Prevention and better treatment options are still key to fighting animal cancer

Some may wonder if the statistic “1 in 4 dogs will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime” is still true. Here at Kali’s Wish, we wondered about that too. We dug into the research and found out that little has changed with respect to animal cancer statistics. Cancer continues to be very common in cats and dogs over the age of 10, with half of dogs diagnosed with cancer in their senior years dying of the disease. Cats fair a little better but cancer is still one of the most common diseases that leads to death.

But the news is not all bad. In a recent conversation with Dr. Jerome Gagnon, veterinary oncologist and assistant professor at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine in Saskatoon, he said there are reasons to be hopeful: we now have a much better understanding of the things we can do to help prevent cancer, and there are several new and promising treatment options.

“I think there are different things we do as vets that we see cancer more and more,” says Dr. Gagnon. These days, people are much more willing to have diagnostic tests performed on their pets, which in some cases leads to a definitive cancer diagnosis. “People are also taking better care of their animals, so they live longer and then we see a higher incidence of cancer,” he adds.

“Unfortunately with cancer, there is not one thing that causes the disease,” says Dr. Gagnon. There are a lot of factors that may lead to the development of cancer in animals, so acting on one specific thing at a time may not be enough to prevent the disease. And just like in humans, even if you do all the right things, your pet may still get cancer.

“Genetics play a big role, certain viruses, especially in cats, cause cancer and then there’s exposure to carcinogens like cigarette smoke and pesticides,” says Dr. Gagnon.

“There are certain breeds that are predisposed to certain types of cancer and one of the problems is they are usually older when they get cancer so the owners may have lost touch with the breeder,” he explains.

Although breeders may take into consideration cancer when breeding, they don’t always know what’s happened with their puppies. “If you’ve purchased a dog from a breeder, it’s a good idea to let the breeder know that your dog has had a cancer diagnosis because it may impact their breeding program.”

Choosing a puppy from a responsible breeder is a great way to help prevent cancer in your pets. Other prevention strategies include feeding a nutritious diet, maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly, keeping them away from toxins, and seeing the vet regularly. “By leading a healthy lifestyle you can significantly reduce your pets’ risk of getting cancer,” says Dr. Gagnon.

Just like with humans, nutrition plays a part in the overall health of your pet. A recent study out of Purdue University in Indiana looked at the effects of feeding green, leafy vegetables three times a week on decreasing the risk of bladder cancer in Scottish Terriers — a breed that is 18 times more likely than any other breed to develop bladder cancer.

Two groups of Scottish Terrier puppies — one group fed green leafy vegetables three times a week and the other group fed a regular dog food diet — were observed from puppies to adulthood. The group that was fed the veggies had a lower incidence of bladder cancer, says Dr. Gagnon.

Many cancers are associated with obesity, so making sure your pets stay at a healthy weight is a good idea, he says. “There are many health benefits to maintaining a healthy weight and helping to prevent cancer is one of them.”

With respect to treatment, surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy are still the most common forms of cancer treatment. A fourth treatment that looks promising is immunotherapy, says Dr. Gagnon.

“Basically there are different ways to use the patient’s immune system to target the cancer. One of the most common ways is through a tumour vaccine,” he explains. Unlike a vaccine dogs get as puppies to prevent disease, this type of immunotherapy involves a therapeutic vaccine.

“The injected vaccine creates an immune reaction, so hopefully the patient’s immune system will produce antibodies that get rid of the tumour,” says Dr. Gagnon. Currently there is a vaccine  for dogs with melanoma, and there is another in development that will treat dogs with bone cancer.

Radiation therapy has also come a long way in treating cancer. A new program offered at Western Veterinary Animal Cancer Centre in Calgary is their Stereotactic Radiosurgery Unit that offers a more targeted dose of radiation to the tumour, decreases normal tissue complications, and significantly lowers the anaesthetic burden in patients requiring radiation therapy.

Regardless of which treatment families choose for their pet, making sure their pets maintain a good quality of life is very important and the main driver in their treatment decisions. “With the clients that I see, the aim of quality of life still remains the number one concern with respect to their decision to pursue treatment,” says Dr. Gagnon.

Do you have any questions about your pet’s health? Reach out to our Panel of Experts today!

Author: Sherry Warner

The content on this website is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional veterinary medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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