Dog Cancer - Dog Cancer Types, Detection & Treatment

At Berry Farms and Concord Animal Hospitals, we understand that your canine companion is not just a pet but also a beloved, cherished family member. The mutual bond of love and loyalty between you can make a diagnosis of any form of dog cancer very difficult to hear. Our veterinarians and support staff are empathetic, compassionate, and trained to focus on both the emotional and medical aspects of dog cancer.

We are here to guide you both through the diagnosis and treatment process. This includes choosing the best options for effectively, humanely, and successfully dealing with canine cancer.

Is cancer in dogs common?

Cancer is pretty common in our canine patients, especially our older patients, mid-age to more senior. The latest statistics show that our pets have about a 50% chance of developing some type of cancer in their lifetime.

Dr. Mitch McKee
Cupola Animal Hospitals - Berry Farms Animal Hospital

What are the common types of cancer in dogs, and some common signs and symptoms?

Some of the common cancers that we see are skin-type cancers. They would be mast cell-type tumors, or maybe mammary gland tumors, such as carcinomas. We can see lymph node cancer where all the lymph nodes are involved, or we can also see cancers related to the mouth, oral cancers. Bone cancers can be very problematic for our dogs in terms of just overall discomfort. And it can be significantly limiting in terms of lifespan, or perhaps in terms of losing a limb because the dog has bone cancer. There are other skin-type cancers other than mast cell tumors, such as melanomas. So, many common cancers that people get, we're finding that our pets can get too.

And things to look for and be observant about are any kind of lumps or bumps that might pop up, whether they are red or black, or what their color is. Do they change a lot? Are they the same size all the time, or do they fluctuate? Are they bigger one day? Are they smaller the next day? Those are signs to look for, especially if we're even considering that there might be a cancerous process going on. Aside from that, some of our more internal type cancers could potentially cause weight loss, recurrent GI problems, or maybe even our abdomen swells in size if we have something affecting the spleen.

The most common types of cancer in dogs are:

  • Hemangiosarcoma: This form of dog cancer is an incurable tumor of the cells that line blood vessels, called endothelial cells. Although dogs of any age and breed are susceptible to hemangiosarcoma, it occurs more commonly in middle-aged or elderly dogs. Also, certain breeds have a much higher incidence, including Golden Retrievers and German Shepherds. For this reason, we may recommend additional screening for these breeds after age 5. This form of dog cancer develops slowly and is essentially painless, so clinical signs are usually not evident until the advanced stages when the tumors are resistant to most treatments. Less than 50% of treated dogs survive more than six months, and many die from severe internal bleeding before there is an opportunity to institute treatment.
  • Mast Cell Tumors: These are immune cells that are responsible for allergies. Mast cells can be found in all tissues of the body but typically form tumors on the skin in close to 20 percent of the canine population. They range from relatively benign to extremely aggressive. Certain breeds of dogs are at an increased risk for the development of this tumor, indicating that genetics might be a cause. Boxers are especially prone to this type of cancer.
  • Lymphoma: This form of dog cancer can affect any dog of any breed at any age. Most of the time, it appears as swollen glands (lymph nodes) that can be seen or felt under the neck, in front of the shoulders, or behind the knee. Occasionally, lymphoma can affect lymph nodes that are not visible from outside the body, such as those inside the chest or in the abdomen. This can cause trouble breathing and digestive trouble. Generally, this form of dog cancer is considered treatable if arrested in its early stages. Standard Poodles, Golden Retrievers, and Australian Shepherds are a few of the breeds with a higher incidence of lymphoma.
  • Osteosarcoma: This form of dog cancer is the most common type of primary bone cancer in dogs, accounting for up to 85% of tumors that originate in the skeletal system. Although it mostly affects older large or giant breed dogs, it can affect dogs of any size or age. Osteosarcoma occurs in many areas, but it most commonly affects the bones bordering the shoulder, wrist, and knee. Major symptoms include lameness in the affected leg or a swelling over the area that seems painful at the site.
  • Brain Tumors: Epileptic-like seizures or other extreme behavioral changes are usually the only clinical signs of brain tumors. CAT scanning and MRI are used to determine the location, size, and severity. Although oral chemotherapy and radiation therapy can control some inoperable tumors, surgical intervention may be recommended if the tumor is operable.
  • Bladder Cancer: Some breeds are more at risk for this form of dog cancer than others. This is a slow-developing dog cancer, and symptoms may not show for 3 to 6 months. Urinary obstruction and bleeding are common symptoms.
  • Mammary Carcinoma: Non-spayed female dogs are at high risk for developing malignant mammary tumors, but all female dogs regardless of reproductive state remain at risk. Approximately 50% of these tumors are malignant, and complete surgical removal is recommended if the cancer has not metastasized.
  • Malignant Histiocytosis: This dog cancer affects larger sport breeds most often. It occurs as localized lesions in the spleen, lymph nodes, lung, bone marrow, skin and subcutis, brain, and periarticular tissue of large appendicular (limb) joints. Histiocytic sarcomas can also occur as multiple lesions in single organs (especially the spleen) and rapidly disseminate to involve multiple organs. Unfortunately, there is no reported effective therapy for this form of dog cancer.
  • Squamous Cell Carcinomas (SCC): This is most often found in the mouth and the nail beds of the toes. Early detection and complete surgical removal is the most common treatment. Fewer than 20% of dogs develop metastatic disease. SCCs of the tonsil and tongue are quite aggressive, and fewer than 10% of dogs survive one year or longer despite treatment measures.
  • Mouth and Nose Cancer: This is a very common form of dog cancer, more so in the mouth than in the nose. Symptoms include a mass on the gums, bleeding, odor, or difficulty eating. Since many swellings are malignant, early, aggressive treatment is essential. Cancer may also develop inside the nose of dogs. Bleeding from the nose, breathing difficulty, or facial swelling are symptoms that may indicate nose cancer.
  • Melanoma: This form of dog cancer most commonly occurs in canines with dark skin. Melanomas arise from pigment-producing cells called melanocytes, which are responsible for coloring the skin. Melanomas can occur in areas of haired skin, where they usually form small, dark (brown to black) lumps, but they can also appear as large, flat, wrinkled masses. Malignant melanoma, which develops in the mouth or in the distal limbs (usually the toenail beds), is an incurable disease. These tumors have very often spread to distant parts of the body by the time they are first noticed, making complete surgical removal impossible.
  • Testicular: This form of dog cancer is common in unneutered dogs with retained testes. Testicular dog cancer is largely preventable through neutering and curable with surgery if arrested early in the disease process.

Why is early detection and diagnosis of cancer in dogs so important?

It's important in our pets because the quicker we can detect it, the better chance we have of treating it—whether that is through surgery, or whether it's through chemotherapy drugs, or other types of therapy as well.

Symptoms And Signs Of Cancer In Dogs

Some signs of cancer in dogs are easy to spot while others are not. The signs of cancer in dogs may vary greatly depending upon a number of factors. However, the following list identifies some of the most common signs of cancer in dogs:

  • Lumps and bumps underneath a dog's skin
  • Abnormal odors emanating from the mouth, ears, or any other part of the body
  • Abnormal discharge from the eyes, mouth, ears, or rectum
  • Abdominal swelling
  • Non-healing wounds or sores
  • Sudden and irreversible weight loss
  • Change in appetite
  • Coughing or difficulty breathing
  • Lethargy or depression
  • Changes in bathroom habits
  • Evidence of pain

Should you witness any signs of cancer in your dog, we strongly recommend making a veterinary appointment immediately.

How will a veterinarian diagnose cancer in my dog?

It's going to vary depending on what we think we're dealing with. Our clients often think that we can do a blood test, and it will tell us that there's some type of cancer there, and that's not entirely true for every case. Some cancerous situations may show some indication from blood work. Still, the majority of the time, it's going to be through some type of biopsy, a needle aspirate from a lump on the skin, or through x-ray, or ultrasound with a needle-guided biopsy. Or if we see a particular kind of cell under a microscope that maybe we find in your dog's urine, that could be indicative of a cancerous process going on in the bladder.

What treatment options are available for dogs with cancer?

Today, we have many treatment options for our canine cancer patients. It can range anywhere from chemotherapy, whether it's a one-time treatment or a series of treatments. Radiation is also available depending upon where you are. Those are the traditional treatments that we think of. But we also have some alternative therapies available to us that would resemble using Chinese herbal medications or perhaps some other alternative modalities.

Several factors influence cancer treatment decisions for dogs with cancer, including:

  • The age of the dog
  • The general health of the dog
  • The tumor type
  • The biological behavior of the tumor
  • The stage of the cancer

Treatments for dogs with cancer are similar to human therapies, which can include:

  • Chemotherapy
  • Surgery
  • Radiation therapy
  • Holistic or herbal therapy

What are some possible side effects caused by cancer treatments?

A common side effect of cancer treatment is going to be an upset stomach. A lot of these drugs are so effective at what they do, but they also cause nausea, vomiting, and often inappetence. And those things can be annoying, especially if you have to do a series of treatments. But there are preventive strategies to help with that if we see those. And just overall, the dog is probably not feeling well. Some of these drugs just make you feel not too well overall. And we know that happens in people we know who have had cancer treatments, and we see it in our dog cases.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (615) 224-7776, you can email us, or you can reach out on Facebook. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as soon as we can.