November is a National Pet Cancer Awareness Month!

November is the perfect time of year for gratitude and giving thanks. It’s also the time of year people around the country honor National Pet Cancer Awareness Month. We know pet owners all over America will be giving extra thanks to the dogs and cats in their lives.

Our pets give us so many reasons to be thankful, after all!

This month, we invite you to learn about the important topic of pet cancer, whether you have four-legged friends at home or are simply a fan of these cuddly cuties. Raising awareness about pet cancer, educating people about early cancer warning signs, and teaching pet parents how to keep their cats and dogs healthy are all essential for protecting animals and saving precious lives.

Keep reading to learn more!

image of an infographic detailing the pet cancer

 

 

Statistics to Know about Pet Cancer

Did you know?

  • Pet cancer is so common that 12 million cats and dogs are diagnosed with it every year in this country.
  • Cancer is the leading cause of disease-related death in canines and felines. 1 out of 4 dogs are affected by it. 1 out of 5 cats are affected by cancer, too.
  • Advancing age is a leading risk factor for cancer. 50% of all animals over the age of 10 will die of it.
25%
1 Out of 4 Dogs
20%
1 Out of 5 Cats
50%
Half of animals over the age of 10 die from it

If you’re a pet owner, we understand how concerning these statistics can be. But there’s good news:

Advances in medical treatment and diagnostic services are on-going as we speak. From radiograph imaging to medications and surgeries, pet parents these days have many options for the prevention and treatment of cancer in their dogs and cats. And even though pet cancer isn’t “curable” (yet, at least!), many animals who are diagnosed with cancer are able to go on and live happy, comfortable, and full lives.

Like cancer in humans, cancer in pets is a broad condition. Some types of cancer are easier to treat, while other types are more aggressive and tend to have poorer outcomes. For the concerned pet owner, it’s helpful to be educated about the specific type of cancer their animal has, because this knowledge can help them strike the right balance between maximizing their animal’s longevity while also prioritizing their beloved pet’s comfort and quality of life.

It’s what we all really want, isn’t it? Humane treatment of our precious pets that provides them with the dignity, comfort, and maximal health and lifespan they deserve. To the veterinarians and researchers out there doing their part to advance pet cancer treatment, we thank you!

Warning Signs of Cancer in Dogs

image of a Sick dog under a blanket

The following signs are often the earliest indicators alerting us to cancer in dogs. Keep in mind that these signs can also indicate other health conditions, so the only way to know what they mean for sure is to bring your animal to your vet:

Foul Breath

A dog’s breath isn’t exactly pleasant to begin with (no matter how much we love their kisses!). But if a dog’s breath is exceedingly foul, this could be suggestive of an oral tumor.

Difficulty or Straining to Urinate

If you see blood in your dog’s urine or notice him struggling to urinate, the first differential diagnosis is usually a urinary tract infection. But bladder cancer may be the underlying cause if the issue is recurrent or doesn’t get better with antibiotics.

Persistent Dry Cough

A dry, non-productive cough in an older pet should prompt chest radiographs to be taken. This is the most common sign of lung cancer. Please remember there are many causes of cough in dogs.

Lameness

Is your dog suddenly limping or having trouble walking? This could be a sign of bone cancer, especially if you have a large breed animal.

Chronic Vomiting or Diarrhea

Vomiting and diarrhea are both extremely common issues and often don’t signify anything serious. But in some cases these can be signs of gastrointestinal tumors in dogs.

Unexplained or Unusual Bleeding

Unusual bleeding or bruising, especially from the nose, gums, or mouth, could indicate a cancerous condition, especially in an older pet.

Unexplained Weight Loss

Unexplained weight loss is a common sign of cancer in humans, and it’s the same in dogs. If an animal is losing weight even without any changes in his diet or activity, it’s a red flag that warrants a trip to the vet.

Swollen Lymph Nodes or Lumps

Lymph nodes or glands are located all over a dog’s body and are an important part of the immune system. When they swell, this could indicate a type of cancer called lymphoma. Swollen lymph nodes are easiest to feel around a dog’s knees or jaw.

Additionally, if you notice any lump that’s growing or changing, your vet should take a look at it.

Common Types of Canine Cancer

image of a Close-up portrait of a labrador dog a with a sick face

Canine Mammary Gland Tumors

Also known as breast cancer, mammary gland tumors are usually seen in non-spayed older female dogs. Breeds most at risk for mammary gland tumors include Poodles, English Spaniels, English Setters, and Terriers.

Canine Lymphoma

Lymphoma or lymphosarcoma affects the infection-fighting cells of a dog’s immune system and accounts for about 7% of all dog cancers.  It’s similar to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in humans.

Thyroid Carcinomas in the Dog

Dogs who get thyroid tumors are usually between 9 and 11 years old and are often Golden Retrievers, Beagles, or Boxers. Thyroid cancer accounts for 3.8% of all canine cancers.

Soft Tissue Sarcomas in Dogs

Sarcomas affect various tissues in dogs like fat, muscle, nerves, and lymphatic vessels. About 15% of all canine cancers are sarcomas.

Melanoma

Scottish Terriers, Cocker Spaniels, Gordon Setters, Chow Chows, and Golden Retrievers are often genetically predisposed to melanoma, which is often found on a dog’s paws or in its mouth.

Bladder Cancer

Female and male dogs can be afflicted with bladder cancer, but it’s more common females. We see it especially in Scottish Terriers, West Highland White Terriers, Shetland Sheepdogs, and Beagles.

Canine Mast Cell Tumors

Mast cells are part of a dog’s immune system. Mast cell tumors are actually the most common type of malignant canine skin cancer. Look out for fatty masses or red hot spots on the skin. They often look like fatty masses or red “hot spots” on the skin.

Histiocytic Sarcoma in Dogs

Histiocytic sarcomas affect the spleen as well as other tissues throughout the body. Prognosis depends on where the tumors are located. If it affects the spleen, as many as 50% of dogs will not be able to clot blood properly.

Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL)

CLL causes white blood cell to build up in the bone marrow, spleen, and other tissues. The progress is usually slow.

Appendicular Osteosarcoma

Large breed dogs are the most likely to get this type of bone cancer in the legs. On average, it usually develiop when dogs are around 7 years old.

Acute Leukemia

Blood-forming tissues like bone marrow, liver, and spleen are affected by this type of cance, which sadly tends to afflict dog less than 5 years old.

Primary Lung Tumors in Dogs

Lung cancer is uncommon and accounts for less than 1% of all canine tumors. While it can affect any breed, older dogs tend to be the most at risk.

Cancer Warning Sign in Cats

close up of vet with clipboard and cat at clinic

Many signs of cancer in felines are similar to dogs. Some vets say that early signs can be a little harder to detect in cats, so it’s important to stay vigilant about your kitty’s behavior, especially as she grows older.

Lumps, Bumps, and Swollen Lymph Nodes

Any unusual bump or lump on your cat’s body should be evaluated by your vet, especially if the growth is changing in size, texture, or color, or if it appears painful to the touch. Lymph nodes on cats may be palpable behind the jaw or knees if swollen.

Unexplained Bleeding

If you notice your kitty bleeding without any known trauma, take her to the vet. Look for signs of blood or bruising near the mouth, nose, gums, or even in the stool or urine.

Foul Odor From the Mouth

Oral tumors in cats are common, but they can be hard to see. Bad breath, difficulty chewing, or a sudden change in food preference may be early warning sign of this type of cancer in felines.

Behavioral Changes

If a kitty doesn’t feel well or is in pain, she’ll often exhibit strange behavior changes such as hiding, decreased activity, or unusual aggression. It doesn’t necessarily mean she has cancer, but it still should be brought to the attention of your vet.

Frequent Vomiting and Diarrhea

Often tumors of the gastrointestinal tract can cause chronic vomiting and/or diarrhea. Gastrointestinal lymphoma is common in cats so any unexplained vomiting (not hairballs) or diarrhea should be investigated. If vomiting and/or diarrhea are associated with weight loss, your cat should see your veterinarian.

Chronic Weight Loss

Have your pet checked if a pet is losing weight and is not on a diet. This is not diagnostic for cancer, but indicates that something is wrong. Detecting weight loss in cats can be very difficult due to their relatively small size. One of the best ways is to monitor your cat’s weight weekly or monthly.

Common Types of Cancer in Cats

Portrait of yellow sad sick cat lying at home

Intestinal Adenocarcinomas

Adenocarcinomas develop in a cat’s gastrointestinal tract and often present with vomiting and diarrhea. We see it often in older male cats, including Siamese and Domestic Shorthair cats.

Feline Oral Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC)

The leadng type of oral cancers in cats, SCC rarely metastasize quickly (spread to other body areas) but they can make it difficult for an animal to chew and swallow food.

Feline Mast Cell Tumors

About 20% of feline skin tumors are caued by mast cell tumors, which can be benign or malignant. They typically affect middle-aged kitties. Siamese cats are often affected.

Feline Mammary Gland Tumors

20% of all feline cancer causes are caused by mammary gland tumors (aka breast cancer). Females are the most often affected by these tumors, which tend to spread to other areas of the body.

Feline Lymphoma

1 out of 3 cases of malignant feline cancers are caused by lymphomas. This type of tumor can affect many areas of a cat’s body, including the kidneys, digestive tract, spleen, and chest cavity. Unlike dogs with lymphoma, cats with lymphoma will not have obvious swollen lymph glands.

Acute Leukemia

Like dogs, cats with acute leukemia are usually quite young (less than 5 years old). This type of cancer causes excessive build-up of white blood cells in the bone marrow, as well as the liver and spleen. This cancer can make cats very ill.

Vaccine-Associated Fibrosarcomas (VAS)

Vaccines are important and necessary for protecting your kitty against communicable diseases. But one rare adverse effect of vaccines are VAS tumors, which develop at a vaccination site. A VAS can take a long time to show up, anywhere form 4 months to over a decade later.

Tips to Reduce Pet Cancer

close-up of a cat and dog, isolated on white

Now that you know more about early warning signs of canine and feline cancer, and have a general idea of some of the most common types, the next important thing to know is how to reduce your animal’s risk for falling ill in the first place!

No healthy lifestyle can offer 100% protection against pet cancer, but there are plenty of things you can do to significantly reduce your little love bug’s chances of developing the disease.

Spay and Neuter

Female cats and dogs who get spayed before their first menstrual cycles have significantly lower chance of getting breast cancer. It also eliminates the chances of getting uterine or ovarian cancer.

Meanwhile, neutered male cats and dogs avoid getting testicular tumors, and they have a lowered risk of developing perianal tumors.

And don’t forget—neutering and spaying animals also reduces the risk of pet overpopulation, and can save you money in the long-run by helping you avoid costly health conditions, including pregnancy and whelping.

Minimizing Environmental Exposure

image of a Sun rays against a blue sky

Several things in the environment may increase your animal’s risk of cancer. These include:

  • Ultraviolet radiation from the sun: cats with light skin and little hair are prone to skin cancers caused by UV radiation. We often see skin tumors develop near the eyes, ears, nose, and abdomen. Help your pet avoid excessive sun exposure by keeping her indoors during the hottest parts of the day, offering shady areas to rest, and trying breathable lightweight pet clothing.
  • Secondhand smoke: humans who smoke put themselves, their loved ones, AND their pets at risk for cancer! If you smoke, quit. It’s better for everyone in your household!

Good Nutrition

image of pet food

Proper nutrition is the foundation for a healthy pet’s life, and giving your animal the right nutrients she needs may help reduce her risk of cancer.

It’s not just about giving her the right nutrients, minerals, and vitamins. Minimizing your pet’s exposure to certain foods like procesed ingredients, sugar, and other pro-inflammatory ingredients may also help keep her safe and better equipped to fight off cancer cells.

Always talk to your vet about questions regarding your animal’s diet, and remember your pet’s nutriitonal needs may change depending on her age and health status.

Prevention and Early Detection

When it comes to pet cancer, earlier detection means earlier treatment, and this often means better outcomes. So, bring your pet in for her annual vet visit. Routine exams are essential for detecting early warning signs of cancer and other health problems, especially as your animal gets older.

Conclusion

Pet cancer is very common and affects 1 out of 4 dogs and 1 out of 5 cats in our country. Even though advances in veterinary medicine mean that pets with cancer are living better and longer, the best option would be to help your animal avoid getting cancer in the first place!

In the spirit of National Pet Cancer Awareness Month, be sure to share this article with your fellow pet parents. And if you have any concerns about your pet’s wellbeing, call your vet right away. Don’t hesitate to ask for help!

  • October 28, 2019
Mary Nielsen
 

A huge animal lover, born and raised around dogs, cats, chickens... Self-educated pet care nerd. Currently parent of three adopted cats and one small mutt. Animal adoption advocate. Loves a good book (about animals) and playing the piano.