Breast cancer affects 1 in 8 women in the United States. Unfortunately, breast cancer doesn’t just happen to humans. Many pet owners are surprised to learn that their beloved four-legged companions can also develop breast cancer.
In fact, while 50% of dogs over the age of ten will develop some form of cancer, breast cancer is still the most common form of cancer in female dogs. Breast cancer also happens to male dogs, but it’s much more rare.
A cancer diagnosis doesn’t automatically mean your dog has malignant, or deadly, types of tumors. However, it is still important to protect your pup as much as possible so you never have a cancer diagnosis to worry about.
We’ll show you how to lower your dog’s risk factors for cancer, and even explain your options if you’ve already received a diagnosis.
Reduce Your Dog’s Chances of Developing Breast Cancer
Getting your dog spayed before her first heat is the best way to prevent breast cancer from developing. This greatly reduces, or even eliminates, the production of hormones such as progesterone and estrogen, which will diminish her chances of developing mammary tumors.
If you delay spaying, your dog’s risk of developing mammary tumors jumps to:
- 8%, if done after the first heat, and
- 26%, if done sometime after the second heat, but before she’s 2.5 years old.
Breeds More Prone to Cancer
Although pedigree dogs are more susceptible to breed-specific forms of cancer, mixed breeds and pedigrees alike face just as many risk factors thanks to environmental and dietary factors.
What to Look For
Just like with humans, early detection is key to a successful battle against cancer. And the good news is that it’s easy to do, too.
Just run your hands along your dog’s chest each day. Start with a few comforting belly rubs so your dog is relaxed on her back. Next, you’ll want to take a peek at her nipples and surrounding skin. If you spot any redness or enlarged areas that look inflamed, give your vet a call to schedule an appointment immediately. The sooner you can rule out a malignant tumor, the higher your dog’s chances of survival.
Keep on the lookout for bleeding or ulcerations on your dog’s body as this could also be a sign of tumors. If you notice what appears to be a cut on your pup’s chest that seems to have appeared out of nowhere, it’s best to see your vet just to be safe.
How is Cancer Treated in Dogs
First, your veterinarian or a consulting veterinary oncologist will need to test the tumor to see if it is benign (not life-threatening) or malignant. To do this, your doctor will take a small sample (biopsy) of the tumor to determine what condition it’s in.
If it is benign, and depending on the size, your doctor may suggest leaving it alone.
However, if it is malignant, your doctor will discuss your options for surgery. Unfortunately, chemotherapy and radiation have not been shown to be as effective for dogs as they are for humans, so surgery is really your best option as long as your dog is strong enough for it.
Remember, cancer is more prevalent in dogs over 10 years old, which makes surgery much more challenging. Your doctor will take into consideration your dog’s current health status along with her age before she or he will even think about operating. Depending on several medical factors, your doctor may remove just the tumor, or the tumor and the surrounding mammary glands, lymph nodes, and tissue.
Your doctor will also discuss the impact surgery will have on your pup’s quality of life moving forward. If the surgery is so complex that your dog will not live a normal life post-op, she or he may not recommend going forward with it. In the end, only you and your doctor can decide the right treatment option for your dog.
Post surgery check-ins will occur every three months afterward for a year to make sure that the cancer has not returned and everything stays healthy.
No pet parent should have to face a diagnosis like cancer, which is why we encourage you to have your female pup spayed before her first heat. This will dramatically reduce her chances of developing mammary tumors and cut down her cancer risks.
Early detection is not just a lifesaver for humans, it’s also critical for your dog. When you have your dog relaxed as you give her belly rubs, it won’t hurt to run your hands along the rest of her body to ensure that she doesn’t have any tumors lurking elsewhere.