Transitional cell carcinoma in dogs

Julia Dicconson
Content Manager
October 4, 2021

Transitional cell carcinoma is an invasive, malignant cancer of the cells lining the urinary system. Tumours penetrate the bladder wall muscle layers and may eventually obstruct urine flow, which is a medical emergency. 

In about 20% of dogs diagnosed with transitional cell carcinoma, the cancer has spread to other body organs (metastasis). Certain breeds are genetically predisposed to develop transitional cell carcinoma, which has also been linked to lawn chemicals and older generation flea control products.

Early transitional cell carcinoma signs in dogs can mimic a urinary tract infection or bladder stones. 

What are transitional cell carcinoma signs in dogs?

Early signs include:

  • Frequent urination of small amounts
  • House accidents
  • Incontinence

Intermediate to advanced signs include: 

  • Straining to urinate
  • Blood in urine
  • Irritability and abdominal pain
  • Decreased appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Lethargy
  • Vomiting
  • Inability to urinate

Lethargy may be a sign of transitional cell carcinoma in dogs

How is transitional cell carcinoma managed in dogs?  

Many dogs with transitional cell carcinoma have a concurrent urinary tract infection, which must be addressed. The neck of the bladder (trigone) is a common transitional cell carcinoma location in dogs, which makes surgical tumour removal difficult. Chemotherapy and/or anti-inflammatory medications have been shown to inhibit tumour growth. 

Dogs with transitional cell carcinoma need regular veterinary visits and diagnostic monitoring. Discussing a personalised management plan with your veterinarian and a veterinary oncologist is important for the best outcome for your dog.

What is the prognosis for dogs with transitional cell carcinoma?

The prognosis for dogs with transitional cell carcinoma depends on whether the cancer has metastasised, and the dog’s treatment response. 

With anti-inflammatory medication alone, the median survival time is six months. With the addition of chemotherapy, the median survival time can increase to one year, but is less with prostate or urethral involvement. 

Unfortunately, metastatic transitional cell carcinoma has a poorer prognosis because of the dog’s late cancer stage, but can vary with treatment.  

Management tips for dogs with transitional cell carcinoma

At-home needs include:

  • Easily accessible food and water, and a comfortable location
  • Strict consistency with medications
  • Monitoring urination, appetite, vomiting, weight and energy level

For end-of-life care:

In a crisis:

Immediately contact your vet if your dog stops eating, vomits, cannot urinate, collapses, or vocalises in pain.

It is vital to begin end-of-life care discussions before your dog‘s condition becomes unmanageable or they begin losing their quality of life. 

The team at Goodbye Good Boy offers individualised support to help you and your family navigate this progressive disease by providing quality-of-life checks, in-home euthanasia, cremation and aftercare services and personalised memorialisation options.

To learn more about our pet end-of-life services, give us a call on 1800 953 619 or visit our website

This article was reproduced with permission from Goodbye Good Boy advisor Dr Dani McVety, of Lap Of Love.