What to do when your dog has cancer: Part II: Don’t despair, just care

in Contributors/Pets by

By Tracie Korol

Successfully curing cancer in dogs lies in the early detection of the disease. However, early detection is probably the most challenging aspect. It becomes our job to keep track of what’s going on because a dog can’t tell us his shoulder feels “funny” or that his head hurts only behind his right ear or that he just doesn’t feel up to snuff.
Take notice today of how your dog presently looks, feels and behaves so you’ll be able to spot any changes in the future. During a massage with one of my regular clients (Zack, a big black lab who grinned only like a lab can) I noticed an irregular blob on his lower gums that wasn’t there at our last appointment. I alerted the owner and Zack was off to see his vet that afternoon. Turned out it was a melanoma.
Zack’s owner was not often in a position to be face-to-face with his grinning upside-down dog; that’s why he missed the growth. It was by chance that I noticed. But that was an easy call. Many cancers do not show up on the surface of the body where they may be easily noticed and examined. In many instances, malignant tumors arising in the organs will cause symptoms directly related to the location of the tumor. For instance, gastrointestinal bleeding or obstruction presenting as diarrhea and vomiting (usually associated with tumors of the stomach, small intestine, large intestine, or colon); neurological symptoms such as loss of coordination or seizures (associated with tumors of the brain or spinal cord); hematuria or bloody urine (associated with tumors of the kidney or bladder); or endocrinologic syndromes like Cushing’s disease or hypoglycemia, (associated with hormone-producing tumors such as some pancreatic, thymic and liver tumors).
Here are the Top Ten Warning Signs of Cancer in Dogs:
1. An abnormal swelling that persists or continues to grow.  The best way to detect these abnormalities is to pet your pet. If you have a shaggy, heavy-coated pal, be sure to get your hands onto his skin.
2. Sores that do not heal. These are wounds that are constantly inflamed, discolored and pus-y; they scab over and then break down again.
3. Weight loss. If your dog is not on a weight reduction program but is steadily losing weight, illness could be to blame.
4. Loss of appetite. This has always been my first clue to my own pets’ feeling crummy, especially when they turn down a favorite treat.  It is not normal for a dog to lose his appetite.
5. Bleeding or discharge from any port. Bleeding can occur for numerous reasons-most of which are abnormal. Repeated vomiting and diarrhea count as abnormal discharges, too.
6. Offensive odor. Contrary to joke and legend, a healthy dog should smell like a healthy dog. A truly offensive stink is a common sign for tumors of the mouth, nose or anus.
7. Difficulty eating or swallowing. If your dog begins to weirdly shift food to one side of his mouth or strain to swallow a bolus of food, he may be hosting a tumor of the mouth or neck region.
8. Hesitation to exercise or loss of stamina. During a group game of “dig the mole” at kennel one day, I noticed one Miss Mira, a Shepherd, was merely watching. Highly unusual for this mole hound. I shared my concern with Mira’s owner. A vet trip later, she reported Mira had an osteosarcoma in the right front leg.
9. Persistent lameness. A limp that doesn’t go away could signal nerve, muscle or bone cancer.
10. Difficulty breathing, urinating or defecating.
When we add a dog to our family we become that animal’s steward, watching, touching, scanning for activity that could signal a breakdown in his health. It’s part of the contract we make when we agree to be his best friend.
Zack survived his cancer. Miss Mira did not.