Cancer. The word every pet owner dreads, and the first thing on your mind when your pet’s health or behavior seems off. This fear is well-founded—cancer affects 1 in 3 dogs and 1 in 5 cats in their lifetime. Fortunately—because of advances in detection, diagnosis, and treatment—an increasing number of pets are living with the disease and many are beating cancer.
In addition to your pet’s annual wellness examination, at-home monitoring is their best chance for early cancer detection and survival. To help ensure your pet’s potential condition is diagnosed at the earliest—most easily treatable—stage, our Haskell Valley Veterinary Clinic team describes these seven cancer warning signs that every pet owner should know.
#1: Unexplained swellings in pets
Although cancer can take many forms, tumors and masses are easily the most recognizable signs. Your veterinarian should examine any skin growth, mass, protrusion, or swelling on your pet’s body—especially if the mass persists or grows in size.
Our Haskell Valley Veterinary Clinic veterinarians recommend conducting a monthly at-home cancer check to assess your pet’s body condition and examine them for any abnormalities. Check your pet’s mouth, neck, armpits, abdomen, groin, skin, and under the tail. Your pet will appreciate a total body massage while you stay on top of their medical care.
#2: Unexplained weight loss in pets
Cancer robs the body of nutrition and causes cachexia—a state in which disease or illness causes a loss of lean body mass. If your pet loses weight—with no change in their eating or exercise habits—your veterinarian may consider cancer as a differential diagnosis.
#3: Decreased energy and stamina in pets
As with other diseases, cancer depletes the body’s energy stores and may cause pain or physical impairment. For example, bone tumors make movement painful, while lung cancer causes insufficient oxygen intake. Uncharacteristic changes in your pet’s activity level—such as lagging on walks, tiring quickly, or lying down during their favorite game—can signal a significant health issue.
#4: Abnormal breathing in pets
Respiratory changes can indicate primary or metastatic cancer in your pet’s lungs, or a serious cardiovascular condition. These changes may include:
- Increased resting respiratory rate
- Unexplained panting
- Abnormal gum color (e.g., grey or blue)
Respiratory distress is the most life-threatening abnormal breathing emergency. Your pet is experiencing a respiratory distress episode when they actively struggle to breathe—and they may gasp, wheeze, or choke. A cat is in distress when they breathe with their mouth open. Respiratory distress is a veterinary emergency. If your pet is struggling to breathe, immediately contact our Haskell Valley Veterinary Clinic team or your nearest veterinary emergency facility for immediate care.
#5: Unusual bleeding or odor in pets
Bleeding from the mouth, nose, or other body openings is a frightening—common—cancer sign. If your pet is bleeding from a body orifice, try to stay calm, and keep your pet relaxed. Stressed pets may experience increased blood pressure, which may worsen bleeding. Abnormal odors emanating from your pet’s mouth or other body openings can indicate oral, nasal, anal, or urinary tract cancers.
#6: Appetite loss in pets
Depending on the disease’s type and location, cancer can cause your pet to experience gastrointestinal issues, local or generalized pain, confusion, sensory changes, and nausea. Each of these signs can negatively affect your pet’s appetite, and cancer is one of many possible causes. If your pet’s eating habits abruptly change, schedule an appointment at Haskell Valley Veterinary Clinic.
#7: Persistent lameness in pets
Bone and nerve cancers cause pets’ progressively worsening lameness (i.e., limping). These cancers may have a palpable mass or tumor, or may be enclosed within bone or soft tissue. If your pet’s unexplained lameness returns after initial treatment—often medication and rest—your veterinarian may order X-rays or advanced imaging to pinpoint the cause.
Help and hope—cancer diagnosis in pets
Cancer diagnosis involves a series of screenings after a pet’s original examination. Cancer diagnostics include:
- Blood work — Your veterinarian initially performs your pet’s complete blood count and general chemistry profile to determine your cat’s or dog’s health status.
- Imaging — Your veterinarian may order X-rays or advanced imaging scans (e.g., computed tomography, magnetic resonance imaging) to identify tumors and lesions, to plan their surgical approach, and to check for metastasis (i.e., cancer spread).
- Biopsy — Your veterinarian may obtain a cell, tissue, or organ sample through an outpatient needle aspiration, surgical biopsy, or mass removal under anesthesia. A veterinary pathologist reviews and grades the sample to determine the disease’s status (i.e., benign or malignant), cancer type (e.g., lymphoma, sarcoma, carcinoma), and stage (i.e., grade).
Once cancer is diagnosed, your veterinarian will discuss your pet’s prognosis with you and recommend a personalized treatment plan. If your pet requires advanced care—such as chemotherapy and radiation—your veterinarian may refer you to a veterinary oncologist.
While the veterinary profession cannot outsmart cancer—yet—we are grateful for every opportunity to stay a step ahead of this awful disease. Through early detection, we can intervene quickly—often with less-invasive treatment—and increase your pet’s opportunity for a favorable outcome. If your pet shows a change in their health, appearance, or behavior, give them a fighting chance—and give yourself peace of mind—by scheduling an appointment with our Haskell Valley Veterinary Clinic team.