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7 Subtle Signs of Cancer in Pets That Most Pet Parents Overlook

Early detection and treatment are crucial when it comes to cancer in pets. Detecting cancer in dogs and cats at an early stage enhances the likelihood of cure or remission, underscoring the importance of vigilance among pet owners.

Recognizing the subtle signs of cancer in pets can prove challenging, especially if one isn’t aware of what to look for. In some cases, these signs may be so inconspicuous that pet parents might attribute them to normal aging processes.

It’s essential to discuss the following subtle signs of cancer in pets with your veterinarian to facilitate early detection and initiate a treatment plan promptly.

1. Weight Loss

With more than half of the nation’s pets being overweight or obese, weight loss is typically celebrated by both veterinarians and pet guardians. However, in pets—especially when they aren’t on a calorie-restricted diet—weight loss can signify a subtle indication of cancer in both dogs and cats.

While certain cancers can trigger rapid and noticeable weight loss, it’s more common for weight loss to occur gradually over time. Such gradual weight loss might go unnoticed by the pet parent.

At times, the decrease in weight isn’t even detected until the pet is brought to the veterinarian, with the change in weight only becoming apparent when compared to previous measurements.

If a pet is experiencing weight loss despite consuming a normal amount of pet food, then diabetes mellitus and cancer are the primary conditions to consider.

2. Lumps and Bumps

While lumps, bumps, and other skin changes are readily noticeable on short-haired dogs or cats, they often go unnoticed on long-haired pets.

Pet guardians frequently delay a veterinary visit if a lump is small; however, the size of a skin lump does not determine whether it is cancerous. Even the tiniest skin lumps can be cancerous.

Tumors of the mammary chain, also referred to as breast cancer, are frequently overlooked by pet owners. Female dogs and cats, regardless of whether they are spayed, can develop breast cancer.

Dogs and cats are susceptible to cancers affecting various systems such as the gastrointestinal system, vascular system, liver, kidneys, urinary bladder, endocrine glands, and reproductive system. These cancers can lead to the formation of masses in the abdominal region.

In larger or overweight pets, abdominal masses may go unnoticed until they grow substantially or pose life-threatening risks, such as in the case of ruptured tumors of the spleen.

Another area where lumps and bumps can be concealed is the mouth. Dogs and cats may develop oral tumors on the gums, hard palate, or tongue. Tumors beneath the tongue are particularly difficult to detect unless specifically sought out.

3. Changes in Coat

A healthy pet typically boasts a glossy, full coat. Any alterations in the coat, such as hair loss, brittle or dry hair, excessive dandruff or scaling, skin infections, or increased shedding, might indicate cancer.

Cancers affecting the endocrine system, including tumors on the pituitary, thyroid, or adrenal glands, can all prompt changes in your pet’s coat.

Moreover, if a particular body part is painful due to cancer, a dog may excessively lick that area, resulting in brown lick stains.

In the case of cats, if they feel unwell or are experiencing pain from cancer, they may not groom themselves adequately or at all, resulting in a matted, unkempt coat. Conversely, cats may also engage in overgrooming and pull out hair in response to stress or discomfort.

Overgrooming, lack of grooming, or excessive licking at a particular body part can all serve as subtle indicators of cancer in both dogs and cats.

4. Changes in Appetite

Shifts in appetite, whether increased or decreased, can serve as subtle indications of cancer in both dogs and cats.

When pets feel unwell or experience pain, they may lose interest in eating. Conversely, certain cancers can prompt a pet to consume more food than usual. Some cancers require a significant amount of calories, leading to an increased appetite in pets.

In some cases, aggressive and malignant cancers may cause a pet to eat normal or even excessive amounts of food while still experiencing weight loss. Tumors affecting the adrenal or pituitary glands can trigger a condition known as Cushing’s disease, which amplifies a dog’s appetite and results in weight gain.

5. Changes in Urination or Bowel Movements

Notable alterations in your pet’s bathroom habits warrant attention for early detection purposes. Various types of cancer can prompt changes in your pet’s urinary and bowel habits, ranging from increased frequency to constipation.

For instance, cancers affecting the gastrointestinal system may induce diarrhea and/or constipation.

Cancers of the adrenal gland, pituitary gland, or thyroid gland, as well as cancers of the liver or kidneys, can heighten thirst in dogs and cats, resulting in an increased need to urinate.

Cancers of the urinary system may elevate the urge to urinate while obstructing the urethra, making urination difficult. Therefore, pets with urinary cancer may exhibit frequent urination, have accidents indoors, or appear to strain during urination.

6. Changes in Behavior

Alterations in behavior, particularly a decrease in energy levels or a loss of interest in activities that once brought joy to your pet, as well as accidents in the house, changes in sleep patterns, pacing, increased aggression or irritability, increased sleeping duration, or any sudden changes in behavior, can all serve as subtle indicators of brain cancer or cancer-related pain.

Seizures or tremors can also signify brain cancer, and unless observed directly, seizures may go unnoticed by pet parents. Some signs that may suggest a pet has experienced a seizure include loss of balance, twitching, excessive drooling, and temporary blindness.

7. Coughing

Cancer can induce coughing in dogs and cats, so any pet that develops a persistent cough should be examined by a veterinarian. A continuous cough may indicate a tumor exerting pressure on an airway, fluid accumulation in the lungs, or the presence of multiple lung tumors.

Persistent coughing could also signify other underlying health issues in pets. Therefore, if your pet struggles to shake off a cough, it’s advisable to seek veterinary attention promptly.

How You Can Help Detect Cancer in Pets Early

Veterinarians are trained to notice any abnormalities in your dog or cat, and a veterinary examination is your best defense against cancer.

However, most pets only visit their veterinarian once or twice a year. Therefore, it is beneficial if you also play an active role in monitoring your pet’s health. As a pet parent, you interact with your pet every day, giving you the opportunity to watch for potential subtle signs of cancer.

To perform at-home checks, run your hands over your pet to feel for any lumps or bumps, and visually inspect your pet. Remember to examine the nipples of female dogs for any changes, lumps, or bumps.

Check your pet’s rib cage for any indications of weight gain or loss. Inspect your pet’s mouth, including their teeth and gums. Hold a treat out and allow your pet to lick it while you visually examine the top and bottom of their tongue.

Pet guardians are the ones who know their pets best, and by conducting these monthly at-home “inspections,” you increase the likelihood of detecting subtle signs of cancer early enough to make a difference.

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