Just like us, many dogs will get cancer as they age. The most common area to be affected in bitches is the breast, but it’s also common for dogs to develop cancer of the digestive system or skin. As an owner, you’ll want to catch any illness your labrador retriever might have early – which is why it’s so important to know the signs of cancer in dogs. If we can keep ourselves informed, we’ll know when a visit to the vet is vital.
It will also allow us to understand how they make certain diagnoses, and why the information your vet gives you is relevant. Cancer is a diagnosis that every dog owner dreads, but sadly it’s sometimes the diagnosis that has to be made. You’ll be doing your dog no favours if you just bury your head in the sand and pretend everything is fine.
DON’T Ignore the Problem
Signs of cancer in your labrador retriever should never be ignored. You’ll be much more likely to get a positive result if you get it diagnosed early.
The vet will have the best options for treatment if the problem is identified quickly. Cancer therapy is often more successful and less invasive when it’s undertaken early. Your dog’s long-term outlook may be poorer if their diagnosis is delayed.
So what does canine cancer actually look like? How can you tell if your dog is suffering?
There are many different forms of cancer, both for humans and dogs. Solid tumours are what many of us will think of when we hear the word cancer.
Solid tumours are bumps that develop when one cell type begins to grow excessively. The parent tissue from which the tumour grew will be reflected in the type of tumour that develops. White blood cells that fight infection can become cancerous, just like any other part of the body – soft tissues, nerves, bone and even fluids like blood can be affected.
1. Abnormal Swellings that Persist or Continue to Grow
A bump (mass or lump) that keeps growing under the skin is the most obvious sign of canine cancer in labrador retrievers. This will need to be removed and biopsied – no vet worth their salt will tell you to just “keep an eye on it”. The news you’re hoping for here is that the mass is “benign”, meaning it isn’t cancerous. But if the lump turns out to be cancerous (malignant), you’ll need to talk to your vet about your options.
Cancer and other problems, like infections, can sometimes be signalled by an open wound that fails to heal.
3. Losing Weight
Weight loss in dogs is not always caused by cancer. Gut problems, dental disease, kidney problems, liver disease or a poor diet could also be to blame.
Be sure to visit the vet if your dog starts losing weight – there are many different potential causes, but they all need to be looked into by a professional.
Stomach cancer may be your first consideration if your labrador retriever starts throwing up when they’re getting on in years, though the condition isn’t that common.
While diarrhoea and sickness can be caused by stomach or bowel cancer, it can also be caused by:
- An infection
- Worms and other parasites
- CKD (chronic kidney disease)
- Inflammation in the pancreas
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Liver disease
- Foreign bodies
Dehydration can quickly occur when your dog has an upset stomach. A checkup will be necessary, no matter what is causing the problem.
The Symptoms Can Be Vague
If something isn’t right with your labrador retriever, it is your job as a responsible owner to notice it. The vet will make the diagnosis, you just need to notice that something isn’t right. It’s important to take note of even the smallest indicator.
Remember also that the warning signs of cancer can sometimes really be pointing to other, less urgent issues. Weight loss can be a warning sign, but your dog doesn’t necessarily have cancer just because they’ve lost a little weight. They may just be struggling to eat because they have a sore tooth.
Treatment Options for Dogs with Cancer
If your labrador retriever does turn out to have cancer, their treatment options will be determined by a number of factors, such as…
- How old they are
- The type of tumour they have
- How far on the cancer is
- Biological behaviour of the tumour
- General health of the dog
In dogs with cancer, the patient’s overall health status plays a major role in therapy choices. Their ability to tolerate cancer treatment will also have to be evaluated. Treatment drawbacks may outweigh potential benefits if, for example, the dog is already nearing the end of their natural life and has a slow-growing tumour.
Human therapies and dog therapies are very similar when treating cancer – The basic options are:
- Anti-cancer drugs (chemotherapy)
- Holistic or herbal therapy
Whether multiple treatment options can be combined effectively, or each treatment must be taken in isolation, is yet to be determined in the treatment of canine cancer. Unintended harm can occur if different treatments interfere with each other so while combining methods can sometimes work well for dogs with cancer, this is not always the case.
You should always discuss treatment options in detail with your vet before deciding on a course of action.
What Causes Cancer?
Preventing canine cancer is extremely difficult, as we really don’t know what causes it. What we do know, however, is that detecting the disease early and picking an appropriate course of treatment is much easier if you are aware of the possible signs of the disease.
Did you know that the Labrador Retriever is the UK’s most popular dog? For more information about our favourite companion, check out Need2Know’s Essential Guide to Labrador Retrievers which walks the owner through ‘essential things to know’ including: microchips; vaccinations; insurance; weight etc. All aspects of care are covered including: the Labrador Retriever as a puppy; the Labrador as a ‘teen-ager’; feeding and exercising and dangerous foods to be avoided.