New Purdue study of dogs links cigarette smoke to cancer

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Deborah Knapp studies cancer in Scottish terriers to help advance the science of detecting and treating early cancer in both humans and dogs. (Purdue University photo/Rebecca McElhoe)
Deborah Knapp studies cancer in Scottish terriers to help advance the science of detecting and treating early cancer in both humans and dogs. (Purdue University photo/Rebecca McElhoe)

A new study, conducted by researchers at Purdue University, links cigarette smoke exposure to a sixfold increase in bladder cancer in Scottish Terriers.

Led by Deborah Knapp, a Purdue distinguished professor of comparative oncology and the Dolores L. McCall professor of veterinary medicine, the study tracked a group of 120 Scottish Terriers over a three year period, studying the health, environment, food, activity, locations and other variables that could affect their risk of cancer in order to determine what might prevent the often fatal cancer in these dogs and use that information to see how it would affect cancer in other dogs and humans.

“Cancer is a combination of what you are born with — your genetics — and what you are exposed to — your environment,” Knapp said in a statement. “In this case, we studied these dogs for years at a time, and then we went back and asked, ‘What was different between those that developed cancer and those that did not develop cancer? What were the risk factors?’”

Scottish Terriers tend to develop bladder cancer 20 times more frequently than dogs of other breeds, and it is often an aggressive form similar to that of the muscle invasive bladder cancer in humans. 

When tobacco smoke is present in a room with a dog, the dog breathes it in. However, they can also be exposed to smoke by licking it off clothes that are saturated.

When dogs are exposed to tobacco smoke, their bodies process the chemicals in the smoke and eliminate them through urine. Although this leads to cancer in the urinary tract, it also offers a way to track smoke exposure, allowing researchers to analyze the dogs’ urine for cotinine, a nicotine metabolite.

“What we hope pet owners will take from this is that if they can reduce the exposure of their dogs to smoke, that can help the dogs’ health,” Knapp said. “We hope they stop smoking altogether, both for their health and so they will continue to be around for their dogs, but any steps to keep smoke from the dogs will help.”

The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health’s National Cancer Institute, the Scottish Terrier Club of America and gifts made to Purdue University for canine bladder cancer research. For more information about the study, visit purdue.edu.

Contact staff writer Chloe McGowan at 317-762-7848. Follow her on Twitter @chloe_mcgowanxx.