What are the common types of cancer in dogs?
There is, unfortunately, a variety of common cancers in dogs that can range from lymphoma, which is cancer of the lymph nodes, to skin cancers and cancers of the mouth. You can see various cancers, and they can all present in different ways.
Christopher Dolan, DVM, DACVIM (Oncology)
Central Texas Veterinary Specialty and Emergency Hospital
What are some of the signs and symptoms of dog cancer?
That varies a little bit depending on the actual kind of cancer that's going on, but it can range from something like lymphoma, where owners may notice some big lymph nodes around the body, primarily under the jaw or in front of the shoulder. For other skin tumors, you might notice a big mass that's developing and continuing to grow or maybe fluctuate a little bit. You may even notice that your dog's breath is smelling really bad, then when you take a look in the mouth, you see a mass there. Other more vague things can also occur, so that might be seeing an increase in lethargy or appetite going down, or some weight loss that wasn't intended. We can really see a wide range of presenting signs, from something that's more obvious to those that are more subtle and requires an investigation to find out what's going on.
How will a veterinarian diagnose cancer in your dog?
Unfortunately, this will vary quite a bit depending on the actual type of cancer, but it can be during the routine blood tests that we can do. Sometimes we need to do imaging studies such as chest x-rays or abdominal ultrasounds. In other cases, when we may need to do biopsies, we send that off to a pathologist.
What treatment options are available for dogs with cancer?
We have three primary treatment options for cancer: surgery, radiation therapy, or chemotherapy. Depending on the actual type of cancer that is diagnosed, we decide which of those options is the best. That's something we would discuss once we have a diagnosis, and we can say this is the one that's recommended, or here are the multiple options and the pros and cons of each.
What are some possible side effects caused by cancer treatments?
Especially with chemo like chemotherapy, the most common clinical signs we see are vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, and just some lethargy. But in most cases, the majority of my patients have no major significant side effects with chemotherapy. If they do, it typically lasts for a short period of time, and we send home medications to help with any nausea or diarrhea that might occur. Overall, most patients tolerate our treatments well because our therapy goal is to give them a good quality of life. So we do not want to make them sick with their cancer treatments.
Why is early detection and diagnosis of cancer in dogs so important?
Early detection will be important because we can intervene earlier rather than later. We know that a lot of these diseases can spread to other parts of the body or cause local problems, and that can range from affecting their ability to walk around, or it can be painful or discomforting. So the earlier we find these things, the earlier we can intervene and have the best outcomes going forward. If you have a pet with clinical signs that you are worried about, if you're seeing a new mass, or anything else you're worried about, we recommend having them first evaluated by your primary care veterinarian. If they find anything of concern that they think is cancer, they can certainly reach out to us for a consultation, or they can send in a referral for you to come in yourself so we can evaluate your pet and discuss options moving forward.
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