Like us, our dogs are now living longer and their chances of developing some form of canine cancer are at an all time high.  Luckily about half of all canine cancers can be detected through physical examination so it is very important to see your vet at the first sign of physical change.

Yearly vet visits seem to come around so quickly but if you consider that your dog ages approximately 7 years for every 1 of yours then, apart from keeping vaccinations up to date, attending the annual visit doesn’t seem so irrelevant anymore.

It isn’t uncommon to discover early symptoms of serious disease in dogs that otherwise appear healthy at these yearly visits. Just the other day, at a routine vaccination, I discovered a small lump on a dog’s skin that turned out to be cancer. It was removed the following day with an excellent prognosis but given a few more months and the cancer would have spread to an extent that cure would have been impossible.

Common symptoms that may indicate canine cancer include rapid weight loss, reduction in appetite, unwillingness to exercise, visible lumps or growths on the skin, difficulty swallowing, breathing or going to the toilet. coughing, vomiting or lameness.  These symptoms are however common to a large number of illnesses so a thorough workup from your vet will be required to determine the cause with cancer sometimes being the remaining diagnosis when all other possible causes have been ruled out.

A physical examination is the first step and may be followed by a blood test, X-rays, ultrasound or advanced imaging such as CT scans and MRI.

Just as with human medicine, veterinary oncology has advanced tremendously in recent times and many cancers can be successfully placed into remission to prolong quality of life or even cured completely.  Depending on the type of cancer, treatment can involve a combination of surgery and chemotherapy or radiotherapy or just one treatment type on it’s own.

The main thing to remember when it comes to treating pet cancer, is that our pets tend to have far fewer side effects from chemotherapy than us humans.  Pets have shorter lifespans than us so specialist veterinary oncologists are treating with the aim of achieving remission rather than a cure. Doses of medications can therefore be lower and surgery less invasive or drastic. Treatment can be costly but the benefits are undoubtedly worth it if it means that your dog can have extended quality of life.

A diagnosis of cancer in a beloved pet is never something that an owner wants to hear but knowing that effective treatment is available can make the prospect of dealing with the diagnosis somewhat easier, as can having pet insurance cover should you decide to go ahead with a treatment plan.

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About the Author: Dr Melissa Meehan BVSc (Hons), MANZCVS (Int Med)
Dr Melissa Meehan is a highly experienced and respected veterinary surgeon with over 14 years experience. Dr Melissa obtained her Members in Small Animal Medicine through examination in 2008 and now runs her own veterinary ophthalmology service www.vetophthalmology.com.au