What Pet Owners Need to Know About Cancer Detection and Diagnosis

What Pet Owners Need to Know About Cancer Detection and Diagnosis

Cancer detection and diagnosis in pets are vital to their overall health and well-being. With veterinary oncology making great strides in recent years, pet owners must stay informed about how to protect their furry friends best. 

This article explores the many aspects of early cancer detection, from recognizing the signs and symptoms to understanding the various tests and screening options available.

Early Signs and Symptoms of Cancer in Pets

Cancer can present itself in many ways, but here are some common early signs to watch for: 

  • Lumps and masses
  • Unusual behavior or lethargy
  • Weight loss or appetite changes
  • Skin lesions or inflammation 

While these symptoms do not guarantee cancer, they should prompt pet owners to seek a veterinary consultation.

The Role of Veterinary Exams in Cancer Detection

Regular veterinary appointments are critical for early cancer detection. These exams typically include the following: 

  • Lymph node and abdominal palpation 
  • Rectal exam 
  • Oral exam 

For younger, healthy pets, veterinarians recommend one exam per year. However, older pets should be examined at least every six months or even more frequently if advised by your family veterinarian.

If a potentially cancerous growth or symptom is identified during an exam, it’s essential to consult a specialist. Working with a veterinary oncologist in your area ensures your pet gets the most tailored and effective treatment plan.

Routine Lab Work for Early Detection

Regular lab testing is essential for middle-aged and senior pets. Lab tests typically include: 

  • Complete blood count
  • Serum chemistry panel 
  • Urinalysis 
  • Thyroid hormone levels 

These tests identify internal issues before your pet exhibits symptoms, allowing for rapid medical intervention.

Pet Vaccinations

Keeping your pet’s vaccinations up to date is another crucial step in maintaining their health. Vaccinations can help protect pets from specific types of cancer, such as feline leukemia and other diseases. Ensure to find this information from your veterinarian and stay on top of the recommended vaccination schedule.

Imaging Tests for Cancer Screening

Advanced imaging tests, such as chest X-rays and abdominal ultrasounds, can help detect internal cancers before your pet displays any symptoms or lab work abnormalities. While there is no universal standard for the frequency of these tests, veterinarians might recommend annual or bi-annual imaging for older pets or breeds at high risk of developing cancer.

New Screening Tests for Cancer Detection in Pets

Screening tests have significantly improved cancer detection in recent years. Two promising tests are:

  •  CADET® BRAF: This test detects transitional cell carcinoma (TCC), the most common type of bladder cancer in dogs. Recommended for high-risk breeds and cases with suspected TCC.
  • Nu-Q™: This blood test helps detect two common cancers in dogs: lymphoma and hemangiosarcoma. Useful for early detection in older pets or high-risk breeds and facilitating the diagnostic process when cancer is suspected.

Veterinary Surgery

In some cases, pet surgery might be necessary to prevent the spread of cancer or remove tumors. Surgical intervention is often more successful when cancer is detected early, making it vital for pet owners to monitor their pets regularly.

Understanding Treatment Options for Pet Cancer

Several factors, such as the type of cancer and the pet’s overall health, affect treatment decisions. Standard treatment options include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and immunotherapy. Early detection often results in less invasive and more affordable treatments, emphasizing the importance of regular check-ups and testing.

The Role of a Board-Certified Veterinary Oncologist

A board-certified veterinary oncologist is a specialist trained to manage and treat pet cancer. They can help you better understand your pet’s condition, discuss treatment options, and guide you. Consider a referral to a veterinary oncologist if your family veterinarian diagnoses your pet with cancer.


Early cancer detection is crucial for better outcomes, making it essential for pet owners to be proactive in maintaining their pet’s health through regular exams, lab work, and recommended screenings. By understanding the importance of veterinary oncology, you can make informed decisions regarding your pet’s health. 

Additionally, staying on top of pet vaccinations and being aware of surgical interventions like pet surgery is essential to maintaining your pet’s well-being. Never hesitate to consult your veterinarian or veterinary oncologist if you have any concerns about your pet’s health.


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