Pet Cancer Awareness Month: Know the Signs
©istockphoto/Eileen Groome

Pet Cancer Awareness Month: Know the Signs

May is Pet Cancer Awareness Month.

In its honor, learn the signs and symptoms of different types of cancer—and how to take action. It’s not all about lumps! While checking for lumps and bumps is a crucial first step, not every cancer originates from one. Know the other common signs of canine cancer to catch it early. Then, call your vet.


In each of these instances, the changes themselves don’t necessarily indicate cancer. However, any significant change in your pet should be noted and discussed with your veterinarian. This is particularly urgent if these changes are accompanied by any other symptoms. Some to watch for: a change in appetite, weight loss (that isn’t done as part of a diet plan) or an enlarged abdomen, a changing and foul odor in your pet’s mouth or rear, behavior or mood changes (if your typically rambunctious dog is sleeping all day), and changes in house training, which can include frequency of bathroom breaks or accidents. Remember, none of these changes indicate cancer by itself. Rather, these changes—particularly when accompanied by other symptoms—should be monitored by your vet.


Wheezing, coughing, hacking, excessive panting: If your pet begins to labor to breathe, struggle for breath, or cough, it’s imperative to get an appointment with your vet as soon as possible. There are numerous other conditions that can cause breathing problems, but several forms of cancer do, too. Your vet can rule out cancer while prescribing a solution, or, in the unfortunate event of a cancer diagnosis, start you down the path of treatment options.

Discharge or Unhealed Wounds

If your dog has unusual discharge, like blood or pus, from any area of the body, or he has wounds that don’t seem to be healing, it could indicate several forms of cancer. The first step is to keep all the affected spots clean, then contact your vet to schedule tests.


My almost-nine-year-old shepherd mix, Lucas, came home from an overnight stay at a cage-free boarding facility with a slight limp in his front left leg. So, I assumed he sprained his ankle. We visited his vet who x-rayed the leg. That day, Lucas was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, an insidious bone cancer, and underwent amputation a week later and started chemo treatments three weeks after that. Like the changes mentioned above, pain doesn’t necessarily indicate cancer, but it’s far too dangerous to ignore. Discuss any new sensitivities or lameness with your vet. According to the National Canine Cancer Foundation one out of every three dogs will be afflicted with cancer. Know the signs. Spot them. Then call your vet. As a loving pet parent, you want to catch it as fast as possible because, just as in humans, early detection is key.

Maggie Marton

Maggie is a writer and author, whose first book, Clicker Dog Training: The Better Path to a Well-Behaved Pup was published by Open Air Publishing. When she's not writing (or reading books about grammar), she teaches writing courses to college students and professionals who want to nail down the basics of communication. Outside of work, she hikes, throws dinner parties, plays with her three dogs and cat, and travels as much as possible.
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