Cancer is a scary word. None of us want to think about our loved ones, including our pets, getting cancer.

Unfortunately, cancer is the #1 disease-related killer of dogs and cats. The Veterinary Cancer Society estimates that almost 50% of dogs over the age of 10 will develop cancer and approximately 1 in 4 dogs will, at some stage in their life, develop cancer.

May is Pet Cancer Awareness Month, a time to generate awareness about cancer in pets and the early warning signs. We wanted to do our part by sharing some of the early warning signs of cancer in dogs and cats, as well as some prevention tips!

Early Warning Signs

According to the Pet Cancer Awareness Program, there are several early warning signs of cancer in pets, including:

  • Swollen lymph nodes, which are most easily detected behind the jaw or knee
  • Abdominal distension, when the belly becomes rapidly enlarged
  • An enlarging or changing lump
  • Chronic weight loss
  • Chronic vomiting or diarrhea
  • Unexplained bleeding
  • Cough
  • Lameness
  • Straining to urinate
  • Oral odor

All of these symptoms can be signs of cancer, but they can also be caused by a variety of other health issues. If you’re worried that your pet may have cancer, you should consult your veterinarian right away.

Prevention Tips

Cancer is a complex disease of the immune system that involves the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells in the body. It’s difficult to pinpoint a singular cause of cancer, which can make preventing cancer difficult, as well. However, there are a few steps you can take to help prevent cancer in your pet.

  1. Bring your pet to the vet for annual checkups. These exams give your vet the chance to spot anything out of the ordinary. Detecting issues early will improve your pet’s chance of a positive outcome.
  2. Perform your own examinations. You can perform your own version of a physical exam on a daily basis by simply checking your pet for areas of discomfort, swelling, lesions, masses, or other abnormalities.
  3. Become familiar with the early warning signs. Early detection is critical. Familiarizing yourself with the early warning signs of cancer is important so you know what you need to watch for.
  4. Do your research. You should research your specific breed to know what forms of cancer your pet is most likely to develop.
  5. Spay or neuter your pet. Research has shown that spaying or neutering your pet can help prevent certain types of cancer. For example, mammary tumor is the most common cancer in dogs, but it can be prevented by spaying.
  6. Don’t smoke around your pet. Studies have found that secondhand smoke increases the risk of lymphoma in dogs and cats.
  7. Limit your pet’s exposure to toxins. Studies have shown that there is an increased risk of cancer to pets that have been exposed to certain chemicals in paints, solvents, and lawn and garden products. You should keep a close eye on your pet and make sure they aren’t exposed to harmful chemicals in pesticides, herbicides, or insecticides.
  8. Keep your pet at an optimal weight. Overweight pets are at an increased risk of developing cancer. You can help keep your pet at an optimal weight by making sure they get plenty of exercise and not feeding them more than the recommended guidelines.
  9. Support the immune system and provide optimal nutrition. Your pet’s nutrition and diet are the foundation of overall health. When pets don’t receive enough vitamins and minerals, protein, fat, and water, their health and immune system will suffer.