Pet health insurance claims info provides details about cancer in dogs
By Kim Campbell Thornton
Andrews McMeel Syndication
When my dog Harper, a cavalier King Charles spaniel, was diagnosed last year with squamous cell carcinoma of the tonsils, I was stunned. I had never even heard of tonsillar cancer, but it’s one of the many types of cancers that can affect dogs of any breed or mix.
According to the National Cancer Institute, approximately 6 million new cancer diagnoses are made in dogs annually. Some breeds have genetic predispositions to certain cancers. Approximately half of all dogs over the age of 10 will be diagnosed with cancer, and it’s estimated that 25% of dogs (1 in 4) will develop cancer at some time in their lives. That’s roughly the same rate as humans. Perhaps it’s because we so closely share the same environment and lifestyle.
Whatever the reason, the more we know about cancer in dogs, the better we can learn to treat or manage it, as well as identify dogs at greatest risk. Inspired by National Pet Cancer Awareness Month, which takes place during November, Nationwide analyzed pet health insurance policy and claims data from the past six years for approximately 1.5 million dogs: purebreds, mixes and crossbreeds. The results may help to lay a foundation for helping veterinary professionals and pet owners know what to look for in certain breeds.
Among the findings:
-- In an analysis of the top 10 most popular breeds, boxers (the seventh most popular breed) were 2.6 times more likely to have a claim reporting cancer, while Chihuahuas (the eighth most popular breed) were half as likely to have a claim with a cancer diagnosis.
-- Some similar or related types of dogs showed wide differences. For instance, of the top 100 purebred dogs covered by Nationwide, English cocker spaniels -- the third most numerous spaniel breed covered by the pet health insurance company -- had a cancer prevalence at 3.5 times the rate of other dogs. American cockers and English springers, the No. 1 and No. 2 spaniels covered by Nationwide, have prevalence rates that are less than half that of the English cocker.
-- Mixed breeds (dogs with complex or unknown ancestry) and crossbreeds (two different purebreds intentionally bred to create “designer dogs” such as doodles) were half as likely to have a claim submitted for cancer than the average purebred.
-- Small- to medium-size dogs are at markedly lower risk across all significant cancers.
-- Areas of the body where cancers typically occur on all types of pets -- dogs, cats, birds, small mammals and reptiles -- were skin (for example, melanoma); lymph (lymphoma); spleen (hemangiosarcoma, for instance); bone (such as osteosarcoma); and liver (for example, hepatocellular sarcoma, the most common type of primary liver cancer in dogs).
While data analysts haven’t yet fully dug into age at diagnosis for different breeds, knowing that beagles, for instance, are at higher risk for urinary cancer gives veterinarians the tools to counsel owners of that breed to keep an eye out for urinary tract infection symptoms -- and not to wait to bring in those dogs. In that breed, what looks like a simple UTI could be the start of something more serious, says Dr. Jules Benson, Nationwide’s chief veterinary officer. “It’s not necessarily personalized medicine, but it’s health coaching and health counseling in a way that we haven’t necessarily seen before,” he says.
Are cats left out in the cold? Nationwide plans to run their numbers in the future.
“We have a ton of feline data,” Dr. Benson says. “We know that certain types of cancer occur in cats more commonly, and finding out some of those warning signs -- especially for cats, who are so good at hiding everything -- that advice might be even more useful than it is for dogs.”
Q: My dog is old, and I worry about what her life will be like toward the end. Is there such a thing as hospice care for pets?
A: There is, and you are a wonderful pet parent for thinking of it. End-of-life care is a way to ensure that you have more time with your beloved dog while also preventing suffering.
Pet hospice -- or “pawspice,” as veterinary oncologist Alice Villalobos calls it -- allows you time to make decisions about treatment or euthanasia for animals with a terminal illness and to prepare yourself emotionally for their death.
The American Veterinary Medical Association offers guidelines to practices that wish to offer such services to their clients and patients. Hospice is different for every pet and family. Some animals may still be able to live at home and be cared for by family members, while others may benefit from staying in a facility that offers care, comfort and quality of life. Even in a facility, you can still be involved in your animal’s care.
To enter a pet hospice facility, patients must have a terminal illness with a short life expectancy, according to the AVMA. The end-of-life care team is made of a veterinarian and staff who are trained in palliative care and pain management, including medication, for animals with terminal illnesses. They will also act as advocates for the animals in their care. Staff may also include counselors who can guide you in evaluating your pet’s quality of life and help you when it’s time to make the decision to give your dog a painless exit from life through euthanasia.
Your veterinarian may be able to refer you to a pet hospice facility certified by the International Association for Animal Hospice and Palliative Care. -- Mikkel Becker
Do you have a pet question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.
-- Does your bird need a humidifier? Modern climate-controlled homes can become too dry for birds, especially those who would typically live in a tropical rainforest. To help your bird stay comfortable, spritz him daily with a spray bottle set to a light, gentle mist or use a humidifier to increase the moisture content of the air in your home. This is especially important in winter after you’ve turned on the heater, dropping the relative humidity of your bird’s environment.
-- Your pet’s tags could be more than just a means of identification; for some, they’re a collector’s item. The International Society of Animal License Collectors, formed in 1976, is an organization of people who collect dog and cat license tags and certificates. Governments have licensed dogs for centuries -- that’s one reason that some breeds originally had docked tails, indicating that they were working dogs, not to be taxed -- but dog tags, which date to the late 19th century in Cincinnati, are certainly less taxing to dogs than losing their tails. They caught on and are now seen on most companion dogs. Older tags, with unusual shapes, are of most interest to collectors. Look for ISALC’s membership information at facebook.com/groups/dogtax.
-- The Siamese isn’t the only cat breed that originated in Thailand. Another is the khao manee, nicknamed the “white gem” for their glistening white coat and vibrant eyes of blue, green, gold or odd (when each eye is a different color). Devoted to their people, these inquisitive feline housemates enjoy chasing and retrieving toys, followed by curling up on their favorite person for a nap. As beautiful as they are, it’s no wonder that they are thought to bring good luck to those fortunate enough to live with them. -- Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet care experts headed by “The Dr. Oz Show” veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker, founder of the Fear Free organization and author of many best-selling pet care books, and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. Joining them is behavior consultant and lead animal trainer for Fear Free Pets Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at Facebook.com/KimCampbellThornton and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at Facebook.com/MikkelBecker and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.