Cancer—the word strikes worry and fear in the heart of any pet owner, when referring to their beloved companion. Fortunately for your furry friend, medicine has made tremendous advancements in cancer research, and a cancer diagnosis is not always an immediate death sentence, as in the past. With early detection and diagnosis, we can create the most effective treatment plan that can halt the disease’s progression, while granting you more time with your pet. Many cancers respond favorably to a combination of chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or surgical excision of the affected area, and allow your pet to experience a good quality of life after a cancer diagnosis. 

While we cannot successfully battle every form of cancer, we can hopefully slow down progress and improve quality of life, to give you more happy memories with your furry family member. Identifying cancer as early as possible is key, so we can limit its invasion into nearby tissues and spread to other organs. To help you recognize the most common cancer types and their signs in pets, take a look at the following list. 

#1: Melanoma

Oral melanomas are one of the most common oral tumors in dogs. These tumors are locally invasive and aggressive, attacking the entire site around the tumor’s location, often destroying the jaw bone, which results in loss of support for the associated teeth. Dogs with dark mucous membranes are at a higher risk for oral melanoma development. This tumor most commonly presents as a dark, raised mass that may be responsible for a foul mouth odor, drooling, bleeding from the mouth, or difficulty eating. 

#2: Osteosarcoma

A painful form of bone cancer, osteosarcoma tends to attack the long bones in the legs of large- and giant-breed dogs. Over time, this cancer usually spreads to the lungs, but can also affect other organs. Osteosarcoma can also weaken the bone to such an extent that the damaged bone is fractured. Aggressive treatment, consisting of amputation, with or without chemotherapy, removes the pet’s source of pain, and keeps her comfortable for her remaining time. 

#3: Squamous cell carcinoma

Squamous cell carcinomas appear in cats more frequently than dogs, and can develop in the mouth (i.e., oral squamous cell carcinoma) or on the skin (i.e., cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma). Oral squamous cell carcinomas are the most common oral tumor in cats, and flea collars, canned tuna fish, and cigarette smoke can greatly increase their risk. Cats who are fastidious groomers, and live in a smoking household, are most at risk, as they ingest the carcinogens from second-hand smoke off their fur. Prognosis is usually poor for cats with an oral squamous cell carcinoma, as this cancer is highly aggressive.

Cutaneous squamous cell carcinomas are most common in white or light-colored cats who spend extended periods of time in the sun. They present as firm masses that may erode into the skin, and a variety of treatment options can grant a prolonged quality of life. 

#4: Mast cell tumors

Mast cell tumors affect mast cells, which are a type of cell associated with allergies and inflammation. They are the most common skin tumors in dogs, and frequently appear on boxers, Boston terriers, and cocker spaniels. Because they vary in appearance, determining whether your pet’s lump is a mast cell tumor is difficult, and a fine needle aspirate is necessary. These tumors typically appear as a lump on or under the skin, and may or may not have fur. A hairless tumor is often red, ulcerated, and swollen. The tumor’s grade indicates its aggressiveness, and its likelihood of spreading, and helps form a pet’s general prognosis. 

Skin mast cell tumors tend to be more benign in cats than in dogs, and complete surgical removal is often curative. 

#5: Lymphoma

Lymphoma is a cancer of the immune system, or white blood cells (i.e., lymphocytes). Pets with lymphoma typically present because their owner noticed large, firm swellings under the jaw, behind the knees, or in front of the shoulders, but these pets can also suffer from decreased appetite, weight loss, and lethargy. 

Lymphoma can also attack lymphoid tissue, which is present in many body areas, including the lymph nodes, spleen, liver, gastrointestinal tract, and bone marrow. In cats, one in three cancer diagnoses is lymphoma, making this the most common feline cancer. Lymphoma usually attacks the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, but can develop in any organ. The symptoms of GI lymphoma are typically appetite changes, vomiting, and diarrhea.

The Southwest Vet team always wants to win the battle against your pet’s cancer, but we don’t always have enough firepower in our arsenal. If necessary, we will refer you to a veterinary oncologist for further help, such as chemotherapy and radiation. 

If your beloved companion develops a suspicious lump or bump, or displays any unusual illness signs, contact us for an appointment.