The outcome of exposure to asbestos and the breathing in of fibre dust particles are commonly understood to be the cause of mesothelioma cancer and asbestosis in humans. It would not be unexpected for pet owners to be more likely to raise the question of whether animals can also be susceptible to contracting asbestos-related diseases.

Sadly, and despite being less well-known or documented, with improved asbestos awareness, instances of pets who have developed an asbestos-related cancer have been reported. As with humans, pets can also be victims of “secondary exposure” when asbestos fibres are brought in to the home environment by humans who are in daily contact with asbestos materials, and the dust particles have contaminated overalls, workclothes, boots and hair.

A small percentage of canine cancers

While the condition is more likely to be prevalent in cattle, asbestos fibre dust can be the cause of a small percentage of canine cancers in certain breeds of male dogs, such as German Shepherds and Irish Setters.

Research also reveals that there could be an increased likelihood of mesothelioma symptoms displayed in dogs as a result of exposure to substances found in certain types of herbicide, germicide, fungicide and even wood preservative. Further studies involving the investigation of comparisons between a “control” group of canines and dogs in urban areas found the latter group to be more susceptible to contracting mesothelioma.

Dogs can, of course, also attract asbestos dust onto their fur or feet if they’ve been in a location where asbestos is present, such as “flytipped” asbestos waste or an area where a former asbestos- using factory or a building constructed with asbestos insulation is lying derelict or being demolished.

The same method of picking up asbestos dust can affect domestic cats too. Although more rare, it is not unknown for cats to suffer a malignant abdominal tumour, and incidences of pleural effusions can also occur but they may be difficult to sufficiently distinguish from other common diseases. Even horses may develop a pleural or peritoneal type of mesothelioma.

Similarities and differences to humans

The development of a mesothelioma cancer in a canine is different from humans, most notably, in the time scale. Whereas the gestation period from an original exposure period to the emergence of asbestosis symptoms in human victims can be up to 50 years, in dogs the time period is considerably reduced to around 8 years.

However, like humans, mesothelioma most often occurs in the lining that surrounds the lung and dogs can exhibit similar symptoms too, from shortness of breath and coughing, to an inability to eat and an interrupted sleep pattern.

Diagnosis and subsequent treatments are also likely to be similar, with the use of CT scans and biopsies of the suspected cancerous tissues, and the application of chemotherapy drugs. However, some types of drugs can be fatal to administer to cats and, as with treatments for some humans who are diagnosed at a late stage of the disease, outcomes are generally poor.