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?
To: Cancer is all too common in dogs, especially large and 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 ones. 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 so outside away from your dog, or better yet, quit. Long-muzzled dogs are particularly susceptible to nasal cancer from secondhand 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 soil. 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 lower their risk.
If your dog has a white face or short hair, you can help prevent skin cancer by applying a pet sunscreen and clothing that blocks the transmission of ultraviolet radiation.
A male dog with an undescended testicle should have it removed because it is much more likely to develop cancer than a testicle that has descended into the scrotum normally. An unspayed female has a higher risk of developing breast cancer than a spayed female.
Large breed dogs neutered before physical maturity are at increased risk of some cancers. So, if you have an older dog, talk to your vet about the timing of neuter surgery.
Periodically check your dog’s entire body, including the inside of his mouth, for lumps or sores that won’t heal. Note any loss of energy or appetite, unwanted weight loss, increased drinking or urination, persistent vomiting or coughing, difficulty breathing, discharge or offensive odor. Have your vet check any abnormalities you find right away, because early diagnosis and treatment increases the likelihood of a successful outcome.
Q: Moxie, our healthy 4-year-old indoor shorthair house cat, passed away suddenly. He was not sick a single day in his life, including his last day. His appetite and energy were good. There is no way he ingested anything toxic. Why did he die?
To: I am so sorry for your loss. It’s especially painful when you don’t have a chance to prepare for the death of a pet or say goodbye.
I don’t know Moxie’s cause of death, of course, but if I had to guess, I’d say she may have died of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a heart (“cardio-“) muscle (“-myo-“) disease . (“-pathy”). Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, or HCM, the most common feline heart disease, is characterized by thickening of the muscular walls of the heart.
Cats with HCM rarely have heart murmurs or arrhythmias, and almost never show clinical signs until a catastrophe occurs: sudden death, acute heart failure, or sudden onset of pain and paralysis of the hind legs due to a blocking clot blood flow to the legs. . HCM is diagnosed by ultrasound of the heart, called echocardiography.
Studies show that 15-34% of outwardly healthy cats have HCM. Young and middle-aged cats are most affected. More than 75% are men, and men develop more severe disease at a younger age than women. Prevalence is highest among short-haired domestic cats, which are mixed-breed cats.
The cause of HCM is unknown, although genetic mutations have been identified in Maine coon, ragdoll and sphynx breeds. HCM is also thought to be inherited in Persian and Rex cats, so it can also be inherited in short-haired domestic cats.
Lee Pickett, VMD, practices companion animal medicine in North Carolina. Contact her at https://askthevet.pet.