PET CANCER AWARENESS: – Animal Behavior College

Pet Cancer Awareness

The Latest Updates, Trials, and Treatments

Sadly, it’s estimated that one in three domestic dogs will develop cancer and many of the type of cancers are very similar to those that affect humans too.

It’s also a leading cause of death amongst cats. Consequently, veterinary colleges around the country continue to work tirelessly to find new diagnostic tools and treatments. In order to be better aware of cancer awareness here’s an update on the latest trials and protocols.

When pet parent Michelle Maskaly returned home to New Jersey after a ten-day European business trip, the moment she walked through the door, she noticed that her Chihuahua Toby’s lymph nodes were visibly enlarged.

“We were at the vet the next morning. His blood work came back clear, but they did an aspiration just to be sure,” explained Maskaly. “Three days later I got a call that I will never forget; Toby had lymphoma and I was told I should get him to an oncologist as soon as possible. We were in the oncologist’s office that afternoon and Toby had his first chemo treatment an hour later. To this day, that quick action is what I believe helped him outlive what they told me.”

Maskaly, decided to document Toby’s struggle with the disease in her blog My Tail Hurts from Wagging So Much Their journey, and, her resolve to be keep him comfortable and happy makes for tearful reading. But her insights and tips are invaluable for any pet parent facing the same challenges and preparing to face the worst-case scenario.

What is Cancer

In simple terms, cancer refers to cells that grow out-of-control and invade other tissues. Cells may become cancerous due to the accumulation of defects, or mutations in the pet’s DNA.

Causes include long exposure to the sun; second-hand tobacco smoke; a variety of herbicides, insecticides, and pesticides commonly used in agriculture; and the air pollution and smog common in many urban areas. Viruses are known causes of some cancers in pets. For example, feline leukemia virus is a common cause of death in cats. Up to 30% of cats persistently infected with this virus develop cancer. A type of cancerous wart (known as an oral papilloma) that develops in the mouth of dogs, especially younger dogs, is caused by a virus. Consequently, there are many different types of cancers, which is why cancer awareness is so important.

Because of hereditary risk factors, it’s worth researching your dog’s breed and even doing a DNA test. This works on mixed-breed dogs too to determine their heritage. While for pure bred cats, genetic tests such as the Optimal Selection Feline Genetic Breeding Analysis DNA can help identify approximately 40 diseases and 25 traits in known cat breeds. Cancer awareness is key when reviewing possible diseases or traits that you fur baby may have.

On their website, the School of Veterinary Medicine at Purdue University, characterizes canine lymphomas as “a diverse group of cancers, and are among the most common cancers diagnosed in dogs. They collectively represent approximately 7-14% of all cancers diagnosed in dogs. There are over 30 described types of canine lymphoma, and these cancers vary tremendously in their behavior. Some progress rapidly and are acutely life-threatening without treatment, while others progress very slowly and are managed as chronic, indolent diseases. Lymphomas may affect any organ in the body, but most commonly originate in lymph nodes, before spreading to other organs such as the spleen, liver, and bone marrow.”

Nationwide, one of the country’s leading insurance companies that offers a variety of pet health insurance plans that cover cancer diagnosis and treatments has been able to track which cancers are most prevalent in both dogs and cats and identify those that are most common among both.

“Our data shows that lymphosarcoma, malignant skin neoplasia and hepatic neoplasia are among the most common cancerous conditions for both dogs and cats that are insured by Nationwide” explained Nationwide’s Chief Veterinary Officer Dr. Jules Benson. “For dogs, other most common types of cancerous conditions include splenic neoplasia and bone/joint neoplasia. For cats, additional common cancerous conditions include thoracic neoplasia and small intestine neoplasia.

“Further, our records from 2015-18 show a gradual, year-over-year increase for cancer-related claims among Nationwide-insured cats and dogs. The incremental uptick could be attributed to increased availability of medication, procedures, treatment protocols and veterinary specialty hospitals to diagnose and treat cancerous conditions. Also, pet owners that purchase pet insurance are typically highly bonded with their pets and may be more inclined to pursue cancer treatment,” he added.

In 2003, the National Cancer Institute’s Center for Cancer Research (CCR) launched the Comparative Oncology Program (COP) to help researchers better understand the biology of cancer and to improve the assessment of novel treatments for humans by treating pet animals-primarily cats and dogs -with naturally occurring cancer, giving these animals the benefit of cutting-edge research and therapeutics. This initiative also included the opportunity to participate in clinical trials to evaluate new treatment options for cancer for both people and pets increasing the need for pet cancer awareness.

Veterinary Clinical Trials

Consequently, in recent years, there have been great advancements in both the diagnosis in terms of imaging and staging of the disease as well as the general management, treatments and supportive care. And, as a result, pet parents now have many more options to consider for beloved pets stricken by various forms of the disease.

Currently, veterinary schools around the country are offering pet parents new hope with individual clinical trials that focus on their specific research studies. Logistically, it may not always be possible to get involved in a particular trial. But this is definitely a discussion worth having with your veterinarian, veterinary team, and your pet’s oncologist. For example, the Cornell University Hospital for Animals (CUHA) has a program that looks to decrease the morbidity and mortality by focusing their research on early diagnosis and prevention of cancer citing that early diagnosis and prevention could do more to reduce the impact of cancer on the lives of companion animals than cancer treatment programs are able to accomplish.

The Cumming Veterinary Medical Center at Tufts University run a Clinical Trials office which details the trials both cancer related (as well as other prevalent diseases) that are currently on-going and details how pet parents can research them and apply for a pet to take part. Pet parents can apply directly or again, work via their veterinarian.

Perdue University currently has numerous on-going clinical trials focusing on cancers (affecting both dogs and cats). For example,

  • Canine Oral Squamous Cell Carcinoma
  • Canine Splenic Hemangiosarcoma
  • Canine Urinary Bladder Cancer
  • Canine Lymphoma
  • Dogs with Any Biopsy-confirmed Cancer.

It also details the financial support available for the individual trials and all other relevant information.

The Flint Animal Cancer Center at Colorado State University currently has a clinical trials program with trials focusing on the following:

Canine Brain Tumors

Canine Osteosarcoma

Canine Insulinoma

Canine Lymphoma

Canine Oral Tumors

Canine Soft Tissue Sarcoma

Canine Primary Lung Tumors

Multiple Tumor Types

Feline Tumors

Unfortunately, with the current national health emergency relating to the Covid-19 issue, many of the current trials at universities around the country, are on hold in terms of pets signing on to participate. Nevertheless, it’s worth reaching out to stay in touch.

The Importance of At Home Grooming and Wellness Checks

Hands-on grooming is an excellent opportunity to bring any lumps and bumps and abnormal swelling to your attention allowing further action without delay.

In order to include cancer awareness all pets should get an annual wellness check. And if possible, older pets should be checked every six months.

The Warning Signs of Cancer

  • Abnormal swellings that persist or continue to grow
  • Sores that do not heal
  • loss of appetite
  • Extreme weight loss
  • Bleeding or discharge from the mouth or anus
  • Smell Offensive
  • Difficulty eating or swallowing
  • Loss of normal stamina and a hesitation to exercise
  • Persistent lameness or stiffness
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Difficulty urinating or defecating

The At-Home Cancer Detection Kit

The OncoGuarDx Early Screening Cancer Detection kit is believed to be the first such kit for dog owners to use in a home setting. The science behind it helps to gauge the thermodynamic stability of a dog’s DNA.

“The higher the stress experienced, the more unstable it becomes, ultimately resulting in cancer,” explained spokesperson Jake Messier when the kits were introduced to the pet industry at the Global Pet Expo in Florida last February.

“Basically, its s swab test of the nose to gather the DNA and measure the level of stress your dog’s body is under at that point in time,” he added.

The swab is then transfer to a specially treated plate and works in conjunction with the company’s dedicated mobile app to give a result within minutes.

An at-home kit must be considered nothing more than a home assistance tool; it is not a substitute for a veterinary consultation. However, the results could be useful to share with a veterinarian.

Helping Pet Parents Grieve

Grieving is not just something that happens after a beloved pet passes away. Preparation for this sad day is called anticipatory grievance. The Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement, is an excellent resource with links to chat rooms for help and guidance. Veterinary schools that offer cancer treatments are also an excellence resource. So is the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary via their Pet Loss and Grievance Resources page

Organ Donations to Help Research

After Toby passed away, Maskaly was also able to donate his lymph nodes to Cornell’s Biobank for research purposes. The Cornell Veterinary Biobank’s goal is to enable research into 3,000+ disorders in animals that have a genetic basis, of which almost 1,500 are potential models of human disease, leading to improvements in both animal and human health which show how important pet cancer awareness really is .

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