cancer in dogs
We spoke to the wonderful Dr Maria Mylne MRCVS, a vet living and working in Scotland, to help us understand more about cancer in dogs.
what causes cancer? Is there anything we can do to prevent it and how can I avoid waiting until it’s too late?
Cancer is caused by a huge variety of factors. Cancer is essentially cells growing in an uncontrolled way; this can happen due to genetic factors, exposure to carcinogens or just bad luck. In the majority of cases we don't know why individual animals get cancer. Checking your dog regularly for changes in behaviour and for lumps would be the main preventatives, plus discussing anything that worries you with a vet. Most vets will not charge a fee for a telephone advice consultation call, so if you're worried, it's usually better to ring. I recommend avoiding online forums as a lot of these have a lot of 'fake news' that can make you worry about nothing or conversely dismiss something that could be super important. When your dog comes in for his/her annual booster the vet will ask you various questions about your dogs behaviour at home and will perform a physical exam of the pet, if anything worries them they will discuss doing further tests with you.
what early signs and symptoms should pet owners look out for?
This is hard to say as cancer signs can be so varied. Lumps and bumps appearing, particularly if they are growing rapidly or are painful/ulcerated. Also weight loss that can't be explained by diet or increased exercise.
is it ‘the same’ cancer in dogs as it is in humans?
As said before 'cancer' itself is a name for hundreds of different types of diseases, all of which involve uncontrolled growth of cells. Many of the cancers that animals get are very similar to those seen in humans but some cancers which are common in humans are rare in dogs and vice versa.
what is the most common cancer in dogs/types of cancer that dogs are more prone to?
The most common cancers I see are skin nodules and masses, mammary cancer and lymphoma.
what is the most unusual cancer in dogs?
Hmm there are hundreds of very rare cancers in dogs, same as in people.
what happens when your dog is diagnosed with cancer? what are the treatments?
This varies a lot with the type of cancer diagnosed. In many cases, cancer forms a lump and depending where on the body this is it can often be removed surgically. This can often cure the dog. With some types of cancer chemotherapy and/or radiotherapy may be more appropriate. These are generally only performed at specialist referral vets, but in some cases can be done at your local vet.
does neutering prevent cancer?
Neutering will not have an effect on most types of cancer. However, spaying a bitch either before her first season or between her first and second season is associated with a 90% reduction in risks of Mammary (breast) cancer. This is one of the reasons we would recommend spaying a bitch early on in her life if you do not intend to breed from her. It's less clear cut in boys.
is cancer in dogs higher risk to older dogs only?
Unfortunately not, whilst risks of cancer do increase with age just like in people occasionally we see cancer in young dogs.
are there certain breeds that are more high risk of developing cancer?
Certain breeds are more prone to cancer, and in general pedigree dogs are slightly more prone than mongrels. For information on particular cancers that breeds may be prone to you can look on the kennel club website and search for the breed you are interested in.
is it fair to treat an animal with cancer?
This is very individual to each pet and each type of cancer, plus the stage it is at when it is diagnosed. Many cancers can be cured with a single surgery and dogs can be back to normal 2 weeks after surgery. For those that require chemotherapy, treatments for animals are very different to those in people. In general we are aiming to reduce the disease load rather than necessarily cure the patient. This means we can often use much lower doses and thus the pets get far fewer side effects. Pets having chemotherapy wont loose their hair for example. But it very much depends on the type of cancer your pet has, what other conditions your pet may have and also things like whether your pet likes to come to the vet, copes with repeated journeys in the car and things like that. In general it's much better to have that discussion with your vet at the time of diagnosis.
Thank you Maria!