Understanding Bladder Cancer in Dogs

Happy dog: Bladder Cancer in dogs in Annapolis

Our canine companions are just as likely to get cancer as humans are, and bladder cancer is one such type. The tumor that affects the bladder is known as transitional cell carcinoma, or urothelial carcinoma. It’s the most common tumor diagnosed in the bladder, and is diagnosed in roughly 80,000 dogs every year. The breeds affected most include Beagles, Scottish Terriers, Border Collies, and Shelties.

Common Clinical Signs

The most common signs indicating bladder cancer are:

  • Urine accidents in the house
  • Straining to urinate
  • Urinating more often
  • Blood in the urine
  • Urgency to urinate, but unable to produce much urine

Other health problems can cause these symptoms. However, with bladder cancer, the symptoms may be resolved for a short time with symptomatic therapy and then return not long after your pet has discontinued their treatment.

Diagnosing Bladder Cancer

  • CADET® BRAF – The first test we would choose for diagnosing transitional cell carcinoma (TCC) is the non-invasive CADET® BRAF test. ‘BRAF’ is the name for a gene that, in affected dogs, contains a single mutation indicating TCC. All we need to do is collect 30-40ml of your dog’s urine (over several days) and have it evaluated in a laboratory.
  • Cystoscopy – If the first option produces inconclusive results, we can try cystoscopy. A flexible scope is carefully inserted through the urethra and into the bladder while your pet is under anesthesia. We can then examine the urethra and bladder and take tissue samples for biopsy.
  • Urine cytology  – Urine cytology is a third option where we can examine cells that have been shed into the urine. We can make a correct diagnosis with this test about 30% of the time.
Small dog sitting outside: Bladder Cancer in dogs in Annapolis

Bladder Cancer Staging

Following a definitive diagnosis, we need to determine whether your pet’s cancer has spread into the lymph nodes, bones, and/or lungs. Therefore, before starting treatment, we need to perform:

  • Blood work and urine testing
  • An abdominal ultrasound to view the bladder, urethra, kidneys, regional lymph nodes, and abdominal cavity overall)
  • Chest X-rays and/or a CT scan to check for TCC within the lungs
  • A rectal exam to check for an enlarged prostate, lymph nodes, and urethra

Treatment Options for Pets

The goal of treatment is to slow cancer progression and improve your pet’s quality of life as much as possible. Available treatments include:

  • Piroxicam, an oral NSAID that decreases inflammation around tumors and helps to improve or resolve clinical signs. It has been found to have slowed tumor growth in approximately 18% of pets.
  • Chemotherapy, which can be used together with Piroxicam to treat TCC. Chemotherapy does not cause the same dramatic side effects in pets as it does in humans.
  • Radiation therapy is also a possible option and can be performed while your pet is under anesthesia.

We rarely recommend surgery due to its risks and the likelihood of cancer recurrence within a year of the procedure.