Advances in veterinary medicine combined with regular veterinary wellness visits and preventive care have resulted in our furry friends living and thriving longer than ever. However, as pets age, signs of wear and tear become evident, and their bodies become more susceptible to disease. Nearly one in four dogs will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime, including 50% of dogs older than 10. While less common in our feline friends, approximately 32% will be diagnosed with cancer, according to the Veterinary Cancer Society. Discovering a new lump on your pet can strike fear and may leave you with many questions. The good news is that with early detection, many common pet cancers are treatable, resulting in more precious time with your four-legged companions.
What is pet neoplasia or cancer?
During your pet’s veterinary exam, or while at home cuddling your furry friend, a new lump or bump may be discovered. This lump may be a neoplasia, a type of new growth made up of abnormal cells that have no off-button, and continue to grow, although they are not needed. Commonly, these cells will form into a swelling or lump (i.e., a tumor) in or on your pet’s body. Tumors can be benign (i.e., non-cancerous) or malignant (i.e., cancerous). Benign tumors can still damage tissue and cause problems, although they will not spread to surrounding tissues and are not life-threatening. A malignant tumor is an aggressive mass that invades surrounding tissues and organs, as well as metastasizing (i.e., spreading) throughout the body. If you find a new lump or bump on your pet, try not to panic, and contact your Mill Creek veterinarian immediately, so they can make a proper diagnosis. Many types of noncancerous lumps may show up on your pet, including:
- Allergic reactions to surfaces, medications, or environmental conditions
- Insect bites and stings
- Sebaceous gland cysts
How can I tell if my pet has cancer?
A cancerous mass is not always apparent in pets, because cancer can occur anywhere in the body and the mass is often difficult to recognize, especially in the early disease stages. Also, pets with cancer often exhibit clinical signs that mimic other diseases. Warning signs that your pet possibly has cancer include:
- Abdominal swelling
- Bleeding or discharge from body openings
- Difficulty breathing
- Difficulty eating or swallowing
- New area of discolored skin
- Non-healing wounds
- Chronic vomiting or diarrhea
- Decreased appetite
- Weight loss
- Unexplained swelling, heat, or pain on the body
- Lameness or stiffness
- Dry cough
- Decreased activity or stamina
- New, fast-growing lumps or bumps
What type of cancers do pets get?
Similar to humans, cancer can attack any part of your pet’s body at any age. While uncommon in young pets, some breeds are genetically predisposed to cancer prior to their senior years. The most common cancer types diagnosed in pets include:
- Mammary tumors — This cancer affects the mammary glands and surrounding tissues and is most commonly diagnosed in intact older females. Approximately 45% of mammary tumors in dogs are malignant, while more than 90% are malignant in cats.
- Lymphoma — This cancer, which attacks the lymph nodes and affects the immune system, affects dogs and cats differently. Clinical signs vary, as the cancer can travel anywhere in the lymphatic system, but enlarged lymph nodes are a common clinical sign.
- Osteosarcoma — This cancer attacks bones and is often aggressive and extremely painful. Osteosarcoma is more common in large- or giant-breed dogs and typically affects the front or rear legs.
- Melanoma — Melanoma, a cancer of melanin-producing skin cells, is most commonly found in the mouth, and on the skin and toes. Cats are rarely diagnosed with melanoma.
- Hemangiosarcoma — Hemangiosarcoma is a malignant cancer of blood vessels cells typically found in the spleen or liver, and less commonly on or under the skin. This cancer is diagnosed more frequently in dogs than cats.
- Transitional cell carcinoma (TCC) — This cancer of the cells lining the urinary system may be indicated when pets strain to urinate or have blood in their urine.
Can I prevent my pet from getting cancer?
Unfortunately, no magic pill can prevent cancer from invading your pet. However, you can take steps to ensure they have the best chance of fighting the unwanted disease. As with any disease, early detection and treatment are key to a successful outcome. Other preventive steps include:
- Ensuring your pet is on a nutritionally complete diet
- Keeping your pet on a regular exercise routine to maintain a healthy body weight—follow these tips to determine if your pet is at an ideal weight
- Avoiding secondhand smoke exposure, as recent research suggests a correlation between lung cancer and pets who are around smoke
- Ensuring that household chemicals that may be carcinogenic are stored safely, away from pets.
- Scheduling routine wellness exams and screenings with your Mill Creek Animal Hospital team
My pet has a lump. What happens next?
If you find a new lump on your pet or you observe clinical signs consistent with cancer, immediately schedule your pet for a physical examination. Your veterinarian can perform multiple diagnostic steps to determine if your pet has cancer, including:
- X-rays to look for a tumor, pinpoint its location, and any spread
- Complete blood work
- Fine-needle aspirate or biopsy to collect tumor cells
- Advanced imaging, such as an MRI or CT scan
Once a diagnosis is determined, your veterinarian will discuss treatment options.
Our Mill Creek Animal Hospital team hopes you never have to experience the stress of your pet’s cancer diagnosis, but if you do find a lump or bump, contact our office to schedule an exam. Rest assured, if we determine that your pet has cancer rather than a benign mass, our hospital is equipped with multiple in-house treatments for your pet’s cancer care, including surgery and chemotherapy, and they will receive the best possible care.