Dogs and Cancer

Cancer can afflict dogs of any age or breed. It affects 1 in 3 dogs in their lifetime and 1 in 2 over the age of 10.
Some breeds carry more genetic risks for cancer (or types of it) than others, but all breeds can be affected.
You can help with good nutrition and functional natural medicines. Find out how.

Cancer In Dogs

Cancer can afflict dogs of any age or breed.

It affects 1 in 3 dogs in their lifetime and 1 in 2 over the age of 10. Some breeds carry more genetic risks for cancer (or types of it) than others, but all breeds can be affected.

Essentially cancer is the uncontrolled and constant division and growth of cells causing tumours and body imbalances.

Those tumours can grow to impact organ and physical function and can also deplete the body by commandeering the blood system for its own life support.

Cancer comes in many forms and is their greatest cause of death.

There are no magic fixes but it doesn’t have to always be a death sentence, or at least not as quickly as we might be told, so don’t immediately think the worst. Increasingly many cancers, especially if caught early, can be treated successfully or at least slowed.

There are recent improvements in traditional oncology therapies of chemo, radiation and surgery that your vet knows about well, such as immunotherapy and targeted chemo and radiation that are early but exciting. Even more exciting is the now ample evidence of the benefits of nutritional and natural medicine therapies that amplify these good results.

But first…

Like with humans, the sooner cancer is detected in our dogs the more likely it can be successfully treated. So, it’s important to know what to look out for and to look regularly.

Small and subtle changes in your dog’s behaviour or body can be the early indication of your dog’s cancer. A small lump or limp, a slowed gait or niggly cough or changes in appetite or weight. These can all be early indications of cancer, or other things too, so it’s important to stay mindful and observational (without being neurotic!).

Feel over your dog’s body regularly – that’s what cuddles and pats are also for! – and keep an eye or feel out for:

  • Small lumps and bumps, sometimes they look like warts or pimples
  • A wound of any kind, or insect bite, that won’t heal
  • Bone swelling or limps (even slight), changes in gait or ease in getting up or down
  • Circling or obsessive scratching, lethargy or really low energy
  • Laboured breathing or coughing, difficulty swallowing
  • Loss of appetite, excessive vomiting or rapid weight loss
  • Unusual odours from mouth or ears or other body areas
  • Toileting changes such as increased urination or bloody diarrhoea

To be able to notice many of these changes, especially the lumps and bumps, it’s important that we are regularly feeling all over our dog’s body (including in paws and around ears and tail). The behavioural issues are of course more observational and remind us that it’s important to notice how they’re moving and what their poos are saying.

Now if your dog has been diagnosed and you feel you missed the early signs please don’t beat yourself up. Hindsight is annoying and unfair. Very few of us get it at first sign or immediately head to the vets (even if the vet would see it on first sign!), we can all just do our best. If your dog spends time in the company of others (walkers, minders, friends or family) be sure to ask them to observe and report to you on these things too.

 

All in all do your best from where you are. We’re here now.

Along with your traditional veterinary oncology treatment options of chemo, radiation and surgery we can support your dog with nutritional and natural medicine therapies that give them the best chance of recovery or slow progression.

Dogs can be affected by almost all cancers that humans are but there are some dominant types for canines overall and some dominant cancer types for certain breeds. The most common types of cancer overall are:

Mast Cell Tumours (MCTs)

Mast cells form part of the skin and manage our response to allergens. Understandably then mast cell tumours (MCTs) are considered a form of skin cancer.  Making up 20% of all skin cancers, MCTs are common. Many tumours are benign but some are malignant and can be dangerous.

Mast cell tumours are usually bulbous (from tiny to large, and can be uncomfortable). They can arise anywhere on the skin, be very invasive and often return after surgical removal. They can also metastasize to other parts of the body. It is important they are treated early, monitored and a corresponding low histamine diet is undertaken.

The MCTs are mostly full of histamine. These histamines are the result of allergic reactions and, if damaged and released into the body by a bump, jolt or getting too large, can cause an anaphylactic reaction that can affect skin, breathing and heart, sometimes fatally.

The current approach to managing MCTs is surgical removal but the medical consensus is that, once they emerge, they will continue to occur and likely with increasing frequency. Repeated surgeries have their own risks and limitations and are a pretty blunt tool for health management. If we can also slow the development of the MCTs, perhaps by managing the histamine input from foods, soothe the allergic system overall and keep the immune system strong, then we can potentially limit or slow recurrence and therefore the need for and impact of repeated surgeries.

I’m not suggesting a diet change or histamine reduction alone will cure the MCTs’ existence or recurrence at all, however I feel strongly that this healing thesis of not over taxing the mast cell system with histamines, and no relief, makes sense and has shown great results with many of our patients.

Check here for a list of high histamine foods, low histamine foods as well as histamine releasing foods, as well as my low histamine diet. It’s not easy to follow explicitly but understanding where your dog might be having overreactions and where you can make the most impact with diet adjustments could be really valuable and effective for you guys.

Breeds most at risk:

At 20% of all skin tumours MCTs are fairly common, however breeds especially at risk of MCTs are:

Beagles, Boston Terriers, Boxers, Bulldogs, Bull Mastiffs, Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, Pugs, Rhodesian Ridgebacks and Weimaraners.

Melanoma

Melanoma is a malignancy of the pigment-producing cells in the skin. They can occur in many locations on the body and the location is critical to how serious the tumour is. Melanomas can occur in the mouth, the nailbed, skin and eyes.

Oral Melanomas

Around 80% of melanomas are found in the mouth or ‘oral cavity’ (including tongue, hard and soft palate, lips and gums). They are typically seen in dogs over 10 years of age and mostly (not always) in smaller breeds.

Oral melanomas are generally considered ‘aggressive’ and often metastasise to the lymph nodes or lungs. Tumours can often be removed surgically but approximate 80-85% of these dogs will go on to develop metastatic disease.

Factors that can determine tumours as ‘less aggressive’ are generally those being ‘rostrally located’, are less than 2cm in size when diagnosed, have no bone invasion, or are on the top of mucocutaneous junction.

What to look for:

Oral melanoma is usually diagnosed after the dog’s human has noticed especially bad breath (halitosis) or a protruding mass or swelling, which may or may not have caused changes to appetite or eating behaviours. Dental examinations may also identify lesions.

Nailbed Melanoma

Melanoma in the nailbed, or subungual crest, is the 2nd most common location for melanoma, occurring in 15-20% of instances.

These nail melanomas have a similar metastatic rate as oral melanomas, especially in the first instance to the local lymph node. “This would include the superficial cervical nodes and axillary nodes if the tumor is located on a front foot, and the popliteal nodes if the tumor is located on a hind foot.”[1]

What to look for:

Nailbed melanomas usual appear as a solitary lesion, with dogs generally showing lameness on the offending paw, or their human has noticed swelling, bleeding or oozing from the offending toe. These sores can often initially seem like an injured nail that won’t heal.

Dermal Melanoma

Dermal melanomas usually appear as a ‘darkly pigmented dermal mass’ either individually or in multiples. When confined to ‘haired skin’ they are benign in 85-90% of cases and cured with surgical removal.

If they have extended to vascular or lymphatic invasion, have an invasive growth pattern or a biopsy shows a high mitotic rate (3 or more) they are considered ‘aggressive’. Any cutaneous melanoma located on a mucocutaneous junction (lip area, anus, vulva etc) is much more likely to be aggressive and should be treated as malignant. In aggressive instances your oncology vet may recommend other therapies, such as chemo or radiation, in addition to surgical removal.

What to look for:

Dark pigmented masses on the skin however in rare cases they can affect subcutaneous tissue.

Ocular Melanoma

These ‘melanocytic tumours’ can also affect the eye as ‘eyelid, conjunctival masses, limbal melanocytomas and uveal tumours’. Most ocular melanocytic tumours are technically benign but they can cause issues for the eye as they grow. Often those located on the eyelid, conjunctival area or eye wall (uveal) are malignant.

Malignant melanomas elsewhere in the body can metastasise to the eye.

Breeds mostly at risk:

Airedale Terriers, Miniature Poodles, Cocker Spaniels, Chows, Dobermans, Golden Retrievers, Mini-Schnauzers, Vizlas are most likely to be affected but any breed can be diagnosed with melanoma.[2] Dogs with black skin and fur are more at risk of malignant nailbed growths. Especially Schnauzers and Scottish Terriers.

Commonly affects ages 5-11.

 

[1] https://upstatevet.com/2018/11/melanoma-location-location-location/

[2] https://upstatevet.com/2018/11/melanoma-location-location-location/

Lymphoma

Canine lymphomas represent 7-14% of all cancer diagnoses in dogs. It is actually a diverse group of cancers derived from white blood cells called ‘lymphocytes’. Lymphocytes are part of the immune system and help protect the body from infection.

Lymphoma can affect any organ in the body but usually arises in organs that form the immune system such as lymph nodes, thymus, spleen and bone marrow. Other common locations include the skin, eye, central nervous system and bone.

Although common, its causes and origin are not well understood. Veterinary manuals and research universities note possible causes or contributing factors as ‘viruses, bacteria, chemical exposure and strong magnetic fields’ [2] as well as ‘genetic abnormalities and dysfunction in the immune system’. [1] 

Types of Lymphoma:

Most types of lymphoma are high-grade and involve T cells or B cells. They are generally categorised by the location in the body that they occur:

  • Multi-centric – occurring in multiple places
  • Alimentary – in digestive system
  • Mediastinal – in chest
  • Extranodal – may involve the kidneys, central nervous system or skin

 

 

[1] https://www.msdvetmanual.com/dog-owners/blood-disorders-of-dogs/malignant-lymphoma-in-dogs

[2]  https://vet.purdue.edu/pcop/canine-lymphoma-research.php 

Bone Cancer | Osteosarcoma

Hemangiosarcoma

If you’re reading this I know it’s possible that your dog has just been diagnosed with cancer. If that’s the case I’m so sorry. I know it’s devastating.

My heart goes out to you; I’m so glad you’re here. It’s my goal here that you will have the information I once needed really quickly so you too can give your dog their best shot at treating it effectively.

 

The good news is that you can do a lot to help your dog and complement your veterinary oncology care with good nutrition, natural medicine and some natural therapies.

Especially if you get it early or even have them on a good diet before cancer ever arrives.

Please get in touch if you need help. I’m here for you, and your loved dog.

Early signs to look for:

  • Small lumps and bumps
  • A wound or sore that won’t heal
  • Bone swelling or limps/lameness
  • Circling, obsessive scratching
  • Low energy and lethargy
  • Laboured breathing or coughing
  • Loss of appetite, rapid weight loss,
  • Excessive vomiting or difficulty swallowing
  • Unusual odours from ears, mouth or body
  • Toileting changes, excessive urination, bloody diarrhoea

What to do if your dog has, or is at risk of, cancer

What you can do to help

How nutrition and natural medicines can help

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This is the diet I created for my dog Ruby when she was diagnosed with cancer. Along with our vet care, we (Ruby & I) managed to get years added to her prognosis!

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