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8 Things to Remember When Fighting Dog Cancer

Two of my dogs got cancer -- and both beat it. Here's what I learned along the way.

Julia Szabo  |  Oct 1st 2012

Editor’s note: This story originally ran in October of 2012. It offers some excellent advice, so we’re showcasing it again in honor of World Cancer Day.

Pamela Mitchell’s recent Dogster article “10 Things I Tell People Who Just Learned Their Dog Has Cancer” really hit home for me. Cancer has threatened my dog family twice. We fought back, and cancer lost both times. My beloved Sam and Tiki have both crossed the Rainbow Bridge, but it wasn’t cancer that sent them there, and they lived to 17 and 14, respectively.

I’d like to share my experience and suggest some alternative therapies that worked for me in the hope it may help if your dog receives a cancer diagnosis.

1. First Step: Fight Back!

Don’t accept that cancer will win. I’ve found it helps to visualize cancer as a relentless, hungry monster with an army of millions as backup. Like the villain in a horror movie, it only appears dead when you think it’s been whacked — the minute you turn your back, it rises again. My brilliant, beloved friend-sistah, the cartoonist and author Marisa Acocella Marchetto, aka Cancer Vixen, kicked cancer’s bony butt and wrote an inspirational graphic memoir about it.

Take a page from Marisa’s book. Why not give cancer the face of the loser who hassled you every day in school? Then, for your dog’s sweet sake, fight that bully with all you’ve got. I’ve heard too many people say that cancer is “a death sentence,” and I’ve heard people repeat platitudes along the lines of, “If it’s God’s will ….” Forgive me, but I don’t buy either sentiment. Time to take the power away from cancer. Fight it to win. No prisoners!

2. Explore Alternative Remedies

Cancer is expensive. And here’s a disturbing truth: If you have a big dog, the price adjusts up accordingly. This doesn’t mean you need to give up — far from it.

In rosier economic times, my then-husband and I opted to treat our dog Sam with surgeries and conventional chemo, which set us back close to $30,000 and caused Sam a great deal of pain, not to mention terrible nausea and diarrhea. All that misery and resultant penury, yet Sam’s cancer returned.

After that, I went online and researched other options. Working with two brilliant homeopathic veterinarians, I opted to have Sam treated with an alternative chemotherapy called Neoplasene. Formulated with alkaloids from the bloodroot plant, Neoplasene attacks cancer cells but leaves healthy tissue unharmed (coventional chemo works by going after all cells, and healthy ones die in the process). I’ve found Neoplasene to be kinder to the dog patient, and easier on the wallet.

3. You Are What You Eat

Dogster reader “4titans” left this very valuable comment on Pam’s article: “Also you may want to look into the Dog Cancer diet. Although my oncologist does not personally recommend it, there is an interesting theory about less carbs and no sugar, more fat and high quality protein that can aid your pet and help stop the spread of cancer. (It’s said that cancer cells feed off of sugar, and the sugar produced by carbs; but they cannot feed on fat.) I put my doggins on it.”

4titans is right on the money. There are certain foods the cancer monster hates, so it’s is less likely to feed on an animal that eats those foods. Hopefully, you’re eating healthy, so go ahead and give some of your healthy grub to your brave, cancer-fighting dog. Anti-cancer foods that are safe to share with dogs include protein, fat (excellent sources include coconut oil and olive oil), asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, collard greens, burdock, and blueberries.

4. Don’t Cater to Cancer

If you’re hosting a party, you provide food the guests will like so they’ll stick around, right? Well, picture your dog’s body as a party site being crashed by cancer cells. Catering to cancer is the last thing you want to do.

Cancer loves sugar, carbs, and processed proteins (that includes stuff like hot dogs, ham, and bologna, obviously, but also — hello! — dog treats such as pig’s ears, rawhides, and the like). Now is a fine time to eliminate all those items from Spot’s diet.

And please, no greasy drive-thru snacks — especially not the fries! Avoid all fried foods if you want to beat cancer, including potato chips and corn chips. Now is also a good time to evict all chemical preservatives, especially the carcinogenic preservative Ethoxyquin, which is used to preserve many brands of dry and canned pet food. Please, no cookies, candy, or cupcakes for the canine, no matter how aerobically she begs. If you want to get really hardcore, avoid all sweet veggies too, such as corn, carrots, and peas, and super-sweet fruit such as bananas. To reward my dogs’ acts of valor at the vet’s office, I sometimes pan-sear a burger or steak in coconut oil.

5. Support Your Dog’s Immune System

Maybe you don’t believe in dietary supplements as part of a healthy lifestyle. Well, I do believe in them, and that belief governs how I care for my dogs. When your dog battles cancer, his or her immune system must martial all its reserves to combat this invading army of cancer cells.

It’s your job to help support your dog’s immune system so it can successfully ward off the evil invader cancer. And that means providing immune-supportive supplements. Curcumin has been scientifically proven to fight cancer. Probiotics are also key, as studies show that these beneficial bacteria exhibit anticancer activity.

6. Reduce Exposure to Carcinogens

We are all exposed to environmental toxins on a daily basis, but our dogs are smaller than we are and don’t live as long as we do, so they feel those toxins’ impact faster and harder. With a little vigilance, you can reduce your dog’s exposure.

For example, use pet shampoo that contains no sulphates, parabens, or phthalates; avoid topical pesticides that contain chemicals and substitute them with the safe, effective biopesticide neem; avoid smoke from cigarettes and cigars; and steer clear of automobile exhaust pipes, which are scarily positioned at a dog’s snout level.

Also, know that certain pet products — including the inflatable alternative to the so-called “cone of shame” — are made of PVC, a known carcinogen. If my dog is battling cancer, PVC is the last substance I would strap to her neck!

7. Cut Down on Killer Stress

Stress is a destroyer of dogs as much as it is of humans, so do try to make your dog’s life as stress-free as possible. Talk to your dog in soothing, upbeat tones, using plain English (as Tim Link’s must-read “Taking a Vacation? Tell Your Dogs About It!” article reminds us to do), and coach your canine constantly with positive messages. Say, “Today is the day we kick cancer’s butt,” and mean it!

Provide lots of fun chew toys and soft bedding materials, and launder the bedding often. Play soothing classical music, or whatever tunes your dogs dig — mine enjoy a healing soundtrack by harpist Susan Raimond. The music will help you, too. And, since you’re the one under the most stress right now, please remember to do something kind for yourself.

8. Don’t Ever Think You’re Done with It

I’ve seen otherwise rational, intelligent human cancer survivors cover their ears like the elders in Planet of the Apes when anyone tries to discuss preventing a recurrence through healthy diet and/or supplements. “I don’t have cancer anymore!” they say. This is abject denial. No cancer survivor — canine or human — is ever completely cancer-free.

It takes constant vigilance to keep this horror-show monster out of the picture. But trust me, it can be done! For your dog’s sake, keep up the fight. Don’t let your guard down, even for a minute. Good luck.

Has your dog ever fought cancer? What was your experience like? Let us know in the comments!

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