Posts Tagged ‘genetics’

How Can I Prevent My Dog From Getting Cancer?

September 7, 2009

When it comes to a cancer diagnosis, one of the most common questions I’m asked is, “How did my dog get this?” It’s only natural that people want to know what they could have done to prevent this dreadful diagnosis.  

Unfortunately, it’s exceedingly rare that I am able to provide a clear-cut answer. Yes, we know that cigarette smoke, asbestos, sun exposure, and some pesticides and lawn herbicides can be carcinogenic in dogs. We also know that female hormones influence the development of mammary tumors (breast cancer). In most cases of canine cancer, however, there is no discernible cause. 

Genetics clearly play a role in the development of some cancers. Giant dog breeds (heavier than 75 pounds) are predisposed to bone cancer. We certainly see an inherited predisposition to cancer in particular breeds, including Boxers, Golden Retrievers, Rottweilers, Bernese Mountain Dogs, Boston Terriers, English Bulldogs, Scottish Terriers, and Cocker Spaniels. 

So what can you do to prevent cancer in your four-legged best friend? Here are some suggestions (I truly hope this list becomes longer as our knowledge about cancer increases): 

Avoid exposure to known carcinogens (cancer causing substances) such as cigarette smoke, asbestos, and lawn herbicides. 

If your dog has little or no pigment on his face or underside, avoid letting him sunbathe during daylight hours when the sun is most intense. 

Talk to your veterinarian about when your dog should be spayed or castrated. Neutering prevents testicular, ovarian, and uterine cancer. Neutering female dogs before their first heat eliminates the risk of developing breast cancer, and when performed before two years of age the risk is markedly reduced.  Some data suggests that postponing neutering until a year or more of age in large breed dogs may be protective against bone cancer. More studies looking at this relationship are needed. 

Before adopting a purebred dog from the list of breeds mentioned above, do the research needed to confirm that parents, aunts, uncles, and grandparents were cancer free. I recently had the heartbreaking experience of working with two Bernese Mountain Dog littermates who lost the battle to a type of cancer called malignant histiocytosis. Three of their other four siblings had already succumbed to the same disease. 

Have your dog thoroughly examined by your veterinarian at least once a year. Just as with us, the earlier the detection of a cancerous process, the better the chances are for successfully treating the disease. 

Dr. Nancy Kay
Specialist, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine 

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot. There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot is available at Amazon.com, local bookstores, or your favorite online book seller. 

Join our email list – http://speakingforspot.com/joinemaillist.html

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Listen to Dr. Kay’s interview – A Veterinarian Advises “How to Speak for Spot” on NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross

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The Wisdom of Knowing…… or Not

July 15, 2009

Our puppy Quinn came to us via a local rescue organization.  Apparently, he was next in line for the needle at an overcrowded shelter in Bakersfield.  Although he has been part of our family for six months now, I remain clueless about his breed ancestry.  This is unusual for me- I’m like one of those people who guesses people’s weights at the circus.  Only, what I’m good at guessing is which breeds have gone into the making of a mutt.  I can watch the dog for a minute or two, then accurately size up his lineage. Quinn, on the other hand, has me completely bamboozled.  Sometimes I think he’s a Chihuahua-Border Collie mix.  At other times there’s a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Papillon, or Sheltie looking at me.  And, every once in awhile, he’s got Basenji written all over his sweet face.  I’ve included some Quinn photos so you can have a look for yourself.

I’ve been toying with the idea of obtaining a DNA determination of Quinn’s genetic makeup. I have first hand experience with a DNA testing company called Wisdom Panel™.  Some of my clients have used their service, and I recently gave a Wisdom Panel™ screening to one of my nurses as a gift to use on her adorable mutt named Izzy.  All that’s needed is a small blood sample. DNA is extracted from the blood cells and screened for 157 American Kennel Club breeds. While the testing is far from perfect, it does seem to provide some useful information, especially when one of the parents happens to be a purebred.

So, what’s the downside to running the DNA test?  Yes, there is some cost involved, but the truth of the matter is, finally having an answer would eliminate all the fun of conjecturing about who Quinn’s parents are!   His appearance inspires curiosity.  When Quinn and I are out and about, guaranteed most passersby will ask, “What kind of dog is that?”  My response is usually, “He’s a bona fide mutt from Bakersfield,” or “I haven’t a clue!”  If I’m in an impish mood I might even make up a ridiculous answer such as, “He’s a fox!” or “Why this is a Romanian Burrowing Ferret Hound.”

Any response I choose invariably ignites more conversation. The person who asked the question and I conjecture about “what” Quinn is based on his appearance and temperament.  We then transition to conversation about their dogs’ pedigrees and personalities, both past and present.  By the time the discussion ends, Quinn and I feel as though we’ve made a new friend.  What would happen if Quinn’s breed origin was known and I answered their inquiry with, “He’s a Spaniel Chihuahua mix”?  I doubt that the ensuing conversation would be nearly as lively and entertaining.

I will continue to carefully observe Quinn’s conformation and behavior as he transitions into adulthood.  Whether or not I ever learn more about his pedigree, I do know with certainty is that my little Quinn is 100 percent cute!  And that just may be all I need to know.

Feel free to send me your best guess about Quinn’s pedigree (http://speakingforspot.com/contact.html).  If ever I do decide to run the Wisdom Panel™ I’ll let you know if you were close!

Wishing you and your four-legged family members good health,

Dr. Nancy Kay
Specialist, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot. There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot is available at Amazon.com, local bookstores, or your favorite online book seller.

Look for us on Twitter – http://twitter.com/speakingforspot

Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Listen to Dr. Kay’s interview – A Veterinarian Advises “How to Speak for Spot” on NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross –