Your pet is a beloved family member, and finding a lump that has suddenly popped up can be frightening. Your mind no doubt instantly thinks of cancer, although that may not always be the case. Some lumps and bumps can appear for other reasons, including allergic reactions, cysts, and abscesses, none of which are malignant. Some tumors, such as lipomas (i.e., fatty tumors), are benign. Before you panic about your pet’s lump, schedule an appointment with Otay Pet Vets for a comprehensive physical exam and workup of your pet, to diagnose the cause.

Cancer warning signs in pets

While each cancer develops and affects pets uniquely, several signs frequently indicate your pet may have cancer. During your furry friend’s appointment, let us know if you’ve noticed any of the following issues with your pet, in addition to the new lump:

  • Sores that do not heal
  • Changes in urination or defecation habits
  • Any bleeding or discharge from the mouth, eyes, or nose, or in the urine
  • A foul odor from the mouth or body 
  • Difficulty chewing or swallowing
  • Loss of appetite
  • Decreased activity
  • Weight loss
  • Lumps that may grow rapidly
  • Lameness or stiffness

Remember—having one or two of these problems does not necessarily mean cancer is wreaking havoc, which makes a thorough evaluation with diagnostic testing so important.

Common cancers and their signs in pets

To learn the appearance of potential cancer warning signs in your pet, let’s take a look at the signs of common cancers.

  • Mammary cancer — Cats and dogs can be affected by mammary cancer, including the males. In cats, this cancer is almost always malignant, while dogs have a 50/50 chance it is benign. Mammary cancer is commonly found by pet owners, who discover a lump or two while rubbing their furry pal’s belly. While these lumps start off small, they can rapidly grow, and may develop sores that do not heal along the mammary chain.
  • Lymphoma — Lymphoma comes in many forms, and different types affect cats and dogs, so the common signs will vary. In cats, insidious weight loss is the hallmark of lymphoma, which occurs most commonly in the gastrointestinal tract. A poor appetite, blood in the stool, vomiting, and diarrhea are also frequent lymphoma indicators in cats. Canine lymphomas frequently appear as swollen lymph nodes, located behind the knees, under the jaw, and in front of the shoulders. Dogs may also have increased thirst and urine output, in addition to rapid weight loss.
  • Skin cancer — Pets can get a variety of skin cancers, with warning signs ranging from lumps that grow, sores that do not heal, limping, and bleeding nails. In dogs, the most malignant skin cancer is a mast cell tumor, which often swells because of histamine release, bleeds and scabs over, and then bleeds again. The most common feline skin cancer is squamous cell carcinoma, which is frequently found in white- or light-colored cats who enjoy excessive sunbathing. This cancer routinely appears as skin ulcers around the eyes and nose, and on the ear tips, that bleed and scab over.
  • Oral cancer — Oral cancer can appear as bloody saliva, difficulty eating or swallowing, bad breath, or a decreased appetite. Dogs are most likely to develop oral melanomas, while cats more frequently succumb to squamous cell carcinoma. Tumors that form in the mouth are often highly aggressive and can invade the jaw bone, so at the first hint of a foul odor or bloody saliva in your pet, schedule an appointment with our veterinary team.

  • Bone cancer — Osteosarcoma, which is the most frequently diagnosed bone cancer in cats and dogs, can be extremely painful, and lead to limping on the affected limb. Tumors often form on the long bones in the legs, but can appear on any bone in the body. An advanced tumor can weaken the bone enough to create a fracture. Large- and giant-breed dogs are most at risk for this bone cancer, particularly exceptionally tall dogs. 

While many cancer warning signs can signal a different disease process, such as kidney failure, liver disease, autoimmune disorders, or osteoarthritis, a quick, accurate diagnosis is important. Some cancer types can be treatable if caught early enough, while early treatment can hold other cancers at bay, and extend your pet’s life, usually with good quality of life.

Have you noticed an unusual lump in your best friend, or any of the other cancer warning signs? Don’t wait—call us to schedule an appointment.