The subtitle of The Dog Cancer Survival Guide is “Full Spectrum Treatments to Optimize Your Dog’s Life Quality and Longevity.” The advice in the book is invaluable if your dog has cancer. But what about those of us with healthy dogs? Can we use full spectrum advice to prevent cancer in dogs?
Does Dr. Dressler have any advice for us?
Yes, it turns out, in Appendix D, which starts on page 427.
Below is a summary of what he recommends. Keep in mind that ALL of this is general advice, based on what we know can help most dogs.
Also, keep in mind that all of this is generally good advice for us humans, too!
Managing and Mitigating Cancer Risk
Dr. D’s specific advise is below, but before I get there, just a quick note about a mindset I find helpful when taking in this information.
This attitude is born out of helping dog lovers cope with cancer since 2007. I’ve watched what works and what doesn’t when it comes to mindset.
Take this with a grain of salt, but in general, I’ve changed my mindset in the following ways:
- I no longer aim to “cure” cancer. I aim to MANAGE it.
- I no longer aim to “prevent” cancer. I aim to MITIGATE the risk or lower the risk of getting it.
I know some folks will read those points and say I’ve given up the fight. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
Instead, I’ve made a decision to see cancer as a normal illness that is commonplace and should be dealt with accordingly. Why?
Because it is. Cancer is the number one killer of dogs. One out of two dogs over the age of ten get cancer, and one out of four dogs overall get cancer.
And the same is true for humans. One out of two men will get cancer, and one out of three women will get cancer. If that’s not a “common” illness, I don’t know what is!
I find it easier to cope with a cancer diagnosis when I think of it as a regular illness, not some surprising beast. It stinks, it’s awful, it’s horrible. But it’s manageable.
It’s not unmentionable. If this attitude helps you, I suggest you adopt it, too.
So now on to Dr. D’s advice.
First: Treatment and Prevention are Different
Please, don’t read Dr. D’s book and think “if all of these supplements and dietary choices are good for my dog with cancer, they must be good for cancer prevention in my other dogs, too.”
Nothing is that simple. For example, giving the therapeutic doses of krill/fish oil outlined in the book would be far too high for a dog without cancer. Dr. D makes recommendations on how to counteract a dangerous foe. He is NOT giving general health advice for dogs who are naturally healthy.
You CAN overdo supplements — so get advice from your veterinarian about what can help your specific dog, OK?
Lifestyle Choices are Key to Prevent Cancer in Dogs
Cancer starts in and thrives in certain conditions, and some of those conditions arise from lifestyle choices we make. That’s why Dr. Dressler recommends the following guidelines for dogs. Don’t worry, there’s nothing radical here:
- Provide a dark sleeping environment for your dog, and make sure he gets seven to eight hours of sleep every night. This helps your dog’s body make melatonin, a natural hormone that may prevent and fight cancer.
- Obesity is a cancer attractor — so make sure your dog is at a healthy weight. Ask your vet to determine your dog’s ideal body condition and weight, and take steps to get her there.
- Increase your dog’s joys of life in any way you can — because isolation and depression have strong links to cancer in humans.
- Exercise! Exercise helps dogs feel good and keeps them strong and healthy.
- Add brightly colored veggies, particularly bell peppers and cruciferous veggies like Brussel sprouts and broccoli, to your dog’s diet. These vegetables (and the others listed in the dog cancer diet in chapter 14) are all very supportive.
- There is some evidence that red meat in your dog’s diet should be reduced in favor of leaner white meats and fish.
- Cancer thrives in a sugary environment — so limit starches and carbohydrate-rich foods like corn, wheat, and sugar.
- If you are feeding commercial dog foods, choose those that have been cooked at low temperatures. That means no traditional kibble, which is cooked at very high temperatures!
- Avoid carcinogen exposure whenever possible. Filter your air, filter your water, use glass or ceramic bowls, avoid pesticides and lawn chemicals, and keep your pup away from car exhaust and tobacco smoke.
Let’s Start at the Very Beginning
When getting a new puppy, consider the following to help prevent cancer in the future:
- Avoid high-risk bloodlines if you are buying from a breeder. It’s a terrible thing, but many of our favorite breeds (Goldens and Boxers and Labs, for example) have very high cancer rates.
- There is compelling evidence that EARLY vaccination can train the immune system to patrol for outside invaders at the expense of killing tumors. That’s why Dr. D suggests holding off starting puppy vaccinations until the eighth or even tenth week of life. (Personally, I waited until the thirteenth week after editing this book!) Dr. D suggests a booster at one year of age and another booster at age four (three years after the first). Another can be given at age seven. He also suggests not vaccinating for diseases that aren’t in your area. At age eight, only vaccinate if titers show a need. At any point, you can also request a titer before vaccination!
- When it comes to spay and neuter, carefully weigh the pros and cons with your veterinarian, because early spay/neuter has been associated with cancer in dogs. If you decide to sterilize your dog, Dr. D recommends spaying females between the third and fourth heat. Males can be neutered sometime between eighteen and twenty-four months. In other words, sterilize once a dog has become an adult, to ensure that they get the protection sexual hormones offer to prevent cancer in dogs.
Choosing a Breeder
Dog Cancer Answers did an interview with Dr. Jerry Klein, DVM, the Chief Veterinary Officer of the American Kennel Club, discussing things to look for when choosing a breeder and how to stack the deck in your favor for getting a puppy who will live a long, healthy life. This information applies to mixed-breed dogs too, not just purebreds!
You can read the full transcript on the Dog Cancer Answers page, or watch a video version of the podcast here:
Can We Really Prevent Cancer In Dogs?
There is no one thing you can do to prevent cancer in dogs, of course. Even someone who takes all of these steps (erm, me) will not be safe from a potential cancer diagnosis. After nearly ten years of watching my little pups thrive on the lifestyle choices listed above, I still am vigilant for lumps and get them aspirated as they come. After all, cancer is the number one killer of dogs — so no one can expect to be able to prevent it totally. But my peace of mind is complete. My dogs have had an amazing quality of life. And they are each super-healthy.
I credit their amazing diet for their health. I also credit daily (well, mostly) walks on the beach, lots of belly rubs and games, and tons of good sleep in total darkness.
Now that they are older (nine, nearly ten) I’m relieved to say that neither has any chronic health issue, and both have “perfect, down the middle” blood work. I can’t ask for better.
Even if the worst happens, I’ll know that I did everything I could to prepare my pup for the fight. We can’t ever know what “would have happened” if we made different choices in life, but I feel good about following the guidelines Dr. D laid out in Appendix D.
I hope they help you, too!
Many warm wishes for you and your pups,
PS: Since this article was first published, my dog Kanga has in fact gotten cancer. She’s had an ovarian tumor, and you can read all about her adventure in this article. She turned ten and fell into the wrong side of that one out of two statistic. The good news is, she is now almost three years past that diagnosis and feels fantastic!
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Molly Jacobson is a writer and also the editor of The Dog Cancer Survival Guide, published by Maui Media. A lifelong dog lover and self-professed dog health nerd, she is all too familiar with dog cancer. She has been supporting readers of this blog since the beginning. Molly earned a BA from Tufts University, and after a career in bookselling and book publishing attended The Swedish Institute to become a licensed massage therapist in New York State, licensed by the medical board. Her fascination with health is both personal and global, and she is most proud of how this site and the associated publications have revolutionized not only our approach to dog health, but our own health.