According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, 1 in 4 dogs will have cancer during their lifetime. For cats, it is estimated that 1 in 5 are likely to experience cancer. That’s why National Pet Cancer Awareness Month is so important.  

Each November, National Pet Cancer Awareness Month promotes health education about cancers in pets, helping pet owners learn the signs and symptoms of malignancy in pets and providing valuable guidance on cancer diagnosis and treatment. 

Understanding Malignancy in Pets

Cancer refers to the unwanted growth of cells, called a neoplasm (or tumor). Neoplasms may be benign (noncancerous) or malignant (cancerous). Cancerous neoplasms tend to grow quickly and to invade other systems of the body. A single malignant tumor in the kidney, for example, could affect adjacent organs. Some cancerous tumors can be highly aggressive—making prompt diagnosis and treatment essential to improving outcomes. By understanding the cancer risks for your pet and knowing the early warning signs of malignancy, you’ll be able to seek appropriate treatment quickly. 

What Types of Cancer Affect Pets? 

As in humans, cancers can affect almost any part of the body, though some types of cancers are more common than others. Let’s look first at dogs.  

The most common types of cancers seen in dogs include: 

  • Lymphoma accounts for 1 in 5 canine cancers. As the name implies, lymphomas affect the lymph nodes and lymphatic system. All dog breeds can experience lymphatic cancer, though Golden Retrievers seem particularly susceptible. Treatment usually involves chemotherapy, with dogs who respond well achieving 12-18 months of remission. 
  • Mast Cell Tumors are neoplasms composed of unwanted mast cells (a type of immune cell), usually on the skin. Mast cell tumors can be aggressive and often require surgery, sometimes combined with radiation and chemotherapy. Susceptible breeds include Boxers and Bulldogs. 
  • Osteosarcoma is a type of cancer affecting the bones. Bone cancers can be aggressive and treatment is often radical, including amputation of the affected limb. Unfortunately even this treatment is successful in only 1 in 10 dogs. Particularly vulnerable are large breeds like Great Danes, Irish Wolfhounds, and Mastiffs. 
  • Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that affects both dogs and humans. Melanoma is most common in breeds with black mouths or gums (such as Dobermans, Schnauzers, and Scotties). Because melanoma is hard to spot early, and because it can spread aggressively, the prognosis is usually poor.  
  • Mammary Tumors represent the most common type of cancer seen in unspayed female dogs. About half these tumors are malignant, but can be removed surgically. Prevention of mammary tumors in dogs begins by spaying female dogs before they go into heat. 

Though less common in cats than in dogs, cancers in felines can be particularly aggressive. The most common types of cancer seen in cats include:  

  • Lymphoma. As in dogs, lymphoma is the most common type of cancer in cats. It is often associated with the feline leukemia virus (FeLV). Despite the availability of a vaccine for FeLV, cases remain all too common.  
  • Oral Cancers (squamous carcinoma) are also common in cats. 
  • Soft Tissue Sarcomas, tumors that sometimes develop at former injection sites are also seen often in cats. 
  • Mammary Tumors remain a problem in stray cat populations where females remain unspayed. 

Cats are also known to develop tumors in other areas, such as the brain or gastrointestinal tract, but at far lower rates. 

Common Symptoms of Cancer in Dogs and Cats 

According to the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA), symptoms of cancer to watch for in dogs include

  • Abnormal or rapidly growing swellings 
  • Sores that do not heal 
  • Loss of appetite and weight loss 
  • Bleeding or discharge from body openings 
  • Difficulty eating, swallowing, or breathing 
  • Lameness 
  • Difficulty urinating or defecating 

Spotting the warning signs of cancer in cats is somewhat difficult because cats are adept at hiding their symptoms until the disease has become advanced. But here are some warning signs to watch for: 

  • Unexplained lumps, bumps, or masses 
  • Gastric problems such as vomiting, diarrhea, or dark stools 
  • Difficulty breathing (which could signal fluid buildup in the lungs)  

If you notice any of these symptoms in your pet, contact your veterinarian immediately. Because some cancers can be very aggressive, it is important to get a diagnosis and treatment plan in place as soon as possible. 

When and How to Seek Treatment for Your Pet 

Your first point of contact for care should be your vet. They can explain the diagnostic process and offer treatment options. Your vet can also advise you on the best course moving forward, and can tell you what treatments they recommend. 

If your vet does not have a surgery suite or offer radiation therapy in their office, you may have to take your pet to an animal hospital where it can receive complete treatment and follow-up. The staff at the animal hospital should inform you of all treatment plans and costs, prior to each intervention. 

Types of Cancer Treatment for Pets 

As in humans, the most common types of cancer treatment in pets include: 

  • Chemotherapy. The intravenous administration of cancer-killing drugs on a set schedule. Chemo does have some unpleasant side-effects, so ask your vet what to expect if your pet is receiving chemotherapy. A course of chemotherapy may last weeks or months. Your vet may prescribe other drugs to support your pet during this time. 
  • Radiation. As in humans, radiation is an effective way of controlling and eradicating cancers in pets. Radiation treatments can reduce tumor size and are a valuable post-surgical treatment in the prevention of cancer recurrence. 
  • Surgery. If surgical intervention is indicated to treat your pet’s cancer, you should be prepared for your pet to spend a day or two in the animal hospital, where it will receive supportive care and a post-surgical check.   

How Pet Insurance Can Offset the Costs of Cancer Treatment 

When adversity catches you unprepared, the results can be catastrophic. Cancer treatment for a beloved pet can be a budget-breaker, sending you scrambling to pay vet bills and meet household expenses.  

Pet insurance delivers the peace of mind that comes with knowing your pet’s treatment can be made affordable with coverage. By selecting a pet insurance package that fits your needs and your budget, you can be assured that your pet’s health never comes second. Contact Toto Pet insurance today