This Deadly Disease Strikes Almost Half of Dogs Over Age 10

Analysis by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

Story at-a-glance -

  • About 1 in 4 dogs will develop neoplasia, which refers to uncontrolled, abnormal growth of cells or tissues, during their lifetime; malignant neoplasms are “cancer”
  • Almost half of dogs over the age of 10 years will develop cancer, which occurs in dogs at about the same rate as it does in humans
  • Even if you don’t notice any specific signs of cancer, such as abdominal swelling or sudden changes in weight, dogs should be assessed for cancer at their yearly veterinary visit — and twice a year if your dog is a senior
  • Excess weight, exposure to toxins and an inflammatory diet are among the top contributors to cancer in pets
  • If your dog is diagnosed with cancer, or you're concerned about your pet's future health and want to reduce cancer risk as much as possible, team up with an integrative or holistic veterinarian and/or an integrative veterinary oncologist

About 1 in 4 dogs will develop neoplasia, which refers to uncontrolled, abnormal growth of cells or tissues, during their lifetime. The abnormal growth is called a tumor, and malignant tumors, or neoplasms, are “cancer.” According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), almost half of dogs over the age of 10 years will develop cancer, which occurs in dogs at about the same rate as it does in humans.1

While your pet’s immune system can fight off cancer cells, because they are constantly mutating they can overwhelm the immune system’s ability to fight back. Cancer is often used to describe one disease, but it actually refers to many different types, including:2

  • Carcinoma, which begins in tissues that cover internal organs
  • Sarcoma, which beings in bone, cartilage, fat, muscle, blood vessels or connective tissue
  • Leukemia, which begins in blood-forming tissue
  • Lymphoma, which begins in immune system cells

Signs and Symptoms of Canine Cancer

Most dog owners don’t want to even think about cancer, but knowing the possible signs and symptoms is important so you can see your veterinarian right away. These include:3,4

Abdominal swelling

Bleeding from the mouth, nose or other body openings

Difficulty breathing

Difficulty eating

Lumps, bumps or discolored skin

Non-healing wounds

Persistent diarrhea or vomiting

Sudden changes in weight

Unexplained swelling, heat, pain or lameness

Visible mass or tumor

Dry cough

Swollen lymph nodes

Unexplained bad breath or other odor

Lowered stamina

Lack of interest in physical activities

Even if you don’t notice any of these specific signs, dogs should be assessed for cancer at their yearly veterinary visit — and twice a year if your dog is a senior. Blood and urine tests, along with physical exams, can all be used to detect cancer, even in cases where a dog doesn’t look or feel sick.5

For instance, a urine test known as the CADET (CAncer DETection) BRAF Mutation Detection Assay can detect bladder cancer with as few as 10 cancer cells in the urine, making it useful for early detection, months before clinical signs appear.6

Top Causes of Cancer in Dogs

Oftentimes the cause of a specific cancer is unknown, but lifestyle and environmental factors are known risk factors for cancer in many cases. Obesity and overweight in pets can increase cancer risk, as body fat produces inflammation that can promote tumor development. Diet is another important factor, as an inflammatory diet, such as kibble or other highly processed pet foods, will fuel cancer in the body.

To help your dog avoid cancer, it’s important to feed an anti-inflammatory, low glycemic diet of whole foods, along with beneficial add-ins and supplements, including:

Probiotics

Super green foods

Medicinal mushrooms

Blueberries and broccoli

Digestive enzymes

Decaf green tea

Turmeric/curcumin

Fermented vegetables

Exposure to toxins, including pesticides such as flea and tick preventives, lawn chemicals, flame retardants, unnecessary vaccinations and tobacco smoke, may also increase cancer risk. The timing of neutering and spaying also matters, and I recommend looking into alternative ways to sterilize your pet without upsetting his or her important hormone balance for this reason.

Age is also a factor, with most cancer developing later in life. However, certain cancers, including osteosarcoma, an aggressive bone cancer that most commonly invades the long bones of large and giant breed dogs, may develop at a younger age. Certain dog breeds also tend to have higher cancer risks, such as golden retrievers, which are at significant risk for lymphoma.

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Available Cancer Treatments

Conventional cancer treatment for dogs consists of surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy and immunotherapies, which are typically managed by a veterinary oncologist. In some experimental cases, veterinary oncologists have teamed up with human oncologists to treat canine cancer, with promising results. As The Bark reported:7

“At the University of California, Davis, human oncologist Robert Canter and veterinary oncologist Michael Kent launched a clinical immunotherapy trial to test their theory that NK (natural killer) cells will attack tumor cells and stop them from creating new tumors.

In June 2020, a chocolate Lab named Josie with oral melanoma who had been given two to four months to live was infused with NK cells from a healthy dog. While it’s too soon to tell if the theory will hold, six months later, Josie was back doing what she loved: retrieving ducks.”

However, I also recommend consulting with an integrative veterinarian who can advise you on adjunctive therapies that may benefit your pet, such as hyperbaric oxygen therapy, IV antioxidant therapy, medicinal mushrooms and other natural substances, along with dietary strategies.

Transitioning your pet to a raw, species-appropriate diet rich in antioxidants, healthy fats and fatty acids, and ultra-low carbohydrates is a critical piece of a cancer treatment protocol. Digital filmmaker Rodney Habib and I also produced a documentary about using a ketogenic diet as a profound metabolic strategy to slow or stop aggressive canine cancers.

If your dog is diagnosed with cancer, or you're concerned about your pet's future health and want to reduce cancer risk as much as possible, team up with an integrative or holistic veterinarian and/or an integrative veterinary oncologist, as most conventional vets have very limited knowledge in the use of targeted nutrition, supplements and other alternative treatments for cancer.

If there's no integrative veterinarian in your area, some may offer phone consultations to help guide your dog’s treatment.