Cancer in Cats and Dogs

Thanks to advancements in veterinary medicine concerning early recognition, diagnosis and treatment, pets today have a better chance at being successfully treated for cancer than ever before. 

What is cancer in pets? 

Cancer is an umbrella term referring to a large number of diseases characterized by uncontrollable cell growth. Note that ‘neoplasia’ is the uncontrolled, abnormal growth of cells or tissues in the body, and the abnormal growths themselves are either called neoplasms or tumors. 

These growths can be benign or malignant. The word “cancer” is often confused with neoplasia, but only malignant neoplasms can truly be considered ‘cancer’. 

Benign neoplasms tend to grow slowly, and may displace otherwise normal tissue but are not considered invasive to surrounding body tissues and do not spread throughout the body. Malignant cancers on the other hand, can be unpredictable and grow at various rates, invading the tissue around them. They can also spread, or metastasize, to other parts of the body. 

How common is it? 

12 million dogs and cats will be diagnosed with cancer this year. 

Dogs get cancer at roughly the same rate as humans. Approximately 1 in 4 dogs will at some point in their lives, develop cancer. 50% of dogs over the age of 10 years old will develop cancer. 

For cats, there isn’t as much information, but we can say that some cancers are more common in cats, such as lymphoma, and the risk is increased with age. 

How is it diagnosed? 

Cancer is usually suspected based on certain clinical signs (e.g., lumps, loss of appetite and/or energy, weight loss). It is also often suspected on the basis of the pet’s medical history and a physical exam with a veterinarian. 

Radiographs (x-rays), aspiration and cytology (withdrawing cells from a mass to examine under a microscope), ultrasound exams, blood tests and sometimes additional testing may be needed to confirm cancer. 

Oftentimes pets don’t show symptoms of serious illness, like cancer, until it has progressed to the point of not being treatable.

Is pet cancer preventable? 

Unfortunately, the causes of many pet cancers and neoplastic diseases are unknown, making prevention difficult. There is evidence that suggests secondhand smoke can increase the risk of some cancers in dogs and cats. 

Spaying and neutering pets can decrease and even eliminate the risk of certain cancers in pets, such as mammary cancer in female pets and testicular and prostate cancer in male pets. 

Early detection and treatment are the best ways to manage cancer in pets. 

What are the signs of cancer in cats and dogs?

Similar to humans, pets can develop cancer that affects almost any organ or tissue in their body. The tissue involved and the severity of the cancer will determine what signs or symptoms your pet displays. 

If you observe any of the following signs from your pet, consult your veterinarian: 

  • Bleeding from anywhere on the body 
  • Abdominal swelling (enlarged stomach) 
  • Difficulty swallowing or breathing 
  • Lumps, bumps or discolored skin
  • Wounds that won’t heal 
  • Sudden and persistent loss of appetite
  • Excessive coughing 
  • Lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea, changes in urination 

Many symptoms of cancer are the same as other diseases your pet may experience, but nonetheless, they need a prompt evaluation from a veterinarian to determine the cause. Cancer therapy in pets has advanced significantly in the past decade and many types of cancer have treatment options. Which brings us to our next question… 

How is cancer treated?

Each type of cancer will require individual care, which can be further altered based on your specific pet’s age, weight, breed, medical history and condition. 

Treatment may include one or a combination of multiple tactics such as surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, or immunotherapy. Continued research is still being conducted and new methods are being discovered as we speak. 

In some instances, your veterinarian may refer you to a board-certified oncologist (cancer specialist) or a specialty veterinary hospital. 

Some cancers can be cured, while others can only be managed with the hopes of decreasing the spread and prolonging the pet’s length and quality of life. Success of treatment is often based on these factors:

  • Type of Cancer 
  • Grade of Tumor – a system for some tumors that involves evaluation of the cancerous cells’ nature that can indicate the risk of growth or spread
  • Stage – staging cancer involves searching the rest of the body for signs of spread. This would involve imaging such as x-rays, ultrasound, and regional lymph node cytology.

Unfortunately, not all cancers are treatable and some can recur despite best efforts. Quality of life or palliative care to keep a pet comfortable should be discussed with your veterinarian to help make the most informed choice for your pet and family.

What is the success rate of treatment? 

Generally, benign neoplasms are usually easier to treat while more malignant cancers become more difficult. Early detection and treatment is therefore the most critical aspect. Prognosis is individual and can vary greatly. The best way to improve treatment success rate is to identify tumors and cancer early in the disease process.

PetMedic Hospital’s Annual Health Screening Package for Pets 8+ Years and Older! 

May is National Pet Cancer Awareness Month! For the month of May 2022, we are offering a discounted Annual Health Screening Package for pets over 8 years of age. The package includes general blood work, urinalysis, and full body x-rays to screen for tumors or other signs of cancer. This combination of services is being offered for $475 ($189.58 in savings) to promote screening for cancer. 

Click here to schedule an appointment. 



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