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Border Collie sitting outdoors being hugged by a woman in the summer.
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Though “your dog has cancer” are words that no dog owner wants to hear, dog  cancer is something that many will unfortunately face. According to the Animal Cancer Foundation, approximately 6 million of the 65 million dogs in the United States receive cancer diagnoses each year. However, canine cancer doesn’t always necessarily mean a death sentence for your dog.

Common Types of Cancer in Dogs

Cancer in dogs can range in its severity. Some types are less aggressive and curable, while others are highly aggressive and lack known cures or solid treatment options.

Just as in humans, dogs can develop many types of cancer. The most common cancers reported in dogs include:

Yellow Labrador Retriever getting a shot at the vet.
Cris Kelly via Getty Images

Unlike with humans, there is no singular tracking method for following cancer in dogs. Every veterinary office uses its own system (if they have anything at all). There has been documentation of certain cancers in certain breeds (such as histiocytic sarcoma, an aggressive and relatively rare cancer that occurs in Bernese Mountain Dogs and other breeds). For the most part, though, many possible factors, such as environment, age, and sometimes whether a dog was spayed or neutered (and at what age), may influence when and if a dog gets cancer.

Cancer is reported in mixed-breed dogs at about the same rates (or higher) as cancer in purebred dogs.

The Importance of an Accurate Diagnosis

As the cancer research field has grown for humans, there have been improvements in animal cancer research, as well. The increased scientific research allows for more accurate diagnoses and better treatments for dogs. Getting an accurate diagnosis will help you and your vet choose the best treatment option for your dog and receive an accurate prognosis.

After receiving an accurate diagnosis, it’s important to ask your veterinarian or veterinary oncologist if the cancer has spread. Tumors, for example, can often be removed. However, cancer cells may spread to other parts of the body, which could affect the type of treatment you seek for your dog.

Treatment Options For Cancer in Dogs

After getting a diagnosis, your veterinarian may refer you to a veterinary oncologist to determine the next steps. They will talk you through the various treatment options, which depend on the type of cancer your dog has. Potential treatments include surgery, a mixture of surgery and chemotherapy, chemotherapy by itself, radiation therapy, and immunotherapy. With canine immunotherapy, your dog may receive a cancer vaccine (there is one for melanoma), or the vet may take the dog’s immune cells and teach them to kill cancerous cells.

Depending on the type of chemotherapy, the dog might receive a pill, injection, or IV. Many of these appointments are similar to regular veterinary visits. On the other hand, radiation therapy requires dog anesthesia to ensure the accuracy and positioning of the treatment. It’s also important to consider pain management, quality of life, post-op care if surgery is involved, and nutritional therapies.

Glen of Imaal Terrier puppy laying in the grass.
Kindall at English Wikipedia / CC0

And then there is the cost. While some pet owners will spend whatever it takes, the truth is not everyone can afford expensive canine healthcare treatments out-of-pocket. The cost of chemotherapy, for example, can range from $3,000 to more than $10,000. So even though this is an emotional time, you will want to take time to consider the financial aspect of treatment.

Side Effects of Cancer Treatment in Dogs

Generally speaking, animals tolerate therapies like chemotherapy better than humans. Many dogs don’t experience a lot of side effects, but some dogs may vomit or experience doggie diarrhea. Dogs don’t generally lose their hair, like humans, but they can get low blood cell counts and/or a weakened immune system, leaving them vulnerable to contracting other diseases.

Unlike people, dogs don’t anticipate receiving chemotherapy and won’t know what to expect when they enter the vet’s office. So if the side effects are mild, your dog may enter and exit in a happy mood.

The Future of Canine Cancer Research

Canine cancer has been a huge part of the AKC Canine Health Foundation (CHF) research portfolio for years. The organization has funded more than $17.7 million in canine cancer research through 263 grants, which has led to several key breakthroughs in the field. The goal of CHF research projects is to produce an outcome that can benefit dogs. What’s more, the CHF doesn’t fund the use of laboratory animals in research work.

Related article: Vomiting in Dogs vs. Regurgitation: Everything You Need to Know