Dog Bladder Cancer When to Euthanize?  (Advice from Vets)

Dog Bladder Cancer When to Euthanize

Choosing when to euthanize your dog with bladder cancer can be scary, but a necessary step if they’re in significant pain. If your dog’s bladder cancer is severely affecting their quality of life, it may be time to consider euthanasia.

If a tumor blocks urine flow, even with treatment, it can cause severe pain and rapidly worsen health, potentially leading to death within one to two days. Considering humane euthanasia may be a compassionate decision if your dog struggles to urinate due to the tumor, to relieve their pain and prevent further suffering.

When to Euthanize a Dog with Bladder Cancer?

Deciding when to euthanize a beloved dog with bladder cancer is extremely difficult. Considering quality of life is crucial when dealing with terminal illnesses like cancer in dogs.

Difficult as it may be, assessing your dog’s suffering alongside your feelings helps guide the end-of-life decision.

Signs it may be time to consider euthanasia include:

  • Tumors are resistant to all treatment options tried
  • Cancer has metastasized and affected multiple organ systems
  • Dog has stopped responsively to medications for pain/discomfort
  • Significant blood is visible in the urine daily
  • Frequent vomiting, diarrhea, or other gastric issues
  • Loss of bladder control leading to constant accidents
  • Hematuria begins severely straining or crying during urination
  • Severe lethargy, loss of appetite, rapid weight loss
  • Collapse or inability to stand for longer periods
  • Labored breathing patterns develop

As a responsible guardian, euthanizing a terminally ill pet becomes a consideration when their pain is beyond effective management. The decision on timing depends on various factors: your perception of the dog’s health, their enjoyment of life, ability to handle setbacks, financial considerations, and acceptance of the situation.

While there’s no definitive ‘right’ time, realistically assessing your dog’s suffering, apart from your emotional pain, can guide you to decide in their best interest as their quality of life declines. Have an open discussion with your vet about any declines in your dog’s health and how it affects their care, abilities, and happiness.

What Is Bladder Cancer In Dogs?

Bladder cancer in dogs, also called transitional cell carcinoma (TCC), is a bladder tissue cancer. It’s a serious condition that can significantly affect a dog’s quality of life.

  • Cells Gone Awry: In bladder cancer, cells in the bladder grow uncontrollably and form tumors.
  • Location and Impact: These tumors usually occur in the bladder’s lining but can spread to other parts of the body.

Bladder cancer results from genetic and environmental factors. It’s a DNA-related disease where mutations make bladder cells grow rapidly. Such mutations can lead to the formation of tumors, which can be benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous).

Types of Bladder Cancer in Dogs

There are a few different types of cancerous growths that can develop in a dog’s bladder.

Transitional Cell Carcinoma (TCC)

  • Most common type – accounts for >90% of bladder tumors.
  • Arises from the transitional epithelium lining the bladder.
  • Typically papillary form – finger-like projections on the inner bladder wall.
  • Often recurs after treatment.
  • Can be a single tumor or widespread.
  • Varying degrees of aggressiveness.

TCC is by far the most common type of bladder tumor seen in dogs. In the bladder, the lining cells, called transitional epithelium, can change and form papillary tumors that grow inside the bladder.

TCC can behave differently in each case. It might stay as a single tumor or spread fast to areas like the urethra, prostate, ureters, and kidneys. Vets track the tumor’s size and spread to decide on the most effective treatments.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma

  • More aggressive cancer forms from the bladder lining.
  • Makes up approximately 2-7% of bladder tumors.
  • Higher chance of spreading to nearby lymph nodes and lungs.
  • Carries a worse prognosis than TCC tumors.

Unlike TCC’s finger-like growths, squamous cell carcinoma in dogs is a flatter, more spread-out cancer in the bladder. Squamous cell carcinoma carries a higher risk of spreading to other areas and typically has shorter survival times for affected dogs.


  • Rare type arising from glandular tissue of bladder mucosa.
  • Accounts for only 0.5-2% of reported bladder tumors.
  • Very aggressive – tends to deeply invade the bladder wall.
  • Highly malignant with fast metastasis to lymph nodes.
  • Poorest survival times of the three types.

Adenocarcinoma, a rare but severe bladder cancer in dogs, grows quickly in the bladder lining and often spreads early to other body parts.

Other Tumor Types

Rare tumors such as fibromas, leiomyomas, and sarcomas may also develop in the bladder, though they account for less than 1% of dog bladder cancers.

Bladder Cancer Symptoms in Dogs

Bladder cancer in dogs usually starts showing symptoms when it becomes large or spreads to other body parts.

Urinary changes:

  • Blood in the urine (hematuria).
  • Straining or discomfort when urinating.
  • Frequent trips in and out to urinate.
  • Loss of bladder control or dribbling urine.
  • Crying out or whining during urination.
  • Smaller volumes of urine passed.

General signs:

  • Lethargy or tiredness
  • Weight loss
  • Poor appetite
  • Abdominal pain or stiffness
  • Fever
  • Vomiting or diarrhea

Advanced symptoms:

  • Enlarged bladder felt on exam
  • Back pain from cancer spreading to the spine
  • Lameness if cancer spreads to bones
  • Breathing problems if spreads to the lungs
  • Swollen lymph nodes (under the jaw)
  • Fluid buildup in the abdomen

Sadly, symptoms like difficulty urinating or blood in urine often emerge only when the cancer has progressed. Therefore, if an older dog shows any urinary changes, take them to the vet immediately. Getting a prompt diagnosis and starting treatment as early as possible is critical.

Initial diagnostic tests usually include:

  • Urinalysis – checks for blood, crystals, bacteria, cancer cells
  • Urine culture – identifies any infection
  • X-rays or ultrasound – images of the bladder for masses
  • Biopsy – confirms diagnosis by sampling abnormal tissue

Keep track of any new symptoms and inform your vet in detail; this helps in accurately diagnosing bladder cancer. Call your vet immediately if you observe unusual changes in your senior dog.

Causes of Bladder Cancer in Dogs

While the exact causes of bladder cancer in dogs aren’t fully clear, it often results from both genetic and environmental factors that cause DNA changes and rapid cell growth.

  • Age: Bladder cancer is most common in dogs over 8 years old, as cancer risk increases with age.
  • Breed: Breeds like Scottish Terriers, Shetland Sheepdogs, Beagles, Wire Fox Terriers, and West Highland White Terriers are more prone to bladder cancer, likely due to genetic risk factors.”
  • Gender: Female dogs are diagnosed with bladder cancer more often than males, possibly due to hormonal differences affecting the bladder’s lining.”
  • Environmental toxins – Exposure to herbicides, insecticides, and other chemicals can harm the bladder lining and DNA. The impact of lawn chemicals on dogs in suburban areas is particularly worrying.
  • Chronic Inflammation: Persistent bladder irritation and infections can cause cellular changes over time. Factors like bladder stones and urine crystals, as well as dental diseases, can heighten this risk of infection.
  • Obesity & poor diet – Excess body fat leads to harmful free radicals, damaging tissues. Unhealthy diets lack essential nutrients to safeguard the bladder. Furthermore, obesity can alter hormonal balance and increase inflammation in the body.

Stages of Dog Bladder Cancer

The stages your dog with bladder cancer goes through will vary case by case. As a simplified explanation, this includes:

  • Stage 1. Recent diagnosis, cancer has extended through the inner lining of the bladder.
  • Stage 2. Cancer has grown into the bladder’s muscle wall.
  • Stage 3. The cancer has moved into the tissue outside of the bladder.
  • Stage 4. This indicates the spread of cancer in other body parts.

If your dog has recently been diagnosed with dog bladder cancer, he/she will develop signs that can either indicate improvement or decline. A dog still in the early stages of bladder cancer will have a better chance of improvement as opposed to a dog in the later stages.

Dogs showing neither improvement nor deterioration are considered to be in the middle stage (stage 1 – 2). This means that your furry friend still has a chance of healing, as the cancer hasn’t developed too far. However, they’re healing at a slow rate or sometimes, not healing at all. The key indicator is your dog is not worsening.

When you hear the words “later stage of dog bladder cancer”, or stage 3 – 4, this can imply that your pooch is rearing the end. Although, this does not mean your dog will pass immediately. It simply refers to extreme deterioration caused by the cancer — with worsening pains to attribute that.

No matter the stage which your dog is experiencing its bladder cancer, your main priority should be monitoring them carefully.

Treatment Options for Bladder Cancer in Dogs

Treatment of bladder cancer in dogs depends on factors like type, size, and location of tumors present, as well as whether it has spread beyond the bladder itself. Common options:


  • Cystotomy – surgical opening of the bladder for tumor removal.
  • Partial cystectomy – removing a section of the bladder with tumors.
  • Complete cystectomy – full bladder removal (rare).
  • Urinary diversion – alternative routes for urine flow.

Surgery is frequently done for single masses or early bladder cancers. Partial cystectomy, which removes part of the bladder, is preferred to preserve as much bladder function as possible.

If the bladder is extensively diseased, complete removal, which significantly affects the dog’s quality of life, may be necessary. Diversion procedures can allow urine flow in cases requiring full bladder removal.


  • Mitoxantrone
  • Vinblastine
  • Carboplatin

Chemotherapy treats bladder cancer by using medications specifically designed to target tumor cells. Chemotherapy is used to eliminate any cancer cells left after surgery and to treat inoperable or metastasized bladder cancers. Most dogs tolerate bladder cancer chemo protocols fairly well in veterinary medicine.


  • External beam radiation focused on tumor sites
  • Radioactive drugs taken orally or injected into the bloodstream

Radiation therapy uses high-energy waves to interfere with the DNA of tumor cells, effectively killing them. Radiation can be directed externally at the bladder or internally, where radioactive drugs target tumor sites. Radiation is sometimes used along with chemotherapy for improved outcomes.


  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • Cytokines that stimulate immune response

Strengthening the immune system to fight cancer cells is a developing treatment for bladder tumors. While more research is necessary, certain drugs that activate anti-tumor responses are promising, particularly in controlling cancer spread or metastasis. Providing supportive care is crucial during bladder cancer treatment to enhance the dog’s quality of life.

Bladder Cancer Facts In Dogs

  • Most common location for lower urinary tract tumors
  • Accounts for 1-2% of all canine cancers
  • Usually occurs in dogs over 8 years old
  • Transitional cell carcinoma (TCC) accounts for >90% of cases
  • Female dogs slightly are slightly more prone than males
  • Average survival times after diagnosis: With surgery alone – 6-9 months and With surgery and chemotherapy – up to 2 years
  • Bladder tumors are often aggressive and invasive
  • Metastasis to lymph nodes, lungs, and kidneys in >50% of cases
  • Improved survival linked to early intervention

Can a Dog Die Suddenly from Bladder Cancer?

Although bladder cancer in dogs generally has a serious prognosis, it’s rare for a healthy dog to die suddenly from this disease alone.

However, in advanced stages, bladder cancer can cause sudden, severe health emergencies that may lead to rapid death.

Potential sudden causes of death linked to progressed bladder cancer include:

  • Ruptured Bladder: When the bladder wall integrity fails, urine leaks into the abdomen, causing electrolyte imbalances, sepsis, shock, and potentially rapid death if not quickly addressed with surgery.
  • Urethral Obstruction: Tumors or blood clots can completely block the urethra, preventing urination. This leads to toxin accumulation and rapid organ failure if the obstruction is not relieved.
  • Organ Failure from Metastasis: In late-stage bladder cancer, metastasis to organs like the kidneys, liver, and lungs impairs their function. Symptoms like labored breathing or fluid buildup usually appear before a sudden system collapse.
  • Hemorrhage: While rare, significant blood loss in urine can lead to severe anemia, low blood pressure, and fainting. More commonly, dogs weaken gradually due to ongoing blood loss.
  • Cancer Cachexia: In terminal stages, cancer depletes the dog’s body reserves, leading to severe weight and energy loss. The pet eventually passes away when its body is fully depleted.

While owners may perceive a rapid health decline as ‘sudden’, symptoms often worsen gradually, leading up to critical point hours or days before. An exception is when the bladder wall suddenly ruptures, releasing toxins and possibly leading to death before a vet can intervene.

How Long Will My Dog Live with Bladder Cancer?

Some dogs can survive up to 15 months while battling bladder cancer, whilst others might only live for 1-2 months. Unfortunately, there is no specific time frame you can refer to — as each dog will have a different situation.

Is Dog Bladder Cancer Painful?

Yes, dog bladder cancer is painful for your furry friend. The kind of pain he/she will feel depends on which stage of bladder cancer they’re in. Some of the painful sensations which your dog might feel include a burning vulva, throbbing bones, weakness in the bones, aching to walk, and stabbing in the stomach.

Can a Dog Survive Bladder Cancer?

When diagnosed with bladder cancer, the rate of prolonged survival decreases the further stages they’re in. Unfortunately, it’s extremely rare for a dog with bladder cancer to heal completely of it.

If you’re lucky enough to catch your dog’s bladder cancer early, you might be able to spend at least a year with your pooch. However, if he/she suddenly declines, the tables can quickly turn — especially when the cancer begins to spread outside of the muscle wall.

The best chance of survival is plenty of TLC (Tender, Loving, Care), feeding healthy foods, monitoring their progress each day, and keeping your dog comfortable as best as you can. This way, you can work to spend as long as possible with them.

Signs Your Dog’s Bladder Cancer is Getting Worse

Unfortunately, there can be some tell-tale signs your dog might develop, informing you that their bladder cancer is getting worse. These signs include:

  • A complete inability to pass urine
  • Extreme pain and discomfort to urinate
  • Blood clots in your dog’s urine
  • Loss of appetite or anorexia
  • Frequent weakness in their body

These signs are indications that your dog’s bladder cancer is either worsening or coming to the end-stage. Although some dogs can continue to live months while battling bladder cancer, if your dog shows any of these signs — you should carefully consider their quality of life.

What Dog Breeds Are Prone to Bladder Cancer?

Although bladder cancer can affect any dog, certain breeds are reported to have a higher incidence of bladder tumors.

Scottish Terriers

  • 20-25x greater chance of bladder cancer than other breeds
  • Tend to develop tumors at a younger age
  • More rapid metastasis common

Shetland Sheepdogs

  • Also around 20 times more prone to bladder cancer
  • Equally high risk as Scottish Terriers
  • Poorer survival times on average

West Highland White Terriers

  • Bladder cancer rates 4x higher than other breeds
  • Prone to recurrent TCC tumors after treatment

Wire Fox Terriers

  • Up to 5 times greater likelihood of developing urinary bladder tumors
  • Often diagnosed at later stages due to stoic temperaments


  • Bladder neoplasia occurs 3-4 times more frequently
  • Long floppy ears make them prone to various health conditions

Terriers and spaniels are particularly prone to bladder cancer, but larger breeds such as Great Danes, German Shepherds, and Golden Retrievers are also at risk of developing transitional cell carcinomas and other types of bladder malignancies.

What Do You Feed a Dog with Bladder Cancer?

Vegetables are the best source of food, specifically for a dog battling bladder cancer. Feeding your dog vegetables, leafy greens, in particular, work to slow the damage in your dog’s blood cells.

Apart from leafy greens, you can also feed your dog vegetables that are rich in antioxidants. These may include carrots, broccoli, avocados, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, and also asparagus. Foods to AVOID feeding your dog with bladder cancer are high amounts of red meats, greasy foods, or any form of dairy produce.

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