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When you hear your dog has cancer, it's heartbreaking. Pet owners love their dogs as much as other family members, and all of us want to give our pets the best chance at survival and comfort possible.
In this article, we've laid out many of the non-chemotherapeutic agents used to treat cancer in dogs and looked at some evidence for their effectiveness.
Last, we've listed out whether or not these agents are likely to hurt your pet (hint, they aren't, as long as you source them for quality and make sure you check with your vet to ensure they won't interact with the drugs or other anti-cancer therapy your dog is using).
Nutrition is a critical issue for healthy humans and dogs. It becomes an even more critical and complex issue in a dog with cancer. There are several considerations when it comes to feeding a dog with cancer. Eating well and maintaining a healthy weight are thought to contribute to the comfort of a canine cancer patient and enhance the chance of effective treatment.
Depending on what kind of cancer, it may be difficult for your dog to swallow or digest food, their appetite may decrease, or the drugs/radiation used to treat their cancer may make them feel sick or not feel hungry like normal.
High Energy – Lots of Calories
If your dog is losing weight or not maintaining weight well during cancer treatment, their diet should have plenty of calories. In many canine cancers, the tumor feeds on carbohydrates more than the healthy tissue of the dog. For this reason, the dog's diet should consist of no more than 25% of carbohydrates.
Fats > Proteins > Carbohydrates
Healthy canine tissues can use fats as fuel, but tumors have a hard time using fat for energy. The diet should consist of 25-40% fat and 30-45% protein from dry matter. (Note: Dry matter basis is the percentage of fat found in the total dry value of the material without water weight.)
Low-carb, high fat, high protein. Sounds like a lot of healthy human diets, right? Keto, paleo, Mediterranean, and Atkins diets use similar approaches to healthy eating.
The risk of a healthy diet is nonexistent. Even if your dog is healthy, a healthy diet will help your fur friend stay healthy! If you aren't sure of a good dog food with the appropriate mix of nutrients, ask your veterinarian to help select one.
HERBS AND SPICES
Turmeric (Curcumin) for Dogs
There is evidence that Turmeric (used with or without rosemary extract) can cause cancer cells to stop living beyond their healthy life span. Cells are supposed to commit suicide when they reach a certain point of not functioning well anymore. One key component of cancer is that cells "unlearn" how to do this and continue living and replicating well beyond their healthy life span. Turmeric and Rosemary separately and together "reteach" some kinds of cancer cells to commit beneficial suicide again.
They work differently on different cancer cells, and the effects are not studied well enough to know precisely if, when, or how likely a cure is to be for various sorts of cancer. What we do know is that the effects appear to be positive.
Turmeric has few known adverse side effects on dogs at ordinary doses. It is not known to cause serious health problems, and also has anti-inflammatory and may help control pain or discomfort from some cancers.
Rosemary for Dogs
Rosemary is found in some dog foods and supplements. You need to give the right amount so that it is not toxic. Too much can lead to seizures. Rosemary has positive effects on cancer and digestion when given the correct dose. There is evidence for other positive results, but more research is needed. As with all herbs, using these herbs should be discussed with your veterinarian before administering them to your pet, and they should be added to a veterinarian-prescribed anti-cancer treatment, not used as a substitute.
Mushrooms are a unique and oft-overlooked source of nutrition and healthy, medicine-like compounds. Many species have shown anti-diabetic, anti-oxidant, cholesterol balancing, anti-allergy, anti-microbial, anti-tumor, and anti-cancer effects.
The difficulty in using mushrooms is obtaining proper extracts and whole fruiting bodies for a dog. To that end, this article will focus not on all research on all mushrooms with anti-tumor and anti-cancer effects but on those that have extracts that are obtainable to the average consumer who does not own and run their own mushroom-propagating business – although learning to propagate and use mushrooms is a rewarding (and tasty!) endeavor.
Mushrooms commonly found in supplements include Lion's Mane (Hericium Erinaceus), Turkey Tail (Trametes Versicolor), Cordyceps, Reishi (Ganoderma lingzhi), and Chaga (Inonotus obliquus). Lion's mane has anti-tumor properties and stimulates the immune system, resulting in the body fighting cancer cells more effectively. Lion's mane is a healthy, tasty food with few negative effects.
Turkey tail is one of the most studied mushrooms for anti-cancer activity. A standardized extract of this mushroom is an officially recognized part of certain chemotherapy regimens in Japan. Turkey tail also has a role in the kitchen and is the main ingredient in several dishes. It has few if any negative side effects.
Cordyceps, Reishi, and Chaga are less studied but have established anti-cancer activity and other health benefits. Many cultures also include these three in their culinary arts, and this author can attest that all the above are tasty when cooked and spiced appropriately.
For the dog owner, it will be easiest to give these as a pre-formed supplement. As with all supplements, mushroom extracts or whole mushrooms should be used carefully and under supervision from a veterinarian. They are not a substitute for proper anti-cancer therapy and are often studied and used (at least in Japan) alongside modern anti-cancer drugs to help them work better and reduce the harm they cause the patient.
- Multivitamins Some companies offer multivitamins for dogs. If your veterinarian identifies a specific nutrient deficiency or needs in your dog, a vitamin supplement may be necessary. Otherwise, a well-balanced dog food selected with help from your veterinarian already contains the essential vitamins and nutrients at appropriate doses for your dog. Adding a multivitamin can potentially cause a buildup of fat-soluble vitamins like A, E, D, and K, leading to toxicity.
Once a well-balanced food is on board, use vitamin supplements only in cooperation with a veterinary professional.
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids In several studies, omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to help with various cancers in multiple species. Some of the ways Omega-3 Fatty Acids help include inhibiting cancer cell proliferation and encouraging cancer cells stop living and growing more than is healthy (cancer cells start as healthy cell types that "forget" to die when they are old and unhealthy – instead, they keep growing and making more of themselves, eventually causing tumors.)
The risk of using omega-3 fatty acids is low. It's best to use them with the well-balanced dog food mentioned above – vitamin E is essential to have and omega-3 fatty acids.
- L-Arginine L-Arginine is a semi-essential amino acid in humans. It's known to have a role in wound regeneration and growth and may have some positive effects on cancer – however, research is not conclusive on this topic, and less so for canines. It may or may not be beneficial. Ask a veterinarian if you're curious about this supplement for your dog.
The risk of L-Arginine is likely low, and it is present in many dog foods and foods that dogs like (red meats).
CBD OIL FOR DOG CANCER
With the recent shift in the legalization of non-THC-containing hemp products, CBD extracts have started to be studied and used by more organizations and individuals, including for the prevention or treatment of certain tumors and cancers.
THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) is the hemp or marijuana plant extract responsible for the euphoric (pleasurable) effects. It is still considered a Schedule 1 substance Federally in the United States. While it has some anti-cancer and anti-tumor effects, its precarious legal status leaves it outside the scope of this article.
The other significant extract from the hemp plant is CBD or cannabidiol, which is not euphoric and, if made with a low enough concentration of THC, is considered a hemp extract and not a drug like THC extracts.
Cannabidiols are known to have anti-cancer and anti-tumor effects. They can also be used to treat specific pains and discomforts associated with cancer, and there is evidence it helps reduce anxiety.
After talking to your veterinarian about the possible benefits of CBD extracts, make sure to get one from a quality provider. Quality manufacturers will provide third-party lab test results for their products showing the presence of CBD in appropriate amounts and the absence of THC as required by law.
Can CBD shrink tumors?
In short, yes. CBD has certain anti-cancer activities that can lead to the death of cancer cells while healthy cells are protected. It is not studied for standalone cancer therapy but is unlikely to interfere with the anti-cancer regimen prescribed by your veterinarian. Double-check with your vet before using any supplement, especially while your pet is undergoing therapy for cancer.