dogwatch hidden fences photoAbout 1 in 3 dogs die of cancer, a statistic which is frighteningly similar to the rate in people. In a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, Melinda Beck wrote about Cancer Risk for Purebred Dogs and losing her Golden Retriever to cancer. She reported that Goldens are one of the breeds at the highest risk for canine cancer along with Boxers, Rottweilers, and Bernese Mountain Dogs.

Other breeds listed as being susceptible to cancer:
High risk-Boston Terrier, English Bulldog, Scottish Terrier, Cocker Spaniel.
Average risk- Irish Setter, Schnauzer, Labrador Retriever, Mixed Breed.
Lower risk-Beagle, Poodle, Collie, Dachshund.

There’s no evidence to suggest that mutts or crossbreeds are less prone to cancer. “Some studies that have compared purebreds in general to mixed breeds find about a 10% increase in lifespan for comparably sized mixed-breed dogs.”

Cancer treatment for dogs includes  surgery, radiation and chemotherapy.  Depending on the type and extent of the cancer, treatment may buy months or years for some dogs.

What’s being done about canine cancer?

There are several research projects underway to identify the genes that may predispose dogs to cancer with the hope that selective breeding can avoid them.

The National Canine Cancer Foundation has grant programs for cancer research intended to develop innovative approaches to a cure, treatment, diagnosis or prevention of cancers in dogs. Pet owners are encouraged to limit their dog’s exposure to second-hand smoke, pesticides and phenoxy herbicides, which have been linked to increased risks of some canine cancers.

The success of treatment to cure cancer lies in early detection.  Early detection, however, is often one of the most challenging aspects of this disease.  “Not all cancers present as tumor masses on the surface of the body where they may be easily noticed and examined for changes. In many instances, malignant tumors arising in the organs of the body will eventually cause symptoms directly related to the location of the tumor.”

What signs should you look for?
Clinical studies show that cancer can be categorized into two phases, initially mild, while recurring and severe in advanced stages.

Generally, cancer symptoms result in behavior changes such as less energy, being non social, anorexic (appetite loss), ataxic (uncoordinated muscle movement), intolerant and gradually weight loss.  These symptoms may also be the result of problems other than cancer.

The Veterinary Cancer Society publishes a helpful list of common cancer symptoms in small animals. These include:
1. Abnormal swellings that persist or continue to grow
2. Sores that do not heal
3. Weight loss
4. Loss of appetite
5. Bleeding or discharge from any body opening
6. Offensive odor
7. Difficulty eating or swallowing
8. Hesitation to exercise or loss of stamina
9. Persistent lameness or stiffness
10. Difficulty breathing, urinating, or defecating

Taking a Comprehensive Approach
Dr. Allen M. Schoen advocates for taking a holistic, integrative approach to canine cancer. The benefit he says is that it considers the dog’s whole being, not just a particular tumor or cancer condition. “Tend to the health of your dog’s mind, body and spirit throughout and you make him as strong as possible in order to help him in his fight against cancer.

Additional Reading

  1. Melissa Maroff’s, excellent blog post on eHow, provides a step-by-step approach for dealing with your dog’s cancer diagnosis with a reading list, tips and warnings, and resources.
  2. Fighting Canine Cancer has a recommended reading list.
  3. The Canine Cancer Blog posts lots of good  information here.
  4. Also, Georgia’s Legacy  is seeking  stories of hope and courage to share with other pet owners whose dogs have been diagnosed with cancer.

Do you have recommendations of additional resources about canine cancer or stories you can share? Let us know here.