What You Should Know About Canine Cancer


PuppyGirl Kate Whitney

By: PuppyGirl Kate Whitney – December, 2010

The topic I want to bring awareness to this month is Canine Cancer. I should have written this article last month, since November was Pet Cancer Awareness Month. Oh well, I’m a month late…better late than never.

Last month I participated in the Puppy Up Canine Cancer Walk in Boston. It was a pretty small event: a few vendors were set up and we walked around a few blocks in Boston. But it’s not the size of the event that matters it’s what the event was for, Canine Cancer. It’s estimated that 50% of dogs over age 10 will die of cancer. I feel like the number is higher, because it seems like every person I talk to recently who has had a dog pass away, cancer has been to blame. The slogan behind the Canine Cancer walk is “Cancer. Touches. Everyone.”

Whether it’s a dog or a person, I think we have all known someone who has been touched by this awful disease. Did you know that dogs (and cats) get cancer at approximately the same rate as people do? Early detection is critical (just like for humans). Remember the importance of having your pet examined regularly and be aware for some of the pet cancer signs that I will discuss below.

Be sure to be on the lookout for these pet cancer signs provided by the Veterinary Cancer Society: Persistent, abnormal swelling, sores that do not heal, loss of weight, loss of appetite, bleeding or discharge from any body opening, offensive odor, difficulty eating or swallowing, hesitation to exercise or loss of stamina, persistent lameness or stiffness, difficulty breathing, urinating, or defecating. Also watch for seizers, and lumps/bumps/swelling/growths on the skin, legs, mouth, and breasts.

Don’t be part of the 80% of pet owners who have limited knowledge about pet cancer. Educate yourself about this disease and hopefully you can prevent it from happening or better help your dog cope with it if they already have it.

The detection and treatment of canine cancer is improving every day. With routine vet visits, you are increasing the chances that early detection would be made possible. If the vet finds something suspicious, there are many ways to go about getting a diagnosis. Some of the ways are a biopsy, blood tests, x-rays, ultrasound, endoscopy, surgery, CT/MRI scan, urinalysis, and fine-needle aspiration.

Due to improper breeding practices, certain breeds of dogs are genetically prone to canine cancer. Stay away from online sites that sell dogs and stay OUT of the pet stores at the mall. These dogs come from horrible mass-breeding facilities called puppy mills. The dogs are bred only for monetary purposes and things like genetics and breeding lines are not taken into consideration. Remember, don’t shop…ADOPT! Some breeds that are prone to canine cancer include, but are not limited to: Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, Rottweilers, Bernese Mountain Dogs, and Boxers.

Did you know that second hand smoke causes cancer in pets? If you are still someone who smokes, you should think about trying to quit. Not only for yourself, but for your pets. Have you ever thought about the effects your smoking has on your best four-legged friend? Humans have the ability to leave the house frequently to get fresh air, but pets, for the most part, are kept inside the house. Think about all the toxins that are in your home.

So if you smoke, quit. If you can’t quit, think about smoking outside, so the inside of the house is kept nice and “clean” for your pet. Why would you knowingly put your pet at risk for developing cancer? I’m sure they would never do that to you.

There have been numerous studies done to show the effects of smoking on dogs and cats. I want to highlight two studies here. First is a study about cats. A study was conducted at Tufts School of Veterinary Medicine, and it was discovered that a strong correlation exists between cats living in smoking households and oral cancer.

Scientists determined that the reason is because cats lick themselves to groom and they end up licking carcinogen deposits that get trapped in their fur. After exposing the skin in their mouths to harmful amounts of carcinogens over a long period of time, they begin to develop cancer. Some cats were found to have also developed cancer in their lymph nodes.

And now a study about dogs and smoking. In a study performed at Colorado State University Veterinary Teaching Hospital, it was determined that dogs living in smoking households have a 60% greater risk of developing lung and sinus cancer than dogs living with nonsmoking owners. Those numbers increase even more when talking about long-nosed breeds like Dobermans and Collies. This is because longer noses mean more surface area for carcinogens, which means more carcinogens reaching the lungs.

So you might be wondering if you can prevent canine cancer from affecting your best friend. There are a few tips that you can follow, but following them does not guarantee your dog will stay cancer free. For the most part, the tips fall under a category of “healthy living”. So, bottom line, provide a healthy lifestyle for your pet.

-Be aware of the water you provide to your pets. Tap water can contain chemicals such as lead, arsenic, and nitrates. Holistic vets strongly advise using a good-quality water purifier to filter your tap water or provide bottled water.

-Keep your dog’s weight under control. The feeding guidelines on the bag aren’t there to entertain you. Follow the recommended feeding amounts and stick to them. Also, check with your vet to make sure your dog is getting the right nutrition. A pudgy dog might look cute, but you are not doing it any good with regard to health. A few extra pounds on a dog are a lot. Make sure you are giving your dog enough daily exercise.

Take him to the dog park or doggie daycare. A walk around the block doesn’t usually cut it for the amount of exercise a dog needs. Sustained, vigorous use of the muscles stimulates all tissues and increases blood circulation. Blood vessels dilate and blood pressure rises. As a result, tissues become oxygenated, which helps to clean the cells of toxins

-Use natural flea and tick products on your dog. Flea collars, sprays, and shampoos are full of poisons. Instead of chemical insecticides, use natural and less-toxic methods of flea control such as natural flea shampoos, vacuuming frequently, and combing your pet with a flea comb. Pyrethrins are a natural and safe means of flea control for dogs, but need to be applied frequently. Check out all natural tick repellents as well.

-Don’t forget about a well balanced diet. Stay away from the Kibbles and Bits that you buy at the grocery store or Wal-Mart. Also stay away from Science Diet, Purina, Iams, and Eukanuba. Try to visit specialty dog stores that only sell brands of food you have never heard of, such as Holistic Select, Orijen, Solid Gold, Wellness, and The Honest Kitchen. If you want to make sure your dog’s nutritional needs are being met, the best way to do that is make sure you have them on a good food!

There are places out there that are currently studying cancer and discovering genetic changes that can lead to the development and spread of cancer. The more doctors and veterinarians who can understand the different cancers, the more diagnostics and therapies can result for both dogs and people.

There are lots of companies who are asking for your help in order to study canine cancer. If your dog has cancer, a simple blood or saliva sample can be sent to a location where they can study the blood and hopefully advance the knowledge about certain types of cancers. Ask your vet or go online to find out more information about how you can participate. All dogs with cancer can help future generations of dogs by donating a sample.

I hope that none of you reading this will ever experience a pet with cancer. But with the odds the way they are, that is just not realistic. Remember that early detection is key, as is a healthy diet, ample exercise, and a stress-free life.

You can email PuppyGirl at kwswingrite@aol.com