Several readers recently have been asking the same question. Maybe because canine cancer education is spreading, and the fact that canine cancer is so common these days.
Here it is: “What can I do to prevent cancer in my dog?”
Simple question, complex answer. I’ll do my best here, and maybe do a few more posts on the topic.
Here’s the wide-angle view on this question: at this time we don’t have a single “cause” for cancer. In other words, what we have are multiple different factors that increase risk. And for all of the hard scientists out there, increasing risk usually does not constitute a “cause”.
If we were to adopt this stance, we could say that cigarettes do not cause cancer. Instead, they increase risk. I lean towards the statement that cigarettes cause cancer.
But I must confess that the waters get very murky the more one examines this issue.
Nonetheless, we have words like “carcinogen”, which means “causes cancer”, and we accept this as “fact”, and so I think it is safe to say that there are many different “causes” of cancer. So let’s look at cancer causes, or at least risk factors.
How about genetics? This boils down to the breed issue. We know that certain breeds have much higher risk for certain cancers. I will point out though, in humans, that cancers “caused” by genetics are estimated to only account for less than 5% of all cancers.
Certainly in humans we don’t have breeds (and selective breeding, inbreeding, and so on) like we do in dogs. The changes in the DNA related to a breed or a bloodline are impossible to eliminate once in the DNA. The easiest way to avoid this is to get a dog that is low risk for cancers generally, or go with a mixed breed dog. In The Dog Cancer Survival Guide can be found an example list of breeds and their common cancers.
Cancer is the number one disease causing death of dogs. Euthanasia due to pet overpopulation and un-adopted dogs in the number one cause of death of dogs. So adopting a mixed-breed dog is sensible wisdom and is a good thing to do on a number of levels.
Another issue to point out is that obesity is a risk factor for cancers. This has been identified with both the number one bladder cancer (transitional cell carcinoma) and mammary cancer. Keeping dogs lean is a good way to minimize these (and perhaps this will be shown for other cancers in the future).
Spaying at an early age has been shown to help minimize mammary cancer, in particular before the fourth heat. However, early spaying has also been shown to increase the rates of other cancers, like osteosarcoma.
For these reasons and others, I advise my clients to spay between the second and third heat (12 to 18 months of age on the average).
We will look at some other controllable issues to help avoid canine cancer in the next post.
For more information on these topics, see The Dog Cancer Survival Guide.
Dr. Demian Dressler is internationally recognized as “the dog cancer vet” because of his innovations in the field of dog cancer management, and the popularity of his blog here at Dog Cancer Blog. The owner of South Shore Veterinary Care, a full-service veterinary hospital in Maui, Hawaii, Dr. Dressler studied Animal Physiology and received a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of California at Davis before earning his Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine from Cornell University. After practicing at Killewald Animal Hospital in Amherst, New York, he returned to his home state, Hawaii, to practice at the East Honolulu Pet Hospital before heading home to Maui to open his own hospital. Dr. Dressler consults both dog lovers and veterinary professionals, and is sought after as a speaker on topics ranging from the links between lifestyle choices and disease, nutrition and cancer, and animal ethics. His television appearances include “Ask the Vet” segments on local news programs. He is the author of The Dog Cancer Survival Guide: Full Spectrum Treatments to Optimize Your Dog’s Life Quality and Longevity. He is a member of the American Veterinary Medical Association, the Hawaii Veterinary Medical Association, the American Association of Avian Veterinarians, the National Animal Supplement Council and CORE (Comparative Orthopedic Research Evaluation). He is also an advisory board member for Pacific Primate Sanctuary.