Cancer and pyometra

As with humans, dobermanns can suffer from a wide range of cancers, and cancer is one of the major causes of death in older dogs. However, also as with humans, some cancers can develop at an early age. We do not currently have comprehensive data as to whether cancer is more prevalent in younger dobermanns than in other breeds of dog or humans. One research study gave a rate of death from cancer for all breeds as almost one quarter overall, but almost half in dogs over ten years of age.

Diagnosis and treatment of cancer varies widely depending on the type of cancer, as does the prognosis. Owners should examine their dogs routinely and any lumps should be referred promptly to the vet, as should any prolonged sickness, diarrhoea or other symptoms that suggest the dog is feeling unwell.

One cancer for which we have data on its high prevalence in dobermanns is mammary tumours. Another that seems anecdotally rather common in younger dogs is lymphosarcoma, also known as lymphoma. These cancers are covered in more detail here.

Mammary tumours (and pyometra)

Mammary tumours 

These can be benign or malignant. They occur as single lumps or clusters on the mammary glands. This is the most common cancer in female dogs, but can also occur, albeit rarely, in males, in which case the prognosis is usually poor. Generally speaking, if the lumps are freely moveable they are likely to be benign, but if they are fixed to the skin or body they are likely to be malignant. Speying removes the risk of this cancer, but owners should be aware that speying, especially if carried out on a young dog, also increases the risk of other diseases.

Treatment is normally by surgery to remove the tumour only, or the tumour and surrounding tissue, or the tumour with surrounding tissue, lymph nodes and mammary glands. Unless the dog is old, it will often be speyed at the same time.

Pyometra 

This is not cancer, but is an infection of the uterus (womb) in unspeyed bitches. It is most common in bitches of 6 years and over, although it can happen in younger bitches, and it is generally seen in the 4-6 weeks after a season. It can be ‘open’, which means it happens before the cervix has closed after the season and in this case the bacteria have the chance to escape, or ‘closed’, which means the cervix is closed and the infection is trapped within the uterus. Closed pyometra is the more serious of the two, not least because there is no discharge to alert the owner.

Early symptoms include drinking and urinating more than normal, licking her back end excessively, being off colour and off food. More severe symptoms include a discharge from the vulva, swollen abdomen, vomiting, or collapse. This condition requires urgent treatment and can result in death from toxic shock if not treated promptly. Treatment is usually by speying. It is sometimes treated with antibiotics, but the condition can recur in this case.

Incidence of pyometra and mammary tumours

Swedish researchers have published rankings for incidence of pyometra and mammary tumour in dogs by breed. They examined Swedish insurance records for about 260,000 bitches (90% of them unspeyed), including 1744 dobermanns. In female dobermanns up to 10 years of age, almost two thirds (62%) had been diagnosed with either or both of pyometra and mammary tumour (average across all breeds 30%). This ranked dobermanns 8th out of over 100 breeds, making ours a very high-risk breed. Taken separately, pyometra was diagnosed in 43% and mammary tumour in 42%. If they had been able to include dogs older than 10, the rates might well have been even higher. 

Lymphosarcoma (lymphoma)

In dogs generally, lymphoma is one of the most common cancers. It affects lymphocytes (a type of blood cell) and lymphoid tissues. Lymphoid tissue is present in many parts of the body including lymph nodes, spleen, liver, gastrointestinal tract and bone marrow.

The average age of diagnosis is 6-9 years, although younger dogs are sometimes affected. Males and females are equally at risk. It is not known what causes lymphoma, but there may be a genetic predisposition in some dogs and it is thought that viral or environmental factors may be involved..

There are five different types of lymphoma depending on where the cancer is sited and they all have their own range of symptoms. However, common symptoms include tiredness, loss of appetite, vomiting and diarrhoea, excessive thirst and urination, and difficulty breathing.

Diagnosis is usually by a combination of biopsy, complete blood count, blood and urine analyses, and ultrasound. Treatment is usually by chemotherapy with the aim of remission. Cure is usually not possible, but remission can give the dog some months of extra good quality of life. The average remission time is 8-10 months with an average life expectancy of one year from diagnosis. Chemotherapy is usually well-tolerated by dogs and usually takes the form of weekly injections.

 

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