Warning Signs for Dogs (see cats below)
Early Detection is Key - Pets have become members of our families, and as we take better care of them, they are living happier, longer lives. Despite this, or perhaps becauseof this, cancer is one of the leading causes of death in dogs and cats. Early detection is key to a better outcome, and this is why we have come up with the 10 warning signs of cancer that every pet owner should know.
- Swollen Lymph Nodes - These “glands” are located all throughout the body but are most easily detected under the jaw or behind the knee. When lymph nodes are enlarged they can suggest a common form of cancer called lymphoma. A biopsy or cytology of these enlarged lymph nodes can aid in the obtaining a diagnosis.
- An Enlarging or Changing Lump - Any lump on a pet that is rapidly growing or changing in texture or shape should have a biopsy. Lumps belong in biopsy jars, not on pets.
- Abdominal Distension - When the “stomach” or belly becomes enlarged rapidly, this may suggest a mass or tumor in the abdomen or indicate bleeding that is occurring in this area. A radiograph or an ultrasound of the abdomen can be very useful in this situation.
- Chronic Weight Loss - When a pet is losing weight and you have not put your pet on a diet, you should have your pet checked. This sign is not diagnostic for cancer, but can indicate that something is wrong. Many cancer patients have weight loss.
- Chronic Vomiting or Diarrhea - Unexplained vomiting or diarrhea should prompt further investigation. Tumors of the gastrointestinal tract can offen cause chronic vomiting and/or diarrhea. Radiographs, ultrasound examinations and endoscopy are useful diagnostic tools when this occurs.
- Unexplained Bleeding - Bleeding from the mouth, nose, gums or blood in the urine or stool, that is not due to trauma should be examined. Although bleeding disorders do occur in pets, they usually are discovered at a younger age. If unexplained bleeding starts when a pet is old, a thorough search should be undertaken.
- Cough - A dry, non-productive cough in an older pet should prompt chest radiographs to be taken. This type of cough is the most common sign of lung cancer. Please remember there are many causes of cough in dogs and cats.
- Lameness - Unexplained lameness (especially in large or giant breed dogs) is a very common sign of bone cancer. Radiographs of the affected area are useful for detecting cancer of the bone.
- Straining to Urinate - Straining to urinate and blood in the urine usually indicate a urinary tract infection, however, if the straining and bleeding do not resolve rapidly with antibiotics or are recurrent, cancer of the bladder may be the underlying cause. Cystoscopy or other techniques that allow a veterinarian to take a biopsy of the bladder are useful and sometimes necessary to establish a definitive diagnosis in these cases.
- Oral Odor - Oral tumors do occur in pets and can cause a pet to change its food preference (i.e. from hard to soft foods) or cause a pet to change the manner in which he/she chews their food. Many times a foul odor can be detected in pets with oral tumors. A thorough oral examination with radiographs or CT scan, requiring sedation, is often necessary to determine the underlying cause.
The Warning Signs of Cancer in Cats
Early Detection is Key, but More Difficult - As is true for our own health an "ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" is also true for our pets. But because they can't talk, we need to rely more on physical clues to detect cancer in the earliest stages in our dogs and cats. Cats in particular are very adept at hiding their illness, so cat “parents” must be vigilant and sensitive to their cat’s particular behaviors and actions. To help cat “parents” monitor their pets we have created a feline version of the most common warning signs. Please understand that these are just potential warning signs and should not panic you, but prompt a visit to your veterinarian.
- Chronic Weight Loss - When a pet is losing weight and you have not put your pet on a diet, you should have your pet checked. This sign is not diagnostic for cancer, but can indicate that something is wrong. Many cancer patients have weight loss. Detecting weight loss in cats can be very difficult due to their relatively small size. One of the best way to check is to monitor your cat’s weight on a routine basis, such as weekly or monthly. This way you will be alerted to small changes in your cat’s weight in a timely manner.
- Chronic Vomiting or Diarrhea - Unexplained vomiting or diarrhea should prompt further investigation. Often tumors of the gastrointestinal tract can cause chronic vomiting and/or diarrhea. Radiographs, ultrasound examinations and endoscopy are useful diagnostic tools when this occurs. Gastrointestinal lymphoma is common in cats so any unexplained vomiting (not hairballs) or diarrhea should be noted. If vomiting and/or diarrhea are also associated with weight loss, your cat should be evaluated by your veterinarian.
- Oral odor/bleeding - Oral tumors are unfortunately common in cats and they are often difficult to see. It is therefore very important to notice any change in the way your cat chews its food or an abrupt change in its food preference (i.e. from hard to soft foods). Bleeding and/ or a foul odor are often the first signs of an oral tumor in cats. A thorough oral examination with radiographs or CT scan, necessitating sedation, is often necessary to determine the cause of the problem.
- Hiding or behavior change - One of the most common warning signs that a cat does not feel well is for the cat to start hiding or have a change in behavior. These changes are not specific for cancer, but because it is often difficult to detect physical changes in cats, noticing changes in behavior is important.
- Swollen lymph nodes - These “glands” are located all throughout the body but are most easily detected behind the jaw or behind the knee. When these lymph nodes are enlarged they can suggest a common form of cancer called lymphoma. A biopsy or cytology of these enlarged lymph nodes can aid in the diagnosis.Reaction at vaccine site: Vaccine associated sarcomas can occur in cats and there is an easy to remember “rule” that owners should follow. The “3-2-1” rule of thumb is that any mass that persists for more than three months after vaccination; any lump that is larger than two centimeters (about 1 inch) in diameter; or any lump that is increasing in size one month after vaccination should be evaluated by a veterinarian.
- Skin lumps or bumps - Benign skin masses are less common in cats than they are in dogs, so any skin mass on a cat should be evaluated.