Cancer in Dogs by Deborah Shores, DVM

Image: by epSos on flickr

Chances are you know a person who is suffering from cancer or who has died from cancer.  Similarly to humans, cancer is the leading cause of death in dogs over the age of 10. Canine cancer statistics are a bit alarming, as the current rate of cancer in dogs is higher than it is in humans. Fortunately though, some cancers are curable if identified early enough. 

What are the types of cancer?
There are numerous types of cancer that can affect your canine, many similar to those found in humans. 

Some common types of cancer include:
  •  Lymphoma -- commonly affects the lymph nodes
  •  Hemangiosarcoma -- commonly affects the spleen
  •  Osteosarcoma – a type of bone cancer
  •  Mast cell tumors – a type of skin cancer 

What are the symptoms?

The sooner you recognize the signs of cancer, the sooner you can help your pet. We recommend that you perform a routine exam on your dog every month. This is the best way to catch and hopefully prevent illness.  

Here are some early symptoms of cancer to check for while examining your dog:
•  Lumps
•  Swellings
•  Weight loss
•  Bleeding or discharge
•  Sores that aren’t healing
•  Lameness and stiffness, sensitive to exercise
•  Weight loss
•  Loss of appetite 

What’s the cause?

Simply, cancer is abnormal cell growth. There are multiple possible reasons that dogs develop cancer, including:

• Genetic factors
For example, large breed dogs have a tendency to develop osteosarcoma (bone cancer) far more often than smaller breeds. This is because of accelerated bone growth -- a Great Dane reaches 150 pounds in 2 years, while a Beagle reaches 20 pounds in the same time frame. Many genetic factors that cause cancer have yet to be discovered or fully understood.

• Vaccines
Vaccines are designed to stimulate the dog’s immune system and protect against disease. However, vaccinating too frequently may over-stimulate the immune system and may predispose some dogs to cancer and immune-mediated disease.(1) 

Vaccines have also been found to remain in your dog’s system for longer than a year -- therefore repeatedly vaccinating can be ineffective, as your dog is still protected from the disease or illness. Luckily, yearly vaccination is becoming a thing of the past. In 2010 the World Small Animal Veterinary Association published a set of new vaccination guidelines, recommending vaccination of adult dogs not more often than every 3 years.(2) 

Another option is to talk to your veterinarian about your dog’s risk level for these diseases, as many vaccines may not be appropriate for your dog’s lifestyle. You can also ask your veterinarian to perform a titer test on your dog before vaccinating to determine if it is necessary. 

•  Environmental toxins
Be aware of the products you use in your house and in your garden. Try to eliminate as many chemicals and pesticides as possible by looking into natural cleaning and lawn products. Cigarette smoke is also said to increase risk of cancer.

What are the treatment options?

There is a variety of treatment options available, including surgery, chemotherapy, vaccine and radiation therapy. To obtain a diagnosis and determine the best treatment for your dog, consult a veterinary oncologist in your area.

What are alternative treatment options?

Using alternative remedies to help manage your dog’s pain and boost his/her immune system before, during, and after treatment can be extremely beneficial. We recommend that you contact a holistic veterinarian in your area that can help you find some alternative options to aid in your dog’s healing. 

Elimay offers a few products, including Chemo Detox and Onco Care to holistically support your pet during and after cancer treatment. Chemo Detox supports cleansing and elimination of toxins while your dog is undergoing chemotherapy. It contains a blend of herbs, including Bladderwrack, Cape Aloe, Alfalfa, Burdock Root and Dandelion root powder. Onco Care is designed to combat abnormal cell growth. It contains a blend of herbs, including Bladderwrack, Sweet Wormwood, Parsley, Horsetail, and Goldenseal. 

What about nutrition? 

Glucose is the energy source that all cells in the body depend on. High levels of glucose from the diet are quickly taken in by cancer cells; which can make the cancer grow faster. This process also leaves your dog struggling for energy for day-to-day activities.(3)  Minimizing carbohydrates from your dog’s diet is best for cancer patients. This can be achieved through grain-free conventional or raw diets. It is also suggested that you increase your dog’s intake of omega-3 fatty acids, as found in Elimay’s Omegas supplement. 

Switching your dog to a raw, grain-free diet is one of the most rewarding choices you can make. Many raw and grain-free diets are available on the market commercially but if you choose to prepare them at home, consult a veterinary nutritionist for recipes. This will ensure that the meals are balanced for optimal healing power and nutrition. 

Raw diets are not always appropriate for every cancer patient. Chemotherapy can compromise the immune system, making the dog more prone to food-borne illness. Talk to your veterinary oncologist about raw diets if your dog is undergoing chemotherapy. 

Overall, if you have a canine with cancer, your goal should be to keep his immune system strong and functioning with the support of supplements and a well-balanced diet.

(1)  Duval, D., Giger, U. 1996 Sep-Oct. Vaccine-Associated Immune-Mediated Hemolytic Anemia in the Dog. J Vet Intern Med., Vol. 10(5):290-5. 
(2)  WSAVA Guidelines for the Vaccination of Dogs and Cats. 2010. J Sm Anim Practice, Vol. 51: 5,6,9.
(3)  Silver, R. 2013. Integrative Oncology: Blending the Best of Conventional with Evidence-Based and Supportive Complementary Therapies. Holistic Veterinary Medicine Club Symposium. Veterinary Information Network. 

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