How You Can Help To Prevent Cancer In Your Dog

Last updated:
July 18, 2022
Cheerful middle aged vet looking with smile at small dog standing on the table at veterinary clinic

The best way to reduce your pet's risk of suffering from cancer is to prevent cancer from developing in the first place. While cancer isn’t something that comes from any one specific factor, there are some ways that you can keep your dog slightly more protected from it. Oftentimes, pets who develop cancer are actually exposed to the cause of the disease many years before they are affected by it, so limiting threats early on in their life is going to be a big help in preventing it altogether.

Reduce contact with carcinogens

Carcinogens are going to be one of the main sources of cancer threats. The name means “a substance capable of causing cancer in living tissue”, so it should be no surprise that limiting the amount of these substances will make it less likely for them to cause cancer in your pet.1

But what are common carcinogens that your pet may encounter on a regular basis that would be best to protect them from? A lot of common household staples can be a threat to your dog developing cancer at some point in their life. They’re in common things like most household cleaning products, sprays and disinfectants, weed killers, rodent prevention, and fertilizers are just a few of these items.2,3

The world today is run by simplicity, and frankly, a lot of those simple solutions involve the use of harmful chemicals and toxins. There is almost no way to completely eradicate carcinogens from your pet’s life, but there are ways to limit them.4

Prioritize your pet’s health by choosing more natural-based cleaners, the kind that have fewer chemicals. Landscape with DIY methods like using vinegar or boiling water instead of weed killer. And take a look at the things in your home that your dog comes into contact with the most. When you give your pup water, is it straight from the tap, how safe and filtered is your tap water? What do you use to mop the floor or clean stains from the carpet? If your dog gets on the furniture, what do you use to wash the sheets with? What is in the soap you clean their food bowls with? Making dog-conscious choices in the products you invest in can keep your pet safe, as well as help to vote with your dollar for companies to move away from carcinogen-filled products into more sustainable and healthy options.

Reduce second-hand smoke

Though it is well-spread information that smoking causes cancer, it is worth noting that smoke is harmful not just to the person smoking but to those in regular contact with them as well. Your dog is not excluded from this. Second-hand smoke is just as much a threat to your dog as it would be to a person regularly breathing contaminated air.

The best way to protect your dog from this would be to quit smoking altogether. While it is understood that smoking is an addiction, and therefore difficult to completely remove from one’s life, there are less drastic options as well. Try to designate or ensure that the dog’s space is a no-smoking area. Typically this means smoking is kept outside of the house, as well as away from outdoor areas that your pet normally interacts with. If your pet is with you when you smoke, then making sure to smoke downwind will help to keep it away from them.5

Limit sun exposure

The sun is one of the most well-known causes of cancer, probably right behind smoking. So it doesn’t come as a surprise that your dog spending a lot of time in direct sunlight may cause problems for them down the road.

This isn’t to say that your dog should never be out in the sun, that probably wouldn’t be the best existence for them. However, like people, dogs with lighter skin pigmentation are more susceptible to the dangers of too much sunlight. Typically, dogs with light-colored fur also have light-colored skin with a peachy tone, while dogs with dark fur will have skin that is more pigmented—leaning towards a more grey or black tone in their skin. If you’re not sure what color skin your dog has, you can use your hand or a brush to push their fur backward— they may not like that so be quick—and look under the section of hair.1,5

Protecting your dog from the sun doesn’t mean that you don’t allow them to be in it, it just means you monitor their safety when it comes to it. That could mean keeping them out of the sun when it is at its highest intensity, and not letting them be out in direct sunlight in the middle of the day. It could also mean investing in some dog-safe sunscreen, either the kind designed for dogs or human sunscreen that doesn’t contain zinc oxide, as zinc oxide can be toxic if ingested by your dog.

Maintain your dog’s oral hygiene

Dental problems are super common in senior dogs, and oral cancers can be one of those problems. Reducing the risk of gum disease, tooth decay, and oral cancer is as easy as making your pet’s mouth health a regular priority.

While many pet parents have a hard time getting their pet to sit still long enough for a thorough teeth cleaning, a lot of that is not giving the dog enough time to desensitize them to the act. It’s not a natural experience to have your teeth brushed. And unfortunately, it’s not something we’re able to explain to our dogs when we stick a toothbrush, or our fingers, into their mouths.4

There are many options for getting your dog’s teeth cleaned, the more regularly the better. It’s actually recommended by most vets that your dog should have their teeth brushed every day just like you do.

Unfortunately, while dental chews are great for a quick fix to bad breath, the treats don’t actually do much by way of cleaning your dog’s teeth and maintaining their oral health. However, that doesn’t say that the only way to get your dog’s teeth clean would involve you going in with a toothbrush. There are toys designed with teeth cleaning in mind like the DentaBrite brushing chew bone, or the BulliBone Superbrush, both of which are designed in a way that play will help to remove build up on your dog’s teeth. All it takes is the addition of some good-tasting dog-safe toothpaste and your dog will be brushing their teeth themselves. And if your dog isn’t a fan of classic dog toothbrushes, there are fingertip brushes that you can pop on to brush your dog’s teeth with. Be sure that whichever method of teeth cleaning you practice with your pooch its made for dogs. While human toothpaste may be more convenient there are often ingredients that are unsafe for your dog to consume. Keep in mind, where we spit out our toothpaste, your dog usually swallows.

The most important part when it comes to desensitizing your dog to getting their teeth clean is that you work your way up. You probably won’t be able to brush their whole mouth the first time that you try, it may take a while before you can even keep them focused for a few minutes. Be patient and pay attention to the signs your dog is giving you; if they need to be done, come back to the sections you missed the next day. Eventually, you’ll be able to brush their teeth every day right after you brush your own.

Diet and Exercise

It may not be surprising that diet and exercise have a huge impact on your dog’s overall health. A huge risk factor for cancer, along with many other diseases, is if your dog is at a healthy weight and receiving the right nutrients and amount of exercise for their age and breed.

There has been some correlation found in grain-heavy commercial dog foods to a few different carcinogens in dogs. Making sure that you are buying protein-first dog food and supplementing the food when necessary can be a huge help to your dog’s health both in the present and the future. Even senior dogs may benefit from changes to their diet; we’ve got a post detailing how nutrition helps senior dogs.1-8

Be sure to check in with your vet any time you have a concern about your dog’s diet. While there are several sources that you may find about pet diets, many of them may carry long-held misinformation, and your vet will be the only professional who really knows your dog as an individual. Therefore, any supplements or dietary changes that you are considering should be brought up with your vet before making the switch.

Get regular checkups

While you may be around your dog more than anyone else, sometimes you will still miss changes in their health. If there is a chance that something is developing, the goal is always to find it early and keep your dog as safe and healthy as possible. That doesn’t just go for cancer, any illness that may cause your dog serious distress if left unnoticed and untreated for too long can be caught if you maintain a regular checkup schedule. Prevention can only do so much, but early diagnosis is the next best option.1-8

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