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What you need to know about dogs with cancer

Brown and black dog lying down advice
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More than 1 in 2 dogs will develop cancer at some point, making it the leading cause of death in dogs.

By Ashley Murphy

Can dogs get cancer?

Unfortunately, they can, indeed more than 1 in 2 dogs will have cancer and it's more common in older dogs, and 50% of those aged over ten will be diagnosed with some kind of cancer. As with most medical conditions, certain breeds are more susceptible to certain kinds of cancer than others.

As veterinarian Dr Jeffrey Levy points out, Great Danes are at higher risk of bone cancer, while golden retrievers and boxers are more likely to be diagnosed with lymphoma and mast cell cancer. Short haired dogs like pitbulls and dalmatians develop skin cancer more than other breeds. However, over half of all cancers are curable if caught in the early stages. Here are some of the symptoms you need to look out for:

Lumps or growths

If you find any lumps or growths on your dog then take them to a vet immediately. Dark growths on the legs and paw pads could mean skin cancer, while lumps could indicate a tumour. The vet will need to perform a biopsy to make a full diagnosis. Veterinary recommend performing a monthly lump check. This will help diagnose any cancers early on, as well as keeping a check on your dogs general health.

Weight loss and lethargy

Rapid weight loss and lethargy could be a sign of lymphoma or lymphosarcoma. These type of cancers attack the immune system, and without the proper treatment, the average survival time is between 4-6 weeks. With the right medication and care, some dogs can enter remission and survive for much longer. Again, early diagnosis is key.

Unusual orders and abnormal discharge

Your dog is never going to have the freshest breath, but if you notice a particularly bad smell coming from their mouth then take them for a check-up; it could be a sign of mouth cancer. Similarly, if you see a large amount of blood or puss coming out of the other end then contact your vet immediately; this could mean they have cancer of the stomach, liver, and pancreas.

Loss of appetite

If your dog isn't scoffing down its dinner as quickly as possible then something isn't right. It doesn't necessarily mean they have cancer but it is another symptom associated with the condition. Get them checked ASAP. Your vet will either put your mind at ease or begin treatment immediately.

Bloating

This is another symptom associated with cancers of the GI system (stomach, liver, intestines etc). It may indicate a build-up of fluid around the infected area. Again, get your dog to the vet.

Types of dog cancer

Dogs can suffer from many different types of cancer. Some are more treatable than others, but catching them early will always increase the chances of survival. The most common types affect the skin, the digestive system, and the breast. Dogs can also suffer from bone cancer and lymphoma, which is an infection of the white blood cells.

How long can a dog live with cancer?

If a cancer is left untreated, a dog is unlikely to survive more than a few months. However, with the right kind of treatment and care, a dog's life can be prolonged by years and in some cases, they’ll make a full recovery. Overall, some experts suggest that around 60% will be completely cured. The majority of these need surgery, but other treatments include medication and chemotherapy. Unfortunately, these can be quite expensive. If you haven't already, it may pay to do some research into the different types of pet insurance. 

What can I do to stop my dog from getting cancer?

Unfortunately, the cause of most cancers is unknown. This makes prevention extremely difficult, However, there are certain factors associated with the disease. Although there are no guarantees, controlling these will reduce your dogs chance of being diagnosed with cancer.

Oral hygiene

Keeping your dog's teeth clean will cut its chances of getting oral cancer. It also reduces the likelihood of any dental disease, which can lead to problems with the heart, kidneys, and liver.

Avoid pollutants

No dog ever catches cancer; it's a disease that grows from within. It affects the way cells work and some are caused by the introduction of toxins into your dog's system. So keep them away from smoke, smog, and chemical pollutants.

Healthy diet

Some cancers have been linked to poor diet. Switch to high-quality organic dog foods or fresh organic meat. You can also introduce supplements including vitamin c and fish oils. A high-carb diet is also associated with high cancer rates so cut these out as much as possible. 

Get your dog spayed or neutered

According to the ASPCA, a female dog is 2,000 less likely to be diagnosed with some cancers. Cancer is a scary word, and a diagnosis is always going to make us assume the worst. But remember that many dogs can make a full recovery, while with the right care others can survive for years. Early diagnosis is key so never be afraid to take your dog to the vet if you notice any worrying symptoms.