Cancer in pets – know the warning signs

Cancer is a big worry for pet parents, but many don’t know the warning signs. By educating yourself and planning ahead, you can help your animal companion beat the odds.

Cancer is one of the leading causes of death for cats and dogs, and that worries many pet parents.1 A recent PetFirst Pet Insurance poll of policy holders found that 94 percent of pet parents worry at least a little about this disease.2 Their worries were based on prior experience. About 45 percent of respondents have lost a pet to cancer – and about 8 percent had a pet who had recovered or was currently being treated.3

The importance of early detection

According to the Animal Cancer Foundation, about 12 million dogs and cats receive cancer diagnoses each year.4 But despite the worry, nearly 60 percent (58.9 percent) of pet parents said they were not confident they would detect early signs of cancer.5

As with people, early detection can make a difference. But pets don’t always demonstrate their symptoms clearly. Colorado State University’s Flint Animal Cancer Center recently detailed some of the common signs of cancer in pets, which included:

  • Abnormal swellings that persist or continue to grow
  • Sores that do not heal
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Lack of appetite
  • Bleeding or discharge
  • Offensive odor
  • Difficulty eating or swallowing
  • Hesitation to exercise or loss of stamina
  • Persistent lameness
  • Difficulty breathing, urinating, or defecating

In an open-ended poll question asking people for personal stories, those types of symptoms were frequently mentioned – though the cancer was still caught too late in some cases. “We have had several pets die of cancer,” wrote one respondent. “ It was always discovered when the pets stopped eating… Each time it was discovered they had cancer that had metastasized and the cancer was too far along to treat.”

Gaining some peace of mind

Prior experience with cancer was cited as one of the motivations for purchasing pet insurance. More than half (53 percent) of those customers who had experiences with cancer said the high cost of treatment was part of the reason they sought out pet insurance.6

One respondent wrote that their dog was battling oral cancer for the second time. “Thankfully, with the help of pet insurance, she was able to have surgery the first time followed by chemo with good results… “ the owner said. “Sadly, the tumor grew back and there is nothing more we can do other than keep her comfortable for now. We never could have handled the financial end without pet insurance and we certainly would not have had her with us this long.”, accessed April 21, 2020

2PetFirst Pet Insurance Poll

3PetFirst Pet Insurance Poll, accessed April 21, 2020

5PetFirst Pet Insurance Poll, accessed April 21, 2020