Catching your dog’s cancer early can make all the difference in treatment and outcome. A reader wanted to know what signs to watch for. Here’s what I told her.
Q: The breed of dog I have is prone to cancer, and it scares me. Are there signs I can watch for to help catch it early?
A: That’s a smart move on your part. In the early stages, cancer is often overlooked or misdiagnosed. Among the signs to watch for are soft lumps or bumps on the skin; lameness; swelling or cysts along the mammary chain; unexplained weight gain or weight loss; bleeding or other discharge from the mouth, eyes, nose or urogenital area; blood in the urine; sores that don’t heal; difficulty chewing or swallowing; a bad smell in the mouth or anywhere else on the body; loss of energy; bleeding or broken toenails; and swollen or rapidly enlarging lymph nodes.
Many breeds, as well as mixed breeds, are prone to various types of cancer. We see cancer more commonly in dogs as they age, but it can certainly occur in younger dogs. Common cancers include squamous cell carcinoma of the nail bed (between toenail and toe), melanoma, fibrosarcoma of the mouth, osteosarcoma (bone cancer), mammary tumors, lymphosarcoma and cancer of the bladder or urethra.
Different breeds may be prone to different types of cancer. We often see mast cell tumors in boxers, histiocytic sarcoma in Bernese mountain dogs, lymphoma in golden retrievers and osteosarcoma in Rottweilers and greyhounds. Black standard poodles appear to be more likely than lighter colored poodles to develop squamous cell carcinoma of the nail bed. Two other black-coated breeds with increased risk of this type of cancer are briards and giant schnauzers, so in some instances, genes that influence development of this type of cancer may be riding the coattails of coat color genes.
Regularly running your hands over your dog’s entire body and paying attention to differences can help ensure that your pet gets an early diagnosis and treatment.
Read more in Pet Connection, the weekly nationally syndicated pet feature I co-write with Kim Campbell Thornton and my daughter, trainer Mikkel Becker.