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Cancer in Pets

Cancer is a dreaded disease that seems to be affecting more and more pets, especially older dogs and cats. Many vets believe that a poor diet and increased exposure to chemicals and other environmental pollutants have led to an increase in cancers in pets.

What is cancer?

Simply put, cancer occurs when cells continue to reproduce after they have replicated. Rather than self-destruct, cancer cells perish more slowly or not at all and so their numbers continue to increase. The immune system plays an important role by identifying and destroying these abnormal cells. In most cases, the cancer cells are found and eliminated in time, but sometimes, the cells have replicated so quickly that a tumor forms or some of the cancer cells break free and move to other areas of the body.

Clinical Signs of Cancer in Dogs and Cats

There are several clinical signs that may indicate the possibility of cancer:

  • Appetite loss

  • Weight loss

  • Chronic lameness

  • Abnormal masses that persist or grow

  • Difficulty breathing, eating, urinating, or defecating

  • Bleeding or discharge

  • Offensive odor coming from any body opening.

Conventional Treatments

Most conventional cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy and radiation, are based on the fact that malignant tumors have a higher rate of growth and the drugs work by interfering with the cell's DNA synthesis or function. Because healthy cells go through regular division, these conventional treatments have an increased incidence of side effects and a limited area of effectiveness and safety.
There are new classes of drugs that are being researched to mark the abnormal high dividing cells and therefore destroy only cancer cells.
Another conventional treatment is removing a tumor through surgery. This can be very effective unless the cancer cells have spread to a new area.

Using a Holistic Approach

Many animals respond very well to conventional therapies but the related side effects, long term prognosis, quality of life and other health issues all need to be considered when looking at treatment options. Holistic therapies are often used along with conventional treatments to reduce the toxic effects of chemo drugs and radiation. They help mobilize the immune system to support the body itself. Nutrition, supplements and acupuncture are all part of a holistic approach to healing dogs and cats with cancer.


Good nutrition is the foundation for building a strong immune system. Most commercial pet food is very high in carbohydrates and is generally too much for a pet's low activity levels. Carbohydrates are much cheaper for pet food companies and are often used as fillers. Cancer cells use carbohydrates as their main energy source, leaving a pet with even poorer quality nutrition. A high protein, low carbohydrate, moderate fat diet should be offered to give the most optimal nutrition for your pet's health.

Supplements and Herbs

Supplements and western or eastern herbs are also key for whole body support. Often during chemotherapy or radiation therapy, side effects cause loss of appetite, lethargy and suppress the white blood cell counts. Immune supplements can help pets recover from treatment faster and with more energy.

There are compounds in some herbs that have been studied and found to stimulate specific immune cells in the body that attack and destroy cancer cells. This often results in a more favorable outcome for the pet's overall quality and length of life. Look for these herbs:

  • Astragalus - Studies have shown that it helps to restore immune system functioning and suppress tumor growth in cancer patients.

  •  Echinacea - Benefits immune functioning and as a tonic for the lymphatic system.

  • Ashwagandha - Has anti-tumor properties that can help prevent or slow the development of tumors.

  • Milk Thistle - A widely researched herb that has been shown to restore liver functioning. Milk thistle contains silymarin, a powerful antioxidant that helps in detoxifying the liver. This herb is often recommended to counteract the harmful effects of prescription drugs and vaccinations.

  • Reishi Mushrooms - Enhance immune modulators and inhibit the growth of cancer cells.

  • Selenium - An antioxidant that protects cell membranes and slows down the hardening of tissues due to oxidation.


Acupuncture has been found to help suppress pain and inflammation and effects neurologic function and so will often work with both conventional and non-traditional therapies. A trained and licensed practitioner will determine the treatment points carefully so as not to stimulate activity of a cancer cells. In many cases,, acupuncture will be used to correct the underlying imbalance of the body that initiated the cancer. It is also commonly used for the secondary pain and loss of appetite that often occurs with cancer.

Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine, is a holistic, natural approach to evaluating and treating your pet. Conventional medicine tends to look at the symptoms and then address the problem by trying to alleviate those symptoms. Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine looks at the individual symptoms of each pet, and tries to figure out why those symptoms are present. The root cause of those symptoms is addressed and if the treatment is successful, the symptoms subside.

During your first appointment, I will perform a veterinary examination to determine how many treatments are necessary to give your pet optimal results as well as discuss diet and herbal medication options. In addition, I consult with your family veterinarian to provide total health care for your pet.