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Highlights from Oncology & Our Pets: How Cancer Affects Our Pets & Why Life with Cancer Can Be Quality Life by Dr. Kathy L. Mitchener

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Why Consider Treating Cancer?

In the eighties, an old dog was considered a senior at 7-9 years, while an old cat was a senior at 9-10 years. Now, our pets are living longer, which strengthens the bond between humans and pets. The goal of treating cancer is to preserve that bond.

#1 Natural Cause of Death

Cancer is reported by pet owners as the number one natural cause of death. Fortunately, it is also the most curable of all chronic diseases.

However, cancer is different because we deal with it emotionally different. Our past experien

ces with cancer in humans often color our experiences with cancer in our pets. Cancer is clients’ number one health concern. Cancer is a physical disease, and this causes pet owners to be more fearful of it than other diseases.

What Causes Cancer?

Today, about 50% of all dogs and cats will develop cancer. This is due to a variety of reasons. Dogs and cats are living much longer than previous decades. They are receiving more exams in their lifetimes, so illnesses like cancer are being diagnosed more frequently. Even the diagnostics vets use has greatly improved.

Genetics is a significant factor. Breeds like Golden Retrievers, Bernese Mountain Dogs, and Boxers are all more likely to develop cancer.

The environment also plays a role. Things like secondhand smoke, sun exposure, and pesticides all contribute to an increased likelihood of cancer. Dogs and cats live in the environment differently than humans do. When they become exposed to toxic chemicals, they often ingest them from licking their paws or inhale them from sniffing the grass, etc.

How to Treat Cancer

In order to diagnose cancer early, it’s best to schedule more checkups with your veterinarian. Pay attention to any changes in behavior at home as well. If you notice a lump, bump, limp, cough or gag, it’s best to schedule an appointment for your pet to be examined. Alternatively, even if your pet has no symptoms, he or she could have cancer, so trust your intuition. If you feel something is off, don’t dismiss it.

Invest in your dog or cat’s nutrition. Feeding a healthy, nutritious diet can help prevent illnesses. For dogs and cats with cancer, the right nutrition can contribute to quality of life, enhanced survival, enhanced remission, and decreased side effects. Diets that are especially beneficial for pets with cancer are high in Omega 3 fatty acids and low in carbohydrates with moderate protein. Some of the recommended diets for dogs and cats with cancer include grain free, The Honest Kitchen, and home cooked (based on strict guidelines outlined on balanceit.com).

Life with Cancer Must Be Quality Life

The “cancer paradigm is changing from terminal disease to chronic disease.” Due to advancements in chemo-therapies and other therapies, dogs and cats with cancer can have quality lives, and that is always worth fighting for.

By thinking outside the box and combining approaches to treating cancer, you can achieve quality of life for your pet. Because there are different types of cancer, there should be different approaches to dealing with the specific type. Over the past decade, new treatment strategies have contributed to enhanced survival for pets with cancer. Increased time with our four-legged best friends is considered a success. There are thousands of dogs and cats who’re undergoing cancer treatment or have in the past and are living full, pain-free lives.

Dr. Mitchener’s Responses to Unanswered Questions from Class

What is your stance on raw diets for cancer, especially the Answers diet that offers a fermented straight diet with virtually no carbohydrates?

They are low carb. However, we don’t know that the fermentation process makes them any safer. Until there’s more data, I’d be stretched to tell you that’s the direction to go. If you want to feed that, find it from a reputable source, and then talk with your veterinarian about why you want to feed that.

What is your opinion of using goat’s milk to reduce cancerous tumors?

There’s no data and scientific work to show that goat’s milk cures or treats cancer. What does goat’s milk have in it? It’s got a lot of good nutritional stuff in it, that when part of a balanced nutritional program can help support the body and make the body better capable of managing the cancer that’s present.

My Golden Retriever has a black spot behind his lower teeth that he didn’t have before. Should I get this checked out?

Yes, I would absolutely get that checked.

We’ve had two Standard Poodles who died of tumors on the spleen or liver. They both collapsed, and that was the only symptom. One was around 11 and the other was 13 years old. What could we have done, and would these tumors have been operably removed in an earlier stage?

Hindsight is 2020. We all know that. If I would do one thing, in large breed dogs especially, once they are 5 to 6 years of age, start doing annual diagnostic profiles looking at chest films, abdominal films and a scanning abdominal ultrasound because you might have picked that up earlier. A year is a long time though for a dog, so there’s a possibility you may not have. At least going forward, look at starting diagnostic testing earlier or running bloodwork like the cancer screening profile to see if there’s an index of suspicion. The truth is that hemangioma sarcoma is very tough to diagnose early on. It’s a silent killer and a very tough disease.

Raw and fermented goat’s milk contains CLA, and by adding it to my dog’s diet she is now cancer free! Have you heard of this?

Goat’s milk and fermented products are all the rage and have been for some time. I had a client a number of years ago believing that goat’s milk cures cancer. I’m not so sure that your dog had cancer and now doesn’t, and that it’s related to goat’s milk. If these products actually cured cancer, I’d be selling them. I think there are probably other factors. Has CLA been used to treat cancer in the dog? Absolutely. It’s part of a nutritional program that’s used primarily in breast cancer, so there’s probably a link there. But do I think that’s connected directly to the cure of cancer? Probably not, there are probably other factors or a misdiagnosis as well.

Is it lawn pesticides or herbicides that could be detrimental? My dog was diagnosed with TCC, or possibly another type of bladder cancer, and I’m very concerned we could’ve somehow caused her fate.

One of the things that cancer does to us is that it wears on us and makes us angry and feel guilty. What could I have done to have prevented that? Did I do something that could have caused that? And the reality is that we know there are links between herbicides, pesticides and various forms of cancer. As I spoke about earlier, transitional cell carcinoma in the corn belt in the Midwest is very prevalent in women and especially in Scottie dogs. Do I know that the chemicals you sprayed on your lawn caused the cancer? There’s no way we can tell you that for sure. However, if you can avoid using pesticides and herbicides in your yard I would. The problem you run in to is that your neighbors might be using those chemicals while you’re not. I think we’ll learn a lot more about chemicals and we’ll trend more towards using natural options.

Are you familiar with the dog magazines Dogs Naturally and Whole Dog Journal? Which one do you feel provides more accurate information when it comes to nutrition and raw diets?

I do subscribe to and read Whole Dog Journal. In any magazine, there are things that I go along with and things I don’t. The best thing is to pick the one you want to subscribe to. Then, select an article of interest and take it to your veterinarian to discuss and ask questions. It helps veterinarians learn and grow.

Do you feel the chemicals or ingredients used to make toys, supplies, food or treats cause cancer?

I don’t know that we have any data to support that, but we must be cautious about what we allow our dogs and cats to chew on and what’s in those products.

If my dog had cancer, what specific fruits or veggies should I add to my dog’s diet?

Whatever your dog will eat! Broccoli and cauliflower are great but stay away from those vegetables that are high in carbohydrates like corn and carrots. Sweet potatoes are great for a low glycemic index and a slow release of carbs. Blueberries are great as well. Bananas and apples are higher in sugar. If you go to the balanceit.com website, it will help you select for a low carb diet that’s higher in fat and protein and it’ll work with you on what amounts of fruits and vegetables are best.

Speaking of pet insurance, do you have a recommendation on a company?

It’s difficult to make a recommendation. Maybe with a bottle of wine I could talk to you about it personally! The cool thing about pet insurance is that it’s much better than it’s been even 5 or 10 years ago. I find that my clients who have pet insurance use it, and it takes the financial worry out of diagnosing and treating their pets’ diseases. I’m a huge advocate for it.

I adopted a 5-year-old Frenchie last year. When do I need to start worrying about cancer and what type is she susceptible to?

Cancer is not a prominent thing in the Frenchie breed. They’ve got lots of other problems like back issues and loss of spinal function. But the bottom line is that you shouldn’t be worried about it. I want you to have a conversation about how to prevent it with your veterinarian and work with them to develop a long-term treatment strategy. If you’re still concerned, have your vet run the Vitamin D, TK1 and C reactive protein profile and see if there’s an index of suspicion for her. Don’t worry. Take action.

My 11-year-old dog is in late stage nasal cancer and hasn’t eaten in 4 days. What do you recommend?

If your dog hasn’t eaten, he’s probably clinically dehydrated, so you’ll need to get to your veterinarian. Find out why he’s not eating. Is it because he can’t smell, does he not feel good, does he have some kidney impairment, is there a drug he’s taking that’s causing him not to eat? Go to your regular veterinarian and say he hasn’t eaten in a significant number of days and we need to get some nutrition in him or we’re going to lose him. If that’s the case, there are additional things you can do for nasal carcinoma to help control the symptoms.

My 9-year-old Lab has been diagnosed with spindle cell tumor and surgery was successful in removing it with clean borders. We are being told no other follow up is needed. Is this a standard course of treatment?

There’s a lot of unanswered questions there. Spindle cell tumor is a soft tissue sarcoma. It depends upon location, margins, grade, and how clean were the margins. Were they 1 mm margins or were they 2 cm margins? So there’s a lot of unanswered questions. My recommendation with any dog with cancer, if you are concerned and you need more information, either go back to your veterinarian or contact a specialist. There are two of us in town, and either one would be happy to discuss that with you. We would need the histopath and to see the dog to make a judgement as to what needs to be done next.

Why is weight loss a symptom of cancer even when the dog is eating well or eating more?

In the early stages of cancer cachexia, the cancer is altering the metabolism so it can survive and thrive while the body starves. If we allow that to progress unchecked for months or years, that cancer patient will ultimately start to lose weight and look anorexic. In that situation, it’s probably partially the cancer cachexia. In addition, depending upon where the cancer is affecting the patient (in a dog that’s eating well it’s probably not affecting the GI tract) it can affect things like absorption depending on the location.

How do you fell about homemade pet food diets in the treatment or prevention of cancer, and do you have any websites or book recommendations or certain recipes you like?

I’ll refer you to the website called balanceit.com developed by UC Davis by a team of veterinary board of nutritionists. It gives you the options to select what you want to feed your dog and then it shows you how to balance it so that your dog is fed a balanced, nutritious diet.

I’ve read that chicken may have issues for a dog to eat, raw chicken as part of a raw diet. Does anyone know if red meat is more likely to cause cancer than any other meat dogs or other animals may eat?

The truth is that we don’t know the answer. We do know that raw chicken, raw beef, or any other raw meat has the potential to have salmonella or enteropathogenic E. coli present in it as contaminants, and those are a problem. The American Veterinary Medical Association has taken a strong stand against the use of raw diet, especially those developed at home without any nutritional guidance.

What is the concern with The Honest Kitchen?

I believe it’s a dehydrated raw food, and because The Honest Kitchen is unable to provide information on what temperature they use during the dehydration process, we aren’t sure if pathogens are still present in their food.

Information on The Honest Kitchen’s dehydration process:

The Honest Kitchen’s dehydrated formulas are actually slow cooked and then dehydrated. It’s a cooked food so it’s very safe, and it’s made in a facility that also makes human foods. Their safety is bar none. Click on the links to learn more about THK’s safety procedures!




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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Martha Gilbert

    What is a good dog food for a dog to be on who has cancer and is going through chemo? I want her to have the best nutrition all the time – but now it may be different because of her cancer and chemo!

    1. Kate Lancaster

      Hi Martha!

      Dr. Mitchener recommends diets that are high in Omega 3 fatty acids and low in carbohydrates with moderate protein. Some of the recommended diets for dogs and cats with cancer include grain free, The Honest Kitchen, and home cooked (based on strict guidelines outlined on balanceit.com). As always, check with your veterinarian about what diet would be best for your dog as she goes through chemo.

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