Canine Cancers – Signs and Symptoms

by Anne Jones RN, BSNE

While cancer is not as common in Bichons as it is in some breeds, cancer does occur in many forms and in all breeds of dogs. The pet owner should be alert to the signs that a malignant (cancerous) condition could be present in his/her dog. The following signs should be noted and a veterinary examination should be scheduled while there is time to treat the condition and thereby hope to save a beloved pet’s life. Because of ongoing research, many cancers can be successfully treated if diagnosed early. Some treatments are expensive but some are no more costly than any other surgery.

Cancer is the uncontrolled growth of cells and it may metastasize or spread to tissue elsewhere in the body if not treated. It is more likely to be present in older dogs but can occur in the very young. The most common cancers in all breeds of dogs are mammary cancer (females) and prostate and testicular cancers (males). Because they are related to hormones in the system, early neutering is the best preventive measure for these cancers.

The Veterinary Cancer Society lists the following ten common signs of cancer in small animals:

1. Abnormal swellings that persist or continue to grow

2. Sores that do not heal

3. Weight loss

4. Loss of appetite

5. Bleeding or discharge from any body opening

6. Offensive odor

7. Difficulty eating or swallowing

8. Hesitation to exercise or loss of stamina

9. Persistent lameness or stiffness

10. Difficulty breathing, urinating or defecating

Since many of these are signs of conditions other than cancer, it is important for the animal to be examined by a veterinarian who can then put the animal’s age, past history and current symptoms together. It may take additional tests, such as blood work, x-rays, or other diagnostic procedures to find the problem. A consultation with a veterinary specialist such as an oncologist or surgeon may be needed.

To mention some symptoms that may occur in Bichons from a cause other than cancer, lameness may indicate problems with hips or knee joints. Difficulty in urinating can be a sign of bladder stones or a benign prostate problem. Sores that do not heal and especially those that are bleeding need special attention but common growths such as sebaceous cysts usually start by the age of ten. Any growth in the mouth should be considered serious because cancers in the mouth may be especially problematic. It is important to note that only a veterinarian can determine the diagnosis and each of these are problems that need treatment. As the dog ages, there is a greater likelihood of a serious health problem when any of the signs of cancer are present. However any abnormality needs to be checked from the early years throughout the pet’s life and a trip to the veterinarian twice a year is money well spent.

For more information on canine cancers, see