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Canine cancer: Bigger dogs face bigger risks

Analysis of Nationwide’s pet health insurance policy and claims data for 1.61 million dogs reveals that risk of cancer claim increases with dog size

Columbus, OH — Early detection of cancer typically offers the best range of treatment options for improving both survival time and quality of life in pets. A third study on canine cancer from Nationwide’s Pet Health Analytics and Insights team completes a series of white papers that offer novel insights into canine cancer risk, creating opportunities for pet families and veterinary healthcare teams to recognize disease earlier and make better-informed healthcare decisions. 

The larger the dog, the higher the risk 
The white paper, “About the Size of It: Scaling Canine Cancer Risk,” builds on findings in the two previous papers that examined cancer risk in crossbreds vs. purebreds, and in the 25 most popular purebreds. This latest analysis of policy and claims data for 1.61 million dogs over a six-year period (2015-21) focuses on risk associated with dog size and shows that cancer risk increases significantly with dog size. This finding was consistent across all dogs, purebred and mixed, and across almost all body systems commonly affected by cancer.

All three studies in the cancer series are available to view and download at petinsurance.com/petdata.

“With more than 1.1 million pets actively protected, Nationwide is in a unique position to use more than 40 years of policy and claims data to pioneer positive change in veterinary medicine,” said Dr. Jules Benson, Nationwide’s Chief Veterinary Officer. “By analyzing policy and claims data we’re able to provide pet parents and veterinary healthcare teams with clinical insights that provide valuable opportunities for education and intervention.”

With such evidence-based analysis on relative risk of cancer in the most recent study, the veterinary team at Nationwide is able to suggest the following: 

  • Wait-and-see can be a risky approach to limping: Large and extra-large dogs are at increased risk of bone cancer as early as six years old. Knowing what to look for could help pet families have more treatment options and better long-term pet health outcomes.
  • Timing of routine diagnostics can be guided by data analysis: Pet families with medium, large and extra-large dogs looking to catch liver cancer early, for example, may want to consider routine diagnostics from age eight or younger.
  • Not all cancers are “old dog diseases”: Lymphatic cancers (e.g. lymphoma) are a significantly higher risk to dogs in their middle years than other forms of cancer.

The full study looks across a variety of body systems. Relative risk by age is shown for claims related to bone, liver, spleen, lymphatic and mammary cancers.

Potential signs of cancer in dogs
Nationwide’s veterinary professionals advise watching for these signs of potential cancer, and following up with your pet’s veterinarian if noted:

  • Unplanned weight loss or loss of appetite: If your pet is getting lighter without you trying to thin them down, let your veterinarian check it out. Any persistent change in eating habits is also cause for concern, as is difficulty eating or swallowing.
  • Lumps, bumps and swelling:  Be especially alert to swollen lymph nodes – under the jaw, in the “armpits,” in the groin and behind the knees. Another issue to watch for: Wounds or sores that don’t seem to be healing.
  • Limping or lack of interest in activity: If your dog’s activity level changes in a short period of time – as opposed to gradual, with normal aging – cancer could again be at the root of the issue. Limping for no apparent reason (such as an injury, or arthritis) or difficulty breathing can also be a concern when it comes to cancer in dogs.

“As a leader in pet health, we’re providing pet owners and veterinary healthcare teams with evidence-based education that can guide pet health decisions,” said Dr. Benson. “As we continue to develop studies on pet health for the rest of 2022 and beyond, we are excited by the widespread interest in these analyses.” 

About Nationwide pet insurance
With more than 1.1 million insured pets, Nationwide is the first and largest provider of pet health insurance in the United States. Nationwide pet health insurance plans cover dogs, cats, birds and exotic pets for multiple medical problems and conditions relating to accidents, illnesses and injuries. Medical plans are available in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Products underwritten by Veterinary Pet Insurance Company (CA), Columbus, OH; National Casualty Company (all other states), Columbus, OH. Agency of Record: DVM Insurance Agency. All are subsidiaries of Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company. Pet owners can find Nationwide pet insurance on Facebook or follow on Twitter. For more information about Nationwide pet insurance, call 800-USA-PETS (800-872-7387) or visit petinsurance.com.

About Nationwide

Nationwide, a Fortune 100 company based in Columbus, Ohio, is one of the largest and strongest diversified insurance and financial services organizations in the United States. Nationwide is rated A+ by both A.M. Best and Standard & Poor’s. An industry leader in driving customer-focused innovation, Nationwide provides a full range of insurance and financial services products including auto, business, homeowners, farm and life insurance; public and private sector retirement plans, annuities, mutual funds and ETFs; excess & surplus, specialty and surety; pet, motorcycle and boat insurance. For more information, visit www.nationwide.com. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter.