Cancer in Pets
When cancer strikes, it’s usually an emotional and difficult time for a pet owner. The uncertainty of how much time you have left with your pet, and the quality of life for your pet within that time, is of utmost concern. However, few cancers spread so quickly that a good prognosis shouldn’t be expected. In fact, the discovery of a cancerous tumor, if detected early, usually responds well to treatment and/or surgery.
However, some types of cancer are not detected so easily or don’t provide obvious symptoms as the appearance of a tumor. Further, while it’s true that tumors occur in dogs at twice the rate they do in humans (but in cats only half as much), it should be noted that our companion animals are experiencing extended lives due to advances in nutrition and veterinary care, even in the face of a devastating disease like cancer.
What Kinds of Cancers Are Common in Pets?
Pets may become victim to almost any kind of cancer common to humans. However, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association, the following are the most common cancers found in pets:
- Bone (rare in cats)
- Mouth (rare in cats)
What Causes Cancer in Pets?
Genetics, previous healthy history, and age are all factors that may influence the development of cancer in a pet. Older pets seem to be most vulnerable, perhaps due to a decreased functioning of the immune system and a diminished ability to destroy rogue cells that mutate and spread to cause cancer. However, there other contributing factors that can make a pet more susceptible to cancer, such as:
For cats in particular, frequent vaccinations have been observed to cause tumors dubbed ‘injection site sarcomas’ in a small number of felines. While the exact mechanism behind this phenomenon is not well understood, it’s thought that these individuals may have a genetic predisposition to cancer cells developing at the injection site. However, injected medications, including flea prevention controls, have also led to injection site sarcoma in cats. The development of a tumor at the site may appear anytime from 3 months to 3 years after being injected.
Cats and dogs may be subjected to chemical additives and preservatives found in most commercial pet food for years, if not over the course of a lifetime. Some of these agents have been associated with liver and kidney cancers.
Cats infected with the feline leukemia virus, feline immunodeficiency virus or the feline sarcoma virus, are at high risk for developing cancer.
What Are the Warning Signs of Cancer in Pets?
While symptoms may vary or even be scarce until the cancer has become advanced, there are some common early warning signs to be aware of:
- Unexplained weight loss
- Decreased appetite
- Chronic bad breath
- Swelling or the appearance of a lump
- Sores that won’t heal
- Bleeding or discharge (from nose, mouth, etc.)
- Respiratory distress
- Difficulty swallowing
- Stiffness or lameness
Treating Cancer in Pets
Optimum nutrition plays a key role in treating a pet with cancer. Studies have demonstrated that a poor diet not only compromises natural immunity, but also interferes with the benefits of therapeutic efforts, including conventional treatments such as chemotherapy.
There are also some abnormal metabolic tendencies shared by pets with cancer that should be considered. For instance, the plasma of a pet with cancer often reveals an inadequate presence of arginine, an amino acid directly involved with immune functioning. In addition, cats and dogs with cancer often have elevated blood levels of lactic acid. Be aware that most commercial dry kibble contains a high amount of carbohydrates, which promotes the production of lactates. For these reasons, a natural diet low in carbohydrates and supplementation with certain nutraceuticals is recommended for pets with cancer.
The Anti-Cancer Diet for Pets
There are prepared foods on the market available that are formulated specifically for pets with cancer, most notably the Hill’s n/d diet. Studies have shown that dogs with lymphoma being treated with chemotherapy, as well as dogs with oral or nasal cancers being treated with radiation have experienced a significant decrease in pain and improved metabolic synthesis. However, this diet is only available as canned wet food and can become quite expensive over time. Therefore, it may be more feasible for you to prepare natural pet food at home for your cancer patient by following a few basic guidelines:
An anti-cancer diet for dogs should contain approximately:
- 40% protein
- 40% fat
- 20% carbohydrates
An anti-cancer diet for cats should contain approximately:
- 50% protein
- 40-50% fat
- 10% or less carbohydrates
Helpful Supplements for Pets with Cancer
Exactly which supplements would be beneficial for your pet may depend on the specific cancer involved, the age and weight of your pet, and whether or not conventional treatments are being explored. In addition, aggressive supplementation with some antioxidants may result in protecting mutated cells from oxidation and help them to spread. However, your veterinarian can determine which supplements are appropriate for your pet, which may include one or more of the following:
- Arginine (inhibits tumor growth and metastasis)
- Coenzyme Q10
- Omega-3 fatty acids
- Eicosapentaaenoic acid (EPA)
- Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)
- Omega-6 fatty acids
- Linoleic acid (LA)
- Gammalinoleic acid (GLA)
- Glutamine (helps to prevent weight loss)
- Glycoproteins (sugars that promote cellular regeneration)
- Acemannan (derived from aloe vera)
- Proanthocyanidins (stimulates T-cell activity)
Herbs for Pets with Cancer
Several herbs are thought to be helpful in minimizing unpleasant side effects from chemotherapy and may help to boost immunity at the same time. However, certain herbs can increase blood flow and supplementation must be monitored to reduce the possibility of excessive bleeding before and after any surgical procedure. Herbs recommended in the treatment of cancer in pets include:
- Yellow dock
- Milk thistle
- Dandelion root
- Red clover