If you’re lucky, you’ll never be faced with a diagnosis of cancer for a pet. But about 1 in 10 dogs and 1 in 5 cats will be diagnosed with cancer in the U.S. this year, according to the Animal Cancer Foundation. We’re sharing pet cancer signs to help you recognize when something may be amiss. After all, early diagnosis and treatment give your pet the best hope for a remission or, in some cases, even a cure.
Of course, the signs of cancer vary depending on the organs or body parts affected, such as the skin, blood or bones. These signs can also signal other conditions, so don’t panic. Just see your veterinarian if you find any of the following:
Unexplained weight loss: If your pet starts looking thinner than usual, and you haven’t started a new diet or exercise routine, it’s time for a checkup.
Enlarged lymph nodes: The lymph nodes that are the easiest to find are just under the jaw, right below the ear and behind the knees. Normally, the lymph nodes feel like a small, pliable blip between your fingers. But if you feel anything firmer or bigger than usual, talk to your veterinarian.
Skin lumps and bumps: You should run your fingers over your pet’s skin at least once a month so you can identify any lumps that are growing or changing. Female pets that have not been spayed are at greater risk for mammary cancer, so be sure to check for any unusual growths on their chests and bellies.
Chronic coughing or difficulty breathing: Tumors that occur in or around the lungs can cause respiratory problems.
Lameness or limb swelling: If you run your hands along both of your pet’s front or rear legs at the same time, it’s easy to compare and spot areas with unusual swellings along the bones. If your pet starts favoring a limb, or is hesitant to bear weight on it, talk to your veterinarian.
Stinky breath or difficulty chewing: These can certainly be signs of periodontal disease, but pets can get tumors in their mouths, as well. If your pet will allow it, take a peek at the gums and under the tongue, checking for unusual growths.
Chronic vomiting or diarrhea: Not surprisingly, cancers of the digestive tract can lead to loose stools, upset stomachs and in some cases, trouble defecating. If the problem persists, or your pet starts losing weight, make an appointment.
Circling or seizures: A pet with a potential brain tumor may experience a sudden onset of seizures, especially in the older years, or may pace in circles over and over again.
Abdominal distension: Pets might have swollen bellies from overindulging in the treat jar, but it can also be a sign of an enlarged organ, such as the liver.
Lethargy: Any time your pet seems less active than usual, lags behind on walks or just doesn’t want to interact with the family as much, there’s a good chance something’s not right.
When in doubt, see your veterinarian. It may be nothing. But if it’s something more serious, you’ll be glad you caught it early.
The information in this blog has been developed with our veterinarian and is designed to help educate pet parents. If you have questions or concerns about your pet's health or nutrition, please talk with your veterinarian.