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Battling Canine Cancer

Humans often refer to it as “the dreaded ‘C’ word.” In the canine world, cancer is just as disturbing and pervasive. And at PetPartners, the exclusive provider of the AKC Pet Healthcare Plan, we are seeing an increase in canine cancer claims.

Better Prevention, Earlier Diagnosis and Advanced Treatments
The good news is that, with more emphasis on prevention, our pets stand a better chance against falling victim to cancer in the first place. But if they do, early detection can help ensure the best possible outcome.

Good cancer prevention starts by researching dog breeds and make certain you adopt your dog from a reputable breeder. Understand your dog’s inherited risks but keep in mind that even the best-bred dog from the best breeder can develop cancer. While any breed can be affected, some studies suggest that certain breeds (see the AKC Gazette article below) are more susceptible to cancer than others. A recent edition of AKC Breeder contains helpful links to a series of articles, videos and podcasts on canine cancer issues, risks and therapies.

Dogs need a healthy immune system to best avoid illnesses. Frequent exercise, along with regular medical and dental check-ups is necessary to maintain good health. As many veterinarians agree, lots of love and attention are also critical for a dog’s physical and emotional well being. A fit, happy and healthy dog is less likely to develop cancer.

Quality food and clean water will also go a long way toward keeping your dog healthy. Discuss with your veterinarian the best type of food for your dog, as well as appropriate meal portions to avoid obesity (which can also contribute to cancer). Ask your veterinarian about adding omega-3 fatty acids or supplements to your dog’s diet, another way to potentially reduce the risk of cancer. Avoid foods that contain known carcinogens such as growth hormones, insecticides, preservatives and artificial colors.

Research has shown that spaying and neutering can be an effective method of preventing canine cancer and other illnesses. As a side benefit, some studies suggest that spaying and neutering helps prevent aggression and roaming. Ask your breeder and your veterinarian about the pros and cons involved in spaying and neutering.

Maintain a Safe Home Environment
Healthy dogs should avoid exposure to pesticides and harmful substances in their homes and yards. Our pets will be at their healthiest when their environment is carcinogen-free.

Be aware that a harmless-looking puddle in the yard might contain certain cancer-causing substances such as asbestos dust from brakes. Also, many cans and bottles in the garage, under the sink and by the pool might look like chewable fun to your dog but can cause cancer down the road. Contaminants can cause immediate illness or symptoms that develop later on after initial exposure. Some other known carcinogen sources include coal, kerosene heaters and excessive diagnostic x-ray work.

Despite your best efforts to keep harmful contaminants away from your dog, sometimes accidents do occur. Dogs are curious by nature and the unthinkable can happen when they get into things they should not. This is where pet insurance can help cover the costs for unplanned emergency clinic visits. Some recent claims we have seen include $2,423 for rodent poison toxicity, $1,500 for fertilizer toxicity, $1,042 for cocoa mulch poisoning and $3,464 for household cleaner poisoning.

Connect the Dots of Warning Signs for early Diagnosis
The best weapon for fighting canine cancer is early detection. Be aware of these visible symptoms while cancer is still optimally treatable:

  • Sudden weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Bleeding or discharge
  • Offensive odor
  • Lameness or stiffness
  • Abnormal swellings that grow
  • Sores that do not heal
  • Problems eating or swallowing
  • Loss of stamina or desire for exercise
  • Difficulty breathing, urinating or defecating

Although you might do all of the “right” things, there is no guarantee that your dog won’t develop cancer. However, thanks to advances in veterinary diagnostics and therapies, canine cancer can be caught and treated earlier. This helps increase the chance for survival and a high quality of life. While new anti-cancer treatment therapies become available almost daily, early diagnosis remains critical — the smaller the tumor the better the outcome.

The Future Holds Even Better Treatments
Today, our dogs are lucky that they can receive and benefit from many of the same cancer treatments used by humans. In fact, the most commonly seen cancer in dogs – lymphoma – is generally treated using protocols adapted from interdisciplinary human and veterinary studies.

Supporting efforts to fight canine cancer is the AKC Canine Health Foundation. In recent years they have allocated new grants of almost $2 million
toward 27 clinical research projects, with the common goal of:

  • Discovering new treatments to improve to existing therapies to eradicate cancer or slow down tumor growth
  • Finding methodologies for earlier and more accurate cancer detection
  • Increasing understanding of the genetics of lymphoma in order to develop alternative canine cancer treatments

The AKC Pet Healthcare Plan includes cancer coverage and other serious conditions in all of our illness plans. Many other pet healthcare plans exclude cancer coverage or provide a cancer ‘rider’ for an additional fee. Others consider cancer a genetic condition and exclude it from coverage on that basis. All of our illness plans include cancer diagnosis and treatment costs, For more information on our plans and a no-obligation quote, contact us at 866-725-2747 or visit

Back to the Drawing Board: Hemangiosarcoma

While researchers across the country are working hard to learn more about the causes and potential treatments of cancer, hemangiosarcoma remains one of the more frustrating cancers in dogs. Experts note hemangiosarcoma tumors account for an estimated 5 to 7 percent of all tumors seen in dogs. Its aggressive and highly malignant nature remains particularly challenging to researchers and veterinarians because it has usually metastasized by the time it’s diagnosed. Equally frustrating, the symptoms are often subtle or nonexistent until the final stages, with some dogs succumbing to the disease within days of the initial diagnosis.What seemed to be a simple, albeit aggressive disease is much more complex in both origin and biology than what researchers originally thought.

What they have learned in 40 years of assumptions about hemangiosarcoma may not be entirely correct, and a “back to the drawing board” approach is likely to be the most efficient way to find this cancer’s Achilles’ heel, according to Jaime Modiano, VMD, Ph.D., Perlman professor of oncology/comparative medicine, College of Veterinary Medicine and Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota.”We believe that hemangiosarcoma arises from a specialized cell that originates in the bone marrow and may have multipotential-meaning it can give rise to more than one type of cell, i.e., has stem-cell properties—or perhaps one that contributes to blood-vessel formation but is not, strictly speaking, the ‘endothelial’ cell we recognize in normal vessels,” Modiano says. “While we remain fairly certain the cells that give rise to hemangiosarcoma come from the bone marrow, we do not know if the transforming event(s) take place there or in the target origins.

“Any breed can be affected, but some breeds appear more susceptible, including Boxers, German Shepherd Dogs, Portuguese Water Dogs, English Setters, Great Danes, and Pointers, among others. According to an Australian Shepherd breed-club health survey, it’s the number-one cancer in Aussies. A similar Golden Retriever health study published in 2002 estimated the lifetime risk for hemangiosarcoma is one in five. While dogs of any age are susceptible, it occurs more commonly in middle-aged dogs with the mean age between 8 and 13.The good news is that it’s not all bad news. In addition to working to define the genesis of the tumor and to explore the extent of breed-specific variation in the biology and behavior of hemangiosarcoma, researchers at universities across the country are conducting various hemangiosarcoma research projects, including working to discover pathways or molecules that are essential for hemangiosarcoma proliferation and survival, and will be amenable to targeting using pharmacologic or immune-based strategies.These excerpts first appeared in an article by Tracey Libby in the November 2009 AKC Gazette and are reprinted with permission.

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