Living with Canine Cancer
By Michelle Edmundson
Aging is inevitable with our pets and always comes much too soon. Your pet will not enjoy aging any more than you do. No one likes finding those sneaky grey hairs, or struggling to perform tasks that previously came so easily. As many new challenges arise, there are also so many positives to owning a senior pet. With age comes wisdom and a quirky “you can’t tell me what to do” attitude. Senior pets are a great companion to have. Unfortunately as pets age, there are some symptoms that you might notice, such as a decrease in energy, arthritis, decreased vision and hearing, diabetes and – all too often – cancer. Although pets of any age can contract the aforementioned issues, they do become more common with old age. Sadly, on average, 50% of dogs over the age of 10 will contract some form of cancer in their lifetime.
Detection & Treatment
Lymphoma accounts for 10-20% of all cancers in dogs, but is more prevalent in some breeds, one being the boxer, and also in cats. Finding a lump is the number-one way to detect something is wrong, but there are also cancers that cannot be seen. If you notice something is “off” about your pet, best to get them checked out by their veterinarian.
There are many treatments for cancer, similar to those in people. These include radiation, chemotherapy and various medications. The downside is that these treatments can sometimes effect their quality of life and can be very expensive, so it is not a decision to be taken lightly. For some pets, these treatments can add months or even years to their lives.
With my boxer Nikita, I knew she was getting on in years, so when I received her cancer diagnosis, I made the decision not to seek these treatments and turned my focus to keeping her comfortable and happy. This is a completely personal decision and a hard one for any pet parent to make, there is no perfect answer, only what you feel is best for your pet.
So where did this leave me? I did research, a ton of it actually and I spoke to a naturopathic/holistic vet for advice. I learned there are many natural or alternative treatments and simple changes in your pet’s lifestyle that can help when dealing with cancer, and other illnesses. These are not a cure, but they help make the best of the time your pet has left. These treatments are meant to strengthen the body rather than weaken it, and allow the pet to fight the disease better.
A New Diet
I started off with cleaning up her diet. Nikita has never been fed overly unhealthy foods or table scraps and has been provided with a (mostly) healthy diet, predominately kibble. I moved her over to an alternative, whole food diet. Alternative feeding is quickly making a mark on the pet food world because of the effects it has on the overall health of pets, cats and dogs alike. This doesn’t mean you have to cook your pet dinner every night, though I’m sure they would appreciate it, and it doesn’t mean you have to feed a raw diet either (though a great option too). There are other foods available that are easy for you to prepare and excellent for them. The closest option to raw, without some of the challenges, is freeze dried. This is the route I chose for Nikita’s new diet. Not only does she love it, I have seen an increase in her energy, appetite, she’s keeping on her weight and she has better skin health (red, flaky skin is a symptom of lymphoma).
Next I used natural vitamins and supplements to support her immune system and help with fighting the disease. Nikita is treated to fish oil with her breakfast daily, providing therapeutic levels of EPA and DHA, which helps slow the development of some tumors and improve immune function. I started using an antioxidant supplement (I use Head to Tail Immune Defense+) to boost her immune system and help eliminate free radicals. Vitamin D is also a great cancer fighting vitamin, shown to help inhibit cell growth and promote cell death. Vitamin D can be toxic if too much is give so be sure to do your research on this one. So far Nikita is doing well and keeping up the fight. She is still her playful happy self, most days. I know this is not a lifetime fix and hard decisions will be coming sooner rather than later. We never want our pet to suffer and it’s important to read the signs they are giving. I’m just thankful that we can still have an amazing time together each day, for however long we have left. I can’t get enough of her giving me that goofy boxer grin.
Although there is still no cure for cancer, there are fantastic foundations that research prevention and treatment of cancer research for pets. As mentioned, cancer treatments can be very expensive for pets and this can sometimes weigh on your decision on how to treat your pet. We encourage you to speak to your vet about your options, as there are programs that help families dealing with pet cancers to afford treatment options that they may not have been able to use otherwise
Cancer Symptoms to Watch For:
There are certain symptoms to look for that can present themselves in pets with cancer. It is good to be aware of these symptoms and if you are concerned we recommend going to your vet immediately. Many cancers (and other illnesses) can be treated if caught early enough.
- Abnormal swellings that persist or continue to grow
- Sores that do not heal
- Weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Bleeding or discharge from any body opening
- Offensive odor
- Difficulty eating or swallowing
- Hesitation to exercise or loss of stamina
- Persistent lameness or stiffness
- Difficulty breathing, urinating, or defecation
Pet Cancer Statistics:
- Approximately 1 out of 4 dogs will develop some sort of cancer, this increases to 50% for dogs over age 10.
- Cancer is the number one disease-related killer in dogs and cats.
- Lymphosarcoma (lymphoma) is one of the most responsive cancers to treatment.
- On average pet cancer treatments cost upwards of $3,000.
- The current rate of cancer is higher in dogs than it is in humans; twice as likely to develop leukemia as humans, four times more likely to suffer from breast cancer, eight times more likely to develop bone cancer and thirty-five times more at risk for developing skin cancer.
- Treatments available for pets include: Radiation therapy, chemotherapy, surgical reduction/removal, cryosurgery or freezing of the tumor tissue, dietary and natural/herbal treatments.
Early detection can save your pets life!