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Healthy Dogs

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Dogs and Cancer: Get the Facts

A vet answers 10 commonly asked questions about cancer in dogs.


Q: So some breeds are more prone to cancers? Are mixed-breed dogs less likely to get cancer?

A: Any time you have an inbred population, you don’t know what else is being inherited along with the traits you want. People like golden retrievers because they look like golden retrievers. But what else is being passed through that line? Golden retrievers have a strong incidence of cancer. So do boxers, flat-coated retrievers, Bernese Mountain dogs. All of those breeds, and others, have specific cancers that we see. That’s showing that there are probably specific genetic components to some cancers. But it’s still a question of how much is genetics versus environmental factors.

Because mixed-breed dogs come from a much larger gene pool, they would be less likely to get genetic-based cancers. But that doesn’t do anything for spontaneous cancers or environmentally caused cancers.

Q: What can I do to help prevent my dog from getting cancer?

A: The biggest thing is spaying your dog. If you spay a dog before its first heat you’ll reduce the chance of mammary cancer eight-fold, just because of the hormonal influence.

Good oral care can help decrease oral cancers. And if you’re buying a purebred dog, check its line to see if there’s a specific kind of cancer in that breed’s line.

But overall, prevention is difficult because we don’t know the causes of most cancers. I think, rather than trying to prevent cancer, identifying it early and treating it quickly is the better strategy.

Q: If my dog has cancer, does that mean he’s going to die?

A: Absolutely not. Probably the majority of the cancers we see can be dealt with surgically. A lot of the breast cancers, a lot of the mast cell tumors, a lot of skin tumors, soft tissue sarcomas, many of those tumors can be removed surgically and are cured. Even in situations where they have advanced to a lymph node, there are options that can prolong your dog’s life and even cure him.

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