A cancer diagnosis is devastating, no matter who is suffering the disease. Just as with humans, surgery, chemotherapy and other treatments may eradicate the cancer or buy time for our pets. There are also natural ways you can help your pet combat the disease by employing diet and supplements to your advantage.
Enlist the support of a holistic veterinarian to help your pet in the fight for his life. Your pet’s treatment and outcome depends upon the type and stage of the cancer. Even if you can’t save your pet, some natural remedies can improve his quality of life.
Canine cancer diet
Good nutrition and the right diet can help your dog fight cancer. Many dogs with cancer also suffer from cachexia, metabolic changes in the animal’s body that result in appetite and weight loss, and progresses to extreme loss of muscle mass. With your holistic veterinarian’s help, you can devise an appropriate diet for your pet that fights cancer and cachexia. Of course, the food must be tasty. Dogs not inclined to eat are especially disinclined to consume food with low palatability. The Utah Veterinary Medical Association (UVMA) recommends a canine cancer diet consisting of the following:
- Good quality proteins, such as fish, poultry and/or cottage cheese, and occasional tofu or soybeans
- Various vegetables, especially kale, tomatoes, carrots and cauliflower, which contain cancer-fighting phytochemicals
- Few carbohydrates, which help feed tumors. Your dog does need some carbohydrates, but these should come from vegetables or whole grains such as quinoa, brown rice or barley
Once you and your vet have decided on the best cancer diet for your dog, the easiest way to prepare the food is by mixing the cooked and raw ingredients in a food processor or blender. You can prepare a large batch and freeze smaller portions for your dog’s future meals. The UVMA warns that dogs on a homemade diet require a good multivitamin and bone meal. Your vet will recommend the right amount for your dog.
Feline cancer diet
As with dogs, cats battling cancer should consume a low carbohydrate diet, with lots of high-quality protein and fat. Choose foods high in calories. Cats are even more likely to develop cachexia than dogs, so they may just nibble on small amounts of food. For this reason, it’s important that whatever they do eat is calorie dense. Encourage your cat to eat by warming his food and by giving him several small meals daily rather than larger amounts just in the morning and evening.
Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acids not only benefit the immune system, but also have anti-inflammatory effects. Furthermore, it is possible that these fatty acids slow down tumor growth and hinder cancer metastasis, or spread. The best source for omega-3 fatty acids for your pet is from fish, whether in the form of fish oil capsules or from fatty fish such as sardines, salmon, herring and trout. Even finicky felines will likely enjoy a daily serving of fatty fish. While flaxseed and certain nuts also contain some omega-3 fatty acids, fish is the best type to give pets battling cancer.
Certain vitamin supplements may aid your pet in his struggle with cancer. If your pet is undergoing chemotherapy, your vet may not want you to give him vitamins during his treatment, as some vitamins undermine the effectiveness of chemotherapy drugs. If your vet approves, vitamin supplements that reduce inflammation and boost immune function include:
- Vitamins A, C and E — these antioxidants help with inflammation reduction
- Arginine — this amino acid may reduce tumor growth
- Coenzyme Q₁₀ — enhances the immune system
- Grape seed extract — another powerful anti-inflammatory
Herbs that boost the immune system can help your pet fight cancer, and certain herbs may themselves have cancer-fighting properties. Some of these herbs are quite powerful, so it is imperative that your holistic practitioner work out the right dosage for your pet. Herbs for fighting cancer include:
- Astragalus — boosts the immune system and can help with chemotherapy side effects
- Green tea — helps prevent cancer but must be given on a full stomach
- Mushrooms — reishi, maitake and shiitake may prolong the lives of dogs with cancer
- Turmeric — contains curcumin, which has an antioxidant effect
With proper veterinary and supportive care, you can help your pet enjoy a good quality of life, live far longer than expected or even beat the cancer. Check out the resources below for further information on help and support for your pet in the fight against cancer.
Jane Meggitt graduated from New York University and worked as a staff writer for a major New Jersey newspaper chain. Her work on pets, equines and health have appeared in dozens of publications, including The Daily Puppy, The Nest Pets, Horse News, Hoof Beats and Horseback magazines.