Cancer is one of the most distressing health conditions to learn that a loved one is suffering from, and that is still the case if the loved one in question is your dog. Getting a diagnosis of cancer in your dog is of course very daunting and very worrying, and there are such a wide variety of different types of cancer with varying impacts and types of prognosis, that the word “cancer” alone really doesn’t tell you very much at all about what to expect, or what is going on.
If your vet knows or suspects that your dog has cancer, they will explain everything you need to know about the condition, and provide as much advice and insight as they can to help you to understand what is going on and what to expect. Your vet is also of course the person you should speak to if you have any concerns about your dog’s health, or anything else regarding their care or welfare too.
However, there are several questions that dog owners pose to vets about cancer in dogs that come up time and time again, either relating to a recent cancer diagnosis or simply out of interest and a desire to learn more.
With this in mind, this article will share eight of the most frequently asked questions posed to vets about cancer in dogs, along with the answers. Read on to learn more.
The first question posed by any dog owner who has just been told that their dog has cancer is “can it be cured?” This is a question that has a different answer for every single dog, and so it is not a yes or no question.
Some cancer presentations can be fully cured very quickly and relatively simply, some with more difficulty, some can sometimes, and some are terminal – which means that it may ultimately be the dog’s cause of death. Even if this is the case, some cancers are slow to grow and worsen, and many dogs can live for years with some types of incurable cancer with a good quality of life.
Additionally, the same type of cancer in two different dogs can have differing prognoses too, and so this really is only a question your vet can provide a meaningful answer to – and they are unlikely to make a firm guarantee of full recovery, as cancer can be very variable.
The causes of cancer can be hugely variable and once more, there is no one thing that causes cancers of all types. Cancer causes can range from inheritance of certain risk factors, environmental factors, lifestyle factors, viruses, hormones, exposure to carcinogens, and a huge range of other things too.
Your vet may be able to tell you if a cancer has a hereditary factor or another likely trigger or cause, but more commonly, you simply won’t know for sure.
Some presentations of cancer in dogs can be cured or greatly improved by the surgical removal of the cancerous cells, plus a margin of the surrounding healthy tissue to be safe.
However, some surgeries might be treated with chemotherapy, radiotherapy, or a combination of methods – and some cancers are managed rather than treated, with palliative or supporting care, or methods to slow the growth and spread of the cancer and ease its symptoms.
If an amputation is indicated to remove a cancerous limb and prevent the spread of cancer throughout your dog’s body, your vet will discuss this with you in great detail. They will only recommend amputation or suggest it as an option after weighing up the risks and benefits, which includes what type of quality of life your dog is apt to have post-amputation.
If your vet does recommend amputation to cure cancer, then they will do so because they’re confident in your dog’s ability to adapt to life with three legs, which most dogs get used to very quickly!
If your dog has to have chemotherapy for cancer, the texture and quality of their fur will generally change, often becoming thinner, coarser, and even changing color. That said, dogs don’t usually lose all of their coats in the same way many people undergoing chemotherapy lose their hair, although some dogs will lose a lot of, or most of, their fur – and potentially, even their whiskers!
This is another question for which there isn’t a definitive answer. Some cancers are very painful once they get to a certain stage, and may reach a point where the dog is put to sleep to prevent further suffering. Others are totally painless, and your dog won’t even realize that anything is wrong.
Even most cancers that can be painful can usually be managed with the appropriate combination of pain medications to keep your dog comfortable and maintain a viable quality of life, although there may come a point when this is no longer effective if the cancer cannot be cured or placed in remission.
Cancer is not contagious, and there is no risk whatsoever of your dog passing cancer on to a housemate, or a dog that they meet in the park. However, some types of cancer are hereditary, and may be found in several related dogs.
Additionally, as lifestyle and environmental factors can cause or contribute to the development of some cancers too, in rare cases, unrelated dogs that live together or that spend most of their time together might theoretically develop the same type of cancer in their lifetimes – but this is still not due to contagion.
This is a hugely complex question. Some forms of cancer are inevitable and cannot be prevented regardless of what you do, whilst for others, lifestyle factors play a huge part in their development; which means that the type of lifestyle your dog leads and how you care for them can potentially prevent them from developing some cancers, or on the flipside, increase their chances of developing a cancer too if you neglect them.
Some of the best things you can do to reduce your dog’s chances of getting cancer include:
Ultimately, even with the best care in the world, not all cancers can be prevented – but some can, and even a dog that does develop cancer that is in peak health beforehand stands a better chance than one that is unfit, unhealthy, and overweight.