Thanks to veterinary medicine’s advances and innovations, pets are living longer than ever. However, with greater age comes an increased cancer risk. A pet whose body has battled environmental stressors over the years is more likely to develop abnormal cells that can be malignant, and form a variety of cancer types. More than 10 million new cancer diagnoses are made in cats and dogs each year, so knowing what to watch for is critical for catching cancer in its earliest stages. Early detection affords the best prognosis for your four-legged friend, so watch out for the following potential cancer signs.

#1: Unusual lumps or bumps

Many lumps and bumps can be benign, but, unfortunately, many are malignant. To determine if that mass that popped up on your pet is nothing more than a lipoma (i.e., fatty tumor), a fine needle aspirate and a biopsy likely is needed. If your pet has had a lump for a while, but the lump has started growing or changed appearance, re-evaluation is needed to check for malignancy. Any mass, no matter how small, should be evaluated by your Livingston Veterinary Hospital veterinarian.

#2: Sores that do not heal

If your pet’s wound or sore will not heal, despite antibiotics, they may have more than a simple infection. Non-healing sores can signal a deeper issue, such as skin cancer. Pigmented areas can also change color or begin oozing discharge if they become malignant, so watch these spots closely.

#3: Lameness and stiffness

While lameness and stiffness can indicate osteoarthritis, which is common among older pets, a potential cancer issue, such as osteosarcoma, may be the cause. This bone cancer is more common among large- and giant-breed dogs, particularly in the legs’ long bones. If your lame pet’s leg is swollen, and their lameness does not resolve with rest, they may have developed a malignant tumor.

#4: Gastrointestinal issues

Pets who vomit and have diarrhea from time to time are considered normal. However, ongoing gastrointestinal issues can be a clue that they have an internal problem. Cancer in the stomach, intestinal tract, or liver can cause vomiting and diarrhea that are difficult to control.

#5: Foul odors

Although no pet can claim minty-fresh breath, a truly foul odor from the mouth, nose, or anus can be a tumor development sign. If your pet’s breath suddenly becomes more offensive, they may have developed an oral tumor or a more internal issue.

#6: Sudden weakness or collapse

Aggressive cancers can quickly leach away your pet’s energy and strength. Some malignant tumors can also weaken your pet and cause sudden collapse. Oftentimes, a hemangiosarcoma tumor is behind the sudden collapse, when the fragile tumor ruptures and causes uncontrolled internal bleeding.

#7: Unexplained weight loss

If your pet suddenly loses weight or their appetite, they may have an oral tumor or a more systemic cancer affecting their body. When your pet does not feel well, they are much less likely to eat, and maintaining a healthy body weight becomes difficult. Sometimes, weight loss can be extremely sudden, although your pet may seem to still be eating.

#8: Difficulty breathing

Many cancer forms can metastasize (i.e.,migrate) to the lungs and cause respiratory issues. If you notice your pet breathing harder or faster, including when they are resting, they may have developed lung metastases. 

#9: Swollen lymph nodes

Swollen lymph nodes, as well as tumors, can suddenly appear in your pet. Normal lymph nodes behind the knees, under the jaw, and in front of the shoulders are typically hard to detect, but severe infection, inflammation, or cancer can make them swell. So, if you notice large swellings in these locations, your pet’s lymph nodes may be cluing you in that your pet has a more serious problem.

#10: Changes in urination or defecation

Prostate cancer, bladder cancer, or tumor formation by the anus or in the urinary or intestinal tracts can cause changes in your pet’s urination or defecation habits. Tumors can constrict normal flow as they enlarge, causing your pet to urinate small, frequent amounts, or to become constipated or develop diarrhea.

Any abnormal change in your pet’s physical appearance or behavior is cause for concern. The sooner our veterinary team diagnoses the problem, the sooner they can begin treatment and improve the prognosis. At the first hint of an abnormality in your pet, contact our Livingston Veterinary Hospital team for an appointment.