Foster dog with new ownerAlthough the mere mention of the word cancer can cause us to respond with trepidation, fear, and heartbreak, pet cancer is a reality for an estimated 12 million dogs and cats diagnosed each year. It is the leading cause of death in pets over the age of 10 years.

Treatment and prognosis vary widely depending on type of cancer and its progression; often speaking generally about cancer prevention is rife with misinformation or over-simplification of these incredibly complex diseases.

A Clear Answer On Pet Cancer Prevention

Despite a myriad of claims for holistic products and alternative therapies, there is still no 100% method of preventing all cancers, even in our pets. This is because cancer cannot be viewed as a single disease with a predictable course of progression, symptomatology, or manner in which it spreads to other organs and systems of the body.

Similar to research findings regarding human cancer, we are learning that, in veterinary medicine, there are a wide range of causes – from genetics to exposure to carcinogenic substances. Age and overall health also play roles in a pet’s susceptibility to developing cancer.

There are some known carcinogens that concerned pet guardians can avoid exposing their pets to, as well as genetic and lifestyle factors that can help (or hinder) cancer in a pet companion.

Genetics – Veterinary oncologists and researchers are gaining a greater understanding of the genetic links to certain types of cancer among specific breeds. Because purebred canines come from a smaller gene pool (due to breeding restrictions or frequent inbreeding), genetic diversity is limited and the potential for passing on ‘cancer genes’ from one generation to the next is more likely.

Breeds that have increased risk of cancer include: Golden Retrievers (hemangiosarcoma and lymphoma), Rottweilers (osteosarcoma), Bernese Mountain Dogs & Flat Coated Retrievers (histiocytic sarcoma), and Boxers (lymphoma and mast cell tumors). Size also seems to be a factor in the rate of bone cancer among larger breeds like greyhounds.

Environmental carcinogens/toxins – Exposure to carcinogens or cancer-causing substances also factor into increased risk of certain cancers. Some of these carcinogens include cigarette smoke, pesticides, herbicides, and UV sun rays (especially among pets with short, light colored coats).

Hormones and viruses – It has been found that spaying/neutering a pet can reduce her/his chances of mammary cancer and sertoli cell cancer. Likewise, vaccinating your cat against Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV) reduces the risk of lymphoma, one of the most common cancers in cats.

Age and weight are also a factors in cancer susceptibility, but this is often a result of the above mentioned causes coupled with weakened immunity.  More recently obesity has been associated with an increased risk of cancer.

Practical Prevention Tips for Optimal Health

Since some cancer causing agents can be avoided with lifestyle changes, there are some practical steps you can take to help reduce your pet’s cancer risk.

These include:

  • Avoiding the use of lawn and garden chemicals, and keeping your pet away from areas where pesticides or herbicides have been sprayed
  • Quitting smoking or keeping second-hand smoke away from your pet
  • Maintaining vaccinations and annual wellness care examinations
  • Limiting sun exposure and using a pet formulated sunblock if needed
  • Educating yourself on the signs of cancer and those cancers your pet might be at greater risk for (due to breed, genetics, etc.)
  • Providing your pet with a high quality diet, daily exercise, and weight management

For more information about pet cancer and keeping your family member pet at his or her healthiest, please contact us or visit the Information About Cancer client education section of our website.