Bladder Cancer in Dogs

Bladder Cancer in Dogs: Causes and Management

Bladder cancer in dogs is an umbrella term referring to cancerous growths originating from the bladder. TCC, or transitional cell carcinoma, is the number one type of canine bladder cancer. 

Scottish Terriers are predisposed to bladder cancer. The risk is generally greater in older female dogs. Known causes of bladder cancer are genetics and exposure to carcinogens and insecticides. 

Dysuria, pollakiuria, hematuria, genital licking, urinary incontinence, urinary scalding, abdominal pain, and constipation are common signs of dog bladder cancer

The prognosis varies for different bladder cancer in dogs stages, but it is poor in most cases. Treatment for canine bladder cancer includes surgery, medications, radiation, laser therapy, and chemotherapy.  

Bladder cancer in dogs is incurable. The treatment focuses on increasing the dog’s survival time and quality of life. 

What is bladder cancer in dogs?

Bladder cancer in dogs is a group of malignant tumors stemming from different bladder cells. The most common type is transitional cell carcinoma (TCC). 

TCC develops from the uroepithelial cells that line the bladder and allow it to change size based on urine volume. 

Bladder cancer is locally invasive and affects other urinary tract organs, like kidneys, ureters, urethra, or prostate gland in male dogs. The cancer metastasizes, spreading to the lungs, liver, lymph nodes, or bones. 

The prognosis for bladder cancer in dogs is bad. An aggressive and multimodal management plan is necessary to hinder cancer advancement and keep the dog comfortable for as long as possible. 

What are other terms for bladder cancer in dogs?

Other terms for bladder cancer in dogs are transitional cell carcinoma (TCC), invasive urothelial carcinoma (InvUC), and muscle-invasive bladder cancer (MIBC). 

The term transitional cell carcinoma indicates that the tumor stems from transitional epithelial cells. The other name, invasive urothelial carcinoma, describes the tumor’s nature and origin. 

Muscle-invasive bladder cancer, or MIBC, is more commonly used in human medicine. Vets and pet owners use the abbreviation TCC to refer to bladder cancer in dogs. 

How does bladder cancer in dogs differ from kidney cancer in dogs?

Bladder cancer in dogs differs from kidney cancer in dogs in origin and location. Primary kidney cancer stems from kidney cells, is extremely rare, and is usually unilateral (affecting one kidney).  

Bladder and kidney cancer overlap in clinical manifestation. Bloody urine, weight loss, and abdominal pain are standard signs in dogs with urinary tract tumors.

Kidney cancer in dogs has a better prognosis compared to bladder cancer if the affected kidney is removed before the tumor spreads.

What are the common types of bladder cancer found in dogs?

The most common cancer of the urinary bladder in dogs is transitional cell carcinoma (TCC). TCC develops from urothelial cells, which are called transitional because of their ability to shrink when the bladder is empty and stretch when it is full. 

Transitional cell carcinoma accounts for 50% to 75% of all bladder tumors in dogs, according to a study, "Transitional Cell Carcinoma of the Urinary Bladder in a 14-Year-Old Dog," published in the Canadian Veterinary Journal in 2011. 

More uncommon types of bladder cancer found in dogs are squamous cell carcinoma, adenocarcinoma, rhabdomyosarcoma, and fibroma. 

Squamous cell carcinoma stems from the epithelial cells lining the bladder. Adenocarcinoma arises from glandular bladder tissues. Rhabdomyosarcoma forms from striated muscle fibers of the bladder. Fibroma develops from connective tissues.

How does bladder cancer develop in dogs?

Bladder cancer develops in dogs when bladder cells mutate and start multiplying uncontrollably. Dogs over ten years old are more susceptible to bladder cancer. 

Canine bladder cancer is locally invasive. The tumor grows and affects local urinary structures, such as ureters, kidneys, urethra, or prostate (in males). 

The later stages of bladder cancer are marked by spreading or metastasizing. Bladder cancer forms metastases on the lymph nodes, lungs, or liver. 

How common is bladder cancer in dogs?

Bladder cancer in dogs is uncommon. Transitional cell carcinoma (TCC) is the main type of canine bladder cancer. 

“Bladder cancer is uncommon in the dog, comprising 2% of all reported canine malignancies,” reports a study, “Canine Transitional Cell Carcinoma,” published in the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine in 2003. 

Puppies are less affected than senior dogs. Bladder cancer is extremely rare in cats, but it is aggressive and quickly spreads to the lymph nodes, lungs, and liver when it develops. 

Cancer of the bladder and urinary tract infections (UTIs) manifest similarly. Cancer increases the risk of UTI in dogs.

Which breeds are more prone to developing bladder cancer?

The breeds that are more prone to developing bladder cancer are listed below. 

  • Scottish Terriers: Scottish Terriers have an 18-20 fold higher risk of TCC than other dogs, according to “Canine Urinary Bladder Cancer Research” by the Purdue College of Veterinary Medicine.
  • Other Terriers: Research indicates that other Terrier breeds, such as West Highland White and Wire Hair Fox Terriers, are three to five times more likely to develop bladder cancer. 
  • Shetland Sheepdogs: Shetland Sheepdog members are at a higher than average risk of bladder cancer. 
  • Other Breeds: Other breeds susceptible to bladder cancer include Beagles, Keeshonds, Eskimo dogs, and Samoyeds.  

What does bladder cancer in dogs look like?

Bladder cancer in dogs looks like blood in the urine (hematuria), frequent urination, difficulty urinating, and urinary incontinence. Bladder cancer causes visible changes in the bladder through imaging techniques like ultrasound or X-rays, appearing as thickened bladder walls or masses within the bladder.

What are the causes of bladder cancer in dogs?

The causes of bladder cancer in dogs are listed below. 

  • Genetics: Bladder cancer is prevalent among certain dog breeds, indicating a genetic etiology component. The Scottish Terrier is the most affected breed. 
  • Cigarette Smoke: Exposure to secondhand smoke causes bladder cancer, reports a paper “Association Between Cigarette Smoke Exposure and Urinary Bladder Cancer in Scottish Terriers in a Cohort Study,” issued in the Veterinary Journal in 2024.
  • Insecticides: Insecticides are occasionally the answer to “What causes bladder cancer in dogs.” Exposure to old-generation anti-flea topical insecticides and lawn insecticides is associated with bladder cancer occurrence. 

What are the symptoms of bladder cancer in dogs?

The symptoms of bladder cancer in dogs are listed below. 

  • Dysuria: Dogs with bladder cancer experience dysuria, a painful or burning sensation while urinating. 
  • Pollakiuria: Pollakiuria is increased urination frequency with or without changes in the total daily urine output. 
  • Hematuria: Bladder cancer in some dogs causes hematuria. Hematuria is the presence of blood in urine. 
  • Licking the Genitals: Dogs with bladder cancer lick their genital area excessively, especially in the advanced stages when incontinence starts. 
  • Urinary Incontinence: Urinary incontinence is a loss of control over the bladder and is visible in dogs with advanced bladder cancer. 
  • Urinary Scalding: The constant urine dripping and genitals licking cause irritation of the skin, known as scalding. 
  • Abdominal Pain: Dogs with bladder cancer have sore abdomens. A hunched body position is a telltale sign of abdominal pain. 
  • Constipation: Large bladder masses cause constipation because they pressure the rectum and prevent the dog from defecating.
  • Appetite and Weight Loss: Advanced signs of bladder cancer in dogs include reduced appetite and consequential weight loss. 

When do symptoms of bladder cancer typically occur in dogs?

The symptoms of bladder cancer typically occur in dogs in the advanced stages. Bladder cancer mimics urinary tract infections (UTIs) in the early phases, delaying diagnosis. 

Approximately 20% of dogs with bladder cancer have metastases at the time of diagnosis,says the article “Bladder Cancer in Dogs” by Blue Pearl Pet Hospital in 2019. 

The symptoms worsen as the bladder cancer advances. The metastases add to the clinical manifestation. 

What are the risk factors for bladder cancer in dogs?

The risk factors for bladder cancer in dogs are listed below. 

  • Breed: Scottish Terriers, West Highland White Terriers, Wire Hair Fox Terriers, Shetland Sheepdogs, and Beagles are high-risk breeds for bladder cancer. 
  • Sex: Bladder cancer is more frequently reported in females than in male dogs.  
  • Age: Age is a significant risk factor for bladder cancer, with most cases occurring in dogs over ten. 

What are the complications of bladder cancer in dogs?

The complications of bladder cancer in dogs are listed below. 

  • Urinary Tract Infections: Dogs with bladder cancer are at a higher risk of developing urinary tract infections (UTIs) than cancer-free dogs. 
  • Urethral Obstructions: Bladder cancer blocks the urethra and prevents normal urine flow, which is potentially life-threatening, depending on its size and location. 
  • Urinary Incontinence: Bladder cancer makes dogs incontinent or unable to control their bladders, resulting in accidental urination around the house.  

Where can you seek a diagnosis for bladder cancer in dogs?

You can seek a diagnosis for bladder cancer in dogs at the veterinarian’s clinic. The vet examines the dog and refers it to a veterinary oncologist based on initial findings. 

The oncologist determines the type of bladder cancer and recommends a treatment strategy. Diagnosing bladder cancer is challenging in some cases. 

The golden standard for diagnosis is a bladder tumor antigen (BTA) test. False positive results are possible in some cases. Dogs testing positive on the antigen screening test must be examined for further diagnostic procedures.

How is bladder cancer diagnosed in dogs?

Bladder cancer is diagnosed in dogs with bladder tumor antigen (BTA) screening tests. The test is not 100% reliable when it gives positive results because it does not account for other urinary diseases. 

BTA is useful in identifying bladder cancer, however, states a study, "Evaluation of a Bladder Tumor Antigen Test as a Screening Test for Transitional Cell Carcinoma of the Lower Urinary Tract in Dogs," published in the American Journal of Veterinary Research in 2003. 

Dogs with positive BTA tests require blood work, urinalysis, and abdominal imaging, such as X-rays, ultrasound, and cystoscopy, to confirm the cancer diagnosis. 

A biopsy is helpful, and samples are extracted surgically or by rubbing the inner lining of the bladder with a urinary catheter. Chest X-rays are performed to check for lung metastasis.

What is the prognosis for dogs diagnosed with bladder cancer?

The prognosis for dogs diagnosed with bladder cancer is poor. The condition is incurable, and the treatment’s goal is to delay progression and keep the dog comfortable. 

“Approximately 75% of dogs respond favorably to TCC treatment and can enjoy several months to a year or more of good quality life,” according to a study, “Management of Transitional Cell Carcinoma of the Urinary Bladder in Dogs: A Review,” issued in the Veterinary Journal in 2015.

The life expectancy for bladder cancer dogs ranges from several months to one year. The length depends on the tumor’s growth rate, location, and spread at the time of diagnosis. 

How long can a dog survive with bladder cancer?

A dog can survive between four and twelve months with bladder cancer. The survival rate for untreated dogs is between four and six months. 

The odds improve with treatment, with dogs living for another six to twelve months. The exact expectancy varies based on treatment type. 

Multimodal treatment strategies increase bladder cancer in dogs survival rare, according to a study, “Clinical Outcomes of Dogs with Transitional Cell Carcinoma Receiving Medical Therapy, With and Without Partial Cystectomy,” published in the Canadian Veterinary Journal in 2021. 

What are the treatment options for bladder cancer in dogs?

The treatment options for bladder cancer in dogs are listed below. 

  • Surgery: Complete surgical tumor removal is rarely possible, given the location of most bladder cancers. The goal of the surgery is to reduce the tumor's size, which is called debulking. Total bladder removal (cystectomy) is indicated in some instances. 
  • Radiation: Full-course radiation is effective in controlling the cancer but causes bladder scarring, which harms the dog's life quality. Palliative radiation is better tolerated and relieves the symptoms. 
  • Laser Therapy: Laser therapy is highly effective in locally controlling bladder cancer and improving symptoms like dysuria and polakiuria. The symptom improvement following laser therapy is relatively long.
  • Medications: Certain non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), including piroxicam (Feldene®) and meloxicam (Metacam®), show anti-cancer features in dogs with bladder tumors. NSAIDs are combined with chemotherapy for better results. 
  • Chemotherapy: A standard chemotherapy protocol for dogs with bladder cancer has not been developed yet. Chemotherapeutics such as doxorubicin, mitoxantrone, and vinblastine are used to shrink the tumor or slow down its progression. Chemotherapy is used with other bladder cancer in dogs treatment options. 

How can the management of bladder cancer optimize a dog’s quality of life and survival?

Management of bladder cancer can optimize a dog’s quality of life and survival by relieving the symptoms. Dogs with bladder cancer are prone to urinary tract infections. 

UTIs worsen bladder cancer symptoms, harming the dog’s quality of life. Antibiotics are used to treat urinary tract infections. Probiotics accompany the antibiotic treatment to restore the dog’s healthy microbiome. 

How effective is surgery in treating bladder cancer in dogs?

Surgery is moderately effective in treating bladder cancer in dogs. Cancer on the bladder’s apex is surgically removable. Some dogs experience tumor recurrence or metastasis within a year. 

Complete bladder removal (cystectomy) is a viable surgical option. “Survival of 6 months or longer can be expected after a complete cystectomy,” says a study, “Complete Cystectomy for Canine Transitional Cell Carcinoma in Dogs: A Retrospective Study of 64 Cases,” published in Small Animal Medicine in 2021. 

Can CBD oil be beneficial for dogs with bladder cancer?

Yes, CBD oil can be beneficial for dogs with bladder cancer. CBD, or cannabidiol, is a natural hemp extract with anti-cancer properties. 

Cannabidiol attacks bladder cancer cells and boosts the efficacy of chemotherapy, according to a study, “Combination Therapy with Cannabidiol and Chemotherapeutics in Canine Urothelial Carcinoma Cells,” published in PLOS One in 2021. 

CBD causes bladder cancer cells to die, reports a study, “Cannabidiol Effectively Promoted Cell Death in Bladder Cancer and the Improved Intravesical Adhesion Drugs Delivery Strategy Could Be Better Used for Treatment,” published in Pharmaceutics in 2021. 

Consult the veterinarian about implementing pet CBD oil or treats for bladder cancer treatment plans. CBD products for pets are readily available and easy to use. 

Are there any preventative measures to reduce the risk of bladder cancer in dogs?

Yes, there are preventative measures to reduce the risk of bladder cancer in dogs. Helpful tips include limiting carcinogen exposure, giving healthy foods, and supporting physical activity. 

Avoid old-generation anti-parasite products such as flea dips and sprays. Do not expose the dogs to cigarette smoke. Do not use herbicides or pesticides in the garden. Ensure quality food and daily activity to maintain the dog’s healthy body weight.