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Bladder Cancer in Dogs

What Is Bladder Cancer in Dogs?

Cancer may arise in various parts of a dog’s urinary tract, such as the kidneys, ureters, prostate, and urethra. Nonetheless, bladder cancer stands as the most prevalent form of urinary tract cancer in dogs, demonstrating rapid growth and potential metastasis to other bodily regions.

Although bladder cancer accounts for merely 2% of canine cancers, it typically proves incurable and imposes significant challenges for afflicted dogs. The primary types of bladder cancer in dogs encompass transitional cell carcinoma (TCC) and leiomyosarcomas (LMS), with TCC being notably predominant.

Transitional cells form a lining within the urinary bladder, safeguarding a dog’s body from the harsh chemicals present in urine. In dogs, TCC originates from these cells and frequently infiltrates the deeper layers of the bladder, including the muscular tissues, thereby potentially affecting the kidneys, ureters, prostate (in males), and urethra. As the cancer progresses, urinary flow may become obstructed, and metastasis to the dog’s lymph nodes and other organs can occur.

Symptoms and Types

Signs of bladder cancer in dogs mimic those of urinary tract infections and other urinary tract ailments. These symptoms comprise:

  • Presence of blood in the urine
  • Struggling or straining during urination
  • Increased frequency of urination in small volumes
  • Incidents of urinary accidents

Causes

The causes of bladder cancer in dogs often remain unidentified, although several factors elevate the risk of its occurrence:

  • Age: Bladder cancer tends to be more prevalent in dogs aged 10 years and above.
  • Gender: Female dogs face a heightened risk of TCC compared to male dogs, potentially due to less frequent urine marking, which allows toxins to linger in the bladder for longer durations.
  • Breed: Scottish Terriers exhibit an 18- to 20-fold higher risk of TCC compared to other breeds, while Shetland Sheepdogs, Beagles, West Highland Terriers, and Wire Hair Fox Terriers face a three- to five-times greater risk.
  • Body condition: Dogs classified as obese or overweight are more susceptible to developing bladder cancer.
  • Chemotherapy: Specific chemotherapy treatments can induce bladder cancer in dogs.
  • Environmental factors: Previous exposure to certain pesticides and insecticides, such as those utilized in flea dips, has been associated with bladder cancer. Additionally, exposure to lawn herbicides and pesticides may contribute to the risk.

Moreover, research suggests that exposure to secondhand smoke might amplify a dog’s susceptibility to bladder cancer. This is attributed to the presence of carcinogens in tobacco smoke, which, upon inhalation, are absorbed into the bloodstream. Upon excretion in urine, these substances directly impact the bladder, potentially resulting in damage and an escalated risk of bladder cancer.

Diagnosis

To accurately diagnose bladder cancer in dogs, veterinarians employ several diagnostic procedures, considering that similar symptoms can arise from other urinary tract conditions. These diagnostic methods include:

  • Bladder tissue biopsy: A biopsy of bladder tissue is necessary for a definitive diagnosis.
  • Blood work: Comprehensive blood work, encompassing a complete blood count (CBC) and biochemistry profile, aids in evaluating the overall health of the dog and identifying potential infections and kidney abnormalities.
  • Urinalysis and culture: These tests are crucial for excluding urinary tract infections and other urinary tract issues like bladder stones.
  • X-rays: While x-rays can reveal bladder stones, they cannot detect bladder tumors unless a special contrast dye is administered by the veterinarian.
  • Ultrasound: This noninvasive procedure enables visualization of stones, polyps, and tumors within the bladder.
  • BRAF mutation test: A urine test is available to detect a specific mutation in the BRAF gene, although its accuracy may vary.
  • Antibiotic trial: Prior to performing a urinary bladder biopsy, veterinarians may recommend an antibiotic trial to observe if the dog’s symptoms resolve with treatment.

Upon diagnosing bladder cancer in your dog, your veterinarian may conduct tumor staging to assess the prognosis and devise an optimal treatment plan. Throughout your dog’s treatment journey, your veterinarian will likely repeat tumor staging tests to evaluate the effectiveness of the treatment or monitor disease progression. The staging of your dog’s tumor may involve:

  • X-rays: Chest and abdominal X-rays are performed by your veterinarian to observe changes or growth in the tumor, including potential metastasis to new areas.
  • Ultrasound: Abdominal ultrasound is utilized to determine the tumor’s location and size, as well as to identify any kidney abnormalities resulting from obstructed urine flow.

Treatment

Treatment for bladder cancer in dogs varies based on factors such as the tumor’s size, location, and whether metastasis has occurred. Available treatment options may include:

  • Surgery: Surgical removal of a small tumor distant from the bladder neck is a possibility. However, due to the common occurrence of TCCs near the bladder neck, surgery is often not feasible. During surgery, a margin of healthy tissue around the tumor is excised to prevent regrowth.
  • Radiation: Advanced imaging techniques available at specialized facilities enable veterinarians to more precisely target tumors with radiation therapy. This approach aims to minimize side effects such as bladder scarring or irritation to surrounding organs.
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs): NSAIDs, primarily used for pain relief, have shown potential anti-cancer effects in dogs. Studies indicate positive outcomes, including tumor regression and remission, particularly with the NSAID piroxicam. NSAIDs can be used independently or in combination with more aggressive chemotherapy agents.
  • Chemotherapy: Systemic chemotherapy drugs are commonly employed to combat bladder cancer in dogs. These drugs typically induce only mild side effects.
  • Antibiotics: Bladder cancer heightens the risk of urinary tract infections in dogs. Veterinarians may prescribe antibiotics to manage these infections effectively.
  • Stents: In cases where a bladder tumor obstructs urine outflow, veterinarians may recommend inserting a stent into the urethra to restore normal urine flow.

Living and Management

Following treatment, your veterinarian will likely conduct regular monitoring of your dog every four to eight weeks to evaluate the effectiveness of the treatment. During this period, dogs may experience urinary accidents at home, and the use of puppy pads can aid in cleanup efforts.

While bladder cancer is typically incurable, treatment can extend a dog’s lifespan and enhance their quality of life compared to untreated cases. Prognosis hinges on factors such as tumor size, growth rate, location, and the extent of metastasis.

Survival durations vary considerably, ranging from a few days post-diagnosis to two years or beyond, highlighting the diverse outcomes associated with bladder cancer in dogs.

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