Whether the news involves a human or a dog, hearing that a loved one has cancer is one of the most devastating pieces of news anyone could ever hear. While it’s always a good idea to get a second opinion if you learn your dog has this dreaded disease, there is the possibility that it can be treated if it’s caught early enough.

How Canine Cancer Works

Just like in humans, canine cancer comprises several different diseases characterized by the uncontrolled growth of cells that invade nearby tissue and then spread to other parts of the body. There are many kinds of cancer, and they can either be localized in one area or generalized throughout the body. There are a lot of different reasons why a dog develops cancer, including environmental and genetic factors. There is no one single cause.

Signs to Watch

It’s an unfortunate fact that approximately half of all dogs 10 years of age and older will develop some type of cancer.1 Some of these cases can be treated, while others can’t. The more alert you are to the signs that your pup may have a problem, the better the chances that they can get the treatment they need to live the longest life possible. Get help as soon as you can if you notice any of the following:

· Odd bowel movements – If you take your dog for a daily walk or you watch them “do their business” in the yard, you know what their poop usually looks like. You have a pretty good idea of what’s normal and what’s not so normal. If they tend to strain when going, have unusually hard stools, or have diarrhea on a regular basis, those are signs that they might have an issue. This is particularly the case if the stools are black and tarry, which can sometimes be a sign of an abdominal tumor causing an ulcer.

· Trouble breathing – Any sort of difficulty breathing should be a red alert that something’s wrong. Really, if your dog is having trouble doing any of the things that should come normally, you should have them checked out by your vet.

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· Lethargy – Just like people, dogs slow down as they get older, so a little bit of lethargy is to be expected. But if your pup loses energy all of a sudden for seemingly no good reason, that’s alarming. For example, they might not be interested in a toy they’ve loved for years, or don’t want to play at all. It might take them longer to become stimulated by the jingling of the leash or the sight or smell of their favorite snack. Lethargy can mean a lot of different things, so don’t immediately assume your dog has cancer. Just get them checked out to see what’s happening.

· Abnormal bleeding and/or eye discharge – Bleeding from the nose or odd-looking, gunky discharge from the eyes could be an indication that your dog has developed a form of cancer. Bleeding or sores inside the mouth could be a sign of an oral tumor. A lot of times, a dog owner will assume that’s just something to be expected as the dog ages, but you should take them to the vet to rule out something more serious.

· Non-healing wounds – A wound that refuses to get better could be an indication that there is some sort of abnormal cell growth taking place. Wounds should obviously heal after a certain period of time, as a scab develops, and then fur starts to grow once again. See a vet if your dog’s wounds simply won’t heal.

· Sudden change in gait – A sudden limp can make it difficult or even impossible for your dog to be able to use one of their legs. Most of the time this can be attributed to a problem such as tendonitis or a recent injury, but in some instances, it’s a sign of the potential development of bone cancer. While you don’t need to panic just because your dog has a bit of an abnormal gait (especially if they’re older or have been diagnosed with arthritis), if the lameness comes on suddenly and doesn’t go away, that should be a cause for concern.

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· Sudden weight loss – Any time a dog rapidly loses weight, that’s a problem. It’s one of the most common warning signs of canine cancer, typically caused by a tumor in the gastrointestinal tract.2 If this is happening to your dog, get to the vet as soon as you can – it doesn’t matter whether their appetite is the same as it’s always been, or if it’s recently changed. Sudden weight gain can also be a sign of cancer, and will also require a visit to the vet.

· Odd growths or swelling – Any type of strange growth needs to be checked out as soon as possible, but it’s not necessarily a sign of cancer development. Even the growth of a tumor can sometimes be harmless, as many dogs develop fat deposits and benign growths as they age. Of course, some growths can be harmful, signaling cancer of the mammary glands or skin cancer. Check your dog each month for any odd growths, and get them checked out. This is will especially be the case if your dog is older.

Keep Your Cool

Cancer is obviously a frightening word, whether it applies to a loved one or a cherished companion such as a dog. But while it’s definitely scary, there’s no reason to live in fear, either. Again, there are many canine cancer treatments available that have been extremely successful, and new treatments are being researched and found every year.3 The likely success will depend on many factors, such as the aggressiveness of the treatment as well as the kind of cancer involved.

Just be vigilant when it comes to paying attention to your dog, and act quickly if you have any reason to believe there is a problem. In the meantime, enjoy your pooch just like always and keep on having the fun you’ve always had with them.

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1.Common Dog Diseases.” ASPCA. N.p., 2017. Web. 24 July 2017.

2. Elisabeth Geier. “8 Early Warning Signs Of Canine Cancer That Dog Owners Can’T Ignore.” Rover.com. N.p., 2017. Web. 24 July 2017.

3. Borgatti, Antonella et al. “Safe And Effective Sarcoma Therapy Through Bispecific Targeting Of EGFR And Upar.” N.p., 2017. Print.