Unfortunately Cancer is something that we do see in pets, particularly older (but not limited to) pets. Cancer is a word that often makes people shudder, but it is not always that bad. Many cancers are treatable, especially in the early stages, so it is well worth getting any suspected tumours checked-out sooner rather than later.

Below are a number of symptoms that may indicate a tumour; they may also indicate another problem, so if your pet displays any of the signs below, get him / her checked out by your vet, sooner rather than later.

  • Swollen lymph nodes:These “glands” are located throughout the body but are most easily detected behind the jaw or behind the knee. When these lymph nodes are enlarged they can suggest a common form of cancer called lymphoma. A biopsy or cytology of these enlarged lymph nodes can aid in the diagnosis.
  • An enlarging or changing lump: Any lump on a pet that is rapidly growing or changing in texture or shape should have a biopsy. Lumps belong in biopsy jars, not on pets.
  • Abdominal distension: When the “stomach” or belly becomes rapidly enlarged, this may suggest a mass or tumour in the abdomen or it may indicate some bleeding that is occurring in this area. A radiograph or an ultrasound of the abdomen can be very useful.
  • Chronic weight loss: When a pet is losing weight and you have not put your pet on a diet, you should have your pet checked. This sign is not diagnostic for cancer, but can indicate that something is wrong. Many cancer patients have weight loss.
  • Chronic vomiting or diarrhoea: Unexplained vomiting or diarrhoea should prompt further investigation. Often tumours of the gastrointestinal tract can cause chronic vomiting and/or diarrhoea. Radiographs, ultrasound examinations and endoscopy are useful diagnostic tools when this occurs.
  • Unexplained bleeding: Bleeding from the mouth, nose, penis, vagina or gums that is not due to trauma should be examined. Although bleeding disorders do occur in pets, they usually are discovered while pets are young. If unexplained bleeding starts when a pet is old, a thorough search should be undertaken.
  • Cough: A dry, non-productive cough in an older pet should prompt chest radiographs to be taken. This type of cough is the most common sign of lung cancer. Please remember there are many causes of cough in dogs and cats.
  • Lameness: Unexplained lameness especially in large or giant breed dogs is a very common sign of bone cancer. Radiographs of the affected area are useful for detecting cancer of the bone.
  • Straining to urinate: Straining to urinate and blood in the urine usually indicate a common urinary tract infection; if the straining and bleeding are not rapidly controlled with antibiotics or are recurrent, cancer of the bladder may be the underlying cause. Cystoscopy or other techniques that allow a veterinarian to take a biopsy of the bladder are useful and sometimes necessary to establish a definitive diagnosis in these cases.
  • Oral odour: Oral tumours do occur in pets and can cause a pet to change its food preference (i.e. from hard to soft foods) or cause a pet to change the manner in which it chews its food. Many times a foul odour can be detected in pets with oral tumours. A thorough oral examination with radiographs or CT scan, necessitating sedation, is often necessary to determine the cause of the problem.