NOV 15, 2021 3:00 AM PST

Dogs Get Cancer Too

WRITTEN BY: Katie Kokolus

Image Credit: Kathleen Kokolus

Cancer isn’t a word anyone wants to hear from their doctor. However, many dog owners may not consider that a dreaded cancer diagnosis can also come from veterinarians.

Two years ago, my own family found out that our sweet, loving, and playful golden retriever, Rory, (pictured here at age 3), had lymphoma.  In our case, this devastating news came on Rory’s fourth birthday.  While we may have been aware that dogs could develop cancer, the thought of it occurring in an otherwise healthy dog so young was quite a shock.

Dogs are susceptible to various types of cancer, including melanoma, lymphoma, hemangiosarcoma, and osteosarcoma. Early detection offers the most treatment options and gives a dog the best chance of a favorable prognosis.  

Melissa Rupoli-Katz is the President of Zeus Oncology Fund, an organization that helps offset treatment costs for the families of dogs diagnosed with cancer, including mine.  She offered some advice to dog parents on preventing canine cancer, including a monthly ‘lump and bump check.’ She suggests giving your dog “a meaningful pet from head to tip of tail and examining inside the mouth to ensure no new lumps or bumps are present.”  Additional preventative measures include regular veterinary checkups, high-quality food, good exercise, and limiting sun exposure.  

Rupoli-Katz also stressed the importance of early detection, recommending that, “if you think your dog is not acting its ordinary goofy self, get to the vet and run some tests.”

Image Credit: Kathleen Kokolus

The positive news is that the interest in canine cancer research and treatment development is steadily increasing due, in part, to the many similarities between canine and human cancer development, progression, and treatment.  Rupoli-Katz explained how these parallels have “prompted an increase in funding for canine cancer research and an improvement in recognizing and implementing new treatments in our pet cancer protocol.”  She adds, “we are optimistic that advancements in canine cancer research will also assist in human cancer research and treatment.” 

Some of Zeus Oncology Fund’s grant recipients have benefited from emerging therapies such as stereotactic radiation, which avoids substantial damage to healthy tissue surrounding the tumor.   Ongoing research for canine cancer often includes treatments used for human cancer. These therapeutic and diagnostic modalities include genetic screeningvaccine development, and immunotherapy.  Notably, compared to humans, dogs often experience mild side effects to cancer treatments which significantly enhances their quality of life while undergoing treatment.   

One in three dogs will be diagnosed with cancer. Therefore, people who own multiple dogs in their lifetime will likely face a canine cancer diagnosis at some point. If you encounter such a situation, educating yourself on the available options is an essential first step. Rupoli-Katz urges those who find themselves in such a situation to remember, “it is a very personal decision to move forward with treating your dog; however, once you have all the facts, only the owner knows what is best for their dog.” Finally, if you are struggling with a challenging experience due to an illness in your furry friend, seek out a support group in your area. 



Sources: number, various, Zeus Oncology Fund, stereotactic radiation, genetic screening, vaccine development, immunotherapy, mild, one in three

About the Author
Doctorate (PhD)
I received a PhD in Tumor Immunology from SUNY Buffalo and BS and MS degrees from Duquesne University. I also completed a postdoc fellowship at the Penn State College of Medicine. I am interested in developing novel strategies to improve the efficacy of immunotherapies used to extend cancer survivorship.
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