dog cancer discovery
Modern dogs are still affected by aggressive osteosarcoma.Flickr/Creative commons/Neil Christiansen

Dog remains bearing traces of a very malignant type of cancer have been found at the archaeological site of Berenike in Egypt. It is the oldest and only find if this type ever recorded by archaeologists.

Several years ago, an international team discovered a two thousand years old pet cemetery at Berenike, an ancient port on the Red Sea. More than 100 animals were buried there, including dogs, cats, baboons and even apes, according to Polish news website PAP.

But perhaps the most interesting discovery that the researchers came across were the remains of the dog who apparently suffered from osteosarcoma, a particularly aggressive form of bone cancer which still affects many modern dogs.

Covered in amphora

The dog's bones were wrapped in a mat of palm leaves before being placed in the grave and covered with broken pieces from a Cyprus.

An analysis of the amphora revealed that the burial took place sometime during the 1st century AD. It was discovered next to a cat burial of similar date.The scientists believe that the dog is male and was about four years old when it died. It was more than half a meter tall, with a very large skull and massive body.

They then took a closer look at the remains and noticed lesions on the tibia and left humerus which are characteristic of osteosarcoma. In the majority of cases, the condition is fatal. This makes this dog the oldest ever discovered with the cancer.

Towards a better understanding of dog cancer

These findings could be crucial to further our understanding of how malignant osteosarcoma develops in modern dogs. While the disease is known to be heritable, it is often thought that it can emerge as a result of modern factors, such as pollution or the advanced level of dog breeding.

Finding out that a dog that lived some 2,000 years ago also had the disease emphasises the importance of genetics and suggests our modern environment may not be so much to blame.

The scientists hope that the remains will be used in future research into of this type of animal cancer. They have already produced samples which are ready to use for histopathological and genetic studies.