Cancer treatment for pets on the rise

MICHELLE DUFF
Last updated 05:00 01/02/2014

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More canines are surviving the big C, as pet owners pursue the latest treatments medical science can offer.

New Zealanders are forking out thousands on surgery and chemotherapy to extend their pets' lives while Massey University looks to set up the country's first animal cancer centre.

Meanwhile, one of the biggest pet insurers, Ellenco, has seen an 8 per cent increase in business in the past year, with 11,000 cats and dogs now insured under the Southern Cross-owned company.

Animal oncologist Jonathan Bray said while in the past animal cancer sufferers were eased into death, developments in veterinary science and people's attachments to pets meant treatment was increasingly being sought.

"What's happened in the last 10 to 20 years is that animals have become part of the family, and as that has occurred, interest in treating cancer has risen dramatically.

"The expectations are that the vet would provide treatment for cancer as they would treat heart disease or any other condition."

New Zealanders spend an estimated $1.6 billion each year on their pets, and treatment for cancer is expensive - removal of a brain tumour could set an owner back $15,000.

Cancer claims the lives of about half of all animals over the age of 10.

Dogs can develop breast cancer, prostate cancer, lung cancer, and blood cancers like lymphoma. Passive smoking is a risk, with animals more likely to get lung cancer if their owners are smokers.

Cats are more likely to get leukaemia, while horses are susceptible to melanoma.

The chemotherapy regime for animals was not as harsh as for humans, with the aim to prolong the animal's life rather than cure the cancer, Dr Bray said.

Survival rates depended on the cancer, and chemotherapy was only given if it could improve the quality of life of the animal. Sometimes no treatment or euthanasia were better options.

"There are a lot of people who would like their dog to receive treatment, but they just can't."

Massey vets were already undertaking several clinical trials of new cancer medications on dogs, with the aim of gaining funding to become a research and treatment hub within five years, Dr Bray said.

Tasman St Vet Centre owner Natalie Lloyd said chemotherapy was an increasingly viable option.

"People's expectations of how we treat their animals are changing - people are a lot more bonded to their animals now. It is a massive investment, but of the animals we've treated, none of our clients have regretted it."

They recommended all owners take out pet insurance, which could cover the expensive regime.

Ellenco Pet insurance consultant Kerri Murray said more pet owners were demanding a GP-type service from their vets. The largest paid claim in 2013 was $12,000 for spinal surgery on a dog hit by a car.

Cancer was the sixth most common claim for dogs, behind obstruction, lameness, skin-related conditions, growths and ligament damage.

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- The Dominion Post

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