Transitional cell carcinoma is most common neoplasia (cancer) found in the urinary bladder and urethra. These tumors are locally invasive and have a moderate metastatic (spread of cancer) rate.  Sites of metastasis can include other regions of the bladder, the local lymph nodes, lungs, bone and other areas.

Signs your pet may experience with this type of cancer include straining to urinate, blood in the urine, frequent urination, thin urine stream including dribbling of urine, pain while urinating and frequent urinary tract infections that may initially respond to antibiotics.  In advanced stages, your pet may loose the ability to urinate completely.  If in 12 hours, your pet attempts to urinate and no urine is produced, this may be an indication that your pet’s cancer has grown so large that it is obstructing their ability to urinate.  When this occurs, it is life threatening.  Please seek veterinary care. WVRC is open 24 hours a day for emergencies.

Frequently dogs diagnosed with TCC will experience urinary tract infections.  In most cases these require treatment with antibiotics. Sudden worsening of urinary signs may be an indication that your pet has an infection.  If this is seen, please take your pet to your family veterinarian or WVRC for physical examination and a (free-catch) urine sample.  If your pet has been diagnosed with TCC, never allow your pet to have a needle passed into their bladder, called a cystocentesis, to obtain a urine sample.

Cancer Prevention:

As with humans, decreasing exposure to cigarette smoke, keeping fit and eating a well-balanced diet full of fresh vegetables is helpful to prevent cancer.  In particular, research has indicated that this is particularly helpful in preventing TCC in our pets. Obesity and exposure to carcinogens, which in the pet includes the “old generation” flea dips and exposure to insecticides and pesticides increase your pet’s risk of developing this cancer. The greatest cause of TCC in humans is cigarette smoke. This has not been fully studied in dogs. Dogs at highest risk of developing this cancer include Scottish Terriers, West-highland White Terriers, Shetland Sheepdogs, Beagles and Wire Hair Fox Terriers.

How to decrease your pet’s risk of TCC:

– Feed your dog a small amount of carrots or cruciferous vegetables daily.
– Keep your pet a healthy weight and go on walks daily.
– Keep your pet off lawns that have been chemically treated and wipe their paws  before going inside.
– Decrease your pet’s exposure to cigarette smoke.

If your pet is an at risk breed we recommend screening your pet for cancer after the age of 6 with a urinalysis and an ultrasound of the urinary bladder.


Diagnosis of this cancer type involves getting a tissue biopsy.  This is most often done in a minimally invasive procedure called a cystoscopy.  This procedure involves passing a narrow camera through the urethra and into your pet’s urinary bladder.  This will allow us to assess the extent of involvement and help us to direct the most appropriate treatment.  We will obtain a tissue sample for culture and for a biopsy.  Results from the biopsy take approximately 1 week to 10 days to return.

In preparation for anesthesia for the cystoscopy, we will perform blood work to check major organ function and x-rays of the heart and lungs to ensure your pet is a good candidate for anesthesia.

If we have a suspicion that your pet may have cancer we will recommend performing tests to determine how far the cancer has spread.  This may include x-rays, an abdominal ultrasoundfine-needle aspirates and cytology, a CT-scan, and urinalysis.

Treatment and Prognosis:

The goal of treatment will be to provide your pet with a good quality of life.

SURGERY:  In a small percentage of dogs diagnosed with this type of cancer, the cystoscopy will reveal that their cancer is surgically ressectable.  If your pet’s cancer is surgically ressectable, the cancer can still seed to other areas of the urinary bladder that was not removed with surgery or to the urethra and may still metastasize (spread distantly).  We therefore still highly recommend the use of additional medications which may include non-steroidal anti-inflammatories, which have anti-cancer effects, and/or chemotherapy.

CHEMOTHERAPY:  The goal with chemotherapy is to keep your pet’s cancer from growing for as long as possible.  There are many chemotherapeutic options available to treat your dog’s cancer and we will often use all of these medications at some point throughout your dog’s care. With treatment, many of our patients can live many months to years with a good quality of life.  Unfortunately with no treatment, the average survival time is 2-3 months.

RADIATION THERAPY:  The University of Madison Wisconsin has a radiation facility that can irradiate your pet’s cancer.  If you are interested in pursuing radiation therapy, we recommend you contact them for further recommendations and appointment options.

PALLIATION: As your pet’s cancer progresses he or she will experience an increased sensation to urinate, causing them to strain.  This is often not painful but in a minority of cases, pain medications may help.  If your pet’s cancer causes an obstruction a stent can be placed. Although this stent will allow your pet to continue to urinate for a period of time, it needs to be followed with chemotherapy to slow cancer progression.

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