Being told that your dog has cancer can be heart-wrenching and is a terrifying possibility for all dog owners. Unfortunately, cancer in dogs is not uncommon, especially among old dogs as it accounts for fifty percent of canine deaths in those over ten years old. But in reality, cancer can strike a dog at any age. If you have found yourself in the position of caring for a dog with cancer, you may find it difficult to see your furry friend go through treatment and wonder if there is another alternative. There is a lot of information on the internet and it can be difficult to understand what the legitimate options are, but we’ll break it down so you can work with your veterinarian to understand the best course of treatment for your pet.
Cancer and Conventional Treatments
Before we look at holistic treatments for dogs with cancer, we should understand what cancer is and how it is traditionally treated. At its simplest definition, cancer is a disease in which abnormal cells divide uncontrollably and destroy tissue within the body. There are many types of cancer but some of the most common in dogs are bone cancer, skin cancer, lymphoma, mouth and throat cancer, hemangiosarcoma (a cancer arising in the blood vessels), and breast cancer.
Cancer in dogs is more treatable when caught early. So, pet owners should keep an eye out for the following signs that may indicate your dog is suffering from some form of dog cancer:
- Difficulty urinating and/r defecating
- Bad breath
- Unexplained, sudden lameness or limping
- Black, tarry stool
- Sores that don’t seem to heal
- Sudden weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Difficulty breathing
- Abnormal discharge (from anywhere on the body)
- Loss of energy or sudden lethargy
The conventional approach to treatment will vary depending on the type and severity of the cancer. However, the most common methods are surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, immunotherapy, or any combination of these of four. While these methods can be extremely effective in treating types of cancer, for example, dog skin cancer, they have adverse side effects and can make your dog feel worse before he feels better. If you so choose, you can speak to your vet about holistic treatments for dogs and how they could be utilized in your dog’s treatment plan.
Holistic Cancer Treatments for Dogs
In order to advocate for holistic treatment of your dog’s cancer, it is crucial to understand the different methods available. If you are not informed, you will be unable to articulate to your vet, or veterinary oncologist, what you believe is best for your dog. Below is a list of holistic treatments for dogs with cancer. Note: we are not medical experts. Please discuss all treatment options with your vet.
- Electrochemotherapy One of the newest alternative dog cancer treatments, electrochemotherapy involves a veterinarian using “small doses of systemic or intralesional chemotherapy followed by electric pulses applied to the tumor.” The electrical impulses increase the absorption of the chemotherapy by cancer cells, making it more effective. Electrochemotherapy is generally introduced as part of the post-operative treatment plan following a tumor removal.
- Chinese Veterinary Medicine This holistic treatment can be used on its own or in conjunction with a western medical treatment plan. Though only recently introduced in practice to the United States, the Chinese use of herbs and acupuncture has been used to care for animals for thousands of years in other parts of the world and is grounded in Chinese Daoist philosophy.
- Diet Some in the holistic veterinary research field are concerned with the amount of sugar and carbohydrates in commercial dog foods. These researchers believe sugar speeds the growth of cancer cells. However, cancer experts at The Mayo Clinic dispute that sugar has any impact on cancer growth. With inconclusive research, this method may be best to use in conjunction with more traditional treatments.
- Mushrooms A recent study from the University of Pennsylvania evaluated the healing properties of the Coriolus Versicolor mushroom which has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for over 2,000 years. The researchers found that dogs who treated their cancer with this mushroom had “the longest survival times ever reported for dogs with the disease.”
- Hyperbaric Therapy This alternative dog cancer treatment centers on increasing the amount of pure oxygen that your dog receives. Hyperbaric therapy involves putting your dog into a chamber where the oxygen levels can be increased. As a result, the levels of oxygen absorbed and dissolved into the blood are higher than possible under natural circumstances which may help your dog’s body fight off the growth of cancerous cells.
- Clinical Trials Veterinary researchers are always working to identify new and more effective cancer treatments that will help prolong the life of dogs and, in most instances, participation in a clinical trial has no cost to pet owners. You can search for clinical trials for your dog’s specific cancer and for those trials focusing on holistic treatments specifically.
- Hemp based products CBD and other hemp-based products have been found to have an anti-tumor effect. CBD can help to strengthen the immune system and kill tumor cells. Hemp based products can also help dogs ease the symptoms associated with cancer.