Cancer in Dogs

All About Cancer in Dogs : Signs, Symptoms, & Treatment Advice

Vet-Checked • Pet-Tested • Owner-Approved

Kate Barrington

Researched & Written by

Kate Barrington

At EasyPet, we are committed to presenting the most accurate and up-to-date information to assist you in your pet care journey. When appropriate, we consult licensed and practicing veterinarians to fact-check our professionally written articles.

Cancer is something that will impact each of our lives in some way or another, and unfortunately, it could be our dogs that get the prognosis.

While most people don’t want to think about their pooch getting ill in any way, being educated on the possibilities and knowing the signs and symptoms to look out for is the best way to be prepared.

Can dogs get cancer?

According to the Veterinary Cancer Society, one in four dogs will develop cancer in their lives, and one in two dogs over 10 years of age will develop the disease. However, a good percentage of canine cancer can be treated and others can be managed so your dog can live comfortably for a long time.

The thought of their pooch getting ill is too much for most dog owners to handle, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be educated and ready for anything.

Learning about the reality of dog cancer and what to look out for in your pooch means you’re prepared for the future and ready to fight the battle with your four-legged friend if it happens.

Sick dog with cancer

Why Do Dogs Get Cancer?

If you’ve been unfortunate enough to receive a diagnosis of cancer for your dog, your first thought was probably wondering what caused it.

Cancer in canines can be caused by many things, including genetics or their environment, and it’s often hard to pin down just one that was the definitive source.

Often, a dog is born with a genetic predisposition to developing cancer and there’s little that an owner can do to prevent it. Sometimes, simply belonging to a certain breed will cause a dog to be more susceptible to developing cancer, as will the presence of genetic mutations.

One of the more common causes of mammary cancer in both cats and dogs is being spayed or neutered at the wrong time, with experts stating that they should be spayed before their first heat cycle. The risk rises with each heat cycle they have until reaching around 26% likely if spayed after two cycles.

There have been other studies into other potential causes of cancer among canines, including being exposed to hormones that occur naturally within the body, having too much sunlight and UV light exposure, eating canned food and having poor nutrition, developing viruses, being in the presence of tobacco smoke, and other waste and pollution.

What Are the Signs of Cancer in a Dog?

Picking up on the signs that your dog may have cancer isn’t always so easy to do.

Many of the symptoms are hard to notice or might not even show up for years after the disease has started to develop. These are some of the common symptoms of cancer in canines that you may be aware of:

  • Wounds that don’t heal;
  • Sudden weight loss;
  • Changing in eating habits and loss of appetite
  • Noticeable bumps and lumps under the dog’s skin;
  • Unusual odors from any part of their body, including ears and mouth;
  • Swelling of the abdomen;
  • Discharge coming from rectum, eyes, mouth, or ears;
  • Low energy;
  • Changes in bathroom frequency and type;
  • Issues with breathing;
  • Appearing as if physically injured or sore;

The Most Common Cancers

Cancerous lesion on dog belly

As well as being aware of the symptoms of dog cancer, it’s important to understand what the most common types are.

Cancers are caused by the growth of cells and it affects different parts of the spreading, sometimes spreading to other systems, organs, and parts. These are the more prominent types of cancer that dogs develop:

  • Mast cell tumor: A mast cell tumor is found in the cell that’s responsible for allergies, and they’re found all over the body. The most common place for a mast cell tumor to develop on a dog is on their skin though, and they range in severity. Some dogs are more likely to develop these types of tumors, including Boxers, as it’s believed that genetics may be a major cause.
  • Hemangiosarcoma: Diagnosing this type of cancer in a dog is usually done after discovering an enlarged spleen and before it reaches this stage, it can be hard to determine which makes treatment even more difficult. Hemangiosarcoma is a type of tumor that affects the endothelial cells which line the body’s blood vessels. This cancer is more common in middle to elderly-aged dogs, and breeds like German Shepherds and Golden Retrievers carry a higher risk of developing it.
  • Osteosarcoma: This is a type of bone cancer that is the most prominent in dogs, with an estimated 85% of tumors falling into this category. Osteosarcoma is more common in older dogs and those of large and giants breeds, but it can occur at any stage of life or size. The bone cancer can affect any part of the body but is more prominent in joints like knee, wrist, and shoulder. You might notice your dog is limping, moving differently, or has some swelling at the site if they have this type of cancer.
  • Brain tumor: A brain tumor in a dog can usually be diagnosed after the dog displays unusual behavior or suddenly starts having seizures. From there, a tumor can be identified on the brain following an MRI or CAT scan, with treatment including radiation and chemotherapy, if they cannot be operated on.
  • Lymphoma: Lymphoma may be picked up by feeling the swollen glands of a dog underneath their neck, otherwise a lymph node may be swollen somewhere inside of their body. Lymphoma attacks the lymph nodes and may cause issues with digestion and breathing in a dog. Thankfully, it’s highly treatable if picked up early, and is more common in breeds like Australian Shepherd, Golden Retrievers, and Poodles.
  • Bladder cancer: Cancer that develops in the bladder of a dog may be diagnosed when the canine is showing symptoms like blood in the urine or urinary obstruction. Thankfully, it is slow to develop, but there are certain breeds at higher risk.
  • Mammary Carcinoma: As discussed earlier, this is more common in dogs that are not spayed. However, it is treated fairly easily with surgical removal if it’s caught early enough, otherwise, the cancer can metastasize and spread.
  • Malignant Histiocytosis: This type of cancer can be found in bone marrow, skin, brain, joints, spleen, lungs, and lymph nodes of dogs, and it’s more prevalent in sporting and large breeds. Malignant histiocytosis is a type of lesion that can be found in most parts of a dog’s body and might even present as multiple lesions. This cancer is aggressive and moves quickly, with no reported therapy that works to treat it.
  • Melanoma: Just as humans can develop melanomas on their skin, so too can dogs. It’s more common in canines with darker skin and those with lots of UV exposure. A melanoma will usually develop underneath hair so it can be hard to spot at first if you’re not vigilant with regular examination of your dog. The melanoma may look like a brown or black lump, or a large flat mass, so any concerning symptoms should be checked out.
  • Mouth and nose cancer: One of the more common forms of cancer in a dog, these usually develop in the mouth, and can be spotted by a mass on the gums, or bleeding in the mouth and swelling f the face. Although mouth cancer is more common, it can develop in the nostril or inside of the nose, so look for signs like difficulty breathing and bleeding.
  • Testicular cancer: Another reason to have your dog neutered and to remove their testes is the higher rate of testicular cancer. This dog cancer can be treated when found early and removed surgically, but neutering is the best way to prevent it entirely.

Which Dog Breeds Are More Susceptible to Cancer?

All dogs are susceptible to cancer, as as a dog reaches the age of 10 their risk of developing it becomes even higher.

However, studies have shown that some genetic characteristics make a dog more likely to get cancer in their lives, and specifically some breeds that are included in that.

Boxers, Rottweilers, Golden Retrievers, Bernese Mountain Dogs, and German Shepherds are among the breeds with a higher risk of developing cancers. Bone cancers are more prevalent in breeds like Scottish Deerhounds, Great Danes, and Irish Wolfhounds.

Furthermore, some studies show that purebreds may also be more susceptible to developing cancer than their mixed-breed counterparts.

What Treatments Are Available?

Dog sniffing medications

Once your dog has been diagnosed with cancer by an experienced vet, they’ll then go through the possible treatment options available.

The type of care your dog receives will depend on a few factors like the kind of cancer, the severity and stage of cancer, and the age and general health of the dog.

From there, your dog may be offered a single treatment method or variety used in conjunction, depending on what the vet believes will help eradicate or manage it. This can include radiation therapy, chemotherapy, surgery to remove the tumor or affected body part, and even some holistic or natural methods.

Feeding and Care For Your Pooch

In addition to the treatment they receive from their vet, there are some things you can do to manage their condition at home.

Consider the following lifestyle changes that can help them live comfortably with cancer.

  • Speak with their vet about the best types of food, including natural and raw food diets that are free from processed ingredients.
  • Have a gentle but regular exercise routine that caters to their physical abilities at different stages of life and treatment.
  • Be patient with your dog as they deal with the illness, as there may be a sudden loss of their toilet training skills or a reluctance to eat their usual foods.
  • Provide lots of physical attention and comfort for your dog so that they feel safe and comfortable.

Living Comfortably With Cancer

Dog with neck tumor

Nobody wishes for their pet to be diagnosed with cancer, but if they do, it’s nice to know that you can make their life as comfortable as possible.

By getting on top of cancer early and knowing what treatment options are available, you’re ensuring that your dog’s quality of life doesn’t have to suffer if they’re given this diagnosis.

Related Questions

Pet owners will do just about anything to keep their pooches happy and healthy, and that includes educating themselves on common canine health issues.

If you want to find out more about possible illnesses and conditions that your dog might face in its lifetime, read on for some frequently asked questions.

What Are the Most Common Health Issues for Dogs?

Some of the most common issues that dogs have with their health are arthritis, heartworm, fleas and ticks, cataracts, and cancer.

Thankfully, many of these conditions can be prevented with things like immunizations and worming tablets, otherwise, they may be treatable with medication and surgery.

Can Dogs Get Arthritis?

Arthritis is a common issue that dogs experience, and it refers to any abnormal changes that occur in their joints.

Dog arthritis becomes more common as they get older and may impact medium to larger-sized breeds more frequently, but it’s something that all dogs can be susceptible to.

What is Kennel Cough?

Kennel cough is a disease that is on par with the common cold that humans get, and it’s picked up in public places like shelters or pet accommodations.

This condition is highly contagious and can make your pet sick which is why there is a vaccination to prevent it, but the illness usually isn’t life-threatening.


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