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Mammary tumor in female dogs: causes, symptoms and treatment

Mammary tumors are very common in female dogs, mostly unspayed, as they get older and are malignant in half of the cases. It can affect male dogs, but it is much rarer, since they are between 0.5 and 2% to be concerned. Obviously, in order to preserve the health of his animal at all costs, the owner must take him to the veterinarian at the first symptoms. The diagnosis is not easy to establish, and the treatment depends on the type of tumor. Let's review.

Mammary tumor in female dogs: what is it?

In most cases, the mammary tumor is hormonal. This means that it can be influenced by the secretion of progesterones and estrogens, the sex hormones. 50% of breast tumors are benign and 50% are malignant, i.e. cancerous.

Benign mammary tumors in canines

These are tumors that are not serious, whose evolution is local, i.e. they are limited to the animal's udder. They are generally perfectly delimited and can be felt by palpation because they are rather indurated. It can be:
  • A fibroadenoma that develops inside an udder. It is a non-serious mass made up of glandular and fibrous tissue,
  • An adenoma or nodule that appears on the mammary gland,
  • A papilloma, commonly called a wart.
This type of benign breast tumor can be identified by the formation of a small mass on a nipple, for example. At first, a string of tiny balls is felt under the finger, but these grow over time. From a few millimeters, the masses intensify. One can then notice a localized redness at the level of the skin which turns purple. In some cases, the "balls" suppurate after having pierced themselves.

Malignant mammary tumors in canines

These cancerous tumors develop rapidly. Their metastasis spreads to many organs such as the liver, brain, kidneys, lungs, bones, etc. At the beginning of the disease, the female dog does not show any particular sign, but the tumor grows over time until it becomes very large. It compresses the blood vessels. As a result, the blood and lymphatic circulation is disturbed. The symptoms are thus :
  • A general fatigue,
  • A loss of weight,
  • An oedema,
  • An attack on one or more organs when they are invaded by metastases, such as
    • respiratory difficulties (lungs)
    • neurological problems (brain),
    • urinary problems (kidneys),
    • skin redness (poor lymphatic circulation)
    • digestive problems (intestines, liver, stomach...).
It is necessary to consult the veterinarian as soon as possible when these types of symptoms are detected or when there is the slightest doubt.

Mammary tumor in female dogs: early diagnosis and treatment are essential

The type of tumor cannot be diagnosed by palpation alone. To know if it is a benign tumor or a cancer, it is imperative to submit your female dog to more thorough investigations.

Samples must be taken for a precise diagnosis (urine analysis, blood analysis, biopsy) and imaging examinations (radio, scanner, MRI...). When possible, the tumor is surgically removed and then analyzed to determine if it is cancerous or not. The treatment is adapted to each case. It is much less severe if it is a benign breast tumor.

In the case of a cancerous tumor, surgery is required and the entire breast chain is usually removed to limit the risk of recurrence. It is important to know that a recurrence within one year is possible for 6 out of 10 treated female dogs.

In addition to the surgery, the veterinarian prescribes chemotherapy to limit the development of metastases that cannot be destroyed. If the operation does not remove all of the affected tissue, the female dog treated for a cancerous mammary tumor will undergo radiation therapy.

After surgery, anti-cyclooxygenase medication can also be prescribed. The aim of this treatment is to slow down the production of this enzyme by the tumor in order to prolong the life of the animal. Treatment of a mammary tumor in a female dog can be very expensive. Fortunately, if the animal is insured with a pet health insurance company, the owner can be reimbursed at least partially for the expenses.