As a dog parent, it is important to recognise the signs and symptoms of common illnesses so you can seek veterinary help for your canine friend as soon as possible. This is some information on diseases and other medical inflictions that frequently impact dogs.
Finding out that a loved one has cancer can be very scary and confusing. When that loved one is your dog, it’s important to keep in mind that different veterinarians might have different views on the best way to treat the disease. It’s always a good idea to seek out a second opinion, perhaps from a veterinary oncologist, and carefully review your options.
Cancer is a class of diseases in which cells grow uncontrollably, invade surrounding tissue and may spread to other areas of the body. As with people, dogs can get various kinds of cancer. The disease can be localized (confined to one area, like a tumor) or generalized (spread throughout the body).
Causes of Cancer
Cancer is a “multifactorial” disease, which means it has no known single cause. However, we do know that both hereditary and environmental factors can contribute to the development of cancer in dogs.
Symptoms of cancer in dogs may include:
- Lumps (which are not always malignant, but should always be examined by a vet)
- Persistent sores
- Abnormal discharge from any part of the body
- Bad breath
- Rapid, often unexplained weight loss
- Sudden lameness
- Black, tarry stools (a symptom of ulcers, which can be caused by mast cell tumors)
- Decreased or loss of appetite
- Difficulty breathing, urinating or defecating
Diagnosing Cancer in Dogs
- If a lump is present, the first step is typically a needle biopsy, which removes a very small tissue sample for microscopic examination of cells. Alternately, surgery may be performed to remove all or part of the lump for diagnosis by a pathologist.
- Radiographs (xrays), ultrasound, blood evaluation and other diagnostic tests may also be helpful in determining if cancer is present or if it has spread.
Dogs More Prone to Cancer
- Though cancer can be diagnosed in dogs of all ages and breeds, it is much more common in older dogs.
- Certain breeds are prone to specific cancers. Boxers, Boston terriers and Golden Retrievers are among the breeds that most commonly develop mast cell tumors or lymphoma, while large and giant breeds like Great Danes and Saint Bernards are much more likely to suffer from bone cancer than smaller breeds.
It is important to be familiar with the diseases to which your dog might have a breed disposition.
- Having your dog altered at a young age can dramatically reduce their chance of getting certain types of cancer.
- Breast cancer can be avoided almost completely by having your dog spayed before her first heat cycle, while a neutered male dog has zero chance of developing testicular cancer.
- Treatment options vary and depend on the type and stage of cancer.
- Common treatments include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation and immunotherapy or a combination of therapies. Success of treatment depends on the type and extent of the cancer and the aggressiveness of the therapy. Of course, early detection is best.
- Some dog owners opt for no treatment of the cancer, in which case palliative end of life care, including pain relief, should be considered. Regardless of how you proceed after a diagnosis of cancer in your pet, it is very important to consider his quality of life when making future decisions.
- Some cancers can be cured, while others cannot. Please note that if your dog’s cancer is not curable, there are still many things you can do to make your pet feel better. Don’t hesitate to talk to your vet about your options. And remember good nutrition and loving care can greatly enhance your dog’s quality of life.
Knowing When to Consult Your Vet
Contact your veterinarian immediately if your dog shows any of the clinical signs mentioned on the list above. Should your dog receive a diagnosis of cancer, you may wish to consult a veterinary oncologist, often employed by specialty veterinary practices and teaching hospitals.
Over the last 25 years, veterinary oncologists have collected data about cancer in dogs and have found that different cancers affect different breeds at different rates. Next to each of the cancers listed below are the breeds that are overrepresented, or affected more frequently.
Transitional cell carcinoma: Scottish Terrier, West Highland White Terrier, Beagle, and Shetland Sheepdog
Lymphoma (all types): Golden Retriever, Labrador Retriever, Boxer, Rottweiler, Bullmastiff, Bulldog, Bernese Mountain Dog, and Flat-Coated Retriever.
B-cell lymphomas: Cocker Spaniel and Basset Hound
T-cell lymphomas: Irish Wolfhound, Siberian Husky, and Shih Tzu
Melanomas: Scottish Terrier, Poodle, Golden Retriever, Dachshund, Cocker Spaniel, Chow Chow, Gordon Setter, and Anatolian Shepherd Dog
Osteosarcoma: Large and giant breeds, including the Rottweiler, Golden Retriever, Scottish Deerhound, Greyhound, and Saint Bernard
Hemangiosarcoma: Golden Retriever, German Shepherd and Boxer
Diabetes in dogs is a complex disease caused by either a lack of the hormone insulin or an inadequate response to insulin. After a dog eats, his digestive system breaks food into various components, including glucose—which is carried into his cells by insulin, a hormone secreted by the pancreas. When a dog does not produce insulin or cannot utilize it normally, his blood sugar levels elevate. The result is hyperglycemia, which, if left untreated, can cause many complicated health problems for a dog.
It is important to understand that diabetes is considered a manageable disorder—and many diabetic dogs can lead happy, healthy lives.
Diabetes can be classified as:
- Type I (lack of insulin production)
- Type II (impaired insulin production along with an inadequate response to the hormone).
The most common form of the disease in dogs is Type I, insulin-dependent diabetes, which occurs when the pancreas is incapable of producing or secreting adequate levels of insulin. Dogs who have Type I diabetes require insulin therapy to survive.
Diabetes Symptoms in Dogs
The following are signs that your dog may be diabetic:
- Change in appetite
- Excessive thirst/increase in water consumption
- Weight loss
- Increased urination
- Unusually sweet-smelling or fruity breath
- Urinary tract infections
- Cataract formation, blindness
- Chronic skin infections
Causes of Diabetes
The exact cause of diabetes is unknown. Autoimmune disease, genetics, obesity, chronic pancreatitis, certain medications and abnormal protein deposits in the pancreas can play a major role in the development of the disease.
Dogs More Prone to Diabetes
- It is thought that obese dogs and female dogs may run a greater risk of developing diabetes later in life (6-9 years of age)
- Some breeds may also have a greater risk, include Australian Terriers, Standard and Miniature Schnauzers, Dachshunds, Poodles, Keeshonds and Samoyeds
- Juvenile diabetes can also be seen and is particularly prevalent in golden retrievers and keeshonds
To properly diagnose diabetes, your veterinarian will collect information about clinical signs, perform a physical examination and check blood work and urinalysis.
- Every diabetic dog is an individual and will respond differently to therapy. Diabetes treatment is based on how severe the signs of disease are and whether there are any other health issues that could complicate therapy.
- Some dogs are seriously ill when first diagnosed and require intensive hospitalized care for several days to regulate their blood sugar levels.
- Dogs who are more stable when first diagnosed may respond to oral medication or a high-fiber diet that helps to normalize glucose levels in the blood
- For most dogs, insulin injections are necessary for adequate regulation of blood glucose. Once your pet’s individual insulin treatment is established, typically based on weight, you will be shown how to give him his insulin injections at home.
- Spaying your dog is recommended, as female sex hormones can have an effect on blood sugar levels.
As your veterinarian will explain, it’s important to always give your dog insulin at the same time every day and feed him regular meals in conjunction with his medication; this allows increased nutrients in the blood to coincide with peak insulin levels. This will lessen the chance that her sugar levels will swing either too high or too low. You can work with your vet to create a feeding schedule around your pet’s medication time. It is also important to avoid feeding your diabetic dog treats that are high in glucose. Regular blood glucose checks are a critical part of monitoring and treating any diabetic patient, and your veterinarian will help you set up a schedule for checking your dog’s blood sugar.
Although a certain form of diabetes—the type found in dogs less than a year of age—is inherited, proper diet and regular exercise can go a long way to avoid the development of diabetes. Aside from other negative effects, obesity is known to contribute to insulin resistance.
If You Suspect Your Dog Has Diabetes
If your dog is showing any abnormal clinical signs as listed above, make an appointment to see your veterinarian immediately. If a diabetic dog is not treated, he can develop secondary health problems like cataracts and severe urinary tract problems. Ultimately, untreated diabetes can cause coma and death.
Heartworm is a parasitic worm that lives in the heart and pulmonary arteries of an infected animal. The worms travel through the bloodstream—harming arteries and vital organs as they go—ultimately completing their journey to the vessels of the lung and the heart chamber about six months after the initial infection. Several hundred worms can live in one dog for five to seven years.
Kennel cough is a term loosely used to describe a complex of respiratory infections—both viral and bacterial—that causes inflammation of a dog’s voice box and windpipe. It’s a form of bronchitis and is similar to a chest cold in humans.
Canine parvovirus is a highly contagious viral disease that can produce life-threatening illness.
Rabies is a viral disease that may affect the brain and spinal cord of all mammals, including cats, dogs and humans. This preventable disease has been reported in every state except Hawaii. There’s good reason that the very word “rabies” evokes fear in people—once symptoms appear, rabies is close to 100% fatal.
Although the name suggests otherwise, ringworm isn’t caused by a worm at all—but a fungus that can infect the skin, hair and nails. This highly contagious disease can lead to patchy areas of hair loss on a dog and can spread to other animals—and to humans, too.