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One in Four Dogs Will Develop Cancer
Early detection is key

Here’s some sobering news: One in four dogs will develop some type of cancerous tumor. The news can wreak havoc on a pet owners’ emotions. The cost to diagnose and treat cancer-related diseases can also take a huge bite out their bank account.

“It’s not uncommon to have a $2,000 to $3,000 veterinary bill,” said Dr. Carol McConnell, vice-president and chief veterinary medical officer for Veterinary Pet Insurance Company (VPI).

The California-based provider of pet insurance recently released its 2010 cancer statistics to educate pet owners about this malady—the number one disease-related killer in dogs and cats—and the costs associated with the illness.

VPI said it received nearly 40,000 claims last year for cancer diagnosis and treatment in pets. Eighty-five percent of the company’s policies are written for dogs, 14 percent for cats, and the remaining one percent for avian and exotic pocket pets, Dr. McConnell said.

The ten most common cancer-related claims VPI received were for:

  1. Lymphosarcoma
  2. Mast cell tumor
  3. Cancer of the spleen
  4. Cancer of the eyelid
  5. Liver cancer
  6. Bone cancer
  7. Cancer of the thorax
  8. Cancer of the bladder;
  9. Cancer of the brain or spinal cord
  10. Oral cancer

Dr. McConnell wasn’t surprised that lymphosarcoma—cancer of the lymphatic system—topped the list as the most common cancer-related claim filed.

“Lymphosarcoma is consistently the number one [cancer-related] claim we receive,” she said. “I went back and checked the lists for 2005 and 2006 to see how the different cancers compared to 2010. Lymphosarcoma was number one in 2005 and 2006. And it’s number one again in 2010—by a lot. We received nearly 9,000 claims for Lymphosarcoma in 2010.”

The good news about this type of cancer is that it responds well to chemotherapy, Dr. McConnell said. “Lymphosarcoma is one of the most responsive cancers,” she said. “There are other types of cancers that are death knells.”

The company’s 2010 data revealed that mast cell tumors were the second most common cancer-related claims it received, Dr. McConnell said.

 “We see about 5,000 claims a year for this type of cancer,” she said, adding the company receives approximately 1.1 million claims a year for all pets.

VPI’s statistics also uncovered another trend: the number of claims for bone cancer dropped from recent years.

But the decline is nothing to bark about—yet.

“Bone cancer was number three and now it’s number six,” Dr. McConnell said. “But I have actuaries who keep telling me not to over-interpret the data. It’s not a statistically significant difference and it’s not an indicator that the rates of bone cancer have dropped.”

She added: “Bone cancer is one of those diseases that by the time it’s diagnosed, the disease is pretty far along. Dogs are stoic. They put up with a lot and by the time the dog is limping and you go in for an x-ray, the disease is pretty advanced.”

Asked about cancer of the eyelids, Dr. McConnell said: “These are like skin masses on the linings of the eyes and they (masses) can cause an abrasive type of effect on the eyes. Whether they’re malignant or benign, these masses need to be removed. They can cause ulcers on the eyes.”

Treating cancer in dogs and cat is expensive.

VPI’s policyholders spent $12.8 million last year on pet with these top 10 cancer-related illnesses. Cancer of the brain or spinal cord was the most expensive to diagnose and treat, the company said. Policyholders spent an average of $752 to diagnose and non-surgically treat those cancers. Pet owners who pursued surgical treatments spent an average of $2,410, VPI said.

Dr. McConnell said it’s vital for pet owners to learn the signs and symptoms of cancer in their dogs and cats, Dr. McConnell said. “They are the front lines of defense.”

Symptoms pet owners need to watch include:

  • Growing lumps or sores that don’t heal;
  • Drastic changes in a pet’s appetite or weight;
  • Offensive odors;
  • Bleeding or discharge from any opening in the body;
  • Difficulty chewing or swallowing;
  • Unwillingness to exercise;
  • Persistent lameness or stiffness
  • Difficulty breathing, urinating or defecating

In the battle against pet-related cancers, Dr. McConnell said it’s also important for dogs, cats, and other animals to receive regular veterinary exams. Early detection and treatment are keys to a pet’s chance for survival, she said.

Pet owners also need to be financially prepared in case their four-legged or winged companions are diagnosed with cancer or other illness, Dr. McConnell said. “Financial preparation is key.”

VPI created a special website to give pet owners an idea about how much it will cost to treat the most common health problems in dogs and cats. The “Cost of Care Planner” breaks down those prices according to specific breeds.

VPI said cancer-related diseases were the fourth most common medical claim it received in 2010. Ear infections, skin allergies and skin infections/hot spots were the top three diseases in pets last year, the company said.

More information about cancer and other pet-related diseases is available on VPI’s website.

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Lisa McCormick is an award-winning investigative reporter whose stories have appeared in Dogs for Kids magazine, The Kansas City Star, and the national consumer news website, ConsumerAffairs.com; she has written 12 nonfiction children's books.

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