Pets And Cancer: What Causes It?

  • 04/09/2018

Cancer is one of the most destructive diseases to afflict both human beings and members of the animal kingdom. It occurs when cells in the body begin to divide in a very fast and disorganised manner. The body’s immune system is usually compromised at this point, therefore unable to step in and lend a helping hand in combat.

Cancer can occur almost anywhere in the human body and spread from there into the surrounding tissues. It’s a disease that has been plaguing the human race for more than 2000 years.

Of all companion pets, cats and dogs are the most common. There are nearly 100 different types of cancers that these animals are susceptible to. Statistics show that roughly 6 million new cancer diagnoses in the US are made in dogs.

More Numbers

Cancer is the leading cause of death in 47 per cent of dogs. Other pets such as freshwater fish, birds, and small animals like hamsters and ferrets are not exempt from the toxic reaches of malignant cancer.

Cancerous growths and tumours on fish are infrequent but not non-existent. Cancer in pets like hamsters can display through internal or external tumours which can be benign or malignant.

Scientists have conducted studies on cancer over several generations and much information was gleaned on how cancer works. Based on these studies, they were able to hypothesize on the most probable causes, but the exact knowledge on the origin of cancer is currently unknown.

Pets that develop cancer may require treatment and hospitalization; both of which can be covered by pet insurance if available. Insuring your pet provides peace of mind and lowers the cost of medical bills.

Age Factor

One thing that most researchers were able to agree upon is that age played a big role in cancer’s incursion into the body for both humans and pets. Several theories exist; the most prominent being that in old age, the immune system enters a weakened state and is unable to control the body’s ability to mutate cells that could possibly become malignant.

Another reason is that the longer a pet lives, the more chances they have to potentially be exposed to environmental carcinogens which could modify the genetic material in a cell and cause cancer.

Genetic Factor

Based on statistics provided by multiple research groups, hereditary risk factors are generally considered as probable cause for cancer in pets. There is evidence to suggest that certain breeds of dogs are more likely to develop cancer than others. Golden Retrievers, Boxers, German Shepherds, Great Danes, and Rottweilers are all in the top 10 breeds of dogs that are most prone to develop cancer.

What this shows is that genetics also play a big role in contributing to high cancer rates among animals. In fish, most cancer occurs due to genetic predisposition and rarely happens as a result of viral infections, and the same goes for most small animal pets. It could be caused by a single gene or a combination of multiple genes. More research is needed in this study to uncover more information.

Environmental Factor

This is another factor that can trigger specific cancers, as identified by veterinary researchers. What they’ve learned is that certain skin cancers can be generated as a result of prolonged exposure to UV rays from direct sunlight.

Squamous cell carcinoma is a common type of skin cancer which was found to have higher rates of manifestation in white-coloured pets.

The conditions of a pet’s surroundings also play a role in the likelihood of the establishment of cancer in the body. Environmental carcinogens like the ones found in cigarette smoke have been proven to increase the development of squamous cell carcinoma.

Feline leukaemia virus is a type of disease that frequently infects cats and 30 per cent of the time results in cancer. Oral papilloma is a type of cancerous wart that grows in dogs’ mouths and which is also caused by a virus.

Other known causes of cancer in pets that have links to environmental factors are sexually transmitted ones.  A type of cancerous venerable tumour is transmitted during sexual intercourse.


Although many great strides have been made in the scientific study of cancer in humans and animals, there is still a great deal of information not currently known about the disease. As new data is uncovered on the subject, hope for pet survival during bouts with cancer is increasing slowly but steadily.

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