When the vet told me Max, our 11-year-old golden retriever, had advanced bone cancer, I was shocked. According to Donald D. Dodge, DVM, at the Jasper Animal Hospital in Lafayette, Colorado, my reaction isn’t unusual. “In my experience, symptoms tend to show up too late,” he says. You might see signs in retrospect, says Dodge, but at the time you didn’t think anything of them.
Here are some red flags to watch out for, says Steven Withrow, DVM, director of the Animal Cancer Center at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colo.:
1. Sudden weight loss.
2. Unusual swelling or growths.
3. Wounds that do not heal.
4. Disinterest in food.
5. Abnormal bleeding or discharge.
6. Foul odor.
7. Trouble swallowing or breathing.
8. Persistent stiffness or lameness.
9. Struggling to urinate or defecate.
10. Loss of stamina or lethargy.
If you notice anything suspect, head to your vet for an exam and blood work, relatively inexpensive tests that may reveal internal imbalances indicating cancer growth. “The four most dangerous words in veterinary medicine are, ‘Let’s just watch it,’” Withrow says. And these simple tests could be the difference between five more great years and five hard months for your best buddy.
You can also minimize the risk of certain cancers, says Dodge, by spaying or neutering your pets when they’re young, limiting their exposure to hazardous pesticides in food and on lawns, and making sure they get enough exercise.