Each year, millions of pets are diagnosed with cancer, thought to be the main cause of mortality in dogs older than 10 .
Tracking this disease is a big priority for researchers, who have put together hugely valuable resources like the Norwegian or Swiss Cancer Registry.
Thanks to these efforts, we have some good news: canine cancer is in many instances similar to that of humans. And so it makes for an extremely useful model to better understand this disease in both populations.
It’s a fantastic illustration of the one health principle in practice, and an important reminder of how close we are to the animals we share our planet with.
Did you know we share some 85% of our genetic material with dogs? And so their lymphoma, stomach and bladder cancers are almost identical to our own. Our pets also share our homes, and so the environmental risk factors are pretty much the same for both of us.
That’s why several research centres, such as the Animal Health Trust in the UK, have created programmes for dogs who have developed cancer.
These dogs receive novel, experimental medications at no cost. And as you’d expect, the results are closely monitored to see if any of these medicines could be developed for use in both dogs and people.
It’s a similar story at the aptly-named Comparative Oncology Program in the US. Here, cats also take part, because of the similarity between breast cancer in the feline and human populations.
And the additional benefit of this kind of study is that it reduces the need to use research animals.
The history of pets fighting cancer is longer than you might think; in 1989, The Lancet published a paper about a case in which a dog became agitated at a mole his owner had on her leg.
Her dog’s behaviour prompted an early intervention from a specialist, and she was diagnosed with melanoma and treated. But this could be just the beginning; the UK’s National Health Service has commissioned research to see if cancer detection dogs could help save more lives .
This may prove to be yet another way in which our pets can support our health and wellbeing.
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