
  • anemia;
  • difficulty urinating or defecating;
  • wounds that do not heal;
  • blood loss;
  • your dog stinks.

How To Tell If A Dog Is In Pain From Cancer

Unfortunately, a dog cannot tell if and where it is in pain. As the owner, we will therefore have to pay attention to other signs. We must realize that pain is a warning signal from the body to prevent possible further damage. We distinguish two types of pain, acute pain in a specific place and chronic and often slowly emerging pain.

Recognize pain

Acute pain is quite easy to spot in a dog. The animal will withdraw, squeak, whine, scream or even show aggression when touched. This is a reflex to severe pain. The dog cannot do anything about this.

Chronic pain is more difficult. Because this often occurs gradually, the dog is given time to get used to it without the aforementioned reflex occurring. This does not detract from the fact that the dog can suffer from it a lot. However, it will express this in a different way.

Behavioral changes

We also know differences in pain threshold in dogs. This means that there is a difference in when it is still a bit bearable for the dog and when it is no longer. This can be different for every dog, just like for every person. This situation can also depend. For example, a dog may refuse to sit on command if it hurts, while still bending in pain from running after a ball. In the second case, the ball is more important than the pain and in the first case the opposite is true.

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However, if we look at normal home situations, there are a number of things you can pay attention to:

  • The dog may move differently: it becomes stiffer or even lame.
  • It has trouble getting up (so-called ‘starting pain’) or does not always want to go outside.
  • It no longer wants to play so exuberantly, no longer walks stairs or jumps against you (if it were allowed to do so before).
  • It stays in place longer if something happens (like when the doorbell rings).
  • Aggression if you stroke or touch its ‘sore’ areas.

How Does Dog Cancer Research Work?

how to tell if a dog is in pain from cancer

In cancer it is important to get there early. Early detection increases the chance of a cure and the veterinarian can often help your dog with less severe treatment.

You can do a number of things yourself to detect cancer in time. For example, an annual health check is important to detect cancer at an early stage.

Also regularly check your dog’s mouth to see if anything has changed, keep a close eye on your dog’s bumps and go to the vet quickly if you notice any symptoms.

To be able to make the correct diagnosis, the veterinarian will conduct several examinations:

Tissue research

First of all, a small piece of tissue is removed from the place where the tumor is. This is called a biopsy and is usually done with a special thin needle. But sometimes minor surgery is required.

The collected tissues are examined by a pathologist or specialist veterinarian. Based on this, it is decided whether further research is necessary.

Investigate how far the disease has progressed

If the result of the test is malignant, the progress of the disease should be assessed. This is called staging.

To determine this, the veterinarian will need more insight and will conduct further research with, for example, X-rays , an ultrasound , CT scan or MRI scan.

The fact that the veterinarian can now use CT and MRI scans has greatly improved their knowledge of how tumors spread.

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And importantly, it ensures that they can better tell you what your dog’s estimated life expectancy is.

Your Dog Has Cancer: Now What?

It’s a diagnosis you as a dog owner never hope to hear. Fortunately, both benign and malignant cancers can often be treated well.  

Benign tumors do not spread. As a result, the tumor can usually be removed with surgery, so that your dog is healed.

A malignant cancer can continue to grow. This can make it increasingly difficult to remove the tumor.

In addition, the cancer can spread to lymph nodes, lungs, liver, bones, or other organs.

What Treatment Does Your Dog Need?

Depending on the type of tumor, your dog’s age, and his or her general health, there are several options.

Surgery is often sufficient and can be curative if the entire tumor can be removed.

In some cases, a combination of different treatment methods is the best option. For example with chemotherapy or radiation, immunotherapy or hormone therapy.

Quality of life

If your dog is terminally ill, for example because the cancer has spread too much, the veterinarian can still treat your dog.

If the tumor cannot be removed properly, the veterinarian can treat the tumor in such a way that it becomes stable and therefore does not grow further. In such a case, your dog does not have to die of the tumor.

In this way they ensure that the cancer is inhibited, or that they provide relief, so that your dog can lead the best possible life.

When your dog can no longer be treated against cancer, the veterinarian will make sure that your dog can still have a good life.

Through medication, pain and discomfort are taken away from your dog. This is called palliative care.

The goal of the treatment is always aimed at keeping your dog’s quality of life optimal. Unlike humans, animals often have little or no side effects.

Did you discover a lump in your dog?

Have you discovered a strange lump in your dog? Or does your pet show abnormal complaints as described above? Then contact the veterinarian as soon as possible.

Important: This article is for informational purposes only. We always recommend that you go to a trusted vet with your pet first.