We all dread this disease in our pets. There’s just something about a tumor that hijacks a body’s resources and takes over that seems especially…malignant (it’s no coincidence that this word doubles as both a synonym for evil and the medical term for cancer).
Part of what makes cancer all the more dreaded is that, in the moment of diagnosis, it usually feels as if the disease came out of the blue. More often than not, pets diagnosed with cancer seemed perfectly healthy only a short while before.
In truth, however, cancer (and other chronic diseases) don’t spring out of the blue at all. By the time a tumor has developed, it’s been growing quietly for some time. How long is hard to say, but in people, it’s been estimated that cancerous tumors generally start many YEARS before they’re diagnosed. The same is true of our pets.
All of us, and all of our pets, have cancerous cells in our body right now, even if we (and they) feel and act perfectly healthy. Mutations happen and cells divide abnormally every day. The vast majority of the time, though, they never develop into anything significant, because our bodies keep the rogue cells in check.
This is not debated in any system of medicine. In fact, conventional oncologic research has contributed vastly to elucidating all the steps that must take place for malignant disease to develop. The main difference between conventional and integrative medicine, however, is that although conventional medicine can acknowledge all the steps, it can still only approach cancer treatment from a search-and-destroy methodology. Tumors can be cut out, burned out, or killed chemically. End of story.
This approach saves lives, and when it is effective, it is always recommended. Also, dramatic advances in cancer treatment are happening all the time; it’s becoming more and more effective, and less and less toxic.
Even with these advances, however, oncology is still unable to cure the vast majority of cancers that we see in our pets. And even when it can, cancer recurrence is highly likely.
This is where an integrative approach can be helpful, because it can help fill in the gaps.
A significant aspect of cancer that doesn’t get addressed much in a strictly conventional approach is that of the underlying body climate: the one that allowed one cell to proliferate and take over in the first place. While it’s unlikely that a climate-based/holistic approach alone will obliterate a tumor (although that sometimes happens), it can improve your pet’s quality of life and may slow the tumor’s progression.
In cancer, as well as with all chronic disease, what helps the most is an integrative approach. One that abolishes or ameliorates major symptoms (like, say, visible tumors) when they crop up, but that also asks what it is about the climate that allowed such a problem to develop in the first place.
This is where diet changes come in. And exercise. And play. And about a hundred other possibilities. You already know how to do most of this.
1. Increase fresh veggie intake. Yup, really. Especially for dogs. Fresh plant-based foods are abundant sources of a variety of phytonutrients that just aren’t present in kibble, no matter how high-quality or expensive that kibble might be. In general, it’s best to avoid onions, garlic, and grapes. Aside from that, though, a variety of mixed veggies and/or fruits is good for your dog. A few with particular known anti-cancer activity include: celery, parsley, mushrooms, peppers, and cruciferous veggies like broccoli and kale.
2. Reduce exposure to toxins. The fewer insults your pet has to contend with, the healthier he can be. Your dog or cat lives closer to the ground, and probably spends more time in your house and/or yard than you do, so he’s going to get a higher dose of whatever you put on your floors and grass than you will. Take that into consideration when you make your housekeeping choices.
3. Reduce intake of processed foods, particularly processed grains. Whether you decide to go with a completely homemade diet or supplement a high-quality diet with fresh, whole foods is up to you. Homemade diets are ideal, but they’re also a lot of work and a lot of responsibility. If you’re not up for that, pick the highest-quality food you can find and add to it.
4. Play every day. Most pets, if they could make a request, would ask for more play above just about anything else in the world. Play is good for us and our pets, and it’s important for a lot of reasons. Make it a priority.
5. Get outside and move. This is similar to #4, and may overlap. Whether this is a hike with your dog or a wander through the garden with your cat, find a way to increase exercise and fresh air whenever and however you can. Exercise improves blood flow, releases endorphins, and prevents obesity, a known cancer risk factor.
6. Finally, if your pet has been diagnosed with cancer or you already know he has a higher than usual risk of developing the disease (like a genetic tendency), there are some supplements that can help as well. Which ones to use will vary from one body to another, but help is available if you need it.
The bad news about cancer and other chronic diseases is that we can’t really predict when or whom they’re going to strike. The good news, though, if you want to call it that, is that we can assume all of our pets, like people, are harboring potential for disease at any one time. Whether we feed the lurking cancer cells or nourish the body is up to us.
If your pet is sick, take whatever steps you need to in order to alleviate her symptoms. And then shift your focus to supporting her body’s overall health (mental and physical) and enjoying the gift of her presence. What happens next might surprise you.