This is the second article in a series this month on canine cancer. In the Facts About Canine Cancer I highlighted the fact that cancer can occur in any part of your dog’s body, and multiple tumors can grow at each cancer site.
Because of this, it’s not easy to give definitive symptoms of cancer; however, the AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association) has identified 10 common signs of cancer.
It’s a good idea to become familiar with the symptoms listed below and start taking notice of how your dog presently looks, feels and behaves so that you’ll be able to spot any changes. This doesn’t have to be an onerous task, just become more alert to any changes as you bath, groom, exercise and watch your dog.
10 Common Signs of Cancer in Small Animals:
1. Abnormal swellings that persist or continue to grow
2. Sores that do not heal
3. Weight loss
4. Loss of appetite
5. Bleeding or discharge from any body opening
6. Offensive odor
7. Difficulty eating or swallowing
8. Hesitation to exercise or loss of stamina
9. Persistent lameness or stiffness
10. Difficulty breathing, urinating, or defecating
If your dog is showing any of the above symptoms, make an appointment to take him to the vet as soon as you can. One of the factors determining the successful treatment of any cancer is early diagnosis and treatment.
Some tumors are very aggressive, and early detection and treatment is vital if your dog is to have the chance of fully recovery.
How is cancer diagnosed?
The procedure for detecting, and identifying the type of tumor present can be time consuming as your dog may need to undergo one or more of the following procedures:
- Initial physical examination by your vet – your vet will discuss with you the symptoms you’ve identified and will perform a physical examination of your dog. Sometimes your vet will see a tumor on your dog’s skin or in his mouth, or feel a tumor in your dog’s body – if this is the case further tests will need to be performed to identify the nature of the tumor.
If your vet finds nothing to make him believe your dog has any symptoms of cancer, and does not recommend any further tests you can always request that additional tests be undertaken to rule out the presence of a tumor and/or ask for a second opinion.
- Blood and urine tests – in some tumors, cancer cells are present in your dog’s blood so completing these tests may reveal the presence of cancerous cells, and the type of cancer can sometimes be diagnosed.
- X-rays of tumors can help to reveal the extent and location of a tumor in your dog’s body.
- An ultrasound examination enables your vet to look at your dog’s internal organs to identify the presence of any tumors.
- CT or CAT (Computed Axial Tomographic) or MRI (magnetic Resonance Imaging) scans – these tend to give much more detailed results than either x-rays or ultrasound examinations. They can make the diagnosis that much more accurate, and may remove the need for further invasive tests to determine the nature of any tumor that’s present.
CT and MRI scans are usually only available at specialty veterinary hospitals or referral centers, and are expensive procedures. Both procedures will require your dog to be anesthetized since any movement they make whilst the scan is taking place will result in the images being unreadable.
- Cytology – this is the examination of cells taken (aspirated) from your dog’s body, basically a vaccination in reverse. Cytology can be an accurate diagnosis method, but it does have its limitations – not all tumors will give up their cells when a sample is taken, sometimes only blood is taken. Whilst cytology can diagnose malignant tumors, it can’t eliminate the presence of cancer when only blood has been taken in the sample.
- Surgical biopsy – this is the most certain way to diagnose cancer in your dog. The procedure involves the removal of tissue which is then examined under a microscope.
Your dog may have an incisional biopsy, where only a small part of the tumor is removed, or an excisional biopsy, where the whole tumor and surrounding normal tissue is removed. Which type of biopsy you dog will have will depend upon how big the tumor is and where it is located.
So, there are number of procedures that your dog may have to endure to ensure a correct diagnosis, and it may take several days to get the results from some of the procedures.
In the next article I’ll look at some of the more common types of canine cancer.