Cancer Treatment for Dog Patients

Conventional canine cancer treatment include surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy.

Coping with the fact that your dog has cancer is of course not easy, what is perhaps even more difficult is deciding on the type(s) of cancer treatment for the dog. Some dog parents have negative feelings about cancer and conventional cancer treatment because a lot of such therapies (e.g. chemotherapy) can have numerous nasty side effects on people. However, conventional therapies usually have far fewer side effects on dog patients than on people.

When deciding on the best cancer treatment for dog patients, it is important to understand that each dog is different and should be treated as such. There is no one cancer treatment program that is perfect for all dogs. Even dogs with the same type of cancer may receive different treatment programs. Perhaps the most important questions to consider (together with our veterinarian) are:

  • Which treatment provides the highest chance for cure?
  • Which treatment ensures the dog's quality of life?
  • Which treatment is the best choice from the dog parents' viewpoints? (Based on factors such as costs, time, and emotional stresses)

Very often, the best therapy is not a single type of conventional treatment, but a combination of various conventional and natural therapies. Since diagnosis in many canine cancer cases is late, the more types of therapies used, the better chance there is to fight and beat the cancer. Even if the prognosis is poor, we may still be able to use certain cancer treatment to make the dog patient more comfortable so that he can enjoy a better quality of life longer.

There are three main types of conventional cancer treatment: surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy. Let's look at each of them below.

Conventional Cancer Treatment for Dog Patients

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Dalmatian Depending on the type, size, and location of the tumor in question, surgery can sometimes be curative. However, in cases where diagnosis is too late, or the tumor is too big or is in a location where total removal is impossible, surgery by itself may not be curative. Other treatment such as chemotherapy and/or radiation may be needed.

There are also occasions when surgery is used not to cure the dog patient, but to improve the patient's quality of life by relieving pain and discomfort.

These days, with modern anesthetics and medical equipment, surgery is rather safe and complications are rare. However, no surgery is completely safe, and sometimes after-surgery complications can occur. The most common ones are bleeding, infection at the surgical wound, and seepage from the wound. As well, depending on the site of the surgery, sometimes the dog patient may lose certain body function. For example, eating difficulty after oral surgery, or incontinence after bladder or colon surgery, etc.

Also see this video about how some drugs used in surgery can actually cause cancer in dogs:

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Chemotherapy is the use of medications to stop the cancer cells from growing, reproducing, and spreading. These drugs are designed specifically to damage cancer cells as they grow and divide, and they work best on rapidly growing cancer cells.

Most healthy normal cells do not grow and divide as quickly as cancer cells, with the exception of blood cells developing in the bone marrow, cells lining the hair follicles and lining the stomach and intestinal walls. Therefore, chemotherapy can affect these healthy growing cells to some extent but only temporarily.

While chemotherapy can seldom cure a dog patient, it can nevertheless put many cancers into remissions, enabling the dog patient to live longer and enjoy a better quality of life.

Many dog parents are wary of chemotherapy because of the various side effects caused by chemotherapy in people. In fact, since medication dosages used in treating dog patients are significantly lower than those used in treating people, dog patients seldom get the nasty side effects seen in people. Having said that, however, side effects do arise. Here are the most common side effects and some natural supplements that may lessen the effects:

Side Effects Natural Supplements
Vomiting Herbs: ginger, alfalfa
Homeopathy: Nux vomica
Diarrhea Herbs: ginger, slippery elm
Supplements: probiotics
Appetite loss Herbs: ginger, garlic, fennel
Supplements: probiotics, digestive enzymes
Fever Herb: Echinacea
Supplements: Vitamins C and E
Hair loss Supplements: antioxidants such as Vitamins A, C and E, green tea

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Another cancer treatment for dog patients is radiation therapy, which utilizes high-energy ionizing radiation to kill cancer cells. Radiation is a local therapy because it is used to target and kill cancer cells in the area being treated. Radiation therapy works by breaking down one or both strands of the DNA molecule inside the cancer cells, thus preventing them from growing and dividing. While normal cells around the targeted cancer cells can be affected by radiation as well, they are better equipped for repairing damage to DNA than the cancer cells. Since cancer cells are rapid growing, they cannot repair the damage sufficiently before dividing and reproducing, therefore, radiation can kill the cancer cells more readily.

Radiation therapy may be used after surgery to kill off the remaining cancer cells or before surgery to shrink tumors. In cases where the tumor is inoperable, radiation therapy can be given solely for palliative purposes to make a dog patient more comfortable by shrinking the tumor and slowing down its growth.

The optimal dosage of radiation should be in the smallest amount possible to ensure the comfort of the dog patient. Usually radiation treatment is given from two to five times a week, for up to three to five weeks. Dog patients have to be sedated or under general anesthetic during treatment.

Here are the most common side effects seen in radiation therapy and some natural supplements that may lessen the effects:

Side Effects Natural Supplements
Localized skin burn Herbs: aloe vera gel, calendula ointment
Localized hair loss Supplements: antioxidants such as Vitamins A, C and E, green tea
Soreness in the mouth or throat/oral ulcers Supplements: grapefruit seed extract (as a mouth rinse), coenzyme Q-10 (can be mixed with food), vitamin E (apply topically on ulcerated areas)

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Cancer Treatment for Dog Patients - Diet and Herbs

As mentioned above, treating cancer holistically seems to produce the best possible outcome. Many herbs and supplements can be used to complement conventional treatment. In addition, feeding natural healthy food to the dog patient is a must.

Visit our pages on Herbs for Canine Cancer and Dog Cancer Diet for more information on these topics.

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