HomeCompanion AnimalsStomach Cancer in Dogs: Causes, Signs, Diagnosis, Treatment

Stomach Cancer in Dogs: Causes, Signs, Diagnosis, Treatment

Stomach cancer in dogs, also known as gastric cancer or gastric adenocarcinoma, is a type of cancer that originates in the tissues of the stomach. Gastric cancer is a relatively uncommon form of cancer in dogs, but it can occur. The definitive cause of stomach cancer in dogs is often unknown, but certain factors may increase the risk, such as genetics, breed predisposition, and environmental factors.

Causes of Stomach Cancer in Dogs

The etiology of stomach cancer in dogs is often not well understood, and it can be challenging to pinpoint specific factors that lead to the development of this type of cancer. However, several potential risk factors may contribute to the occurrence of stomach cancer in dogs:

  • Age and Breed Predisposition: Stomach cancer is more frequently seen in older dogs, and certain breeds may have a higher predisposition. Breeds such as Belgian Shepherd, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, Chow Chow, and others have been reported to have an increased risk.
  • Genetic Factors: Some research suggests that there may be a genetic component to certain types of cancer in dogs, including stomach cancer. Dogs with a family history of cancer may be at a higher risk.
  • Diet and Environmental Factors: While a direct link between diet and stomach cancer in dogs is not well-established, environmental factors and exposure to certain substances may play a role. For example, exposure to carcinogens or a history of chronic gastritis may contribute to the development of stomach cancer.

Hemorrhagic Gastroenteritis in Dogs

  • Helicobacter pylori Infection: Helicobacter pylori is a bacterium that can infect the stomach lining and has been associated with gastritis and stomach ulcers in humans and dogs. Some studies suggest a potential link between Helicobacter pylori infection and the emergence of stomach cancer in dogs.
  • Gastrointestinal Conditions: Dogs with chronic gastrointestinal conditions, such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), may have an increased risk of developing stomach cancer.

What are the Signs of Stomach Cancer in Dogs?

Canine stomach cancer can present with a variety of signs and symptoms. It is important to note that these clinical signs and symptoms can also be complicated with other health conditions, so a thorough veterinary examination is necessary for an accurate diagnosis. Some common signs of stomach cancer in dogs include:

  • Vomiting: Persistent or recurrent vomiting, mainly if it contains blood, is a common sign of stomach cancer.
  • Weight Loss: Dogs with stomach cancer may experience unexplained weight loss despite maintaining their regular appetite.
  • Decreased Appetite: A noticeable decrease in appetite or reluctance to eat can indicate underlying health issues, including stomach cancer.
  • Abdominal Pain: Dogs with stomach cancer may exhibit abdominal discomfort or pain. This can manifest as restlessness, reluctance to be touched in the abdominal area, or changes in posture.
  • Lethargy: Generalized weakness, lack of energy, and reduced activity levels can be symptoms of various health problems, including cancer.
  • Anemia: Stomach cancer can lead to bleeding, resulting in anemia. Pale gums, weakness, and lethargy may indicate anemia in dogs.
  • Changes in Bowel Movements: Diarrhea or constipation may occur in some cases of stomach cancer, affecting the regular bowel habits of the dog.
  • Abdominal Distension: Swelling or distension of the abdomen may be noticeable in some dogs with stomach cancer, especially if the tumor is causing blockages or obstruction.

Diagnosis of Canine Stomach Cancer

Diagnosing canine stomach cancer involves a combination of clinical examination, diagnostic tests, and imaging studies to confirm the presence of the disease. Here are some common steps involved in the diagnosis of stomach cancer in dogs:

  • Clinical Examination: The vet will examine the dog, including abdominal palpation, to check for any abnormalities or signs of pain.
  • Blood Tests: Blood examinations may determine the dog’s overall health and check for abnormalities such as anemia, which may be associated with stomach cancer. Liver and kidney function may also be assessed.
  • Imaging Studies:
    • X-rays (radiography): X-rays of the abdomen can help visualize the stomach and surrounding structures. Tumors or abnormalities may be visible in these images.
    • Ultrasound: Ultrasound imaging allows a more detailed examination of the abdominal organs, including the stomach. It can help identify the presence, location, and characteristics of tumors.
  • Endoscopy: Endoscopy involves inserting a flexible tube with a camera (endoscope) into the dog’s stomach through the mouth. This allows the veterinarian to visualize the stomach lining directly and take biopsies for further examination. Endoscopy is a valuable tool for both diagnosis and staging of stomach cancer.
  • Biopsy: Tissue samples (biopsies) may be taken during endoscopy or through other means to confirm the presence of cancer cells and determine the type of cancer. A veterinary pathologist typically examines the biopsies.
  • Exploratory Surgery: In some cases, exploratory surgery may be necessary to visually inspect the abdominal organs, take biopsies, and determine the extent of the cancer.
  • Histopathology: The collected tissue samples are analyzed under a microscope by a veterinary pathologist to confirm the diagnosis and identify the specific type and grade of cancer.

Differential Diagnosis of Canine Stomach Cancer 

The signs and symptoms associated with canine stomach cancer can overlap with those of various other gastrointestinal and systemic conditions. A veterinarian will consider a range of possibilities during the differential diagnosis process to identify the underlying cause of the observed symptoms. Here are some potential conditions that may be considered in the differential diagnosis of canine stomach cancer:

  • Gastrointestinal Infections: Infections by bacteria, viruses, or parasites can show signs such as vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal discomfort. Testing for specific pathogens may be needed.
  • Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) in Dogs: IBD is a chronic inflammatory disease of the gastrointestinal tract that can lead to symptoms like diarrhea, vomiting, weight loss, and changes in appetite.
  • Gastritis in Dogs: Inflammation of the stomach lining can result from various causes, including dietary indiscretion, medications, or other underlying conditions. It may present with vomiting and abdominal discomfort.
  • Gastrointestinal Obstruction: Blockages in the gastrointestinal tract can cause vomiting, abdominal pain, and changes in bowel movements. Foreign bodies or tumors may lead to obstruction.
  • Pancreatitis in Dogs: Inflammation of the pancreas can show abdominal pain, vomiting, and changes in appetite. Blood tests and imaging studies may help diagnose pancreatitis.
  • Liver Disease: Liver conditions, such as hepatitis or tumors, may present with symptoms like vomiting, abdominal distension, and changes in liver enzyme levels.
  • Kidney Disease in Dogs: Kidney disease can cause symptoms like lethargy, weight loss, and changes in drinking and urination patterns. Blood and urine tests are performed to determine kidney function.
  • Endocrine Disorders: Conditions like hyperadrenocorticism (Cushing’s disease) or hypothyroidism can cause a variety of systemic symptoms, including changes in appetite and weight.
  • Hemorrhagic Gastroenteritis (HGE): This condition is characterized by sudden onset vomiting and bloody diarrhea. It can be severe but is typically self-limiting.
  • Lymphoma: Lymphoma can affect various organs, including the gastrointestinal tract. It may present with vomiting, diarrhea, and weight loss.

Treatment of Gastric Adenocarcinoma in Dogs

The treatment of stomach cancer in dogs typically involves a combination of surgical intervention, chemotherapy, and supportive care. The exact treatment plan depends on factors such as the types and stages of the cancer, the health of the dog, and the extent of tumor involvement. It is important to note that, while treatment can help manage the disease, the prognosis for stomach cancer in dogs can vary.

  • Surgery: Surgical excision of the tumor is expected when the cancer is localized and has not spread extensively. The goal is to remove as much of the affected tissue as possible. However, complete removal may not always be achievable, primarily if the cancer has spread to surrounding organs.
  • Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy may be recommended as a standalone or in conjunction with surgery. Chemotherapy uses medicines to target and destroy cancer cells. Chemotherapy can be given orally or intravenously, and the specific drugs and treatment schedule depend on the type and stage of the cancer.
  • Palliative Care: Where the cancer is metastatic or surgery is not a viable option, palliative care may be implemented to improve the dog’s quality of life. This may involve pain management medications, dietary adjustments, and supportive therapies.
  • Radiation Therapy: Radiation therapy is not as commonly used in veterinary medicine as in human medicine but may be considered in some instances. It involves the use of targeted radiation to shrink or eliminate cancer cells.
  • Nutritional Support: Dogs with stomach cancer may experience a decreased appetite or difficulty eating. Nutritional support, including special diets or the use of feeding tubes, may be recommended to maintain the dog’s nutritional status.
  • Monitoring and Follow-Up: Regular veterinary check-ups and monitoring are essential to assess the dog’s response to treatment and detect any potential complications or recurrence of the cancer.

The decision on the most appropriate treatment plan is made collaboratively between the veterinarian and the pet owner, taking into account the specific circumstances of the individual dog. Pet owners must discuss treatment’s potential benefits, risks, and costs with their veterinarian.

Prevention of Gastric Adenocarcinoma in Dogs

Preventing canine stomach cancer is challenging because the exact causes of this type of cancer are not always clear. However, some general measures and practices may contribute to overall canine health and reduce the risk of certain cancers. Remember that while these suggestions may have health benefits, they do not guarantee the prevention of stomach cancer or other diseases. Here are some general guidelines:

  • Regular Vet Check-ups: Schedule regular examinations with your vet. Routine tests can help detect any health issues early, and preventive care is essential for overall well-being.
  • Balanced Diet For Dogs: Provide your dog with a well-balanced, nutritionally complete diet. High-quality commercial dog foods that meet nutritional standards are typically recommended. Consult your vet for the ideal diet for your dog’s needs.
  • Avoidance of Harmful Substances: Prevent your dog’s exposure to potential carcinogens and harmful substances. This includes avoiding secondhand smoke, toxic plants, and chemicals that could be ingested.
  • Maintain a Healthy Weight: Being overweight in dogs is associated with various diseases, including an increased cancer risk. Maintain your dog’s weight within a manageable range through a proper diet and regular exercise.
  • Vaccinations: Follow your veterinarian’s recommendations for vaccinations to prevent infectious diseases that may contribute to overall health and reduce the risk of certain conditions.
  • Parasite Control: Regularly use parasite prevention measures, including flea and tick control, to reduce the risk of infections that can affect the gastrointestinal tract.
  • Provide Proper Exercise: Regular training is vital for maintaining a balanced weight and promoting overall well-being. Consult your vet to determine an appropriate exercise routine based on your dog’s age, breed, and health status.
  • Early Detection of Symptoms: Be vigilant for any signs of illness, including changes in appetite, weight loss, vomiting, or lethargy. Early detection allows prompt veterinary attention, crucial for detecting and treating potential health issues.

How Long Do Dogs Live With Stomach Cancer?

The lifespan of a dog diagnosed with stomach cancer can vary significantly based on several factors, including the stage of the cancer at the time of diagnosis, the success of the treatment, the overall health of the dog, and how well the dog responds to therapy. Unfortunately, stomach cancer in dogs is often diagnosed at an advanced stage, which can impact the prognosis.

In general, the prognosis for dogs with stomach cancer tends to be guarded, and the survival time can vary from weeks to months, depending on the circumstances. Some dogs may respond well to treatment and experience an extended period of good quality of life, while others may have a more rapidly progressive disease.

Factors influencing the prognosis of stomach cancer in dogs include:

  • Stage of Cancer: The stage of the cancer, indicating whether it is localized or has spread to other organs, plays a vital role in determining the prognosis. Early detection and treatment can improve outcomes.
  • Treatment: The type and success of treatment, including surgery, chemotherapy, and supportive care, can impact survival times. Some dogs respond well to treatment, while others may not.
  • Overall Health of the Dog: The dog’s general health and ability to withstand treatment can influence the prognosis. Dogs in good overall health may respond more positively to interventions.
  • Type of Cancer: There are different types of stomach cancers with varying degrees of aggressiveness. The specific type of cancer identified through biopsy can affect the prognosis.
  • Quality of Life: The focus on maintaining the dog’s good quality of life is essential to treatment. Palliative care measures may be implemented to manage symptoms and improve comfort.

You need to discuss closely with your vet and, if necessary, veterinary oncologists to discuss treatment options, potential outcomes, and the dog’s overall well-being. Open communication with the veterinary team is crucial for making informed decisions about the pet’s care and quality of life.

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