Breast cancer is most often associated with humans, but dogs develop this malignancy as well. The good news is that there are many steps you can take to reduce the risk in your own canine companion.
We don’t often think of breast cancer in association with our canine companions. But the fact is, the incidence of mammary tumors in dogs is higher than in any other domesticated animal. Breast cancer accounts for approximately 20% to 25% of all cancers found in canines. Non-spayed female dogs are at highest risk, with rates ranging up to 58%. So it makes sense to learn more about this disease, and how you can help prevent your dog from developing it.
Integrative approaches to cancer therapies have become increasingly popular in the last decade as researchers document the fact that environmental influences, diet and lifestyle have a tremendous impact on all aspects of cancer, as well as health in general. Integrative veterinarians, including myself, not only address these factors but also focus on deciphering the actual underlying mechanisms responsible for the cancer in the first place.
Canine cancer and your dog’s longevity
- 30% of your dog’s longevity, including his or her cancer risk, is due to genetics. This is what your dog inherited from his parents. Unfortunately, we can’t do much to alter genetics.
- 70% of your dog’s longevity is attributed to diet and lifestyle. That means if you have a dog with a high cancer risk, there is a 70% chance you can alter the outcome by making simple changes in his nutrition and lifestyle. That’s good news!
Traditionally, statistics for canine mammary cancer tell us that removing your female dog’s estrogen source prior to her first heat cycle reduces the odds of getting breast cancer by 99.5%. Therefore, spaying your dog reduces this risk significantly. The risk rises by approximately 8% if she is spayed after her first heat, and by 26% after her second. Note that male dogs and even spayed female dogs can still develop breast cancer. In addition, spaying your female dog prior to her first heat is not a 100% guarantee that she won’t end up with cancer. That’s because not all cases of mammary cancer in dogs are hormonally dependent; they can develop with or without the presence of estrogen.
Conventional treatment and prognosis
The treatment for malignant masses usually involves surgical removal of the cancer; in most cases, spaying the dog at the same time is advisable. Prognosis depends on several factors, including tumor size, type and grade, as well as the age and overall health of the dog. Adjuvant therapies including chemotherapy, radiation and hormonal therapy (diindolylmethane or tamoxifem) may or may not be recommended, depending on all factors involved. Most dogs live several years after surgery, so early detection and prompt treatment is always the best way to keep your best friend with you for as long as possible.
Prevention is key
The good news is that it’s possible to prevent breast cancer in dogs.
- Maintaining a lean body weight is highly beneficial. Studies show that canines who are chubby at one year of age have a tripled risk of developing mammary cancer. Learn how to body score your dog. You should be able to easily feel but not see each rib, and observe a “waist” or a tucked-up area just in front of the hind legs. If your canine’s waist has disappeared and/or you can pinch more than an inch, it’s probably time to talk to your vet about a diet plan.
- Exercise is as good for your pet as it is for you. Exercise enhances blood flow, improves circulation, stimulates vital organs and helps relieve canine boredom and anxiety. At least 30 minutes twice a day is the recommended minimum for health, and is part of a well-rounded cancer preventative lifestyle. One hour of exercise increases your canine’s healthy lifespan.
- Minimizing vaccines, as well as unnecessary chemicals and pesticides, is also beneficial. Ask your vet about titers. These are blood tests that document protective internal levels of antibodies or immunity for diseases, including rabies, distemper, hepatitis and parvo. Titers are a legal and effective alternative to vaccines. If a “shot” can’t be avoided, ask for non-attenuated, mercury-free, three-year vaccines. Seek out effective natural alternatives to replace standard heartworm, flea and tick medications. Remember, external parasites are of most risk in the warmer months of the year; winter weather eliminates most of these pesky parasites as well as the need for “preventatives”.
Studies show that canines who are chubby at one year of age have a tripled risk of developing mammary cancer.
Now let’s address your dog’s nutrition
In holistic health, we use food as medicine. The old saying “you are what you eat” applies equally to people and pets.
- Your dog’s water should be fresh, clean and available 24/7. The purest sources of water are distilled and reverse osmosis, as opposed to spring and tap water. Avoid plastic; whenever possible, use glass, ceramic or stainless steel for your canine’s food and water bowls. Plastic additives such as BPA (Bisphenol-A) are carcinogenic.
- Feed your canine a wholesome diet high in healthy fats and protein, low in carbs, and loaded with fresh, fabulous veggies. Boosting his immune system with balanced antioxidant/vitamin/mineral-rich supplements and herbs may also be beneficial.
- Avoiding low quality dry food or kibble is extremely beneficial in this cancer prevention protocol. The extrusion process used in creating cheap dry pet foods creates a slurry of carcinogenic by-products, including unwanted estrogens. Raw diets, both frozen and dehydrated, are highly palatable, readily available and offer an affordable alternative to homemade diets for those unable or unwilling to cook for their dogs.
Supplementation is also important
Supplementing your dog with antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and herbs has also been shown to help boost the immune system. Many of these supplements act synergistically to benefit your canine’s health and combat cancer cell growth.
Before giving your dog supplements, please work with an integrative or holistic veterinarian who will help you choose products and determine dosages for your canine’s individual needs.
- Vitamin A (as retinyl palmitate or water-soluble vitamin A palmitate)
- Vitamin C (as ascorbic acid or calcium ascorbate)
- Vitamin D3 (as cholecalciferol)
- Vitamin E (as d-alpha tocopherol)
- Omega-3 fatty acids (as EPA and DHA); diets rich in Omega-3s may help inhibit breast cancer cell growth by 30%
- Ginseng (Panax or Siberian)
- Inositol (as IPG, inositol hexaphosphate)
- Kyolic garlic (concentrated garlic extract)
- Mushrooms (Reishi, Shiitake, Maitake)
- Curcumin (the yellow pigment in the spice turmeric)
- Green tea (standardized extract for the polyphenol, epigallocatechin galleate)
Have lumps diagnosed promptly
Diagnosis of canine breast cancer involves a visit to your vet whenever you find a suspicious lump on your dog. The veterinarian will take a biopsy, and a full report will come back from the lab with a detailed analysis of the tissue. If it’s mammary cancer, the report reveals the exact type as well as its biologic behavior.
Promoting good estrogen metabolism
The relationship between estrogen metabolism and cancer prevention is important, especially where breast cancer is concerned. Certain chemicals mimic estrogen. These external sources of estrogen are termed xenoestrogens and may be responsible for the elevated levels of estrogens found in certain pets, such as male dogs suffering from mammary cancer.
Various weed killers, food preservatives, plastics, sunscreens, pesticides, insecticides, industrial oils and lubricants, adhesives and even paints can contain xenoestrogens.
Should your dog’s estrogen levels be elevated even after surgery, adding diindolylmethane and high-lignan flax hulls can be helpful in promoting good estrogen metabolism — in both males and females.
Maintaining a clean, healthy, active lifestyle for your dog is invaluable in helping to prevent canine breast cancer. Try to change what you can, learn to better manage what you can’t. Actively taking care of your dog’s body today will help you take care of him tomorrow, and you’ll both reap the rewards. Chances are, you’ll both be waggin’ your tails for many years to come!