Here are the most common signs of cancer in dogs, treatment options for dogs with cancer, and how to prevent your dog from developing cancer. You’ll also learn a few tips from the “dog cancer vet”, Demian Dressler.
In The Dog Cancer Survival Guide: Full Spectrum Treatments to Optimize Your Dog’s Life Quality and Longevity, veterinarian Demian Dressler (known as the “dog cancer veterinarian”) and Susan Ettinger describe the Full Spectrum approach to dog cancer care, which includes everything you need to know about conventional western veterinary treatments (surgery, chemotherapy and radiation), including how to reduce the side effects of treatment of cancer in dogs. You’ll also learn the most effective non-conventional options, including botanical nutraceuticals, supplements, nutrition, and mind-body medicine.
If you think your dog has cancer – or if the signs of cancer in a dog has you worried that your dog might have cancer – you need to know how to analyze the options and develop a specific plan for your own dog based on your dog’s type of cancer, your dog’s age, your financial and time budget, your personality, and many other personal factors.
When I wrote an article on dog massage (how to massage your dog) for alive magazine, the canine body workers told me massage is the best way to feel abnormalities that could signal cancer in dogs. Massaging your dog isn’t the same as petting him – read 5 Do-It-Yourself Dog Massage Techniques for tips.
Dogs have similar cancers to humans, and veterinary oncology uses almost all the human cancer drugs to treat dogs. However, the FDA has approved three drugs to treat cancer in dogs – I describe them below the signs of cancer in dogs.
Warning Signs of Dog Cancer
The warning signs of cancer in dogs are similar to the symptoms of cancer in people:
- a lump or bump
- a wound that doesn’t heal
- any kind of swelling
- abnormal bleeding
- changes in the normal functions of eating, drinking, peeing, pooping and sleeping
- a change in emotional state, such as being withdrawn and irritable
If you notice any changes in your dog’s body, take him to the veterinarian immediately.
What Causes Cancer in Dogs?
There isn’t a single answer to this question, but research shows that overweight dogs (and humans) have a higher chance of developing cancer.
Weight gain and calories from sugar
Demian Dressler, DVM, known as the “dog cancer vet” because of his work in the study of canine cancer, said studies show obesity in both dogs and humans limits the production of adiponectin. Adiponectin is a hormone that has been shown to inhibit cancer cell growth. This veterinarian recommends reducing calories, particularly those from sugar, which has the additional danger of not only causing obesity but also feeding cancer cells and encouraging their growth.
Dog treats that contain ingredients with Omega-6
Research shows that many as 1 out of 3 cancer deaths in both humans and dogs could be prevented by reducing Omega-6 fatty acids and cutting calories. The dog cancer veterinarian recommends severely limiting snack foods for humans and dogs that contain ingredients rich in Omega-6, such as corn oil, vegetable oil and grain-fed red meat. Too much Omega-6 fatty acid can lead to inflammation, which creates an environment conducive to cancer in dogs and people.
Cancer accounts for almost half of the deaths of dogs over 10 years of age, according to the FDA. Although dogs of any age can have cancer, the older your dog is the greater the likelihood of developing cancer. Dogs get cancer at roughly the same rate as humans.
If your dog has already been diagnosed with cancer, read How to Cope When Your Dog Has Cancer.
How to Treat Dog Cancer
There are specific treatments for cancer in dogs – different than treating cancer in humans. Until very recently, the only drugs available to treat cancer in animals were those approved for use in humans. But in the last few years, veterinary drug sponsors (the pharmaceutical companies developing the drugs) have developed treatments specifically for treating the signs of cancer in dogs.
General veterinary practitioners and veterinary oncologists treat cancer in dogs. In general, veterinary practitioners work with veterinary oncologists to provide the diagnosis and the follow-up care for a dog with cancer during treatment. Treating a dog with cancer may include blood work and imaging such as x-rays or ultrasound examinations to monitor the progress.
Treatments for cancer in dogs have fewer side effects
There’s a fundamental difference between treating cancer in dogs versus people. “Side effects from cancer treatment are usually fewer than those seen in people, and veterinarians work very hard to manage those side effects and maintain quality of life,” says Lisa Troutman, who is a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) veterinarian. “There are even drugs that have been brought to market with the intent of managing common side effects, like vomiting.”
Dogs are living longer than ever because of preventative health care (eg, healthy treats, lots of exercise, reduced exposure to toxins in rubber toys). Plus, veterinarians are able to recognize the signs of cancer in dogs faster and veterinarians are able to diagnose cancer in dogs earlier.
FDA-Approved Drugs for Treating Dog Cancer
If you recognize the signs of cancer in dogs, you may have a choice of chemotherapy treatments. Veterinary drug sponsors or pharmaceutical companies are constantly developing innovative treatments for different types of cancer in dogs. The drugs or therapies for treating cancer in dogs are more targeted and specialized now. For instance, scientists are identifying proteins or other substances unique to cancer cells and developing treatments that target those substances without harming healthy cells in dogs.
The FDA has approved three drugs to treat cancer in dogs:
- Palladia (toceranib phosphate), for the treatment of mast cell tumors, was approved in 2009
- Kinavet-CA1 (masitinib mesylate), for the treatment of mast cell tumors, was conditionally approved in 2010
- Paccal Vet-CA1 (paclitaxel for injection), for the treatment of mammary carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, was conditionally approved in 2014.
Where you find the signs of cancer in your dog’s body may affect what type of cancer therapy is administered. For instance, if you feel bumps or lumps in your dog’s belly or chest area, Paccal Vet-CA1 may be the treatment option. There are no FDA-approved treatments for cancer in cats. Most cancer treatments for dogs and cats use drugs that FDA has approved for use in humans.
Dog Cancer: The Holistic Answer: A Step by Step Guide by Dr. Steven Eisen is a great resource if you recognize the signs of cancer in your dog, but you don’t want to go the “western medicine” route. This book clearly explains the five steps of the healing protocol, beginning with the elimination of toxins from your dog’s body, from the immediate environment, and from everything your dog eats, preparing an anti-cancer diet for your dog, enhancing your dog’s immune system, using enzyme therapy to fight cancer, and trying vitamins, herbs, and other supplements.
Unfortunately, no matter what therapy you use to treat cancer in your dog, there is no guarantee of success. Sometimes there is no treatment or cure when your dog has cancer – no matter how early you recognize the signs.
What to Ask Your Veterinarian About Dog Cancer
Even if you see the signs of cancer in your dog, you’ll probably still be shocked and dismayed if your dog is diagnosed with cancer. Here are a few questions you may want to ask your veterinarian or veterinary oncologist about both signs of cancer in dogs and treatment for cancer:
- What treatments are available for dogs with cancer?
- What is the prognosis with each cancer treatment?
- What are the side effects of each treatment and how will they affect my dog’s quality of life?
- How long will I need to treat my dog for cancer?
- What is the cost of each treatment?
- How many visits back to the veterinarian are needed?
If you’re worried about the cost of cancer treatments for your dog, read How to Decide If You Should Get Pet Insurance for Your Dog.
I welcome your thoughts on these signs of cancer in dogs – and the treatment options – below. I hope your dog doesn’t have cancer…but if he does, then I pray you find the strength, courage, and peace to cope with the diagnosis and treatments.