A healthier lifestyle may reduce dog cancer risk
Q: A friend’s dog recently died of cancer and we want to do everything we can to keep our own dog cancer free. What advice can you offer?
A: Cancer is far too common in dogs, especially large purebred dogs. You can’t change your dog’s genetics, but there are things you can do to minimize the risk of cancer.
Overweight dogs develop cancer more often than thin dogs. Thin dogs also live two years longer than their overweight counterparts, so keep your dog at a healthy weight.
Environmental toxins can cause cancer in dogs. If you smoke, do it outside, away from your dog, or better yet, quit. Dogs with long muzzles are especially susceptible to nose cancer from second-hand smoke.
Some lawn chemicals increase the risk of cancer, so don’t use them or keep your dog off the grass until the application dries or soaks into the ground. Paints, solvents and asbestos can also cause cancer, so keep your dog away from them.
Although no research has shown that any particular diet prevents cancer, there is some evidence that omega-3 fatty acids may help reduce the risk.
Scottish terriers develop transitional cell carcinoma of the urinary tract more often than other breeds. However, some research suggests that feeding them cruciferous vegetables may decrease their risk.
If your dog has a white face or short hair, you can help prevent skin cancer by applying pet sunscreen and clothing that blocks the transmission of ultraviolet rays.
A male dog with an undescended testicle should have it removed as he is much more likely to develop cancer than a testicle that has descended into the scrotum normally. An unspayed female is more at risk of developing breast cancer than a spayed female.
Large breed dogs sterilized before physical maturity have an increased risk of certain cancers. So if you have a large dog, talk to your vet about when to neuter.
Regularly check your dog’s entire body, including the inside of the mouth, for any bumps or sores that won’t heal. Note any loss of energy or appetite, unintentional weight loss, increased drinking or urination, persistent stomach pain or coughing, difficulty breathing, discharge or unpleasant odor. Ask your veterinarian to check any abnormalities you find immediately, as early diagnosis and treatment increases the likelihood of a positive result.
Q: Moxie, our 4-year-old healthy indoor domestic shorthair cat, passed away suddenly. He was never sick a single day in his life, including his last day. His appetite and energy were good. There’s no way he ingested anything toxic. Why is he dead?
A: I’m so sorry for your loss. It’s especially painful when you don’t have the opportunity to prepare for the death of an animal or to say goodbye to it.
I don’t know Moxie’s cause of death, of course, but if I had to guess, I’d say he may have died of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, muscular (“cardio-“) heart disease (“- myo-“) (“-pathy”). Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, or HCM, the most common feline heart disease, is characterized by thickening of the muscular walls of the heart.
Cats with this disease rarely have heart murmurs or arrhythmias, and they almost never show any clinical signs until disaster strikes – sudden death, acute heart failure, or sudden onset of pain and paralysis of the hind legs due to a clot that is blocking blood flow to the legs. The condition is diagnosed by an ultrasound of the heart, called echocardiography.
Studies show that 15-34% of healthy cats have this problem. Young to middle-aged cats are most commonly affected. Over 75% are male, and males develop more severe disease at a younger age than females. The prevalence is highest in domestic short-haired cats, which are mixed-breed cats.
The cause is unknown, although genetic mutations have been identified in Maine coon, ragdoll and sphynx breeds. Enlargement is also thought to be hereditary in Persian and Rex cats, so it could be a hereditary tendency in domestic shorthair cats as well.
Lee Pickett, VMD, practices companion animal medicine in North Carolina. Contact her at