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This new test could help detect cancer in your dog before symptoms appear

OncoK9, a liquid biopsy test for dogs, can detect cancer before your pet gives you any warning signs.

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OncoK9, a test that detects cancer in dogs, is changing the pace of veterinary medicine. 

PetDx, a San Diego-based start up, announced Tuesday that it is partnering with Petco to release a new kind of diagnostic test for dogs -- OncoK9, a liquid biopsy that can detect cancer without any physical signs through a simple blood draw. The release comes as part of Petco's #TogetherStrong campaign to raise awareness about cancer in pets. About one in four dogs will be diagnosed with cancer, according to the Veterinary Cancer Society.

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Dr. Andi Flory, chief medical officer at PetDx, says that there is a "huge unmet need" for detecting cancer early in dogs, and that oftentimes dogs are diagnosed too late, only after they start to show obvious signs of illness and their owners bring them in. 

"They want to know 'what could I have done?'" Flory says. "So often all I can say is, 'There's nothing you could have done -- you did everything right.'" 

OncoK9, available at Petco veterinary offices for the initial phase of the roll out starting May 26, works by detecting cancer at the DNA level and picks up alterations in the genome, Flory says. This is a big step for veterinary medicine because it offers technology previously reserved for diagnostic treatment in humans.

Dr. Whitney Miller, Petco's chief veterinarian, says having a liquid biopsy test available to veterinarians is a "game-changer." 

"I think this is really gonna move the needle for veterinarians being comfortable with these DNA and molecular-based tests," Miller says. "Because they are definitely not the norm of access to our diagnostic capabilities." 

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Typical exams at the vet's office may not reveal certain cancers in dogs. 

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A cancer screening with OncoK9 will be recommended for older dogs -- aged 8 and older -- and dogs who are "highly predisposed" to cancer due to their breed, Flory says. It can also be used by vets who suspect cancer in a pet, but are unable to see any visible signs. 

Creators of OncoK9 on both the Petco and PetDx sides have had personal experiences with cancer in pets, and a desire to change outcomes of cancer diagnoses in other dogs was a catalyst for the new biopsy, Miller says. 

"Cancer never comes without sad stories, but it's always great when sad stories can lead to positive change," she says.

As of May, OncoK9 is only available for use in dogs. Starting May 26, pet parents can use Petco's Vet Services finder to find a clinic near them, and call ahead to see if that clinic is offering OncoK9. By fall, all of Petco's full-service veterinary hospitals should have OncoK9 available. The test will eventually be added to clinics outside of Petco's network. 

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.