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Pet Health

Navigating Canine Cancer: An Exploration of Neoplasia

With cancer being the leading cause of death in older dogs, recognizing the early signs and symptoms is pivotal for prompt intervention. Lumps, abnormal odors, non-healing wounds, and changes in appetite or behavior might be indications that your dog needs a veterinary check-up. Understanding and being alert to these signs can lead to early detection, which greatly improves the chances of successful treatment outcomes.

Dr. Bethany Hsia

November 19, 2023

Cancer is a complex condition that encompasses many specific diseases that can affect our canine companions. As pet parents, we strive to provide the best care and comfort we can during such challenging times. At CodaPet, we embrace the opportunity to support you as you embark on your dog's journey with cancer, from understanding the disease, to monitoring quality of life, and making the final, compassionate choice.

Understanding the Fundamentals of Dog Cancer

Cancer in dogs encompasses a wide range of conditions, each with unique characteristics and implications for treatment and care. From common types like lymphoma and mast cell tumors to the less common and more aggressive forms like osteosarcoma and malignant anal sac cancer, each type demands a tailored approach to your dog's specific needs.

With cancer being the leading cause of death in older dogs, recognizing the early signs and symptoms is pivotal for prompt intervention. Lumps, abnormal odors, non-healing wounds, and changes in appetite or behavior might be indications that your dog needs a veterinary check-up. Understanding and being alert to these signs can lead to early detection, which greatly improves the chances of successful treatment outcomes.

Delving Into the Causes and Risk Factors

While some cancer risks, such as genetic predisposition, are inherent to your dog, others, like body condition (how lean or plump they are) can be mitigated to some extent. Regardless of breed or age, a healthy diet and lifestyle can be a strong defense against cancer and its risk factors, optimizing your dog's welfare and vitality.

Genetic Propensity

Certain dog breeds are genetically more prone to specific types of cancer. For example, Golden Retrievers are more likely to develop hemangiosarcoma, while Boxers have increased incidences of mast cell tumors. For breeds with known risks, routine screenings and monitoring measures can be particularly advantageous.

Environmental Variables

Every day, our pets are exposed to a plethora of environmental stressors, some of which may have carcinogenic properties. Car exhaust, pesticides, and even some household cleaning products can contribute to the risk of cancer. Limiting exposure to these elements and opting for natural, pet-safe alternatives can help in the preservation of your dog's health. Pay special attention to the ways in which your pet’s exposure may be greater: they may absorb floor cleaning agents through their paw pads or bear greater exposure to room fresheners placed near their bed or resting areas.

Body Condition

Giving a dog extra food or treats is such a tangible way to show our love and we get to see the joy it brings them. However, when we routinely give them more calories than they will expend in a day we set them up for weight gain and obesity, which in turn leads to chronic low grade inflammation. Over time this low grade inflammation predisposes them to a myriad of health problems, including an increased risk of certain types of cancer.

Approaching the Diagnosis

The diagnosis of cancer in a dog begins with comprehensive veterinary examinations and tests, which may include blood work, biopsies, X-rays, and more advanced imaging like MRI or CT scans. Other more invasive but often more informative tests include biopsies taken by fine needle aspiration or surgical methods. Testing is not only designed for confirming the presence of cancer, but also for mapping out its extent and staging, which directly influences treatment planning.

It is important to note that some families may not wish to pursue diagnostics and prefer to focus on management of symptoms to keep the pet as comfortable as possible as they live out life with a presumptive cancer diagnosis. Your veterinarian will explain what each test entails and what information can be gained from it. Be open with your veterinarian about your goals for your pet and ask any questions so they can help you make informed decisions.

The Value of the Cancer Stage

Cancer staging—often denoted numerically from I to IV—provides insight into how far the cancer has advanced within the body. Early stages are generally associated with localized tumors, whereas higher stages might indicate metastasis, where cancer cells have spread to distant organs. Staging will contribute to the prognosis as well as inform available treatment strategies.

Early Detection: Time is of The Essence

The timeliness of cancer detection cannot be overstated. The sooner an abnormal growth or symptom is investigated, the better the chance of tackling cancer before it advances. Regular wellness exams and being attuned to changes in your dog’s health can make all the difference in early detection and treatment options and success.

Tailoring Treatment To The Individual

Like people, every dog’s cancer situation is unique. This means that what works for one dog might not necessarily be the best for another. The course of treatment will take into account factors such as the dog’s age, overall health, the type and stage of cancer, and your personal wishes.

Surgical and Radiotherapeutic Interventions

Surgery can often be the first line of defense against localized tumors, striving to remove the cancer entirely. Further testing is often done to inspect tissue margins and see if the cancer was completely excised. In cases where surgery is not viable or margins are not clear of cancer cells, radiation therapy can be employed to target and reduce the size of tumors, sometimes with curative intent. Again, each case differs as not all cancer types are responsive to radiation nor are all areas of the body able to receive radiation therapy.

The Role of Chemotherapy

For systemic cancers or as an adjunct to surgery, chemotherapy can play a key role in the therapeutic regime. Chemotherapeutic drugs are designed to slow the growth of cancer cells, ultimately leading to prolonged survival and improved quality of life. Many chemotherapy protocols are well tolerated in canine patients so it is important to speak with your veterinarian about the chemotherapy agents that may benefit your dog; be sure to ask about the severity of the expected side effects as they may be relatively mild.

Integrating Holistic and Supportive Therapies

Holistic therapies, such as acupuncture and herbal supplementation, can provide additional support to your pet’s conventional treatment. The goal is not to treat the disease but to provide support to targeted organ systems and nurture the overall well-being of your dog throughout their cancer journey.

Staying Informed About Emerging Treatments

The realm of veterinary oncology is ever-evolving, with new treatments emerging and developing. Staying informed and discussing these options with your veterinarian can provide hope and potentially more avenues for treatment.

Maintaining Quality of Life Amidst Cancer

A cancer diagnosis fundamentally alters the life of a pet and their owner. Nevertheless, the quality of life remains a paramount concern.

The Significance of Pain and Symptom Management

Managing pain and other cancer-related symptoms is essential to maintaining your dog’s quality of life. Appropriate analgesics and supportive medications can bring comfort and allow your dog to enjoy their days with you to the fullest.

Nutritional Optimization for a Dog With Cancer

A well-balanced, nutrient-rich diet becomes even more important for a dog with cancer. As their body fights cancer and possibly copes with the side effects of treatment, ensuring they receive the right balance of digestible nutrients can help maintain their energy and immune functions.

A Continuum of Quality: From Vigor to Serenity

Throughout the cancer treatment process, regular objective assessments of your dog's quality of life are helpful. It can be so easy to focus on each day and lose sight of the weeks. Having a calendar to mark the quality of days or using a quality of life tool that gives objective number values can help you manage your pet’s progress. This may involve difficult discussions about when aggressive treatment should give way to palliative care, ensuring your dog is made as comfortable as possible.

Providing a Support System For You and Your Pet

The emotional impact of caring for a dog with cancer can be profound. Emotional support for both dogs and owners during this difficult time is imperative. Support groups, counseling, and resources can help navigate the flood of emotions and decisions that come with it and give you the care you need so you may provide support for your beloved dog.

As you make each decision, remember CodaPet's commitment to providing emotional support and clear guidance. Whether articulating when to consider euthanizing a dog with liver failure, discussing kidney disease in dogs, or contemplating quality of life, our strength is in being there for you and your pet, providing solace and support.

Empowering Prevention and Proactive Care

While not every case of cancer can be prevented, certain measures can be taken to reduce risk and hasten the diagnosis.

Emphasizing Regular Veterinary Care

Routine veterinary check-ups can spot the early signs of cancer, enabling prompt treatment when it is most likely to be effective.

Upholding a Healthy Lifestyle

Diet, exercise, and weight management all play a role in your dog's well-being and can potentially decrease the risk of cancer.

Vigilance Against Carcinogens

Environmental awareness and action to reduce your dog's exposure to carcinogenic substances protect not only your dog but your entire household.

Genetics and Breeding: An Ounce of Prevention

For at-risk breeds, genetic testing and selective breeding may help reduce the future incidence of hereditary cancers.

In considering measures for prevention, remember that it's not just about avoiding disease but about fostering an environment of vitality and vigor for your canine friend.

The Tender Journey's End: Saying Goodbye

Whenever your pet’s journey draws near an end, whether as a cancer survivor reaching a natural decline or succumbing to a disease such as cancer, we want to ensure your pet's passing is as serene and dignified as possible. At CodaPet, we specialize in at-home pet euthanasia, enabling a peaceful transition in the comfort of your own home. This allows your pet to be surrounded by love and familiarity, making your final moments together as stress-free as possible.

You may wonder what costs are involved with pet euthanasia. We understand that knowing how much it costs to put a dog down is an important consideration in developing your pet's care plan.

Understanding dog euthanasia processes and knowing when the time is right can be difficult. That's why our team is dedicated to offering guidance, support, and information to help you make this sobering decision. Regardless of the path you choose, our focus is to ensure that your dog's life is honored with the utmost respect and compassion.

Forever In Your Heart

Every pet owner's experience is unique, and we're here to provide individualized counsel and emotional support during this intricate journey. At CodaPet, we believe in honoring your pet's life by providing a peaceful and loving farewell, true to the bond you've shared throughout their life.

As you consider the steps ahead, whether continuing treatment or preparing for a kind goodbye, know that you are not alone. Our nationwide network of compassionate veterinarians is by your side to ensure your pet receives the dignity and care they deserve.

View veterinarian schedules and book an appointment online. We are here to support you and your pet during this tender time; with CodaPet, every moment matters, and we'll be here to help cherish each one.


Dr. Bethany graduated from the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine in 2010. After graduation, she moved west. Dr. Bethany spent a year at a small animal exclusive practice in Washington state, where she was first introduced to in-home euthanasia.  Read More