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What to Do When Your Dog Has Cancer

Pet Health and Safety  •   Mary Bays  •   Feb 24, 2023


Cancer. It’s a terrifying word to hear from your veterinarian. With roughly 6 million new cancer diagnoses made in dogs every year, it’s likely that you know someone whose dog is going through treatment or you have experienced the hardship of having a dog with cancer yourself.

Though a cancer diagnosis can be upsetting, it does not necessarily mean the end is near. Veterinary cancer research has made great strides in recent years. With new treatment options, canine cancer patients are living longer, more fulfilled lives. As with human cancer, early diagnosis is critical to successful treatment. Annual wellness exams from your vet are an important part of the process.

Don’t wait until you have a diagnosis to prepare for a veterinary emergency. Invest in a pet insurance plan through AKC Pet Insurance (underwritten by Independence American Insurance Company), so you have peace of mind that your pet’s care may be covered should a diagnosis occur. Get your quote now and find out just how affordable pet insurance coverage can be.

What Causes Cancer in Dogs?

Many variables - such as age, toxins, environment, and genetics - can all be responsible for causing different cancers. A deficient immune system will increase a dog’s chance of developing cancer and make treatment more difficult. While certain breeds may be more likely to develop cancer, any dog can be diagnosed. About 50% of dogs over the age of 10 are diagnosed with cancer, and an estimated 1 in 4 dogs will develop cancer at some stage in their life.

How Can I Tell If My Dog Has Cancer?

Before you panic, all cancer diagnoses should come from a vet. Don’t assume that all lumps and bumps on your dog automatically mean they have cancer. That may be the first symptom you notice, but here are other symptoms to keep an eye out for.

Symptoms of Cancer in Dogs

Some of the most common symptoms of cancer in dogs are:

  • New lump or growth
  • Sores or wounds that never heal
  • Loss of appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Lethargy
  • Muscle or joint pain and stiffness
  • Unusual odors
  • Coughing
  • Increased thirst
  • Trouble swallowing

These symptoms may manifest in your pet in different ways. For example, the muscle or joint pain may cause your dog to limp or show general difficulty in movement. If any of these symptoms don’t improve or get worse, speak to your vet immediately for an exam. They will be able to tell you if the issue is cancer or something else.

What Is Cancer and How Does It Impact a Dog?

There are many different forms of cancer that affect dogs, and some of the most common cancer diagnoses in the U.S. are for hemangiosarcoma, brain tumors, melanoma, osteosarcoma, and lymphoma. These are not the only cancers that can impact your pup, but they are some of the most likely culprits. You may also find that your veterinarian uses terms like “neoplasia” or “malignancy” when referencing your dog’s condition. These are just medical terms that essentially mean the same thing as cancer.

Cancer occurs when cells in the body grow and become abnormal. Normal cells will grow and divide in a controlled manner and will die when it’s time for them to be replaced. Cancer cells continue to grow and divide without regulation and do not die when they should. These cells usually group together to form tumors, but sometimes cells break away from a tumor and spread to other areas of the body. A tumor can destroy the normal cells around the body and damage healthy tissue.

How Is Cancer in Dogs Diagnosed?

If you are concerned that your dog may have cancer, you will need to get a diagnosis and treatment plan from your vet before taking any formal action. You can expect your vet to first do a physical exam of your dog, but diagnosis may also involve a biopsy, blood work, ultrasounds, or X-rays.

Your family vet may or may not perform the tests in their office. They may prefer to refer you to an oncologist for specific testing and a formal diagnosis. The Veterinary Oncologist will be able to perform the necessary testing and determine what specific type of cancer is impacting your dog, as well as the scope of the illness. They will speak with you about treatment and options once all of this has been determined.

What Treatment Options Are Available for Dog Cancer?

Medical science has advanced when it comes to dog cancer, so it’s not automatically a terminal diagnosis for your furry friend. Your vet or oncologist will review the severity of your dog’s cancer and give you several treatment options to help your pup based on the type of cancer and how far it has spread. Treatment options for dog cancer vary by age and cancer type, but you can expect more than one option, including chemotherapy, radiation, surgery, or immunotherapy.

Ask as many questions of medical professionals as you feel necessary. Also, research the type of cancer your dog has and get an understanding of all treatment options. This is an important decision for you and your dog; you should understand your situation completely before choosing a treatment plan.

The cost of cancer treatment in dogs will add up quickly. Don’t let the financial impact force you to change your treatment options. Enroll in pet insurance through AKC Pet Insurance before your dog gets a major diagnosis. That way, you can focus more on your pup’s health, and less on the cost of cancer treatment for your dog.

How to Support Your Dog Through Their Cancer Treatments

Dogs don’t experience the same side effects from cancer treatments that humans do. Dogs who get chemotherapy likely won’t lose their fur and may only display vomiting and diarrhea during treatment. You can help ease your dog’s suffering during treatment by keeping them as comfortable as possible.

No matter what treatment you get for your dog’s cancer, you can make them more comfortable with some simple adjustments to their life:

  • Switch from a collar to a harness to reduce pressure on their neck and shoulders.
  • Add ramps to flights of stairs and favorite spaces like furniture or your bed.
  • Keep them active with gentle play.
  • Give them space for extra rest time.

Keeping a Positive Attitude When Your Dog Has Cancer

Cancer treatment can be hard on patients, so try to keep the time you’re not at appointments as positive as possible. When your dog is feeling well enough, try to do activities that your dog enjoys. Consult your veterinarian for activities that are suitable for your dog’s current state of health. Celebrate progress in their treatment with fun surprises like special outings or a delicious treat. If you mope around your dog, they will pick up on it and be in even lower spirits.

After-Care for Dog-Cancer Treatment

What do you do after the treatment has ended and your dog’s cancer is in remission? Your vet will establish a schedule of check-up visits. Stick to it! If the cancer returns, you’ll want to know right away to start looking at additional treatment options. Depending on the type of cancer, there may be certain foods or medications that can slow growth of malignant cells. Ask your oncologist for recommendations.

Cancer is a very difficult diagnosis. Fortunately, there is a lot of research being conducted on this disease. Follow your oncologist’s treatment plan, celebrate the positive milestones with your pup, and don’t let the diagnosis stop you and your dog from enjoying your time together!

Take some of the stress out of a cancer diagnosis with Accident & Illness Coverage through AKC Pet Insurance. Our pet insurance plans are designed to be there when you need them, allowing you to focus more on the health of your pet and less on costly veterinary bills. Get your quote today!

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