We absolutely love our rescue dog, Riley, but I didn’t even think about it—I do a self-breast exam to look for lumps on myself, and I’d never checked my dog!
One day I was petting Riley and discovered a hard, teeny knot the size of a BB in Riley’s ear. I couldn’t see the lump, but it felt like a small rock. I brought it to the attention of Dr. Carlos Aragon at BluePearl Animal Hospital in Orange Park, and he agreed it’d be smart to run some tests.
I’m so glad we did. That seemingly insignificant bump was mast cell cancer, the most common skin tumor in dogs. We were lucky to catch it very early—clean margins, no cancer treatment even necessary. Riley lost a chunk of his ear, but thankfully he’s “cancer free.” Hooray!
“In just a few months, Riley’s cancer could have grown to the size of a walnut. That’s dangerous because when mast cell cancers metastasize, they can invade the spleen and liver and kill,” says Dr. Tracy LaDue, a Veterinary Radiation Oncologist at SEVO-MED in Orange Park. “50% of dogs over the age of ten get cancer. But it can happen in younger dogs, as well,” she informed us. Riley is only four!
Our plan is to stay on top of this Doggie Check routine for Riley, as 40% of dogs with mast cell cancers will get another cancerous tumor.
Please don’t let something suspicious go on for months without saying anything to your vet. “And remember,” Dr. LaDue says, “some canine cancers feel hard and some feel soft.” Sneaky cancer. We’re coming for you.
According to the doctors at SEVO Med: Use the F-U-R-R-Y method to catch cancer early
F – Feet
Check between toes. Look under feet and between pads. “Look for any abnormal swelling,” Dr. LaDue says. “Make sure there aren’t any lumps or bumps.”
U – Underneath
“One of the places people miss is armpits,” she says. “It’s not a typical place we look on dogs.” So check the armpits and look under your dog on their bellies. Check under chins, as well. We pet heads all the time, but feel in places you don’t normally pet.
R – Raise Their Tails
As Dr. LaDue puts it, “Open the hatch!” Inspect for swellings and lumps. And for dogs older than 6—a rectal exam. They can get prostate cancer and anal sac tumors. So look for a growth or anything suspicious. Ask your veterinarian to take a looksee.
R – Raise Their Ears
People forget to look inside their dog’s ears. (Check outside, too.)
Y – Yapper
Look inside your dog’s mouth. Lift the lips. Inspect for lumps or bleeding or an especially bad odor.