Cancer is the number one cause of death in dogs. On average, one in four dogs will suffer from cancer during their lifetime, and roughly half of all dogs age 10 and older have cancer. Unfortunately, by the time most of these dogs are diagnosed, their disease is advanced and their prognosis is poor. Unlike humans, dogs have not had the benefit of early detection through cancer screening tests—until now. 

As part of our commitment to ensuring your pet’s lifelong health, Marina Village Veterinary and Integrative Care is excited to offer liquid biopsy (OncoK9), a molecular blood-based screening test for dogs.

What is liquid biopsy for dogs?

Liquid biopsy is a new blood screening test for dogs that can detect the genetic markers for more than 30 different cancer types. This simple but highly informative test is a revolutionary new option for veterinary medicine, dogs, and dog owners. 

Unlike traditional biopsy methods, which include tissue sampling, diagnostic imaging (i.e., ultrasound, computed tomography [CT]), and surgery, liquid biopsy requires only a blood sample that can be collected during any outpatient appointment. 

How does a liquid biopsy determine if my dog has cancer?

Cancer causes changes or mutations in your pet’s DNA. And, because every cell in the body—including normal and cancerous cells—releases its own DNA segments, cancerous changes (i.e., signals) can be detected in the blood. One small blood sample from your pet contains millions of DNA fragments. At the laboratory, the DNA is extracted from the sample, sequenced, and rigorously analyzed through a machine that creates more than two billion data points. Those points are then measured against a library of sophisticated algorithms to identify any cancer-related abnormalities. 

How accurate is liquid biopsy for dogs?

In a white paper study, the liquid biopsy test (OncoK9) had a 98.5% specificity, and a high sensitivity for the most aggressive canine cancers, detecting 85% of lymphoma, hemangiosarcoma, and osteosarcoma cases. And while the test was less sensitive to mammary cancer, anal sac carcinoma, and mast cell tumors, these cancers are more likely to be detected early on a veterinary exam or noticed by owners at home. 

Is liquid biopsy available for cats?

Unfortunately, at this time, liquid biopsy testing is available only for dogs. However, a feline product will hopefully be available in the future.

When is liquid biopsy testing recommended for dogs?

Liquid biopsy is a convenient and powerful diagnostic tool that may be advantageous at different times for different dogs, but is generally recommended for the following scenarios:

  • Senior wellness visits — Canine cancer risk increases with age, so your Marina Village veterinarian may suggest adding liquid biopsy to your pet’s annual wellness testing after your pet turns 8 years old.
  • High-risk patients — Breeds with a high likelihood of cancer, such as golden retrievers, Bernese mountain dogs, and boxers, or dogs with a family history of cancer, may benefit from earlier or more frequent screenings.
  • Inaccessible tumor — If a tumor is detected on your pet’s X-ray or ultrasound, but the location makes biopsy difficult or dangerous, genomic testing may provide answers. 

What if my dog tests positive on a liquid biopsy?

If a cancer signal is detected (i.e., a positive test result) in a healthy dog’s blood sample, that does not indicate or take the place of a cancer diagnosis—but the result does suggest the likelihood of cancer, and further testing or imaging will be recommended. While false positives can occur, a proactive evaluation of your dog’s complete health may indicate cancer in its earliest stages, allowing us to treat and potentially cure the disease before your dog suffers a single bad day.

If a cancer signal is detected in a sick dog, the information can direct the veterinarian’s diagnostic plan and—depending on the cancer type and clinical illness severity—suggest potential prognosis or next steps.

What are the common cancer signs in dogs?

Because cancer can affect any organ, tissue, or body system, the visible signs can resemble a number of other canine health issues—therefore, having your dog evaluated at Marina Village Veterinary and Integrative Care for an accurate diagnosis is crucial. Schedule an appointment if your dog experiences any of these signs:  

  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Appetite changes
  • Respiratory distress or coughing
  • Joint swelling or limping
  • Non-healing wounds
  • Lethargy
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Unusual odor 
  • Visible or palpable masses 
  • Changes in urine or stool (e.g., frequency, color, consistency, effort)

Ideally, with the arrival of canine cancer screening tests, we will no longer have to watch for such late-stage indications. However, until that day comes, we recommend all pet owners perform a simple monthly at-home cancer check for all pets:

  • Feel gently all over for lumps, bumps, or swellings
  • Look inside your pet’s mouth
  • Note any weight or muscle loss 
  • Write down your findings—if any—and contact your veterinarian

Liquid biopsy is a valuable diagnostic tool that has the capability to revolutionize the fight against canine cancer—one small blood sample at a time. For additional information about this test, or to schedule your dog’s next appointment, please contact Marina Village Veterinary and Integrative Care.