Surprisingly, a question often just simply overlooked, but can a family pet be affected by exposure to asbestos and develop the deadly mesothelioma, just as humans do?

The bad news is that they can, and according to veterinary doctors, both dogs and cats can develop asbestosis and mesothelioma from the inhaling of asbestos fibres. The straightforward reason being that animals also have mesothelial cells within the lining of their lungs, heart, and abdomen, which possess the same structure and function as in humans. And as with humans, embedded asbestos fibres will damage the cells of the pleura, i.e. the internal lining that surrounds the lungs, and can turn cancerous over time.

Research has shown that asbestos-related disease is more common in dogs than in cats, and certain breeds of dogs, such as German shepherds and Irish Setters, are more susceptible to developing mesothelioma. Evidence also reveals that male dogs are more likely to develop mesothelioma than female dogs.

Our asbestos awareness of the long latency period – of between 15 to 50 years – for mesothelioma to develop and finally emerge in humans means that for our pet animals, who live much shorter lives, the appearance of asbestosis symptoms occurs much quicker. The average onset for dogs is 8 years old – though the illness has been detected in younger and older dogs.

Pets also display similar symptoms to those of humans. These include shortness of breath, coughing, pulmonary effusion (fluid around the lungs), as well as abdominal pain, which may result in a lack of desire to eat. Due to increased pain or pulmonary ailments, difficulty exercising may occur, and the pet’s sleeping patterns may change as well.

A pet that is believed to have been exposed to asbestos, or showing suspect symptoms, should be immediately examined by a veterinarian. It is common practice for a range of diagnostic tools, such as x-rays, CT scans, ultrasounds and biochemical tests to be used to confirm the presence of the disease. Upon diagnosis, a veterinarian may advise a range of treatments, such as the removal of fluid around the lungs, chemotherapy, or palliative care to alleviate pain.

Unfortunately, the inevitable, prohibitively high cost of treatment and the extreme low probability that the treatment will actually work means veterinarians may recommend euthanasia in many cases.