November marks Pet Cancer Awareness Month and, since so many pets will develop cancer in their lifetime, cancer is a real concern for pet owners. According to the National Cancer Institute, roughly 6 million dogs receive cancer diagnoses each year, and a similar number of cats. And, the Veterinary Cancer Society estimates one in four dogs will develop cancer in their lifetime, and almost 50% of dogs over age 10 will develop cancer. With such staggering statistics, the best thing you can do to keep your pet healthy is to recognize cancer warning signs and schedule an appointment for prompt diagnosis and treatment. The longer a tumor grows, the greater the chance of spread to various organs, and the more difficult the treatment protocol. To achieve the best prognosis and treatment options for your beloved pet, keep a close eye out for the most common cancer warning signs.
#1: Your pet develops unusual or fast-growing lumps or bumps
While you’ll no doubt panic when you notice an unusual lump on your pet, not all masses are malignant. Benign bumps, like lipomas, cysts, and adenomas, may be irritating, but they are not cancerous. However, each lump on your pet should be checked for cancerous cells to rule out potential malignancy. Lumps that appear and grow quickly, or develop a raw, ulcerated appearance, are most concerning, so check your pet occasionally for unusual bumps or changes in current ones.
#2: Your pet vomits or has diarrhea that treatment does not resolve
Pets can develop gastrointestinal upset for many reasons, but ongoing vomiting or diarrhea can signal cancer. If your pet’s diet has not changed, and a bland diet does not resolve their vomiting and diarrhea, further investigation is needed to rule out organ dysfunction, intestinal parasites, or cancer.
#3: Your pet is painful or limping
Pets routinely injure themselves playing too hard, creating muscle, joint, or ligament problems. However, an ongoing limp despite exercise restriction and pain medication, or a swelling on a limb, can indicate a much more serious problem. X-rays are needed to rule out a fracture, cranial cruciate ligament tear, or osteoarthritis, and to determine if your pet’s limp could be caused by a painful bone cancer, such as osteosarcoma.
#4: Your pet develops bleeding or discharge from any orifice
Blood or discharge can indicate an infection, but uncontrollable or unexplained bleeding or discharge is concerning. Pets can develop nasal tumors that cause severe nosebleeds, or they may develop tumors in the urinary tract or rectum that leads to blood in the urine or stool.
#5: Your pet has difficulty performing basic functions
Difficulty eating, drinking, swallowing, breathing, urinating, or defecating are serious problems and require urgent veterinary care. While they can be linked to many different conditions, they can also be caused by cancerous processes, as tumors can easily metastasize to the lungs, spleen, and other organs.
#6: Your pet has a foul mouth odor
Dental disease, including oral tumors, is common in pets, but a thorough physical exam is still needed to determine the cause of bad breath. Halitosis can result from organ issues or a hidden cancer.
#7: Your pet has swollen lymph nodes
Swollen lymph nodes generally indicate your pet is fighting off an infection, but can be caused by cancer. A hallmark of lymphoma in pets is swollen lymph nodes under the jaw, in front of the shoulders, or behind the knees.
#8: Your pet has sores that do not heal
Pets with cancer have a weakened immune system and sores, whether from surgery or a wound, may not heal. A non-healing sore may mean your pet is resistant to antibiotics, or may be a cancer sign.
#9: Your pet has lost weight or their appetite
As cancer attacks their body, pets generally lose weight and feel so unwell they do not want to eat much, if at all. Pets with an abdominal tumor, such as a splenic mass, may become thin and bony and appear to be losing weight, while their abdomen continues to grow with the tumor.
#10: Your pet is lethargic and shows no interest in typical activities
Lack of interest in interaction or activity, lethargy, or weakness are clues that your pet is not feeling well, possibly because of an underlying cancer issue.
If your pet has been diagnosed with cancer, they may develop serious conditions that require urgent care. While you should work with your family veterinarian and veterinary oncologist for your pet’s treatment plan, our Urgent Pet Care Omaha team is here for you after normal business hours. If you notice your pet with cancer has difficulty breathing, seizures, gastrointestinal upset, pain, or uncontrollable bleeding, contact us for immediate care.