Dr. Fiona is a guest veterinarian blogger for the highly rated pet insurance provider, Pets Best.
Cancer is epidemic in the human population, with millions of dollars set aside annually for research to help treatment and diagnostic efforts. Most people have been touched by this disease in some way, either themselves, or by a loved one. But did you know that the cancer rate in dogs is similar to that of people?
One in three dogs will contract cancer in their lifetimes. This statistic cites the overall dog population, the statistic for cancer in pure bred dogs is even higher.
Uncovering this genetic predisposition towards cancer has the promise of providing a tool for researchers to better understand how genes affect cancer rates. The canine genome has already been decoded; scientists are hopeful that learning how traits in purebred dogs relate to cancer can help aid the diagnosis and treatment of human cancers.
In breeds most susceptible to cancer, this rate of cancer is generally found across most lines and pedigrees. This indicates that the genes that code for cancer were present in the earliest start of that breed’s creation. Most purebreds are essentially inbred, thus their genes are concentrated over time. Specific desirable characteristics are bred for again and again, perfecting the breed.
Golden Retrievers are a great example of a cancer prone breed with a very specific genealogical lineage. A Scottish Land Baron in the 1860’s crossed a yellow flat coated retriever with a water spaniel in the 1860’s to create the Golden Retriever. The breed was recognized by the UK’s Kennel Club in 1911, and ALL purebred goldens are theoretically descended from this line.
There are some undesirable genetic or inherited problems in dogs that have been successfully reduced by careful breeding. For example, early detection of orthopedic issues such as hip and elbow dysplasia, and certain eye abnormalities have helped breeders deselect these dogs. Cancer is a difficult disease to deselect for, because most dogs obtain cancer after their most reproductive years and have may already birthed many litters prior to becoming ill, thus inadvertently passing these genes onto their offspring.
While in general pure breeds are most prone to cancer, some breeds are even more susceptible than others. Some studies indicate that about 60% of Golden Retrievers, for example, will die from some type of cancer. Other susceptible breeds include the Boxer, Rottweiler and Bernese Mountain Dog. Breeds with some of the lowest risks of cancer include the Beagle, Miniature and Standard Poodle, Collie and Dachshund.
The most common dogs cancer include osteosarcoma; a bone cancer, lymphoma; a disease of white blood cells, mast cell tumors; a cancer that generally manifests as a tumor on the skin and hemangiosarcoma; a cancer of blood vessels. There are many new promising treatments in the field of veterinary oncology, including surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. Some cancers can be managed giving pets additional months or even years of time.
There are some things you can do to help keep your dog healthy. Experts generally agree that mixed breed dogs, while not exempt from cancer, live about 10% longer than there purebred counterparts. Adopting a mixed breed dog can be one way of lessening your pet’s chance of developing cancer. In addition, keeping your pet fit and lean is very important. Obesity has been linked as a predisposition to a whole slew of health problems in dogs, including some cancers. It’s also a good idea to bring your pet in to your veterinarian for annual wellness and routine care exams. Some dog insurance companies, like Pets Best Insurance, will even help to pay for a portion of wellness care if the optional Wellness plan has been added to the policy.
The field of veterinary oncology and genealogy is in a position to prove of great value, not only for the benefit of companion animals, but for human cancer studies as well. Learning to better treat, prevent cancer and extend the lifespan of our canine counterparts has the exciting possibility of translating into better human medicine as well.
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