A beloved pet’s cancer diagnosis can be devastating, especially if you have not suspected they have the disease. However, recognizing cancer signs can be challenging, because they cover a wide spectrum. Many cancer signs are vague and nonspecific, and may point to a multitude of other conditions. Learn to recognize cancer signs in pets, and if your furry companion begins exhibiting any concerning signs, schedule an appointment with one of our Neighborhood Veterinary Centers teams in Southeast Texas.
#1: Your pet has unexplained lumps or bumps
A rapidly growing lump or sudden appearance of a new bump can mean a cancerous mass has developed. Some lumps, such as fatty tumors (i.e., lipomas), are benign, but fast-growing lumps that suddenly pop up are often malignant. In some cases, a benign mass can become cancerous, quickly growing and potentially causing health issues. If your your pet’s lumps and bumps change suddenly, always have your veterinarian promptly check these masses for malignancy.
#2: Your pet has pigmented skin sores
Age spots that appear on thin-haired pets can be normal, but pigmented sores can signal melanoma, which is a cancer that develops from melanocytes (i.e., the cells that cause pigmentation) in the skin, in the mouth, or virtually anywhere on the body. Ask your veterinarian to check any unusual sores your pet has developed.
#3: Your pet’s wounds fail to heal
Non-healing wounds can be a sign of antimicrobial resistance, or may indicate a cancerous process is interfering with the body’s healing ability. If your pet’s minor cut or scrape fails to heal on its own, or a more serious injury is not healing despite treatment, cancer may be the cause.
#4: Your pet’s lymph nodes feel swollen and enlarged
Many cancers cause lymph node enlargement. Some cancers, such as lymphoma, develop in the lymphoid tissue, whereas other cancer types, such as osteosarcoma, can spread to nearby lymph nodes. In general, swollen lymph nodes indicate an infection or disease process, and your pet needs medical treatment.
#5: Your pet develops gastrointestinal problems
Your pet may develop gastrointestinal (GI) signs, depending on their tumor’s location and type. Intestinal tract tumors can interfere with digestion, and cause vomiting, diarrhea, or constipation. Oral tumors, or those that develop in the upper GI tract, can cause eating or swallowing issues, and your pet may have unexplained mouth bleeding.
#6: Respiratory issues can mean your pet’s cancer has metastasized
Primary tumors can develop in the lungs, but many cancers also metastasize, or spread, there. As the masses grow, they make breathing difficult, which can lead to coughing, heavy panting while at rest, shallow breathing, or respiratory distress.
#7: Your pet is losing weight without a diet plan
Cancer generally causes pets to feel unwell, and weight loss is common as the disease takes hold. Depending on the cancer type and the tumor location, your pet can experience difficulty chewing, swallowing, or digesting their food, or they may not feel well enough to eat, which can all contribute to weight loss. Generally, cancer-induced weight loss is rapid.
#8: Your pet is lethargic and weak
As your pet’s body attempts to fight cancer, they can easily become overwhelmed, leading to lethargy and weakness. Some cancers, like hemangiosarcoma, can lead to sudden collapse if the tumor ruptures and bleeds.
#9: Your pet’s lameness or stiffness does not respond to traditional treatment
If your pet has suffered an injury, such as a muscle sprain or strain, or has developed a chronic condition such osteoarthritis, their lameness or stiffness should improve with rest and pain-relieving medication. However, a cancerous process, such as osteosarcoma, can cause your pet to experience excruciating pain that may not respond well to typical treatment, or the disease can advance so quickly that traditional pain medications are ineffective at the later stages. Limping or stiff pets who do not improve as expected may have developed bone cancer.
#10: Your pet has bad breath
While a foul odor wafting from your pet’s mouth may simply mean they have dental disease and need a professional dental cleaning, bad breath can also signal a more serious condition. Cancer that affects organ function, or develops within the mouth or upper gastrointestinal tract can create a foul odor that is noticeable on your pet’s breath.
Although you may be tempted to wait and see if your pet’s illness resolves on its own, with cancer, an immediate diagnosis helps provide the best outcome. If your pet exhibits any of the cancer signs we have described, or seems generally unwell, schedule an appointment with one of our Neighborhood Veterinary Centers teams in Southeast Texas.