What is Bladder Cancer in Dogs
The bladder is the organ that collects urine. Bladder cancer happens when there is a growth of abnormal cells in or around the bladder. These cells often grow and spread quickly on the outside tissues of the bladder and the urethra, the tubes that carry urine. If unchecked it can spread to the lymph glands and various organs via the bloodstream. This growth or metastases often leads to an obstruction in the urinary tract which causes the dog to have a difficult time passing urine and can block urine from getting from the kidneys to the bladder.
Types of Bladder Cancer in Dogs
The most common type of canine bladder cancer is transitional cell carcinoma (TCC). TCC affects the epithelial cells that line the inside of the bladder. TCC is a very aggressive form of cancer that spreads quickly.
Symptoms of Bladder Cancer in Dogs
Bladder cancer often looks like a Urinary Tract Infection (UTI). It is important to contact your veterinarian if you see any of these symptoms.
Frequent urination and Incontinence
Straining during urination or obvious pain in the abdominal region
Trouble breathing and excessive panting
Lack of appetite
Causes of Bladder Cancer in Dogs
Bladder cancer usually attributes to both environmental and genetic factors.
According to the American Kennel Club, certain breeds such as Scottish Terrier, West Highland, White Terrier, Beagle, Shetland Sheepdog, Wire Fox Terrier are at the highest risk. Also at risk are the American Eskimo Dog, Australian Cattle Dog, Australian Shepherd, Bichon Frise, Border Collie, Parson Russell Terrier, Lhasa Apso, Rat Terrier, and Russell Terrier.
Additionally, senior, female dogs are at a higher risk. One theory for this is that male dogs urinate more frequently because they mark their territory. Therefore, flushing the urinary tract system more often of any harmful carcinogens.
Studies have shown a correlation between second-hand smoke and bladder cancer. Dogs are mammals and just like their human owners can suffer from the carcinogens in cigarette smoke. Dogs who live in homes with second-hand smoke are at a greater risk for several types of cancer.
There have been several studies that link carcinogens such as flea and tick killers and pesticides to bladder cancer. Purdue University School of Veterinary Medicine did a study of 83 Scottish Terriers and what types of lawn chemicals they were exposed to. The study target Scottish Terriers because they have the highest incidence of any breed to contract bladder cancer. A significantly increased risk of TCC was found in the dogs that were walked on lawns that had been treated with chemical herbicides and insecticides.
Good health precautions can help your dog live a healthy life. If you are a smoker, refrain from smoking around your dog.
You can treat your lawn with natural pesticides and use flea and tick control that your veterinarian recommends. Flea baths and shampoos are considered to be of higher risk then topical drugs that are administered at the base of the neck.
How To Tell if Your Dog Has Bladder Cancer
Bladder cancer is diagnosed by a series of tests. The first thing your vet will want to ascertain is if your pooch has a UTI or actual bladder cancer. A urine analysis and a blood test will give your vet some definitive information.
Your vet may also need to do an ultra sound of the abdominal cavity and X-rays if they suspect a tumor. An ultra sound can locate tumors and give information on their size and if they have spread to other organs.
A new test called the Urine Bladder Tumor Antigen test (VBTA) is being used by vets to pinpoint the diagnosis. This test is designed to specifically test for bladder cancer although it can give a false positive so is used with other tests.
Another new test looks at the amount of BRAF protein. A normal BRAF protein works to regulate the activity of cells. When cellular activity is disrupted, the BRAF protein can mutate and actually cause cancer cells for form. The mutated cells show up in the test which gives veterinarians an early warning sign before clinical symptoms appear.
Lastly, a biopsy is often taken to make a positive identification of cancer. A biopsy removes a few cancerous cells via a surgical biopsy or a catheter. The cells are then examined under a microscope.
Treatment of Bladder Cancer in Dogs
Treatment will vary depending on how progressed the cancer is within the body. Typically, medication and chemotherapy are used to treat your dog’s bladder cancer. Surgery is not usually an option. Normally by the time bladder cancer is diagnosed the malignant tumor has spread. This makes surgery impossible. Not only can the tumor be hard to isolate for removal but the organ is often disrupted and cannot function.
Veterinarians are using chemotherapy and radiation although they have a low incidence of effectiveness. Chemotherapy has only been effective in 20% of cases. Radiation needs to be done with caution. While radiation has helped to shrink the tumor it can also lead to a shrunken and damaged bladder. Treating the bladder with radiation is also complicated because the bladder moves and changes shape as it fills or empty’s itself of urine.
Oral inflammatory has shown to offer modest help. One drug that has shown promise when combined with chemotherapy is piroxicam (Feldene®). Piroxicam is referred to as a cox inhibitor. Interestingly, it is in the same class as aspirin and ibuprofen and was first used in canine cancer treatment as a pain reliever. However, veterinarians noticed that some dogs on the Piroxicam went into remission. While the drug does not cure cancer, it does allow the dog to have a better quality of life.
Studies have also shown that combining Piroxicam with a chemotherapy drug called mitoxantrone resulted in remission in 35% of dogs being studied.
There are several newer and more specialized options. Cryotherapy uses cold liquid to destroy cancer cells that are hard to remove surgically. Hyperthermy is the opposite and uses heat to destroy abnormal cancer cells.
Diet is important at all stages of a dog’s life. But diet is very important when your dog has bladder cancer. Foods that are easy to digest and give maximum nutrition are important. Dry dog foods can dehydrate your dog and should be avoided. Easy to digest proteins and fats with low levels of carbohydrates found in a good moist food. It is recommended that you feed vegetables to your dog three times per week. You may want to discuss what supplements to give such as omega fats with your vet.
Stages of Bladder Cancer
There are four stages of bladder cancer in dogs.
- Stage 1 is when the cancer is starting to grow. This stage often goes unnoticed because there are no visible symptoms.
- Stages 2 and 3 involves cancer when its metastasized and is growing throughout the bladder and possibly into the urethra. This is when your pooch starts to display symptoms and is often having trouble urinating.
- Stage 4 is when cancer has spread to the surrounding organs. At this stage, there is no known cure and a dog’s quality of life will decline rapidly. Sadly, at this stage euthanasia needs to be considered.
Bladder cancer in dogs is a serious and aggressive form of cancer. Sadly, many dogs experience a rapid deterioration, and their owners are faced with the hard decision of euthanasia. The good news is that there have been many successful clinical trials and new treatments are on the horizon.
About the Author
Ame Vanorio is a freelance writer who specializes in blogs and articles on pets, wildlife, and veterinary topics. She lives on her farm in Falmouth, Kentucky with 5 fabulous dogs and numerous other pets.