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Old April 8th, 2002, 10:52 AM
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Cats and dogs may predict human health

Cats and dogs may predict human health.
Pets seen as predictors of human ills
VERONIQUE MANDAL
Montreal Gazette
Tuesday, April 02, 2002


Animals often take part in the bad habits of their owners, including sedentary lifestyles, fatty foods and second-hand smoke.

Cats and dogs, which face rising rates of cancers and other diseases that may be environmentally linked, could become predictors of human disease, say researchers.

A study released this week by Lawrence Glickman, a public health researcher at Purdue University, suggests that when beloved pets become ill with diseases such as cancer, their condition "might implicate the environment" as a cause.

Second-Hand Smoke

He said animals often take part in the bad habits of their owners, including sedentary lifestyles, fatty foods and second-hand smoke.

He cited another study that showed that dogs with nasal cancer probably were exposed to their owners' passive cigarette smoke.

Cancer, formerly the No. 3 killer of cats and dogs, is now No. 1, according to Windsor-Essex county veterinarian Janice Huntingford.

"In the past 10 years we have seen an increase. The incidence now is 37 per cent of cats die from cancer and 48 per cent of dogs," Huntingford said. "I'm not sure of the percentage increase, but I know it's substantial."

Huntingford is convinced that pollutants in the air and water, and in many of the foods they eat, are culprits in causing animal disease.

"We know a high proportion is genetic but that does not explain everything. Many of the lower-quality commercial foods contain high levels of organ meats and meat meal which are concentrators of pesticides and growth hormones, all of which can cause cancer," Huntingford said.

In the 1960s, the Chicago health department reported that if a dog was diagnosed with lead poisoning, there was a 500-per-cent greater chance that a child in the same household would be poisoned.

Glickman believes animals can be used as a barometer for environmental safety. According to his study, 97 per cent of the ingredients in anti-flea and tick baths are carcinogenic to humans, leading him to be concerned about the long-term health of owners and dog groomers.

Glickman found that dogs who received more than two flea baths per year had almost four times the risk of bladder cancer.

Yesterday, Huntingford was giving chemotherapy for lymphoma cancer to Tom, a 14-year-old cat who had already endured bowel and liver surgery. His owner, David Willock, said Tom had been his late mother's cat.

"It's strange because she died of the same cancer as Tom," Willock said.

Veterinarian Jim Sweetman, in downtown Windsor, said he is seeing an increase in hyperthyroidism in cats and hypothyroidism in dogs. One owner also had thyroid disease.

Miners Carried Cages

Sweetman said he would like to see a database set up to monitor pet and human diseases.

In the past, coal miners carried cages of canaries into mines. If the birds fell over from concentrations of toxic gases, the miners fled.

"They can definitely be the canaries in the coal mine, especially since they spend 10 to 12 years in a household," Sweetman said of pets.

"I'm sure the medical doctors and vets would be supportive because it would be so valuable in finally getting scientific evidence."
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