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.