Cancer can no doubt cause a lot of pain and discomfort to our pets, and can significantly shorten their lives. However, not all cancers carry a poor prognosis.
The key for us dog parents is to educate ourselves more on different types of common dog cancer and their clinical signs, and be more observant for changes in our dogs' behavior and physical conditions.
If we notice some signs that may indicate cancer in our dogs, we should take them for a thorough medical check-up immediately. An early diagnosis can sometimes nip cancer in the bud.
This article looks at the following topics on dog cancer:
Here are some more articles (new pages):
All forms of cancer start when there are atypical gene mutations in some susceptible cells. These mutated cells then begin to reproduce and attack other normal, healthy cells. When these atypical cells take over enough normal cells, cancerous tumors form.
As you know, the lifespan of healthy normal cells is limited. They die after a while. This normal cell death is called apoptosis.
However, cancer cells have mutated genes that send abnormal messages to the cells. This causes the cells to prevent apoptosis, allowing them to live indefinitely. When they reproduce by cell division, the mutated genes are passed on to the new cells.
As a result, the cancer cells multiply and spread to wider areas or other parts of the dog's body (metastasis). Once that happens, complications usually occur causing the dog to succumb to cancer.
Many holistic veterinarians suggest that dog cancer is the result of a metabolic imbalance that has gone out of control. The imbalance can be caused not only by numerous outside factors (such as pollutants and poor quality food), but also from within (such as stress).
If a dog is strong and healthy, the immune system can stop the cancer cells from developing and spreading. However, if the immune system is weakened and the body is not in a state of homeostasis, it may be unable to stop cancer cells from growing, resulting in cancerous tumor growth.
Cancer can kill a dog in various ways:
The exact causes of dog cancer are still unclear, although as mentioned above, all forms of cancer start by genetic mutations that convert normal cells into cancer cells.
It is believed that mutations are usually caused by chronic inflammation or excessive oxidation.
If we look at our living environment, it is not difficult to find a lot of substances that may cause inflammation or excessive oxidation in our dogs' bodies (and ours too). To name just a few:
These kinds of mental stress have an adverse effect on our pets' overall wellbeing as well, weakening their immune system and making them more prone to develop diseases such as cancer.
Just like in people, there are quite a few different types of cancer in dogs - some are more common than others, and some are more deadly than others.
Here is an index of different dog cancer types. For detailed information on a specific type of cancer, click on the appropriate link:
If your dog shows signs of dog cancer, take her to a veterinarian without delay.
The vet will ask for your dog's medical history and general conditions. It is important that you give as much information as possible so that the vet can better assess your dog.
Besides telling your vet the abnormal signs that you are noticing, be prepared to tell the vet the following:
After getting your dog's medical history and conducting a thorough physical examination, your dog will be given various laboratory tests, which may include:Blood tests
A complete blood count (CBC) and blood profile are useful for diagnosing diseases, especially when the dog patient shows nonspecific symptoms, such as appetite loss and lethargy.
There is a diagnostic test conducted by Veterinary Diagnostic Institute (VDI) that allows vets to detect cancer before it actually develops in the dog's body. It is based on three values:
TK is a measure of dysregulated, abnormal cell growth. An increase in the levels of TK in a dog's blood indicates a high likelihood of tumor development within the next 4-6 months.
CRP levels are elevated in the presence of systemic inflammatory disease.
Studies have shown that cancer and chronic inflammation are closely related. Research shows that very often chronic inflammation may lead to cancer.
CRP levels are good indicators as to whether a dog is suffering from inflammation in the body, and as such whether there is a likelihood of cancer development in the near future.
(Note, however, that elevated CRP levels can also mean the dog is suffering from some diseases other than cancer, such as infections, some autoimmune diseases, and other chronic diseases.)
Vitamin D has been found to have cancer-protective and cancer-killing properties. Low vitamin D levels have been linked to inflammation, cancer, IBD, and other infectious diseases.
By looking at these 3 values, your vet can determine if your dog is healthy, or is a strong candidate for cancer and, if so, preventive measures can be taken at an early stage to prevent or delay the onset of cancer.
Currently, not many vets are using these diagnostic tests to screen dogs for cancer. Talk to your vet about using them to help monitor your dog's health.Urinalysis
A urinalysis is useful to evaluate the dog patient's health; it also provides information that can identify the cause of some of the patient's symptoms.
For example, bladder stones, bladder infections, and bladder cancer share similar symptoms (urinary incontinence, frequent urination, etc.).
A urinalysis may then be done to see if there is blood in the dog's urine. If there is, x-rays can be taken to see if there are stones in the bladder, and if not, an ultrasound can be done to allow early detection of bladder tumors.X-rays, MRI, CT Scan, and/or Ultrasound
X-rays allow the vet to evaluate the dog patient's chest, abdomen and bones. When made correctly, x-rays are the only diagnostic imaging necessary for the vet to properly evaluate them for cancer.
To avoid movement and multiple exposures to x-ray, dog patients have to be sedated while taking x-rays.
When x-rays cannot reveal any abnormalities, sometimes more specialized diagnostic imaging, such as MRI or CT scans, may be required. This is especially true when cancers of the face, sinuses, brain, and spinal cord are suspected.
Dogs are usually put under full anesthesia during these scans.Fine Needle Aspiration
Fine needle aspiration is a quick and easy way to determine the malignancy of a tumor. The vet inserts a fine needle attached to a syringe into the mass to extract, or aspirate, a tiny amount of fluid or cells by pulling back on the plunger of the syringe.
The material extracted is then examined under the microscope and a proper diagnosis can be made then and there at the veterinary clinic, while the dog parents are waiting.
Sometimes cells cannot be extracted from some tumors, such as soft tissue sarcomas. In these cases, a biopsy is necessary for diagnosis.Biopsy
Very often, tumors are surgically removed (an excisional biopsy) and then a portion of the tissue is sent to a pathologist for examination microscopically.
Occasionally, only a tiny piece of the tumor is removed (an incisional biopsy) for diagnosis.
Since biopsies are surgical procedures, sedation or anesthesia is necessary.