Nasal Cancer in Dogs and Cats
“My dog kept licking his nose… My cat was rubbing his face on the ground constantly… My dog had a bloody nose.”
These are real statements from the owners of our Pet Hero pets that received treatment for nose cancer. Nasal tumors are found in the nasal cavity and the paranasal sinuses, and affect both dogs and cats.
For dogs, nasal tumors make up about 1–2% of all cancers, and about 80% of the nasal tumors are malignant. Common types of nasal tumors in dogs are carcinomas followed by sarcomas. Nasal tumors are less common in cats, making up about 1% of tumors in cats. The most common types of nasal tumors in cats are squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), lymphoma, and carcinoma.1
Does My Dog or Cat Have Nasal Cancer?
Because these tumors are hidden inside the nasal cavity, they are more difficult to detect. By the time signs are noticeable to the owner and a diagnosis is made, nasal cancer is typically at an advanced stage. Nasal tumors are locally aggressive. This means that instead of metastasizing or spreading to other areas of the body, the cancer cells are aggressive where the tumor is located. Nasal tumors can eat away at the surrounding tissues, bone plate, and even into the cranial vault that the brain occupies. Understanding the signs and symptoms of a nasal tumor is vital for early detection.
“He’s young for his age, very chipper, runs around. Most people who see him think he’s 4 or 5 years old. In hindsight, we realized that a lot of things we saw were caused by his tumor—dark spots on his bed and rubbing his nose on the carpet. His face looked normal, he acted normal, still played ball, went for walks, and did everything as usual. If we would have known, we could have caught this sooner.”
– Cheryl Harper, Pet Parent to Pet Hero Cooper
Signs and Symptoms of Nasal Cancer in Dogs and Cats
If your pet displays these signs or symptoms of nasal cancer, have your pet examined by your primary care veterinarian as soon as possible.
Nasal discharge is the most common clinical sign of a nasal tumor. The discharge may contain mucous, pus, and blood. Dogs and cats are quick to lick their noses, so close attention to your pet is necessary when you first notice a runny nose. Also, check their bedding and blankets for nasal discharge.
Along with a runny nose, excessive sneezing is another common sign. Unfortunately because sneezing is also a common sign of allergies and infections in the upper respiratory tract, your veterinarian may treat your pet with medication for a different condition—especially if the nasal cancer is in the early stages. The medication may alleviate the sneezing temporarily but it will eventually return. If you notice your pet sneezing even after medication, don’t hesitate to notify your veterinarian.
If your dog has always been a quiet sleeper and begins to snore loudly, it may be a sign of a tumor blocking the nasal airways. When awake, the symptom can be recognized by noisy breathing or shortness of breath.
A bloody nose is never okay. Causes can be from trauma to the nose, allergies, upper respiratory infection, bacterial infection, dental problems, or a possible tumor. As the cancer advances, bloody noses can become more frequent.
Rubbing or pawing at face
As the tumor grows, your pet may show signs of discomfort. They may rub their face on the ground, your leg, or other surfaces. They may also paw at their face constantly.
As the nasal tumor spreads and grows, it can push against the facial muscles and bones, creating a deformity. You may notice a general swelling of the face or that the face is no longer symmetrical. The nose can become misshapen. The tumor can also push into the ocular area, causing an abnormal bulge of the eyes as well as cause discharge from the eyes.
As mentioned previously, nasal cancer can extend into the cranial vault. As the tumor begins to invade the brain, your pet may exhibit neurological signs, like seizures or behavioral changes. Facial deformity, seizures, and frequent nosebleeds indicate that the nasal cancer is no longer in the early stages, and the animal should be taken to a veterinarian for testing as soon as possible.
Other signs of cancer
While the above are some of the common signs of a nasal tumor, there are other signs of the cancer that don’t include the face. For example, weight loss, weight gain, a persistent cough, and wounds that won’t heal are also signs of cancer. Read our “Top 10 Warning Signs of Cancer in Your Pet” article for more information.
Diagnosis and Staging
Diagnostic tests for nasal cancer can include one or more of the following:
- Physical examination for facial symmetry
- Checking for obstruction of air flow in each nasal opening
- Blood work
- Tissue biopsy
- Fine needle aspiration
- Nasal and/or nasal radiographs
- CT scan
Treatment Options for Nasal Tumors
The first step of action is pain management. Depending on the stage of the cancer, your pet may be in a lot of pain. It will likely be prescribed anti-inflammatory drugs and opioids to relieve pain throughout treatment.
For nasal tumors, radiation therapy is the preferred standard of treatment for both cats and dogs. Due to the sensitive location, surgery is often difficult. Before the introduction of stereotactic radiosurgery (SRS) in veterinary medicine, the most advanced radiation therapy available to pet owners was conventionally fractionated radiation therapy (CFRT). CFRT can treat the tumor in ways surgery or chemotherapy can’t and in many cases is the recommended course of treatment, but there are also disadvantages. The radiation delivered to the tumor can damage the normal, healthy tissue surrounding it. In order to keep side effects as minimal as possible, the radiation is delivered in smaller doses over the course of anywhere from 15 to 30 sessions under anesthesia.
Stereotactic Radiosurgery (SRS)
At PetCure Oncology, our centers offer CFRT as well as the newer and more advanced forms of radiation therapy like SRS. Unlike traditional radiation therapy, SRS is able to deliver high doses of radiation with sub-millimeter precision. This means:
- Maximum damage to the tumor and minimal collateral damage to healthy tissues nearby
- Fewer treatment sessions compared to CFRT—patients require only 1-3 sessions, which means fewer anesthetic events, more safety, and less disruption to your schedule
- Fast recovery with little to no side effects
- Ability to treat tumors previously considered untreatable
Dog and Cat Nasal Cancer: Life Expectancy, Survival and Prognosis
Prognosis varies by case, but the median survival time for dogs and cats after advanced radiation therapy ranges from 6-18 months depending on the type of cancer and how early it was treated.2 As with any cancer, the earlier it is diagnosed and treated, the better the chances that treatment will be successful.
Meet Our Nasal Cancer Pet Heroes
As of March 2017, 14% of all cancers treated by PetCure Oncology have been nasal tumors. Here are a few our inspiring Pet Heroes that have fought nasal cancer. We invite you to read their stories. If your pet has been diagnosed with cancer, contact a PetCure Oncology location near you. Our team members are ready to help answer your questions.