Few things strike as much fear into our hearts as discovering a
strange lump. Most of us will be keen to get anything abnormal we
find on ourselves checked out urgently by our GP; but what about
our poorly pets, who rely solely on us to decide whether to visit
the vet or not?
What is cancer?
Cancer means an abnormal growth of cells and, unfortunately,
it's a common disease of all dogs. It may be benign (slow-growing,
removable) or malignant (aggressive, spreading throughout body)
with roughly one in four dogs eventually succumbing to the disease.
For dogs over 10 years of age, approximately 50% of deaths are
cancer-related; and like us, there are many different types of
cancers resulting in a huge variation in clinical signs
What causes cancer?
Causes of cancer are largely unknown making prevention extremely
difficult, but being aware of possible signs of disease in your dog
greatly helps early detection and finding the appropriate care for
Is a lump always cancer?
Common lumps on dogs vary greatly in size, shape, severity, and
whether they're visible to the naked eye or hidden inside your dog.
Some conditions resemble lumps but are in fact ticks; their
lump-like, pea-sized body requiring very careful removal - as a
non-cancerous lump known as a 'tick bite granuloma' may form
afterwards requiring surgical intervention.
As with older people, elderly pets are more likely to grow warts
and other small growths of the skin or associated structures. These
occasionally appear unsightly but are usually non-serious, rarely
causing problems or spreading. However, do get your vet to examine
your pet to check, and monitor them closely.
Lipomas (fatty lumps) tend to be more frequent in overweight
dogs, usually presenting as soft, smooth, non-painful lumps under
the skin above the ribcage of more mature dogs. These rarely
require removal; in fact many non-serious growths are usually
'cosmetic', with surgery indicated only if they cause discomfort,
suddenly grow rapidly, interfere with bodily functions (e.g.
obstruct passageways), ulcerate, repeatedly get infected or act as
a persistent focus for your dog to lick and chew.
What should I watch out for?
Cancer may affect any part of your dog's body, often involving
whole body systems too, (such as skin, lymph nodes,
gastrointestinal tract, blood, and bone). Be aware that signs
of cancer aren't always obvious in the form of new lumps or
growths, or changes in size, shape, or consistency of existing
lumps. So always get your dog checked by your vet even if you
notice any vague signs too. For example, vomiting, diarrhoea,
weight loss, increased water intake and urination, lethargy, and
lack of appetite are all clinical signs common with many diseases,
but may be your first warning sign of cancer, especially when they
prove unresponsive to treatment.
Other presenting signs include difficulty urinating, and bloody
urine (common with urinary tract infections), which may also
indicate the disease. Prostate cancer will be suspected in any male
dog straining to defecate, and passing thin, ribbon-like stools.
Any limp or change in gait must also be investigated especially in
more at risk bone cancer breeds, like Flat-Coated Retrievers. Foul
breath and excessive drooling - even teeth that have 'moved' - can
indicate oral growths that are often some of the more challenging
types of cancer to treat.
How will my vet investigate/ treat my dog?
More serious lumps, such as mammary cancers, mast cell tumours
and melanomas, usually require speedy treatment, with surgical
removal, X-rays and laboratory tests to confirm identity and
prognosis. Often lumps will be sampled (what's known as a 'biopsy')
to help direct vets to appropriate therapy.
If your vet suspects your dog may be seriously ill, they'll most
likely recommend a series of diagnostic tests and suggest treatment
options relying on their investigation, animal's health and even
the budget of the owner. Cancer can prove expensive if all
treatment options are explored. These can be anything from surgery
to chemotherapy, radiation therapy, changing diet or chronic pain
The incidence of certain reproductive cancers (such as mammary,
prostate, testicular, uterine and ovarian) is greatly reduced by
neutering as this removes any influence caused by sex hormones.
Bear in mind cancer therapy can be controversial, as it's our
choice (not the dog's) so a realistic outlook is essential when
considering your options.
The growing importance of ethical considerations and palliative
care these days must also be recognised, with exciting developments
and treatment possibilities being explored every day. So whenever
your pet just isn't feeling 'themselves' make an appointment with
your vet, as with cancer - just like many other causes of illness -
early diagnosis and treatment is key to a more favourable outcome,
often preventing serious, painful or even life-threatening growths
from developing further. The golden rule for any lump is what all
good train station platform announcers advise: 'If you suspect it -
This article was written by Marc Abraham and was originally
published in the Crufts Magazine - www.thecruftsmagazine.com.
Marc Abraham is a vet based in Brighton. He regularly
appears on UK television. For more information about Marc
please visit www.marcthevet.com.
Who can I contact for further advice?
The Kennel Club is not a veterinary organisation and is unable
to provide general or case specific veterinary advice. If you
have any questions regarding any of the issues discussed in this
article then please contact your local veterinary practice for
How you can help with canine cancer research
If your dog has been diagnosed with cancer, then you may be able
to help further research into scientists understanding of this
- The Kennel Club Cancer Centre at the Animal Health Trust has a
list of current
breed specific research projects where you, or your vet, may be
able to send samples of your dog's blood, cancer biopsies or a DNA
from cheek swabs.
What is the Kennel Club Cancer Centre at the Animal Health
This new research and treatment centre was launched in 2013 and
provides Cancer treatment to dogs, horses and cats, as well as
pioneering new research to aid earlier diagnosis, treatment, and
the prevention of some forms of the disease. The Centre
contributes to the AHT's well-established cancer research programme
and brings together the expertise of the AHT's clinical oncology
team, its molecular scientists and geneticists to investigate
different cancers and different aspects of cancers in animals.
The Kennel Club Charitable Trust provided the AHT with an
interest-free loan of £1.5 million to help with the construction of
the building and the overall development of the new Cancer
Centre. The loan is the latest in a series of link-ups
between the Kennel Club and the Animal Health Trust. The Kennel Club
Charitable Trust has also provided a £1.2 million grant to
the AHT to fund the Kennel
Club Genetics Centre at the AHT, which is investigating
the genetic cause of several other inherited diseases in dogs and
developing DNA tests to check for these. There will be considerable
synergy with this work and research into cancer.
The Kennel Club Cancer centre is able to offer each and every
patient the treatment for its specific cancer and is able to
combine surgery with chemotherapy and / or radiotherapy on
one-site, which is less stressful for the animals being
treated. In addition, by treating these animals at the AHT,
additional information can be collected to contribute to on-going
Cancer remains one of the biggest threats to the wellbeing of
dogs, but we hope that through the new Kennel Club Cancer Centre at
the AHT, we will be able to take major strides towards improving
the health and welfare of not just dogs but other animals too.