By Darlene Stott
Published: 07/17/2017, edited: 08/12/2021
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Cancer is a seemingly commonplace illness for many people nowadays. Most of us will know somebody who has, at some stage in their life, been afflicted by the disease. Due to various reasons, including environmental factors, changing lifestyles, and longer lifespans, reported cases of the disease appear to be on the rise.
Cancer results in clusters of rogue cells dividing repeatedly to form clumps of tissue known as ‘tumors’. These tumors can quickly cause a person significant amounts of discomfort by putting pressure on adjacent tissues and can even compromise the ability of organs to function, with potentially lethal results.
Can dogs get cancer?
It is not just humans that are afflicted by the disease-- virtually all animals are able to develop cancer at some point or another, including dogs. If your dog is affected by cancer, you should take care to handle them in a way that does not cause further discomfort, either by forcing them to move or by touching areas affected by tumors.
Does my dog have cancer?
It can be hard to determine if your pet has cancer, mainly due to the fact that there are far more common diseases out there that will present similar symptoms (at least to begin with). However, some of the more common signs of cancer are sudden behavioral changes (caused by disruption of the dog’s hormone production) and localized swelling and sensitivity that increases as a tumor grows. An affected dog may also start to become more sedentary as its immune system starts requiring more energy in order to try and fight the disease.
Generally speaking, there is no single cause for cancer, with the disease manifesting as a result of a wide range of factors, such as a hereditary problem, exposure to carcinogenic substances, or even a poor diet. What is known however, is that the disease starts with a fault in a single cell’s DNA structure, which will result in them starting to rapidly multiply and form a tumor. To diagnose the problem, a vet will perform a variety of tests, including imaging scans of the dog’s body and analysis of blood samples to detect cancerous cells. A procedure called a biopsy can also be carried out, whereby the vet will remove a small part of the tumor for examination under a microscope in order to try and determine the exact type of cancer they are dealing with.
How do I treat my dog's cancer?
After performing a series of thorough tests on the dog, your vet will be able to advise you on the best possible course of action to take in order to treat the disease and preserve the dog’s quality of life. The most common options are chemotherapy (which uses drugs to shrink the tumors down), radiotherapy (which utilizes concentrated burst of radiation to kill the cancer cells) and surgery (which can be used to remove large masses immediately). Each different type of cancer may respond better to one of these options than the others, meaning that an accurate diagnosis is essential for fighting the disease. Following treatment, the dog will typically require a fair amount of rest in order to properly recover. This is especially true if surgery was involved, where they will also need to have regular doses of painkillers and antibiotics until their wounds have healed. Eventually, the vet will want to perform additional tests to make sure that the cancer is well and truly gone and that further treatment is not needed.
Note that our condition guides also include the ability for you to discuss the possible courses of treatment with qualified veterinarians, as well as read direct accounts of dealing with canine cancer from the pet parents themselves.
If your dog is at risk of developing cancer, check out our pet insurance comparison tool. Brought to you by Pet Insurer, Wag! Wellness lets pet parents compare insurance plans from leading companies like FIGO and Nationwide.
How is cancer similar in dogs, humans, and other animals?
Cancer is a condition that affects virtually all animals, including humans. As such, there are certain similarities between all cases of the disease.
- No matter what animal is being treated, the same three options of chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgery are generally the ones that offer the best prognosis.
- Although some cancers can appear without any apparent cause, genetic screening can be used to determine the likelihood of the disease occurring in later life. Just as some dogs may have a greater chance, so too do some individual humans.
- For all animals, fighting cancer can be a long-term struggle, meaning that additional tests to make sure that the disease has not returned may be needed months or even years down the line.
How is cancer different in dogs, humans, and other animals?
Whilst treatment methods and methods of diagnosis remain remarkably similar for dogs and humans, there are some critical differences that should not be overlooked.
- When it comes to the exact types of cancer that each species has to deal with, there are some marked differences. Dogs are typically more predisposed to developing tumors in their skin and lymphatic system, while humans can most often be found to develop breast, lung and prostate cancers.
- In humans, surgery tends to be reserved for the most serious or debilitating cases, as the recovery process for the patient - both physically and psychologically - can be quite taxing. In dogs meanwhile, medical professionals are not hesitant to use surgery as the animals usually recover with relatively little trouble.
- Whilst many humans can trace their cancers back to environmental factors (such as smoking or exposure to hazardous chemicals in their workplace), dogs tend to be more likely to contract the disease due to genetic abnormalities passed down due to a relatively rapid life cycle that enables them to reach sexual maturity before the disease has an opportunity to affect them.
An incidence of cancer cited by the American Animal Hospital Association underlines how the symptoms of early-stage cancer can often be mistaken for other diseases. In this case, a dog had previously been diagnosed with osteoarthritis due to increasing levels of lameness in their foreleg. In older dogs, this is not unusual, though the rate at which the condition had progressed raised some suspicion.
Upon further investigation, it was found that the animal was, in fact, suffering from osteosarcoma (bone cancer), which was causing bone spurs to protrude into their joints. Treatment using chemotherapy later managed to halt the progression of the disease for several months. However, the case underlines the requirement for vets to be thorough in their diagnosis of cases where cancer plays a potential role.