For most pet parents, “cancer” is a terrifying, confusing term. Cancer is an incredibly complex illness. Your pet’s risk of cancer depends on many factors, from their age to their lifestyle.
No two cases of canine or feline cancer present exactly the same way, but there are some warning signs commonly displayed by pets in the early- to mid-stages of cancer development. Here’s what to know.
1. Lumps or Bumps
One of the most unsettling things you can discover on your pet is an unexplained lump. More often than not, these lumps are benign, but it’s important to check your pet regularly for new growths. In some cases, they can be indicative of malignancy. If you find a lump that doesn’t quickly go away, reach out to your veterinarian for diagnostic testing.
2. Unexplained Weight Loss
A pet that suddenly starts noticeably losing weight should be examined by a veterinarian. Of course, weight loss doesn’t always indicate cancer, but there’s usually some underlying cause – from the physical to the psychological – that needs to be addressed. Cancer can cause weight loss in pets whose bodies are expending a lot of energy fighting the cancer itself.
3. Changes in Appetite
Often occurring hand-in-hand with weight loss, a lack of appetite in your pet can definitely be a sign something is amiss. Long-term appetite loss can cause myriad health effects and weaken your pet’s overall immune system. Lack of appetite, changes in appetite, and/or a sudden aversion to food are very frequently seen in pets with cancer, particularly in pets with neck or mouth cancers.
4. Unusual Odors
One of the best cancer detection tools you have at your disposal is actually your nose. Pets can be smelly, but an off-putting, unexplained odor coming from your pet’s mouth, eyes, ears, or anus can indicate some sort of cancer. Whether or not you suspect cancer, a foul odor should always be checked by a veterinarian to rule out infection or other physiological causes.
5. Limping or Stiffness
Consistent lameness, limping, and/or stiffness from an otherwise healthy pet can be a sign of blood or bone cancer. The risk is higher if the soreness seems unrelated to a particular activity or event such as waking up from a nap or a long walk. Remember that senior pets are highly likely to suffer from some amount of arthritis; whether you suspect arthritis, cancer, or some other cause for stiffness, a visit with your vet is in order.
Discharge from any orifice of the body – the eyes, nose, mouth, anus, etc. – is always cause for concern. No matter what color the discharge, it’s indicative of something going on internally. Don’t forget that “discharge” isn’t limited to puss or clear fluids. Blood, diarrhea, and vomiting can all be considered discharged substances.
7. Lack of Stamina
Has your once-active pet become a bit of a couch potato? Although some decrease in energy levels is to be expected as your pet ages, a sudden lack of stamina can be indicative of a medical issue. If your pet can no longer walk as far, play as long, or recover as quickly after physical activity, it’s probably a good idea to have your vet run some diagnostic tests to rule out illnesses such as cancer.
None of these symptoms definitively point to cancer. At face value, they’re simply signs your pet needs a medical evaluation. If something feels “off,” ask your vet.