14 October 2016

HEALTH - World's Largest Study of Canine Cancer

One in four dogs will develop cancer and it is the leading cause of death in dogs over age 10, according to bark.com.

The Veterinary Pet Insurance Company says recent statistics show it was the top killer of dogs, levelling both an emotional and financial cost among owners.

Depressing statistics, for sure, but pet-owners can take comfort in knowing there are numerous treatments available from surgery to chemotherapy for their beloved canine, should it be diagnosed with the disease and many are successful.

According to WebMD, “half of all cancers are curable if caught early.”

While there is an increase in numerous types of cancers in dogs and a decrease in other kinds, it would appear any apparent increase in overall incidences might come down to better vet care and thus more cases of disease actually being diagnosed.

“I think people are taking better and better care of their animals and pets are living longer so we are seeing more animals live to an age where they develop cancer,” veterinary oncologist, Dave Ruslander, told WebMD.

“Years past, many dogs died from common illnesses or were hit by a car. Now, we have vaccines and we keep our dogs indoors, so they are just around longer.”

“Veterinary oncology has progressed amazingly in the past two decades,” Ruslander adds. “Twenty years ago, most people didn’t even know dogs got cancer. Today, it’s common to find people whose dogs have been treated for cancer. There are so many more facilities for treating canine cancer now and there are veterinarians who do nothing but treat cancer.”

While there is ongoing debate on whether cancer is more common among purebreds or mixed breeds, disturbing reports show the disease is taking a particularly deadly toll on the beloved golden retriever breed.

Californian Pat Kennedy has lost three goldens to different types of cancer, according to a KFSN report which claims more than half of all dogs of that breed will die from some form of the disease.

In a bid to determine why the disease is so deadly to the breed, the Morris Animal Foundation has launched a $32-million national study.

The Colorado-based foundation track more than 3,000 purebred golden retrievers for their entire lifespans - researchers collecting blood and fur samples and taking an exhaustive look at the dogs' lives from what they eat to the environment they live in.

Foundation CEO, Dr. John Reddington, says the study is in its early days but they have not ruled out the problem might be rooted within the dog and explained by a better examination of the genetics of the breed.

He said there may be a genetic link and, if that's the case “unlike the human population,” if identified can potentially be bred out of the population.

If there is a silver lining to breed-specific cancers, with golden retrievers for instance, it might be that it “provides an ideal model to identify phenotype/genotype relationships relevant to human disease.”

While several purebreds have proven to be pre-disposed to higher cancer risks, (speaking to a genetic component) mixed breeds originating from a much bigger gene pool are less apt to have genetic-based cancers.

They are not, according to WebMD, protected against “spontaneous or environmentally based cancers.”

“It should be acknowledged that for most forms of cancer,” causes are “multifactorial ... and although genetics are important – environmental factors such as chemical exposure and hormonal/metabolic factor have been shown to increase the risk of development of certain tumours.”

There is wide consensus that the following are effective ways to try to thwart a pet's chances of developing cancer; spaying (which can reduce the chance of mammary cancer eight-fold if done prior to a dog's first heat,) good oral care, ample exercise, offering a high-quality diet, avoiding exposure to pollutants like cigarette smoke and smog and regular vet visits.

By Nadia Moharib
Nadia is an animal lover who has adopted everything from birds to hamsters, salamanders, rabbits, fish and felines. She has written about all-things-pets for years and was a long-time editor of a pet magazine in a daily newspaper which featured a Q & A column, Ask Whit, penned by her pooch (ghost written, of course.) The serial dog owner lives in Calgary, Alberta and most days can be found at a dog park picking up after her rescue pooch, Scoots.

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