Until now, cancer treatments prescribed by veterinarians were human-friendly formulas that hadn't yet been tested for canine companions. But the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has recently approved the first cancer drug for dogs.

The new dog-only drug, Palladia (toceranib phosphate), will be made by international pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and is slated to hit shelves some time next year. It's been approved to treat canine cutaneous cancer—which accounts for about 20 percent of doggie skin tumors and, if left alone, can spread to other parts of the body.

The drug stops new blood vessels from being created—a process called angiogenesis—thereby halting the nutrient and oxygen supply that the tumors need to grow. Angiogenesis inhibitors, such as Avastin (bevacizumab)—approved in 2004 for people—were big news in the late 1990s, when they showed great promise for targeting tumors in early clinical human trials.

Canine trials of Palladia have shown it to destroy, shrink or stop growth of tumors in about 60 percent of pups that had the disease.

So what will Fido's treatment cost? The drug company has yet to announce a price for the pills, which will need to be taken every other day. Americans spend more than $12.2 billion annually on veterinary care, according to the trade group American Pet Products Association. The big bill, along with shrinking budgets, might explain the growing market for pet insurance. Even a pet policy probably won't cover the full cost of treatment, according to the canine cancer awareness group, Georgia's Legacy. The nonprofit's Web site notes that, "you should be prepared to spend several thousand dollars in the course of your dog's treatment, especially if you go through chemotherapy."

Dogs have long been an important study for oncologists, who have found that they often get stricken with the same sorts of cancer—from prostate to breast—as humans. Researchers at the National Cancer Institute have been studying dogs with naturally occurring cancer at its Comparative Oncology Program since 2003 in hopes of finding treatments for both dogs and humans.   

In case you were wondering, the drug's approval process was getting in the way of dealing with the flu pandemic or regulating human goods—the green light came from the FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine, which oversees everything from animal cloning to protection against mad cow disease.

Image courtesy of POHAN via Flickr