Canines in a coal mine

Maybe one reason why humans and dogs can form such tight bonds is because biologically speaking, we are very similar. When it comes to health, we might as well be looking in a mirror and seeing a furry reflection.

More and more, dogs are overweight, like more and more of us. And like us, they experience related health problems — diabetes, bone and joint damage, and cardiovascular disease. The good news is that humans and dogs can lose weight and reverse many of those problems. (Especially together.)

More alarming is the cancer rate among dogs. It is the leading cause of death in dogs. Every year, millions develop lymphomas and malignancies of the bones, blood vessels, skin and breast. Because of the similarities between humans and canines, more cancer researchers recognize dogs as a natural study population, ABC News recently reported. Because dogs age many times more rapidly than humans and their cancers progress more quickly, canine cancer studies produce quicker results, according to the report.

A consortium of 20 veterinary centers created by the National Cancer Institute’s Center for Cancer Research in Bethesda, Md., aims to speed the development of better therapies and new strategies for treating and preventing human cancers, ABC reported. At the same time, some institutions, such as the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston and Texas A&M in College Station, Texas, are independently teaming up on their own to share human and animal findings. The Anderson center has created a national database for people to register their pets that could be candidates for clinical research. (For more information go to http://texasvetcancerregistry.com/)

While it’s important to find therapies to treat cancers, we would be crazy to ignore the canary-in-a-coal-mine information already emerging from research on dogs.

For example, in a new study, scientists found that dogs with malignant lymphoma were 70 percent more likely to live in a home where professionally applied lawn pesticides had been used, Rodale.com reported this week. Dogs with the serious malignancy were also 170 percent more likely to come from homes where owners used chemical insecticides to combat pests inside of the home.

With our lymphoma rates rapidly rising too, for unknown reasons, humans would be smart to heed the warning. The methods researchers used to determine risk in the dog study are part of a trusted model for assessing non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma risk in humans, Rodale reported. Other studies have linked lawn chemicals to melanoma and childhood leukemia.

The dangerous chemical cause-and-effect is too great to ignore. Surely healthy people and pets are more important than weed-free lawns and pest-free homes.

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