Cancer in Cats and Dogs

pet xray

Fluffy or Fido has developed a lump. You observe your cat or dog having difficulty when chewing. Your pet doesn’t want to play any more. The diagnosis: cancer.Dog, cats, and other mammals are susceptible to many of the diseases that humans get, cancer included. With advances in veterinary medicine, our pets are living longer, which increases their chances of getting cancer and other diseases. The good news is that cancer treatment for pets has advanced at the same pace as cancer treatment for people.

Warning signs of cancer in pets

The warning signs listed here could be caused by other conditions, not just by cancer. Whatever their cause, early treatment increases the odds of success. Take your pet to your veterinarian if you see any of these signs:

Pet appearance and smell

  • A lump or sore that won’t heal or go away
  • An abnormal swelling that grows
  • Difference in testicle size
  • Bleeding or discharge from a body opening
  • Weight loss despite eating
  • Lameness or stiffness
  • An odor

Pet behavior

  • Difficulty chewing or swallowing
  • Not eating for more than a day or two
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Difficulty urinating or defecating
  • Fatigue — tiring easily and lacking energy
  • Depression
  • Appetite loss
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Coughing

Pet cancer diagnosis

If your cat or dog has a tumor or other visibly affected area, your veterinarian will aspirate a few cells from the area and examine them under a microscope. The presence of any abnormal cells means that the next step in diagnosis is a biopsy & removal of a tissue sample for microscopic examination. After the tissue has been examined under a microscope, the tumor can be classified as high-grade (fast-growing), intermediate, or low-grade (slow-growing). To find tumors that might not be visible, diagnostic imaging tools can be used, such as X-rays, ultrasound, radiography, scans, and endoscopy. With endoscopy, a small scope is inserted into the body so that internal cancerous masses can be viewed and biopsied. The animal is sedated, but the procedure is less invasive than surgery. Blood tests are used to look for changes in white blood cells as well as other changes that could point to cancer. In addition, blood tests can detect problems that the treatment itself may be causing. After a diagnosis of cancer is made, further tests may be necessary to monitor the treatment of the disease.

Cancer treatment for pets

Animals respond differently to cancer treatment than people do. Often a combination of these treatment types is used:
  • Surgery is the most effective treatment for most tumors. When tumors can’t be completely removed surgically, other treatments are used in combination with surgery.
  • Radiotherapy kills cancerous cells via high-energy X-rays. It’s done as a series of treatments over a few weeks. The most common side effect is hair loss and a sunburn effect around the area of the tumor; severe side effects are rare. Sometimes radiotherapy destroys all the cancer cells. Other times, it just reduces their size enough to allow the animal good health for a long time before the tumor grows again.
  • Chemotherapy rarely cures tumors, but it often puts the cancer in remission. It’s typically used for cancer that has spread to other areas and for inoperable tumors. Side effects are less severe than with people.
Special attention to your pet’s nutritional needs helps support your pet’s health. For dogs, Hill’s Prescription Diet Canine n/d has been created specifically to counter the effects of cancer and cancer treatment. The article Nutrition and the Small Animal Cancer Patient has more information on the nutritional needs of cats and dogs with cancer.

Alternative pet cancer treatment

Alternative treatment for cancer in pets may be used to help support the animal’s health while your pet is undergoing conventional treatment, or as a treatment in itself.
  • Homeopathic treatments can help stimulate the immune system, prevent and fight cancer, control pain, and prevent side effects from chemotherapy and radiation.
  • Nutritional and herbal supplements help your pet’s body fight cancer.

Pet cancer treatment and recovery

Cancer is the leading cause of death in older cats and dogs. However, cancer is sometimes curable, and it is usually treatable. When cancer treatment can’t cure the disease, it can slow its progression and reduce tumor size and related discomfort. Dogs, cats, and most other pets have much shorter life spans than people do. Treatment that extends the animal’s life by even a year gives a significant increase for an animal with a life expectancy of perhaps 10 to 15 years. When we provide quality of life along with an increased length of life, we’ve done a lot for our pets. Update: UGA VIII, the beloved mascot of the Georgia Bulldogs football team passed away February 4th, 2010 of Canine Lymphoma (a type of cancer). Lymphoma in pets is on the rise and all pet owners should be on the lookout for the early symptoms of Lymphoma. Symptoms of lymphoma may include enlarged glands, fever, weight loss, loss of appetite, loss of hair/fur, vomiting, and even depression. Hypercalcemia (high blood calcium levels) is often one of the first clinical indicators of lymphoma in dogs (and humans). Hypercalcemia can cause increased water drinking, increased urination, and cardiac arrhythmias. Lymphoma is curable if caught early, so if your pet displays any of these symptoms, please take them to the vet for a full workup. Our sympathies goes out to the Georgia Bulldogs family as they mourn the loss of UGA VIII.