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Cancer in Dogs: Everything You Wanted to Know But Were Scared to Ask

Has your dog been exhibiting signs of or been diagnosed with cancer? We're breaking down all the things you need to know but were too scared to ask, including diagnosis, symptoms, costs, and more!

Cancer in Dogs: Everything You Wanted to Know But Were Scared to Ask

Cancer is one of the diseases that can affect any dog, and it is a leading cause of death in older canines. However, this shouldn’t scare you as a dog owner. The best thing you can do is educate yourself on the subject so that you can recognize suspicious symptoms and guide yourself and your pet through the diagnosis and treatment process.

In today’s article, we want to tell you everything you might need to know about cancer in dogs. We'll discuss the emotional and medical aspects of diagnosing and treating this disease, as well as the symptoms, prognosis, and the most common types of cancer in dogs. We hope you will never have to deal with this disease in real life, but if you do, keep in mind that at least half of all cancer in dogs is treatable if caught early.

Symptoms of Cancer in Dogs

According to, the initial signs of cancer in dogs are often vague and nonspecific. For this reason, it is vital to be observant and recognize the subtle signs that could indicate a serious disease.

Some of the most common symptoms include:

  • Lack of appetite and/or vomiting

  • Lethargy and decreased energy levels

  • An increase in thirst and drinking

  • Change in bowel movements (diarrhea)

  • Sudden loss of weight or failure to gain weight

  • Abnormal bleeding (hemorrhage)

  • Changes in the skin (scaly, dry, shiny, flaky, or crusty patches, redness; hair loss)

  • Abnormal growths (lumps, bumps, growths, swellings, lesions, lumps, bumps, warts)

  • Pain (localized and/or generalized) and/or lameness (limping or difficulty walking)

  • Coughing and/or difficulty breathing

  • Fever

Causes of Cancer in Dogs

There are several factors that can increase the risk of cancer in dogs. These include:

  • Age - older dogs have an increased risk of developing cancer. In fact, 1 in 4 dogs will fall ill at some point, and almost half of all dogs over the age of 10 will develop cancer.

  • Breed- certain breeds are predisposed to specific types of cancer. For example, golden retrievers are prone to developing hemangiosarcoma (a type of blood cancer), while boxers are prone to developing mast cell tumors.

  • Genetics - a family history of cancer can increase the risk of developing the disease in dogs. If your dog has relatives who have had cancer, you should be on the lookout for symptoms.

  • Environment - exposure to harmful substances and chemicals can increase the risk of cancer in dogs.

  • Lifestyle - obesity, lack of exercise, and a poor diet can increase the risk of cancer in dogs.

Diagnosis of Cancer in Dogs

If you spot any suspicious symptoms in your pet, talk with your veterinarian right away. The doctor will ask about your dog’s medical history and perform a thorough physical examination. They may recommend some diagnostic tests to confirm or rule out certain diseases.

These tests may include:

Complete Blood Count (CBC)

A CBC is a simple procedure that requires only a small amount of blood, and it can provide the doctor with important information such as:

  • The number of red and white blood cells,

  • The size of the red and white blood cells,

  • The amount of hemoglobin (red blood cell pigment) in the blood,

  • The number and type of blood cells,

  • The presence of anemia or infection.

Many types of cancer in dogs cause anemia, and this is an easily detectable sign. A complete blood count will detect anemia and help determine the cause.

Blood Chemistry Panel

A blood chemistry panel (also called a blood panel) is another simple procedure that can provide important information about your dog’s health. During this test, the veterinarian will measure:

  • Levels of sodium, chloride, and potassium in the blood,

  • Blood sugar level,

  • Amount of protein and albumin in the blood,

  • Liver and kidney function,

  • Presence of infection, inflammation, or other issues,

  • Levels of calcium, phosphorus, and other minerals in the blood,

  • Level of blood urea nitrogen (BUN), creatinine, and glucose,

  • Type and number of electrolytes.


The urinalysis will measure the levels of bacteria, blood cells, proteins, and sugar in the urine. A urine sample will be collected by your veterinarian and sent to a lab for analysis. The presence of certain types of bacteria can indicate an infection, while high levels of protein or sugar may be a sign of diabetes. Abnormal numbers of blood cells in the urine are usually caused by inflammation or infection.


Bone X-rays are used to detect bone cancer, osteosarcoma, multiple myeloma, osteoporosis, bone fractures, arthritis, and infections.


Ultrasounds help identify tumors in soft tissues, such as the liver, kidneys, spleen, lungs, abdomen, and heart.

Computed Tomography (CT) Scans

CT scans are used to detect tumors, as well as cancerous and noncancerous masses in the bone. They also help identify the tumor type and its location. CT scans use X-rays and a special computer to create cross-sectional images of the body. It can give the doctor a more accurate picture of the tumor and help assess the presence of certain diseases or conditions that can’t be identified by other types of imaging procedures.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)

MRI scans can be used to detect tumors, as well as cancerous and non-cancerous masses in soft tissues, such as the liver, kidneys, spleen, lungs, abdomen, and heart. This procedure creates images of soft tissues by using a strong magnetic field to align the water molecules inside the body (fat, muscle, and organs). The process also uses radio waves and a computer to create detailed pictures of the inside of your dog's body.

Bone Marrow Aspirate and Biopsy

A bone marrow biopsy is performed to obtain samples of bone marrow for examination, and a bone marrow aspirate is chosen when it is difficult to get enough bone marrow with a biopsy.

Bone marrow aspirate involves withdrawing liquid marrow through a needle, while bone marrow biopsy involves taking small pieces of bone marrow that are then examined under a microscope. Both procedures show whether abnormal cells are present in the marrow (such as leukemia).

Treatment Options Available for Cancer in Dogs

The treatment options available for dogs with cancer will depend on the type of cancer they have and where in their bodies it is located. For example, some cancers can be removed surgically, and others will require chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy. Treatment decisions will be made jointly by the veterinarian and the dog owner.


Surgery is the most common treatment for many types of cancer in dogs. If your dog’s cancer is located in a part of the body that can be removed, surgery can be an effective treatment option.


Rather than removing the tumor, chemotherapy is used to kill cancer cells throughout the body. It can be administered orally or intravenously. Chemotherapy is recommended to treat lymphoma, skin cancer, osteosarcoma, and other types of cancer.

Treatment can last anywhere from one month to several months, depending on the type of cancer.

Radiation Therapy

This treatment method uses high-energy rays to destroy cancer cells. Radiation therapy will only be used if the tumor is located in a particular area of the body, such as the head or neck. Dogs with heart disease, kidney problems, or diabetes are not good candidates for this treatment option.

Other types of treatments include pain relievers, anti-inflammatory drugs, antibiotics, and antifungal medications. The best way to deal with cancer is to catch it early. Talk with your veterinarian about how frequently you should have your dog examined, and stay alert for any suspicious symptoms.

The High Cost of Cancer in Dogs

If your dog has been diagnosed with cancer, we really feel for you. Not only is it an emotionally taxing road to go down, but we won't lie - it's an expensive one as well. In fact, cancer treatments can start at $3k and go all the way up to $10k for tumor removal, chemo, etc. If your dog is quite far into their senior years, you may want to forgo treatment in favor of just letting them live out the rest of life naturally as long as they're comfortable. But imagine your dog is diagnosed at a younger age - say four or five. It can be heartbreaking to have to make the decision to either go through with an expensive treatment or have to risk your dog's life. That's where pet insurance can help. At Figo, we never want someone to have to choose between their beloved companion and their savings. Pet insurance can cover a range of fees, like cancer treatments, and with add-ons, may even give you money back for diagnostics and exams. It's why we encourage everyone to get their pet insured, even if it's not through us.

Living With Cancer in Dogs

There are several things you can do to help your dog feel more comfortable during this difficult time. For example, keep it confined to one or two rooms in your house so that it does not have to walk up and downstairs too often. Make sure your pet has enough space to move around comfortably and rest on soft blankets or pillows. You could also consider placing a ramp in front of the door if your dog cannot jump steps anymore.

Since mobility problems can make it hard for a dog to eat and drink, you should give it several small meals throughout the day instead of one big meal. If your dog has difficulty eating because of its condition, you should provide it with canned or wet food that is easy to chew and swallow. In addition, you should offer food that has been warmed up to body temperature so that your dog can enjoy it easily.

Finally, we want to remind you that cancer is not always curable. However, if you catch it early enough and your dog receives proper treatment, it has a better chance of living longer than if no action was taken.


Cancer in dogs is a common disease that can affect any dog. However, it is not necessarily always fatal. For example, in some cases, surgical removal of the tumor is an option that can both prolong and improve the quality of life for your pet. This is why it is essential to take your dog to see your veterinarian immediately if you notice any suspicious symptoms. If you have any questions or concerns, you should ask your veterinarian for clarification.

Don't let expensive treatments keep you from living a fulfilling and long life with your dog. Get a quote for pet insurance and protect your pet today.

Lizz Caputo is a Content Strategist at Figo, animal enthusiast, and owner of a rescued senior American Bully. Her hobbies include checking out new restaurants in her area, boxing, and petting dogs of all shapes and sizes.

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