It is a sad fact that cancer can rarely be prevented, always excepting some which have been proven to have a link with an environmental factor such as some chemicals and of course, smoke. It has been estimated that a quarter of all dogs who do not die accidentally will die of cancer and this is a rise on figures reached some years ago. It is of course impossible to tell whether this figure represents an actual rise or whether cancers are not more easily diagnosed and so dogs who would once have been deemed to have died of ‘old age’ are now listed as cancer victims. Like people, if dogs live to extreme old age, it is very likely to be a tumour which will be the final cause of death.
A lot of dogs are not eating a healthy diet and obesity and vitamin deficiency will result in an unhealthy animal which is then more likely to fall victim to a systemic disease. The other side of obesity is that it is much more difficult to spot lumps and bumps and the unnatural walking gait that is the symptom of some cancers such as osteosarcoma and various brain tumours. Although early diagnosis cannot be considered prevention, it may lengthen life of a reasonable quality for the dog and so it is well worth while making sure that your dog is eating a suitable diet. If an owner is in any doubt, any vet surgery will help and many run ‘fat camps’ for dogs. Most pet stores now stock a huge variety of healthy foods and if the very least you do is read the feeding instructions on the pack, you will have gone a long way to making your dog healthy.
Linked with a healthy diet is adequate exercise. It is not enough to just let your dog out twice a day for as long as it takes for whatever he needs to do at the time! Your dog needs to run about and also to indulge in play – it’s good for you as well. It may sound a bit unsavoury, but accompanying your dog and scooping the poop will give you a chance to make sure that the stools are firm and free from blood and mucus – it isn’t the greatest activity in the world on a scale of one to ten, but it may make the difference between life and death for your dog. While your dog is running about, you can make sure that he is not limping, or that he doesn’t get unusually breathless. If you can find the space to throw a ball, you can make sure that he can see properly to fetch it or even catch it if he is that way inclined. Most importantly, watch for any changes in his behaviour. This will be very important in the case of any brain malignancies as it is often co-ordination which goes first.
No one is saying that your home should revolve around your dog, but you did invite him to live with you so it seems only fair not to inflict any unhealthy lifestyle choices on him. This essentially means smoking these days, as homes are pretty chemical free anyway. Lung cancer is not surprisingly very rare in dogs, but secondary smoking will affect your dog just as it would another person and so really should be avoided if possible. Some chemically induced tumours have been found in dogs but evidence is quite circumstantial and so it isn’t certain that as owners anything can be done to prevent it. A carcinogen is unlikely to be found in the normal household environment in these days of health and safety.
Again, this cannot be considered a preventative measure, but it is true that the earlier a malignancy is spotted, the greater the chance of recovery. There are some cancers which never show symptoms, but others which result in swellings, pain, bleeding, discharges and gross behavioural changes should never be allowed to get to an advanced state. Some tumours which mimic infections can fool even vets but even if you have a favourite cream or medication which you use without going to the vet, anything which lasts longer than the usual time or which is new to you or your pet, should mean a visit to the surgery as soon as possible. It is so much better to be safe than sorry.
Breeds Susceptible to Cancer
Some breeds of dog are more susceptible to certain cancers than others and it is possible with a pedigree of course to check the genetic line to see if there is a particular tendency. It has not been totally proved that there is a genetic link in the process of cancers, but it would be unwise to buy a pup if there is a lot of family history. As an owner, you must make the decision if you are not willing to nurse a dog through cancer and not buy a breed which has a high level of the disease. It can be a very expensive business as well as distressing for both owner and animal to get a dog through chemotherapy and some owners may prefer to use euthanasia rather than see their pet suffer. With advances in veterinary medicine more dogs do survive cancer these days and radiotherapy, chemotherapy and very radical surgery are options often employed.