Cancer Awareness Information for Pet Owners

November marks National Pet Cancer Awareness Month. Cancer is one of the most common problems in companion animals and can happen in pets of any age.

Cancer can be very treatable in most pets and an early diagnosis provides a better chance for long-term control. UW Veterinary Care’s full complement of oncology services can provide prompt answers and get treatments started quickly. Below, MacKenzie Pellin DVM’11, clinical assistant professor and board-certified specialist in veterinary medical oncology, shares possible signs of cancer in pets, information on treatment options, and more.

Are there any early warning signs to watch out for regarding pet cancer?

Warning signs of cancer include masses (lumps), especially those that grow quickly, feel firm or are changing in appearance (becoming bruised or ulcerated); persistent vomiting, diarrhea or dramatic weight change; sudden lameness or swelling of the leg; blood coming from the mouth or nose, especially if accompanied by foul odor; swelling of the abdomen, especially if accompanied by decreased energy or pale gums; or major changes in appetite and energy beyond normal age-related changes.

When should a pet owner schedule an appointment with a veterinarian?

Owners should schedule an appointment with UW Veterinary Care if their local veterinarian has diagnosed or has a strong suspicion that their pet has cancer and they would like to learn more about diagnostic and treatment options.

If new masses (lumps) are noted, we always recommend that they are evaluated and sampled by a veterinarian – benign fatty tumors are common but are important to be differentiated from more aggressive tumors.

What are the most common types of pet cancer?

Common cancers in dogs include lymphoma, bone tumors (osteosarcoma), skin tumors (mast cell tumors and soft tissue sarcomas), tumors of the oral cavity and nasal tumors. Common cancers in cats include tumors of the gastrointestinal tract (lymphoma), oral tumors (squamous cell carcinoma), lung tumors and nasal tumors.

What might treatment entail?

Treatment options for cancer can be as simple as pain or anti-inflammatory medications, or as involved as chemotherapy, surgery and radiation therapy (or sometimes a combination of all of these). The exact treatment is often specific to the tumor type, stage of disease (presence of metastases and extent of the tumor), the personality of the pet, and the owner’s goals, finances and expectations.

Our goal as oncologists is to educate the owner about the various options and to help them find the best option for them and their pet, whether it is focusing on keeping the pet comfortable or trying more aggressive therapy.

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