Today is World Cancer Day, a day marked to raise awareness of cancer and encourage its detection in early stages and treatment and prevention. I encourage you to learn about what you can do as an dog-parent to detect cancer in your dogs early. I cover this in my book, and plan to do a blog post about it soon. Stay tuned!
On another note, I’ve just learned about a new drug that is being used to combat canine lymphoma, which is one of the most common cancers in dogs. The drug is called Tanovea-CA1 and was developed by a company called VetDC Inc. out of Fort Collins, Colorado. It has received conditional approval for one-year use in dogs from the US FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine.
The drug is designed “to target and attack rapidly dividing lymphoma cancer cells.” It is administered intravenously in three-week intervals, for up to five doses. In addition to the intravenous treatments, blood tests, scans and veterinary care are also required, which can be quite costly according to an article in the Coloradoan.
Today is National Animal Hospice Day!
In addition, the entire month of November is National Pet Cancer Awareness Month! Be sure to check your pet for any of these symptoms. I advocate that you do a check of your pet at least 1-2 times per month. The most important thing is to get a baseline and continue to monitor for any changes. Possible signs to watch for include:
- Unusual fatigue and/or weakness
- Discoloration in urine or stools
- Bad breath
- Lumps, bumps, masses
- Excessive, unusual coughing or sneezing
- Loss of appetite
- Changes in quality of skin or coat
Please take some time in November to do a quick check of your pet. Prevention and early detection are critical when it comes to cancer.
An article in Dogs Naturally magazine (Part I) profiled six holistic veterinarians and asked them about holistic treatments for cancer. A follow-up article (Part II) goes into more detail on nutrition and specific supplements. Feel free to read the articles, but I thought I would summarize some of the specifics that were mentioned. Of course, I recommend that you consult your veterinarian before making any decision about a treatment path for your dog.
In a nutshell, the best treatment for cancer is prevention — eating a raw, whole food diet, minimizing vaccinations and exposure to toxins (think cigarette smoke or chemical parasite prevention), and strengthening a dog’s natural immune system. But that is not super helpful if your dog already has cancer, in many cases, since we typically find the cancer only after it has already metastasized. At least, that was the case for me with each of my dogs. Dogs can be so stoic when it comes to pain and discomfort, that it can be difficult to know when something is really wrong.
Some of the top recommendations were:
- Herbal chemotherapy agents like Essiac (I cover it in my book; it’s a combination of burdock root, slippery elm inner bark, sheep sorrel and Indian rhubarb root) and Neoplasene (bloodroot extract)
- Intravenous vitamins B and C
- Banerji protocols (homeopathy), which are not considered classical homeopathy because more than one remedy is used to treat the disease
- Essential oils, such as Boswellia sacra
- Chinese herbals, such as Yunnan Bai Yao (I used this in each of my dog’s cancer treatment)
- Herbs, such as Artemisinin (see my prior post on using this herb)
- Mushrooms that are cancer-fighting, such as coriolus
- Caustic herbs to remove external masses that cannot be operated on
Whatever route you choose to take, always remember that each situation is different, and what is appropriate for one dog is not necessarily appropriate for another. You know your dog best, and trust in yourself to make the right decision for your dog.
This article stresses the importance of good nutrition and a raw diet, high in protein and devoid of carbohydrates. Why? Because cancer cells thrive on sugar and carbs and cannot metabolize proteins and fats. Two vets provided a list of their favorite supplements, listed here:
Dr. Marty Goldstein, DVM
- Immustim Complex by Professional Formulas (purchase through your veteriniarian)
- Beta Thym by Doctor’s Best For Your Pets
- Fish Oil
- Mushrooms: CAS Options by Resources; PETFraction Maitake tincture; K9 Immunity
Dr. Charles Loops, DVM
- Fish Oil
- Mushroom Complexes, containing maitake, reishi, and agaricus mushrooms
- CoEnzyme Q10
- Grape Seed Extract
- Hoxsey Formula
An article published in Dogs Naturally magazine in August of 2015 espoused the use of a natural plant compound called artemisinin in treating canine cancer. A researcher at the University of Washington, Dr. Henry Lai, treated a dog with severe osteosarcoma who could barely walk with the compound and five days later, the dog had made a complete recovery. X-rays indicated that the tumor was completely gone. When my first dog, Porter, was diagnosed with hemangiosarcoma, artemisinin was one of the ingredients in his supplements. But because his cancer had already metastasized, it is hard to say whether anything could have helped him by that point.
The effectiveness of artemisinin relies on the high iron concentrations and transferrin receptors that are found in cancer cells. When the compound comes into contact with iron, it causes a chemical reaction where free radicals are created from charged atoms that are released. The free radicals then “attack and bind with cell membranes, breaking them apart and killing the cell.”
The article includes information on dosing and how artemisinin should be administered. It also refers to a Yahoo chat group where owners of dogs with cancer who are using artemisinin share experiences. As with any treatment for canine cancer, it is up to you to determine the best course of action. The results do look promising, but it is best to discuss any treatment plan with your veterinary oncologist.
Perhaps you remember the Chinese-made pet food recalls, most notably in 2007 and again in 2012, when it was discovered that toxic ingredients, such as melamine, were being added to dog food that was then sold in the US. But did you know that there are other types of hidden toxins that might be in your dog’s food right now? Dogs Naturally Magazine recently published an article that I think every dog owner should read.
The article highlights a dangerous chemical called an aflatoxin, which is produced by certain molds. These aflatoxins are poisonous and have been linked to cancer. If the quantity of aflatoxin ingested is high enough (0.5-1 mg per kg of weight), a dog could die within days.
How do aflatoxins get into our dog’s food? The article cites mold-infested corn as the primary vehicle in which these chemicals enter a dog’s food supply. As you may know, most of the dog kibble available today contains some grain source, like corn, wheat and rice. Unfortunately, the amount of mold-infested corn has increased dramatically due to recent droughts in the Midwest, and the FDA has allowed more of this mold-infested corn to be added to animal food.
So, I suggest you read your dog’s food label very carefully and look for these grains. If you can, switch to a kibble brand that is grain-free, or consider raw/fresh, whole foods instead. There are many sites that explain how to make your own raw diets for your dogs. Dr. Richard Pitcairn, DVM, whom many consider the father of veterinary homeopathy, covers a raw food diet in his ground-breaking book, “Dr. Pitcairn’s Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs & Cats.” He recommends the following books if you are interested in learning more about the role that food plays in the health — or sickness — of our animals.
The Puppy Up Foundation recently donated an additional $92,000 to Princeton University in support of their research on mammary tumors in dogs. The research combines the efforts of Dr. Karin Sorenmo, Associate Professor of Oncology at the Ryan Veterinary Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, and Dr. Olga Troyanskaya, computational biologist, of Princeton. Dr. Sorenmo established the Shelter Canine Mammary Tumor Program, where she treats shelter dogs with mammary tumors and then studies tissues to apply that knowledge to understand how breast cancer metastasizes in women. This approach is known as comparative oncology, where disease in an animal species is used to study the same disease in humans.
In the case of dogs and humans, the types of cancers that both species develop are the same. Just as mammary tumors are the most prevalent cancer in intact female dogs, breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in women. Dr. Sorenmo’s program provides the shelter dogs with the high quality treatment that they need to survive, in addition to providing valuable information for her research.
According to The Puppy Up Foundation, this is the first study of its kind for dogs or humans. I love that they are helping shelter dogs, since so many dogs wind up in shelters when owners learn they have cancer and are unable to care for them. At least now, they are getting the treatment that they need. And then hopefully, they will be adopted when their treatment has completed.
Over 200 years ago, a surgeon in New York City, named Dr. William Coley, discovered that he could fight the tumors of cancer patients by injecting them with live Streptococcus bacteria. After some trial and error, he switched to using dead bacteria, and ultimately treated over 1000 patients with what were eventually dubbed “Coley toxins.” The advent of current cancer treatments such as radiation, chemotherapy and surgery pushed Coley’s methods into the background. Interestingly, though, it was discovered in 1999 that his success rates were similar to those for modern cancer therapies.
For over a decade, Bert Vogelstein, a cancer geneticist at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, has been using the soil-dweller bacterium, Clostridium novyi. This bacterium thrives in areas of low oxygen, which is typical of tumors. While initial results were promising in rats, the researchers then extended the study to 16 pet dogs, and found that the tumors shrank or disappeared in six of the dogs, and stopped growing in another five dogs. Several of the dogs needed surgery to clear the wounds when the tumors disintegrated. Following the canine study, a safety trial was performed on one person. More details on the study can be found here.
In addition to destroying tumor cells, the bacteria also spur immune cells in the body to attack the cancer. The biggest concern associated with this method is that the bacteria only kill the original tumor, but do not address metastases, which are what ultimately kill most cancer patients. In order to be truly effective, the treatment must combat metastatic disease.
A product called Escozine for Pets (TM) has been shown to result in cell death, or apoptosis, of cancer cells in both dogs and cats suffering from a variety of cancers that include primary pulmonary adenocarcinoma, metastatic mast cell tumor and others. Studies are currently under way at both Aventura Animal Hospital under the supervision of Dr. Joel Beth Mitchell-Navratik, DVM and by Dr. Raul Jimenez of Miami’s Biscayne Bay Veterinary Center. Both veterinarians have found that the product has extended and substantially improved the quality of life for the pets in their studies.
The product is a nutraceutical that was developed by PetLife Pharmaceuticals and is a polarized extract from the venom of the Caribbean Blue Scorpion, which is indigenous to the Dominican Republic and Cuba. A nutraceutical is a functional food, or a food that contains additives that provide additional nutritional value. In looking at the PetLife website, there are several options available, ranging from oral liquids to treats to tablets. Patches and injectables are planned, pending FDA approval.
Since I do not know what is involved in the harvesting of this venom, I am neither discouraging, nor advocating for, the use of this product, but rather, providing information about its existence. It is the choice of every pet owner to understand and evaluate the risks of any cancer treatment for their pet. More details about the product and additional links for more information can be found here.
Dr. Nicola Mason B.Vet.Med., PhD, DACVIM (Internal Medicine), is associate professor at Penn Vet, at the University of Pennsylvania. Her current research is focused on using “canine cancer vaccines” in dogs with lymphoma or osteosarcoma. The purpose of the vaccine is to “kick start” the dog’s immune system to identify and attack cancer cells. More detailed information about these two studies can be found at the Penn Vet website here.
In the case of canine osteosarcoma, it is a highly aggressive cancer in dogs and often requires the amputation of one of the dog’s limbs, followed by chemotherapy. However, even after amputation and chemo, it is possible that some cancer cells could remain in the body, leading to the spread of the cancer and possible eventual metastasis. Even with these treatments, “60% of dogs will die within one year of diagnosis,” according to an article from the Rottweiler Health Foundation.
The article goes on to say that “’the results so far appear to be promising’ Mason says. ‘If we compare our vaccinated dogs with a group of dogs with the same type of bone cancer and who received the same treatment, but were not vaccinated, we find that our vaccine group is surviving significantly longer.’ She also goes on to explain ‘we have observed very few, minor side effects including mild fevers and one –two episodes of vomiting 4-6 hours after vaccination. These side effects resolve on their own and are an indication that the patient’s immune system is being stimulated by the vaccine, which is what we are hoping for.’”
If you are interested in learning about other clinical trials that are ongoing at Penn Vet, the current list can be found here. The site allows you to search by animal and disease as well.
Promising research is underway to create a cancer vaccine for dogs with cancer. What is interesting about this approach is that the treatment is performed on an individual basis, where tumor cells are removed from the dog and then the cells are processed and combine with bacteria to then create a vaccine, tailored to that specific dog. The idea is that the vaccine will then cause the dog’s immune system to attack the cancer cells, and in some case, has slowed the growth of the cancer and even resulted in remission. At this time, almost 30 dogs with advanced melanoma, bone and liver cancers have participated in trials, according to an article in The Dogington Post. Results of the trial are not yet available, as the researchers are filing patents first.
This technology is not new, however, and there is a DNA-based, melanoma vaccine that has been on the market since 2010 (but this existing vaccine does not incorporate cells from the dog). The article states that studies of dogs with Stage II and III melanoma in the mouth have shown that using the vaccine results in average survival times of 20 months or longer, compared to less than six months without the vaccine. Note that the vaccine is used in conjunction with surgery to remove the tumors.
If your dog currently has melanoma and you are interested in learning more about the vaccine, you can find details at this site. It is available through veterinary oncologists.