Early Cancer Detection in Dogs and Cats: Early Signs and What to Do If You See Them

Early Cancer Detection in Dogs and Cats: Early Signs and What to Do If You See Them


It’s early on a Thursday morning and you’re drinking your coffee, reading the news, about to wake the kids, and suddenly you hear the phone ring. It’s the call you’ve been dreading, it’s the vet. They’re calling to tell you that they’ve gotten your pet’s test results back and have diagnosed Fluffy with cancer. Your heart sinks.

It’s the news no pet owner ever wants to get but it’s the reality that so many of us have faced. Roughly 6 million dogs and another 6 million cats received a new cancer diagnosis each year.  The good news is that there has been a lot of research and testing done to advance the veterinarian field of oncology and the science is getting more advanced every day. With that, there’s more information available to us about what to watch for and what to do if you notice some of the typical signs of cancer.

Warning Signs of Cancer in Dogs and Cats

  • Persistent cough
  • Sudden weight loss
  • Vomiting and diarrhea
  • Oral odor
  • Abdominal distension (when the stomach becomes enlarged)
  • Enlarging or changing lump on the body
  • Swollen lymph nodes, generally more noticeable behind the jaw or knee
  • Difficulty urinating, defecating, or breathing
  • Unexplained bleeding
  • Lameness, especially in large breed dogs

Pets Most At Risk:

  • 50% of Dogs and 32% of cats past the age of 10 will develop some form of cancer.
  • Both cats and dogs that have not been altered run much higher risks. In fact, spaying females eliminates the chance of uterine or ovarian cancer and greatly reduces incidence of breast cancer.
  • Certain breeds (Goldens, Boxers, German Shepherds, Poodles, Rottweilers, Dobermans, Beagles) of dogs have increased likelihood.
  • Pets with a family history of cancer have an increased incidence as well.

So what do you do if you notice any combination of these symptoms? The first step should be to take your dog or cat to see the vet. Your vet will want to run some tests, potentially including blood tests, fecal or urine tests, rectal exams, and even MRI’s, x-rays, or ultrasounds.

What are some ways to reduce the risk of cancer in your pet?

  • Keep your furry companion at a healthy weight. You should ensure that your dog or cat is getting all the essential vitamins and minerals necessary to stay healthy, strong, and energetic.
  • Spay or neuter at the appropriate age.
  • Minimize exposure to toxins. These toxins could be anything like secondhand smoke, pesticides, or herbicides.
  • Minimize exposure to ultraviolet radiation from long exposure to the sun.
  • Take your pet for routine veterinarian examinations. Your pets should already be undergoing annual physical exams by a veterinarian. However, as your dog or cat ages, the risk of developing cancer increases, so your regular checkups should increase too. Exams that include routine bloodwork and urine or fecal samples can lead to early detection of cancer and may give your dog or cat a better outcome if they should get diagnosed with cancer and need to get treatment.
  • Vaccinate your cat for feline leukemia.
  • Consider getting titers prior to booster vacinations for your cat. Researchers have found a link between vaccinations and sarcomas in some cats.

For more information on getting earlier diagnoses of cancer in dogs and cats, visit MedVet’s information page.


Photo credit: PetMeds® Pet Health Blog


MedVet – Bobby McQuowden, DVM

Oakland Veterinary Referral Services

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