Signs & Symptoms of Dying of Cancer in Dogs

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Cancer is the leading disease-related cause of death in dogs. In fact, half of all dogs over 10 years of age will develop some form of cancer, and 25 percent of dogs will die from it. Understanding the signs of cancer in dogs will not only help you begin treatment early but will help you recognize the stages of cancer. This understanding can aid you in making important decisions for your pet.

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A listless Miniature Schnauzer resting on the sofa.
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Initial signs of cancer in dogs

Unless your dog is on a diet, any sudden weight loss is one of the dog cancer symptoms that warns of something wrong, as is loss of appetite. Vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, reclusive behavior, hair loss, increased urination and increased or decreased thirst can appear during the early stages of cancer. Check your dog for other warning signs such as enlarged lymph nodes, unusual lumps and bumps on the body, coughing or shortness of breath, pale gums and persistent open wounds. To examine the lymph nodes, press gently with your fingertips beneath your dog's jaw near his neck, along the front of the chest, under his front armpits and along the back of the hind leg, just above the hock joint. Check both sides of his body; if you don't feel anything, consider that a good sign.

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Late-stage cancer symptoms in dogs

As terminal cancer progresses, the symptoms of cancer's early stages will persist. Additional symptoms may include severe weight loss, difficulty eating or drinking, difficulty rising, paralysis, seizures, labored breathing and bruising or ulceration of the skin. He may lose his lust for life, refusing attention, playtime, or his favorite toys. He may persistently lick or become protective of the areas of his body where tumors exist, sometimes even snapping at those who try to touch him. Symptoms will vary with each dog and depending upon the type of cancer he is fighting.

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Signs of a dog dying from cancer

Immediately seek veterinary attention if your dog has extreme difficulty breathing, suffers from prolonged seizures, experiences uncontrollable vomiting or diarrhea, presents ongoing external or internal bleeding, cries out from pain or suddenly collapses. All of these symptoms are life threatening and require medical attention. Your veterinarian can help you decide on the best course for treatment, pain management or euthanasia.

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Making difficult choices when dogs have cancer

As your dog progresses through the stages of cancer, you will need to make many choices regarding his care and treatment. Your veterinarian will help you monitor your dog's condition throughout his treatment and will make recommendations concerning his care. Many neighborhoods now have animal hospice care available, offering assistance with ongoing care, emotional support and help with end-of-life decisions. Take into account your pet's overall quality of life, pain level, appetite and overall happiness when making these important decisions.

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Annual checkups help catch canine cancers early

The best chance of treating cancer in dogs is when it is caught at an early stage. That's why it is so important to take dogs to the vet for annual physicals. The vet will palpate the lymph nodes and check other areas of the body where cancer tends to occur, and they may order tests, like bloodwork, which can give insight into what's going on in the body. When vets suspect something abnormal, they may order other tests such as chest x-rays and/or abdominal ultrasounds to look for tumors.

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While any dog can get cancer, some cancers are more common in specific breeds, and your vet will know what to look for in your dog. For example, lymphoma is most common in golden retrievers, while boxers and bulldogs are most likely to develop mast cell tumors. No one wants to hear the diagnosis of cancer, but hearing it early in the disease progression extends and saves many canine lives.

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