What Causes Cancer in Pets?

The Risk Is in Their Genes

Although hereditary cancer is uncommon in humans, some mutations leading to cancer are well known, such as those in the BRCA 1 and 2 genes linked to breast and ovarian cancer.

Using the cloned canine genome, veterinary researchers are ferreting out the genetics of certain canine cancers.

The close genetic relationship between members of certain dog breeds seems to be a predisposing cause of some types of cancer. According to the Golden Retriever health survey, the major cause of death in this breed is cancer, predominantly lymphoma and hemangiosarcoma.

Lymphoma in dogs carries similar genetic abnormalities to that of lymphoma in humans,and determining the genetic makeup of lymphoma in dogs can help predict the subgroup of lymphoma and thus the prognosis for individual dogs.

Environmental Carcinogens

Human behavior affects our risk of developing cancer. Tobacco use, alcohol consumption, lack of exercise and a poor diet are risk factors for developing cancer. We take better care of our pets than we do of ourselves, and these are not typically risk factors for animal cancers. The exception, however, is exposure to environmental tobacco smoke, which has been associated with oral squamous cell carcinoma and lymphoma.

Additionally, increased exposure to environmental dusts is also associated with an increased risk of lung cancer in dogs, and an increased incidence of lymphoma has been associated with environmental contamination with toxic waste.

Finally, when your lawn is treated to prevent unsightly weeds, it may cause a problem in your dog. Preliminary research has shown that Scottish Terriers, a breed at risk for bladder cancer, may have a greater risk of developing this deadly tumor when exposed to herbicides applied to your lawn. To be safe, it's best to keep everyone off the lawn for the time recommended by your lawn specialist.

Knowing the Cause Allows Prevention

The bottom line is that you can impact your pet’s cancer risk by adopting a few simple strategies.

  1. Keep your pet out of the sun, especially between the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.
  2. Prevent infection with feline leukemia virus by keeping your cat indoors and by administering the feline leukemia vaccine.
  3. Don’t smoke. This is good for you and your pets.
  4. If you live in an area of high environmental pollution, keep your windows closed, use air purifiers and filter your water.
  5. Research your breed before getting a new pet.

Cancer is an unpredictable disease, but it can't hurt to try and minimize risk wherever you can.
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