October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, but chances are dog owners have no idea that their dogs can actually get breast cancer. The bad news is that breast (mammary) cancer in dogs is common; the good news is that the disease can be treated successfully if caught early.
According to veterinarian Dr. Race Foster, the most common type of tumor in female dogs is the mammary tumor—especially in (unspayed) dogs between the ages of five to 10 years-old. There are male dogs that do develop breast cancer and, sadly, their prognosis is not good because this type of breast cancer is very aggressive.
Signs of Breast Cancer in Dogs
Similar to human breast cancer, mammary tumors in dogs can range in size. Breast tumors in dogs often grow quickly with an irregular shape. These malignant tumors can also cause bleeding and ulceration. However, if your dog’s tumor does not exhibit these signs, that does not mean your dog is free from breast cancer; small tumors that have been present for a while can suddenly grow aggressively as well. As with most other types of cancer, once malignant tumors in dogs start to grow, the cancerous cells can spread to other parts of the body.
If you find a lump on your dog, do not wait to go to the veterinarian. It is always best to play it safe and have your dog examined by a licensed veterinarian who will perform a biopsy. Half of all mammary tumors in dogs are benign, but do you really want to play guessing games when it comes to your dog’s health?
Treatment of Canine Breast Cancer
Treatment of a malignant tumor usually involves surgery. Similar to breast cancer in humans, dogs will either have just the tumor removed or the entire mammary tissue along with lymph nodes. Dogs’ mammary glands are different than humans in that they are outside of the muscle, so the surgery is not as radical. Dr. Race Foster suggests that unlike humans, chemotherapy and radiation in dogs are not successful.
Canine Breast Cancer Prevention
The best way to prevent breast cancer in female dogs is to spay them before they go into heat for the first time—just another benefit of spaying. By doing this, dog owners can practically eliminate the chances of their dog developing mammary cancer.
To say I used to be meticulous would be an understatement; I really did sweat the small stuff—including crumbs—and would judge anyone whose house was not “company ready.” My floors were always vacuumed or swept, the dishes were hand-washed and put away immediately after eating and dust was a dirty four-letter word in my house.
If my husband made a mess after eating I would yell at him, and the towels had to be folded the way I liked them—just like in Bed, Bath and Beyond. Even my kitchen pantry was organized with all of the spices lined up alphabetically. Whenever I knew company was coming over, I would literally get on my hand and knees and clean until the house was spotless.
When we moved to Houston we bought a brand new house with hardwood floors—floors I had never had before. Little did I know that every little thing would scratch the wood. I was mortified when I bent down and saw scratches and immediately blamed the builder for not putting the appropriate coating on the floors. The builder’s response was, “Get a dog and that way you’ll have so many scratches all over the floor you won’t even notice them anymore.” I was livid—how on earth could a professional homebuilder suggest such a thing? Didn’t she know I was house-proud?
I thought about installing carpet over the wood or even replacing it with tile but decided the hardwoods would have the best re-sale value. For some reason everyone loves them—everyone, that is, except me.
Then one fateful day in July my husband and I went to a dog show and I came home a different person. I wanted a dog. Yes, I knew these creatures were a huge responsibility—especially the breed I wanted, an English Cocker Spaniel—but my heart ached for a furry companion, so I bit the bullet and adopted a dog named Euri.
Euri was just about the cutest dog I had ever seen and everyone that meets him falls in love with him instantly. He looks like a stuffed animal come to life and has a personality to match.
Though I brush Euri twice a day, he still sheds like crazy. My husband was adamant that Euri was not allowed on the couch because he would get it dirty and fur would get embedded in the fibers, but Euri’s big brown eyes are so hard to resist, so months later, Euri was allowed on the couch. Yes, his fur gets all over the couch—even with a blanket draped over it—and yes, his fur is all over the floor, on our clothes, and all over my car, but I don’t care.
My husband files Euri’s nails at least once a month, yet his nails still manage to scratch our hardwood floors. We even had part of our floor replaced after Hurricane Ike and shortly thereafter, Euri scratched the new floor. But did I care? No. Nowadays I rarely make the bed, clean the toothpaste stuck to the sink or dust.
My husband tells me that I’ve changed for the better; I’m more calm, laid back and relaxed, and I don’t let every little thing bother me—including the crumbs on the floor. But most of all, I'm happy. So how has Euri changed my life? He taught me that keeping a tidy house isn’t the most important thing in life; letting love into your life is.