Top 10 cancer warning signs in pets (both skin and internal)

Pets are susceptible to the same types of cancer that people get. Cancer can strike at any age, but it is usually a disease of middle-aged and older dogs and cats. And it is all too common: Cancer causes almost half the deaths of pets older than 10 years.

Symptoms of internal cancers

Here are some red flags to watch out for, according Steven Withrow, DVM, director of the Animal Cancer Center at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colo.:

  • Sudden weight loss.
  • Unusual swelling or growths.
  • Wounds that do not heal.
  • Disinterest in food.
  • Abnormal bleeding or discharge from any body opening.
  • Foul odor.
  • Trouble swallowing or breathing.
  • Persistent stiffness or lameness.
  • Struggling to urinate or defecate.
  • Loss of stamina or lethargy.

If you notice anything suspect, head to your vet for an exam and blood work, relatively inexpensive tests that may reveal internal imbalances indicating cancer growth. “The four most dangerous words in veterinary medicine are, ‘Let’s just watch it,’” Withrow says. And these simple tests could be the difference between five more great years and five hard months for your best buddy.

What about skin cancers? The ABCD rule of skin cancer detection

There are several different types of skin cancer, and each can present in a different way. In general, for non-melanoma skin cancers, be particularly suspicious of any new skin lesions or irritation that persist for longer than a month. The warning signs for melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer can be summarized with the ABCD rule:

  • A is for ASYMMETRY: One half of a mole or birthmark does not match the other.
  • B is for BORDER: The edges are irregular, ragged, notched or blurred.
  • C is for COLOR: The color is not the same all over and may include shades of brown or black, or sometimes with patches of pink, red, white, or blue.
  • D is for DIAMETER: The spot is larger than 6 millimeters across (about 1/4 inch–the size of a pencil eraser), although melanomas can sometimes be smaller than this.

Other warning signs are:

  • A sore that does not heal.
  • Spread of pigment from the border of a spot to surrounding skin.
  • Redness or a new swelling beyond the border.
  • Change in sensation–itchiness, tenderness, or pain.
  • Change in the surface of a mole–scaliness, oozing, bleeding, or the appearance of a bump or nodule.
  • A mole that looks very different from your other moles.

You can also minimize the risk of certain cancers, says Dodge, by spaying or neutering your pets when they’re young, limiting their exposure to hazardous pesticides in food and on lawns, and making sure they get enough exercise.

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  1. 13 years ago
    Mara C.

    Thank you for the information. Our Morgan 's abdomen was riddled with cancer and the only symptom she had was weight loss. She ate up until the day she died. I wish we knew sooner so we could have done something about it before it was too late. She was a great dog and is truly missed.

  2. 15 years ago
    Michelle Turner

    I just lost my 6 year old Saint mix, Daisy, to cancer. The scary thing is she had NO warning signs. Looking back, the only sign was she was slowing down a bit. We still hiked the hills daily. She was a bit overweight and had knee surgery when she was younger, so I thought those were the reasons. We were out on a daily hike and I thought she might have overdone it playing with my 2 other dogs, she had to lay down and take a break. This was my first sign, on Tuesday. So we took it easy for the next 2 days. Then she stopped eating and throwing up. I took her to the vet, on Friday. He said she had a stomach virus, no problem. She stopped eating, had bloody, tarry stool, she was having week wobbly spells where she could not stand and would fall down. She was having trouble breathing, she was snoring, her belly was extended. I took her to the emergency vet on Sunday, and I left without her. She was riddled with cancer. She was dying there in the vets office. She was a different dog that day, just not there anymore. I am still in complete shock. She just had blood workup and had been to the vet twice since then, nothing. I am a pretty anal pet person, I notice everything and can be a pest at the vet, and I missed this. The only time in the whole 6 years with her that I heard her whine is when she spotted a deer. She held in that horrific, body eating disease until it took her away within 6 days.

  3. 15 years ago
    Eric G.

    Few experiences in life are more heart-rending than seeing an animal you love waste away from illness...this really hits home. Thanks for posting.

  4. 15 years ago

    please check your pets abdomen every day for any signs of hardness.My dog was 9 yrs.old and one night she started to whimper and I checked her all over and found one side of her abdomen was was had pushed her intestines to one side so she always looked symetrical.then it was in her one lung.the vet said she was terminal so we said our goodbyes to her and today I still miss her even though we have another dog.I check my chihuahua and my cat every day prayiny the same thing doesnt hapen to them.

  5. 15 years ago
    Bridget Curran

    After a tumour was found and removed from my cat Hamish's leg, a chest xray showed a lesion on his lung. Immediately I put him on a homemade no-carb food, and started him on homeopathic treatment under the care of my homeopathic vet - chinese herbs, homotoxicology liquid and acupuncture, with xrays periodically to monitor the lung lesion. Within a month of starting treatment, his lungs had cleared, going from extremely cloudy to crystal clear. After approximately five months of treatment, the latest xray showed the lung lesion to be gone.

    The idea of homeopathic treatment wasn't to cure him but rather to slow the progression of the cancer and give him a good quality of life for whatever time he had left. I know that he is not cured but he certainly does seem to be in remission.

    I highly recommend homeopathic treatment for pets with cancer. Getting treatment for Hamish was one of the best things I've ever done in my life.

  6. 15 years ago
    Leigh B.

    My 16-yr cat Charlie was operated on for breast cancer a year ago, and at 17 she is still going strong! Praise God he didn't take her yet because he knows I still need her in my life. AMEN!

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