Cancer is known as one of the most common medical conditions in humans. With so many different kinds of cancer, it shouldn’t be surprising that nearly every human on the planet has either had cancer or knows someone who has. Unfortunately, cancer is also fairly common in our pets.
Dogs can also get numerous types of cancers with varying treatability, just like humans. Each animal will have a completely different experience with cancer. Some dogs will be deemed terminal with only a short amount of time to live, while others will have a benign tumor that they live with for years.
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Signs Dogs Can Live with Cancer
While there are many different signs that dogs can live with cancer, the biggest sign is that dogs do it all the time. Even though cancer can be deadly, not all cancers will result in death. Many cancers are treatable and some never require treatment at all. Considering all the different treatment options, many dogs will be diagnosed with cancer and cured quickly. Other dogs may live with their tumors for years.
Some cancers will come with terrible side effects, but many of them don’t seem to cause a lot of symptoms. This means that your dog may not be diagnosed at all. If your dog is diagnosed with cancer, you should be on the lookout for symptoms like weight loss, lethargy, weakness, loss of appetite, limping, difficulty breathing, and consistent digestive problems. Unfortunately, none of the symptoms of cancer stand out, and many of these symptoms are also symptoms for other conditions.
If you start to notice any of the signs of cancer, you should bring your pet in to see a veterinarian right away. Your veterinarian may send you off to a veterinary oncologist if they believe that your dog has cancer. The oncologist can provide a diagnosis and a prognosis.
- Head bobbing
- Weight loss
- Change in behavior
- Limping or other signs of pain
History of Cancer in Dogs
While it may seem like more dogs are suffering from cancer than ever before, it is more likely that the rates of cancer are the same, but the incidence of proper diagnosis has increased.
Consider where dogs used to be in the family unit. In the past, dogs weren’t considered to be part of the family like they are now. Dogs had a job to do. Dogs helped farmers manage their livestock. If a dog got sick, money wasn’t spent to bring it to a veterinarian for treatment, because it was cheaper just to use a different dog, especially because dogs weren’t spayed or neutered, so there were often a lot more dogs to train to help. Hunting dogs were often treated the same way.
Now that dogs are considered to be part of the family, more people are willing to give their pets the care that they need when possible. This means that when a dog is sick they are more likely to get treated.
Also, advancements in medicine have made possible a number of different treatments that just weren’t available 50 years ago. Veterinarians now have numerous treatment options, including chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation therapy.
Science Behind Dogs Living with Cancer
Not all cancers are the same. Benign cancers are less dangerous than malignant cancers, and many dogs can live happy, healthy lives for years with benign cancers. While malignant cancers tend to spread throughout the body, benign tumors don’t seem to grow quickly. Both types of cancer are abnormal within your dog’s body, but only malignant tumors are considered dangerous unless a benign tumor is obstructing or putting pressure on another organ in the body.
Age and breed factors can play a role in the probability that your dog will develop cancer. If your dog is at high-risk, you should see a veterinarian more frequently than the owner of a dog that isn’t at high-risk.
If your dog is diagnosed with a benign type of cancer, it is likely that they can live with cancer, with or without treatment, for a long time.
Dealing with a Cancer Diagnosis in Your Dog
Cancer diagnoses are scary, but they aren’t a death sentence. It is important that you take the time to listen to your veterinarian and fully understand the diagnosis. A veterinary oncologist will be able to go over all of your treatment options with you. Common treatment options include surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy, much like the treatments for cancer in people.
In animals, therapies like chemo and radiation are often more successful than in humans. Dogs receive a lower dosage of the medications over a longer period of time than humans do, which makes it easier for their bodies to handle. With a little extra TLC at home, your dog is likely to recover quickly and become cancer-free. Not all cases are treatable, however.
If your dog is suffering and in pain with an untreatable cancer, your veterinarian may recommend euthanasia. While letting go can be difficult, it is important to understand that your pet is in pain, and if there is no hope of getting better, it is cruel to not let them suffer.
Your dog may need a little more help at home as well. Stairs may be off-limits, and in some cases, dogs may need constant supervision. If your dog is unable to walk or stand, you will need to find a way to help them eat, go potty, and get around your home. It is important to understand that your dog can't help throwing up or the accidents they are having. Try your best to be patient with your pooch.
No matter what your dog is diagnosed with and their treatment options, you should be your dog’s best interests first. It can be hard to make life-changing decisions, but it may be necessary.
How to React to a Cancer Diagnosis:
Follow your veterinarian's treatment advice.
Keep your dog's best interest in mind.
Monitor symptoms and visit a veterinarian if things take a turn for the worse.