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Everything you need to know about dogs with breast cancer

Golden dog rolling in the grass advice
© Unsplash

Learn to spot the signs of dog breast cancer early and be aware of what medical treatments are available in order to improve your dog’s chances of survival.

By Nick Whittle

Sometimes a cancer cannot be linked to any specific cause but that is not the case with canine breast cancer. The highest incidences of the disease are observed of entire bitches, in other words dogs that have not been spayed.

It is highly unusual for a male dog to suffer with breast cancer.

This trend of cancer is noticeable in countries that do not have a cultural propensity to spay young female dogs. For instance, countries of southern Europe do not tend to spay bitches. This adherence to a culture results in exceptionally high incidences of breast cancer, and the classification of the disease as the most common of those suffered by dogs.

What are the types of breast cancer in dogs?

As with most tumours those of the mammary glands are either benign or malignant (and sometimes a mixture of the two). The ratio of benign and malignant are roughly 50:50.

There are five types of benign tumour and nine types of malignant tumour, including squamous cell carcinoma and carcinosarcoma, both of which are particularly aggressive types of cancer.

Importantly, any tumour that is present on the dog’s breast can change over time.

Although the general consensus of vets, is that breast cancer is linked to the hormonal make up of an entire dog. Some dogs are more prone to the disease by genetic inheritance.

Certain breeds that are thought to be more at risk than others of contracting breast cancer include pointers, poodles, English setters and fox terriers.

Symptoms of dog breast cancer

A mammary cancer is usually obvious. It can take the form of a single mass or multiple lumps on one or more breast. Dogs have on average 10 nipples so it is worthwhile your checking each mammary gland for signs of deformity.

A breast tumour grows slowly over time but your vigilance is essential due to a tumour's ability to quickly metastasize (spread) to the dog’s lymph nodes or lungs.

The following other symptoms are observed of a dog with breast cancer: Discharge from a mammary gland, ulceration of the skin, painful and swollen breasts, loss of appetite, weight loss and weakness.

Diagnosis of dog breast cancer

Diagnosis by studying the cells of the tumour should be undertaken as soon as possible, but because of the variety of breast cancers and the occurrence of mixed tumours these tests may take some time.

A biopsy to determine the state of the 'join' between the tumour and the healthy tissue is more worthwhile. A vet may also carry out ultrasound, x-ray and blood tests to determine the extent of the cancer.

Conventional treatments of a dog’s breast cancer

Removal of the mammary gland is advised in all cases of breast cancer. In some cases removal of nearby lymph nodes is also recommended. Some benign tumours (if they are wholly benign) can be removed without a mastectomy.

If there are more than two or three tumours found a vet will normally suggest the removal of all of the mammary glands along one side of the dog, as a preventative measure.

Chemotherapy is not usually a post-operative treatment for dogs recovering from breast cancer unless it is thought to be effective against advanced metastases.

Alternative treatments for a dog’s breast cancer

If you would rather try to treat your dog by a holistic approach you must advise your vet of your intention. They may recommend to at least have the tumour(s) surgically removed before undertaking such a treatment.

Holistic cancer treatments will often include certain types of food. The following are some of foods and supplements believed to slow the onslaught of a cancer: 

  • Carbohydrates (pasta bread)
  • Protein (raw meat)
  • Fatty acids
  • Vitamin D
  • Green tea

Prognosis and summary

Providing a worthwhile prognosis is difficult due to the many varieties of tumour. However, the prognosis of recovery from a deep tumour or one that has released cancer cells into other parts of the dog’s body is not favourable, and the life expectancy of such a canine patient will be measured in months.

If a tumour is found it its early stage and removed swiftly a dog's survival time will be much extended.

Breast cancer in dogs requires immediate treatment.
The size and depth of the dog's tumour will determine her survival.
 © Pixabay
 

The following types of breast tumour carry the worst chance of survival:

  • Large and deep-rooted tumour
  • Metastatic tumour
  • Ulcerated tumour
  • A tumour with undefined edges

Recovery from surgery takes weeks during which your dog will be in considerable pain and prone to infection. Pain relief is essential in this period but so too is your attention to her comfort and wellbeing.

A dog that feels poorly wants to rest and be alone but after about two weeks her health should begin to improve, and when her appetite returns she will want to eat. Make sure you give her every bit of support and consider feeding her foods that have been formulated for dogs with cancer.