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Soft-Tissue Sarcoma in Pets

Soft-tissue sarcomas are a class of tumors that originate from an animal's soft and/or connective tissues. Most commonly, the tumors form in the smooth and skeletal muscles, lymph vessels, blood vessels, and fatty tissues, but they can happen in any part of the body. There are several types of sarcomas that are recognized as soft tissue sarcomas, including fibrosarcomas, histiocytomas, myxosarcomas, malignant peripheral nerve sheath tumors, liposarcomas, and lymphangiosarcomas, among others.

The cause of soft-tissue sarcoma is unknown, but while the disease usually is very invasive to the surrounding tissues, many have a low precedence for metastasis (spreading to other parts of the body).

Soft Tissue Sarcoma and Dogs

Soft-tissue sarcomas can develop in any age and breed of dog, but they are most prevalent in older dogs, with large-breed dogs being at the highest risk level. Golden Retrievers, Saint Bernards, and Doberman Pinschers are among the higher-risk breeds.

Soft-tissue sarcoma accounts for 15% of all cutaneous tumors and 7% of all subcutaneous tumors found on dogs and cats. When a pet canine has a cutaneous soft-tissue sarcoma, it tends to be identified by one or more soft tumors on the body. The tumor may or may not be moveable and may be painful or painless, depending on the type of sarcoma.

The organ of metastasis typically determines the location of the tumor. For instance, a tumor found on the limbs may indicate a range of different soft-tissue sarcomas from a number of different organs of metastases, including the lungs, liver, spleen, kidneys, and lymph nodes.

Soft-Tissue Sarcoma and Cats

Like in dogs, soft-tissue sarcoma can develop in any age or breed of cat, but older felines are more likely to develop it. The disease accounts for approximately 15% of cutaneous tumors and 7% of subcutaneous tumors. Some cats have a genetic predisposition to tumor development, while others can have rare reactions to injection sites leading to cases of Feline Vaccine Associated Sarcoma.

What to Do if You Detect Symptoms of Soft-Tissue Sarcoma

The most-common symptom of a soft-tissue sarcoma is a soft and fleshy growth that is developing on your pet's body. If you find such a mass on your pet, then schedule a veterinarian visit immediately. Your veterinarian may aspirate the tumor with a fine needle and perform a chemical blood profile, a complete blood count, a urinalysis, and an electrolyte panel. A tissue biopsy also can be performed to confirm a diagnosis.

How Is Soft Tissue Sarcoma Treated?

Soft-tissue sarcomas are very difficult to treat because they invade and latch onto the surrounding tissues and bones with tentacle-like projections. As a result, it may be nearly impossible to successfully remove the entire tumor.

In cases where the tumor is located on an extremity, amputation of the limb sometimes may be the most-effective treatment. In other cases, surgical removal of as much of the tumor as possible may be performed, followed by chemotherapy and/or radiotherapy.

How to Prevent Soft-Tissue Sarcoma in Your Pet

Due to the relative unknown causes associated with soft-tissue sarcomas in pets, it's difficult to guess as to the most effective ways to prevent the disease. Therefore, the most important factor in helping to prevent the disease is to keep your pet as healthy as possible. This involves:

  • Seeing a veterinarian regularly, at least twice a year, or more often if you have a larger breed dog who is genetically predisposed to soft-tissue sarcomas;
  • Limiting your pet's exposure to toxic chemicals such as antifreeze, pesticides, paints, and solvents;
  • Feeding your pet a healthy diet every day;
  • Providing your pet with plenty of fresh, clean water;
  • Playing with your pet daily to ensure he gets enough exercise;
  • Administering veterinarian-prescribed medications exactly as instructed; and
  • Grooming your pet regularly and inspecting his skin while doing so will also help you catch any cutaneous tumor growths as early as possible.

About the Author

Dr. Evan Ware

Dr. Evan Ware is a veterinary practitioner in Phoenix, Arizona. He received both his undergraduate degree in microbiology and his Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine from The Ohio State University.

Dr. Ware is currently the Medical Director of University Animal Hospital (VCA) and is also the owner of two other hospitals, including Laveen Veterinary Center and Phoenix Veterinary Center. His areas of expertise include orthopedic medicine and surgery, veterinary oncology and chemotherapy, and general and advanced soft-tissue surgery.