Cancer is a common disease in dogs, but here’s how you can significantly reduce your companion’s risk of becoming another statistic.
Did you know your dog is more likely to get cancer than you are? Cancer has become the leading cause of death among canines in the U.S., Europe and Japan. It’s pervasive and often diagnosed too late. These factors, coupled with the risks, heartache and expense associated with aggressive traditional treatments, have many people searching for ways to help their dogs avoid getting ill in the first place.
Although the causes of cancer in dogs are not well understood, there are a number of things you can do to give your companion the best possible chance of avoiding the disease.
1. Don’t let him get overweight
In studies across species, caloric restriction has been shown to help prevent tumor development and progression. Fewer calories cause the cells of the body to block tumor growth.
Too many calories lead to obesity, and obesity is strongly linked to increased cancer risk in humans. There’s a connection between too much glucose, increased insulin sensitivity, inflammation and oxidative stress (all factors in obesity) and cancer.
While no direct link has yet been made between obesity and cancer in dogs, it is assumed this link exists. One of the biggest health problems in animals today is weight gain and obesity. It makes sense, then, that the increase in canine cancer rates is in part attributable to the obesity epidemic.
Over-feeding your dog is not a loving thing to do. Food is no substitute for quality time. And fat doesn’t just sit harmlessly on your dog’s body. It produces inflammation and that can promote tumor development.
2. Feed him an anti-inflammatory diet
Anything that creates or promotes inflammation in the body increases the risk for cancer. Current research suggests cancer is actually a chronic inflammatory disease. The inflammatory process creates an environment in which abnormal cells proliferate.
Cancer cells require the glucose in carbohydrates to grow and multiply, so you want to limit or eliminate that energy source. Carbs to remove from your dog’s diet include processed grains, fruits with fructose, and starchy vegetables.
Cancer cells generally can’t use dietary fats for energy, so appropriate amounts of good quality fats are nutritionally healthy.
Another major contributor to inflammatory conditions is a diet too high in Omega-6 fatty acids and too low in Omega-3s. Omega-6s increase inflammation while Omega-3s do the reverse. Poor quality processed pet food is typically loaded with Omega-6 fatty acids and deficient in Omega-3s.
A healthy diet for your dog – one that is anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer – consists of real, whole, organic, non-GMO foods, preferably raw. It should include plenty of high quality protein, including muscle meat, organs and bone; moderate amounts of animal fat; high levels of EPA and DHA (Omega-3 fatty acids, such as krill oil); a few fresh-cut ground veggies; and a bit of antioxidant-rich fruit.
This species-appropriate diet is high in moisture content and contains no grains or starches. I also recommend adding a vitamin/mineral supplement and a few beneficial supplements like probiotics, digestive enzymes, medicinal mushrooms and super green foods. Work with a holistic or integrative vet to determine the best supplement regime for your individual dog.
3. Reduce or eliminate his exposure to cancer causing toxins
Harmful toxins include chemical pesticides like flea and tick preventives, lawn chemicals, tobacco smoke, flame retardants, and household cleaners (detergents, soaps, cleansers, dryer sheets, and room deodorizers).
A study conducted over a six-year period by the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University showed that exposure to lawn pesticides, specifically those applied by professional lawn care companies, raised the risk of canine malignant lymphoma by as much as 70%!
Another study conducted at Purdue University indicates that exposure to herbicide-treated lawns is associated with a significantly higher risk of bladder cancer in dogs. The chemicals in question are common herbicides containing 2,4-D, 4-chloro-2-methylphenoxypropionic acid (MCPP), and/or dicamba.
It’s also important to remember that most conventional flea and tick preventives are actually pesticides, regardless of what form they come in – spot-on treatments, pills, dips, solutions, shampoos or collars. Chemical spot-on products attracted the attention of the EPA in 2009 after reports surfaced of over 40,000 adverse events the previous year, including 600 animal deaths. Just because a compound is applied to or worn on your dog’s coat doesn’t mean it’s safe. What goes on your dog goes in your dog, via absorption through the skin or ingestion during grooming.
Because we live in a toxic world and avoiding all chemical exposure is nearly impossible, consider periodic detoxification for your dog. The level of his exposure to chemicals will dictate the appropriate frequency and type of detox – again, you need to work directly with a veterinarian to develop a program. If your dog has constant exposure to toxic chemicals all summer long, a daily oral detox protocol is a wise idea. But if his only source of chemical exposure is a flea and tick product applied on a monthly basis, then a detox program the week after each pill or topical treatment makes sense.
4. Refuse unnecessary vaccinations
To keep your dog’s first line of defense against cancer – his immune system – balanced and vigorous, it’s important not to overstimulate it with unnecessary vaccines. Vaccine protocols should be tailored to minimize risk and maximize protection, taking into account the breed, background, nutritional status and overall vitality of the dog.
The protocol I follow with healthy puppies is to provide a single parvo and distemper vaccine at or before 12 weeks of age, and a second set after 14 weeks. I then titer (at a lab that uses the IFA method) two weeks after the last set of vaccines. If the dog has been successfully immunized, he is protected for life.
If titer tests indicate low vaccine levels (which would be highly unlikely), I recommend a booster for only the specific viruses that titered low, and only those to which the animal has a real risk of exposure. I do not use or recommend combination vaccines (four to eight viruses in one injection), which is the standard booster at many veterinary practices.
5. Allow your dog to remain intact until at least 18 to 24 months of age
Numerous studies now show a clear link between spaying/neutering and increased cancer rates in dogs, especially large breeds. A 2002 study established an increased risk of osteosarcoma in both male and female Rottweilers who were neutered or spayed before the age of one year.
Another study showed that the risk of bone cancer in neutered or spayed large purebred dogs was twice that of intact dogs.
A further study, published last year by the University of California, Davis, suggests that spayed female golden retrievers have three to four times the cancer rates of intact females.
If you apply these five suggestions in caring for your dog throughout his life, you’ll be offering him a real fighting chance against cancer. You’ll also know you’re doing everything possible to help him enjoy a healthy, high quality life.
Veterinarian Dr. Karen Shaw Becker received her degree from the Iowa State College of Veterinary Medicine. She owns/operates Natural Pet Animal Hospital, Feathers Bird Clinic, TheraPaw Rehabilitation and Pain Management Clinic and Covenant Wildlife Rehabilitation in Illinois. She co-authored Real Food for Healthy Pets and hosts a holistic animal wellness website (mercolahealthypets.com).