Cancer. It’s a pet owner’s worst fear. It’s something we don’t think about until it happens to our own families. And it’s frighteningly common. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, one out of four dogs develops neoplasia at some point in their lives, and almost 50% of dogs over 10 develop cancer.
Recently, we at Chopper and Otis felt those statistics with our beloved Chopper, who was diagnosed with a mast cell tumor in May.
Here is Chopper’s canine cancer story, information on cancer in dogs, and the actions we are taking to help make a difference in the lives of our furry companions.
What Is Canine Cancer?
Canine cancer is an uncontrolled and abnormal growth that occurs in a dog’s cells or body tissues. While dogs can and do develop benign neoplasia—also known as tumors—it must be malignant for a cancer diagnosis.
Much like human cancer, dogs develop many of the common forms of cancer that befall people. These include but are not limited to:
- Mast Cell Tumors: A type of skin cancer that often presents as inflammation and can occur anywhere on the body (like what Chopper had)
- Melanoma: Another form of skin cancer that often affects dogs’ mouths
- Lymphoma:A lymphatic system cancer that affects lymph nodes, the spleen, bone marrow, the thymus gland, and other organs
- Osteosarcoma:A common form of bone cancer in larger dog breeds
Signs of Cancer in Dogs
Catching cancer early is one of the best ways to give our furry friends a fighting chance. If we hadn’t taken Chopper in to get the bump looked at, cancer could have spread and become much harder to treat.
As such, here are some signs of cancer to watch out for:
- Lumps and bumps that change in shape, size, or appearance
- Wounds that won’t heal
- Loss of appetite
- Unexplainable weight loss
- Bleeding and/or discharge
- Difficulty urinating or releasing bowel movements
- Shallow or strained breathing
- Continuous diarrhea and vomiting
- Swollen abdomen
Keep in mind, these potential signs of cancer can also coincide with other types of illnesses or ailments. If you see any of these symptoms in your dog, or if your dog ever behaves out of the ordinary in a drastic and prolonged way, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian right away.
How Is Canine Cancer Diagnosed?
Treatment for Cancer in Dogs
Once it’s confirmed that a neoplasm is carcinogenic, doctors will create a treatment plan. For Chopper, this included surgery to remove the mass. Depending on the type of cancer, treatment may include:
In our case, we needed to see a specialist to ensure that Chopper’s treatment was working and to address our concerns with the continued infections, blockage, and changes in growth after the surgery.
One of the scariest parts of a cancer diagnosis in dogs is the unknown. How effective will the treatment plan be? Will my dog have lasting side effects from the treatment? Will the cancer return? These questions were certainly running through our heads when Chopper was diagnosed.
Not only was Chopper’s journey a stressful process of surgery, treatment, and pain management; it was also made worse by the lack of information available on prognoses for canine cancer. Research on canine cancer is relatively new, making it hard to know how an individual dog will respond to treatment.
Though there has been a major increase in cancer awareness in dogs over the years, the research has only started picking up over the last few decades. In fact, the American Kennel Club Canine Health Foundation, one of the leading organizations for canine cancer, began receiving funds for cancer research in just 1995.
Prevention, Education, and Advocacy
Chopper’s story came as a huge shock to us. Had we not removed that seemingly benign bump, we could have missed the diagnosis until it was too late.
Since every cancer journey is unique to the individual, and our furry friends can’t communicate how they’re feeling or what’s wrong, it’s our job to be their biggest advocates. This is why we at Chopper and Otis are more determined than ever to bring awareness to canine cancer.
While Chopper was fortunate to have received a quick diagnosis and prompt treatment plan, not all dogs are so lucky. We hope that in supporting a dog charity dedicated to spreading awareness of canine cancer, fewer dogs will suffer from this debilitating disease.
Until next time--