Is there a blood test for cancer in dogs and cats? | Dr. Justine Lee Board-Certified Veterinary Specialist | Dr. Justine Lee


Posted by justinelee in Animal Safety, Blog, Pet Health

As a veterinarian, I get asked the question “Is there a blood test for cancer in dogs and cats?” Sadly, no, there never has been until now.

Most of the time, when we do blood work, it’s to look at the kidney function, liver enzymes, white and red blood cells, platelet count, salt balance, blood sugar, and protein levels. I talk extensive about why we do blood work on my Pet Life Radio show “ER VET” here with Dr. Garret Pachtinger.

Pet Life Radio “ER VET” episode, where I discuss what types of blood work we do in dogs and cats with Dr. Garret Pachtinger, DACVECC
Dr. Justine Lee and her dog

Being that cancer is one fo the top 3 causes I see for death in dogs, I’d love to say there’s a blood test that helps detect cancer in dogs earlier – before I see secondary, end-stage complications like internal bleeding, cancer spread (metastasis), or severe seizures or organ failure.

As many of you know, my first adult dog, JP, died of a brain tumor. You can read more about my cancer journey with him here in the story How much would you pay for your dog with cancer?

Well, now there may be a test. An epigenetics company from Belgium called Volition Veterinary Diagnostics Development, LLC just announced a new cancer blood test called the Nu.Q Vet Cancer Screening Test. This is an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA)–based test that requires a blood sample and is being run through the diagnostic laboratory at Texas A&M University (TAMU). In this blood test, Nu.Q Vet is measuring antibodies to nucleosomes from cancer cells that are released into the blood stream. If this test is abnormal, more thorough diagnostics should be done, like general blood work (including a complete blood count [CBC], biochemistry panel, and urinalysis), chest x-rays, an ultrasound, It’s a relatively inexpensive (e.g., read a few hundred dollars – approximately $150 USD), and non-invasive as it just requires your veterinarian to draw a blood sample. Please note that the blood sample must be collected, spun down, and separated VERY carefully and quickly for this test to be accurate.

In a veterinary study that was conducted, this test showed a 100% specificity, and was able to identify lymphoma in approximately 75% of dogs and hemangiosarcoma in about 90% of dogs when compared to healthy dogs. As these two types of cancer make up 1/3 of the cancer that we see in dogs, this is significant! Personally, I hate the cancer hemangiosarcoma, and you can read more about hemangiosarcoma in dogs here. I also talk to Dr. Sue Ettinger, “Cancer Vet” about it on my Pet Life Radio show here:

Interview with Dr. Sue Ettinger on cancer in dogs and cats on Pet Life Radio

Dr. Heather Wilson-Robles, DVM, a professor at Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences and chief medical officer at Volition Veterinary states that “This simple, low-cost blood test can help streamline the diagnostic process and shorten the path to diagnosis thereby allowing treatment (be that therapy or surgery) to be initiated earlier, even before symptoms appear, increasing the chance of the dog’s survival and its quality of life.”

So, when should you consider this test? Here, my veterinary rules:

  • If you own a breed of dog at high risk for cancer including a Golden retriever, flat-coated retriever, Bernese mountain dog
  • If your dog approaches 5-6 years of age at their routine annual examination
  • If your dog’s relative had a history of cancer
  • If you are concerned at all

While more research and awareness is pending, I’m excited as the sooner we can diagnose ANY type of disease, the sooner we can do something about it. When in doubt, talk to your veterinarian about what you can do to keep your pet healthier.

My best dog ever, JP, who was diagnosed with a brain tumor

For all you cat owners, hang in there. As my own cat died of squamous cell carcinoma (an aggressive cancer in the mouth), I’d love to see a blood test available for cats too, but research is still pending. Let’s hope it will also be available soon.

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