By M.J. Hamilton, Veterinary Oncologist, DVM, DACIVM
Cancer can affect anyone, even our pets. In fact, cancer accounts for almost 50% of all disease-related deaths in dogs and cats every year. The symptoms of cancer in pets are not always obvious, however, you know your animal companion much better than you realize, and just like people, the sooner disease is detected the better. The following is a list of some of cancer symptoms that can be commonly overlooked, yet need to be addressed.
· Pale gums: Pale gums are not normal; your pet’s gums should be just as pink as your own. Sudden blood loss can cause pale gums. In older pets, tumor rupture can cause sudden blood loss, as can other disorders. Observe your healthy pet so you can determine a visual baseline of color.
· Distended belly: Gradual weight gain with age is normal, however, you should not suddenly notice your dog has a large belly. Ruptured or growing tumors can cause a pet’s abdomen to suddenly appear enlarged.
· Sudden lethargy or collapse: While many dogs and cats slow down with age, sudden changes within a week’s period of time should not occur. Tumors can have side effects which make pets very sluggish in a short period of time. If you notice these changes in your pet, it is best to take him or her in for a veterinary exam.
· Bleeding: Bleeding should only occur with injuries such as cuts or trauma. If you see blood dripping from your pet’s nose or genital area, he needs to be evaluated for bleeding tumors or problems with making normal blood clots.
· Lumps and bumps: New lumps and bumps need to be evaluated to determine if they are benign or cancerous. Areas of particular concern are the lymph nodes, as they can grow larger from lymphoma or infection. Large lymph nodes need to be evaluated by a veterinarian immediately, not watched at home.
· Collapse: Sudden collapse is an emergency. Ruptured tumors and heart disease can be causes of collapse and need medical attention immediately.
· Foul breath or bleeding from mouth: Pets do not have pleasant breath, especially as they age; however, their breath should not be horrible. Independent of dirty teeth, tumors growing in the mouth can trap food and bacteria and may be associated with secondary infections resulting in foul breath. Tumors in the mouth can cause difficulty eating (prolonged chewing, unwillingness to chew, or food falling from the mouth) as well as bleeding after eating, drinking or chewing toys.
· Unable to urinate: Posturing to urinate without producing a normal amount or appropriate stream of urine is abnormal. While simple urinary tract infections can cause increased urgency of urination in small amounts, bladder tumors or stones can interfere with the ability to urinate. Urinary problems are urgent. See your veterinarian immediately.
· Anorexia: We can all be a bit picky about what we eat, however, cats and dogs that stop eating altogether usually have a health problem. There are many reasons for decreased appetite, however, cancer is one of them, particularly in elderly pets.
· Insatiable thirst: Dogs should consume the same amount of water each day, with exceptions of hot days or after exercise. Increased thirst can actually be related to tumors or hormone disorders so changes in thirst shouldn’t be ignored.
· Vomiting: Similar to anorexia, vomiting occurs for many reasons at any age. Frequent vomiting is a problem not to be ignored at any age.
· Limping: Many pets get stiff with age and can limp shortly after vigorous activity. Limping that persists for more than a week must be medically evaluated to determine if it is from bone cancer, infection, arthritis or other health problem.
· Nasal discharge: Vaccinated adult pets do not usually get frequent sinus/nasal infections. Tumors in the sinuses can result in repeated sinus infections, as can a few other conditions. White, green or yellow discharge from the nose is not normal.
Dr. Hamilton of Crown Veterinary Specialists is a skilled medical oncologist dedicated to helping advance the field of veterinary oncology with novel treatment options and personalized care for his patients. He is a firm believer that cancer in small animals is treatable and not necessarily a terminal diagnosis. Dr. Hamilton manages patients through their cancer journey, from the moment the cancer is detected through treatment and post-treatment monitoring.