Many dog lovers are coping with a diagnosis of canine mast cell tumor. Just yesterday afternoon I was removing a very large one from the body wall of Big, a 10 year old, 105 pound, much-loved mixed breed.
The day before his surgery, Big started to throw up. He became quite sick, and would not eat. His tumor, which was about 5 inches in diameter, had started getting very painful, red and inflamed.
Luckily, tumor is now out and Big is on his way to happier days.
One of our strategies is to help Big with his nausea. I was explaining to his owner last night that the mast cells in the tumor secrete a substance called histamine, which is the same stuff that causes a bee sting to become red, swollen and painful.
These high histamine levels now in Big’s bloodstream cause the lining of the stomach to produce excess acid. When you have a belly full of acid, it feels awful and you may start vomiting.
So in dogs with any signs of decreased appetite, nausea (licking lips a lot, salivation), vomiting, or loss of energy with mast cell tumors, we always want to address this acid issue.
There are several approaches. We definitely want an antacid. Cimetidine (Tagamet) is a good choice, as this drug has not only antacid effects but also some nice, documented anti-cancer effects. Tagamet is available over the counter at most locations where non-prescription human medications are sold. Like many drugs we use in veterinary medicine, it is labeled for human use.
Fresh ginger is always a nice supplement to use in dogs with nausea, and has been shown in papers to help in human medicine with both anti-cancer effects and helping nausea. Many big-box grocery stores will carry ginger root, and some health food stores do as well.
For more information on Mast Cell Tumors, get a copy of the Dog Cancer Survival Guide
Many clinicians advise famotidine (Pepcid), which has a good antacid effect, but no anticancer effects. You can get Pepcid AC over the counter at most places where non-prescription medications for people are sold.
In cases where there is no other option and the vomiting is very severe, a drug called Zofran (odansetron) can be used. It is rather expensive, and its use is on the new side. It does help though for cases where the stomach upset is really bad. It is a prescription medication.
If there is diarrhea, which reflects inflammation of the intestine (lower down the digestive tract than the stomach), misoprostel (Cytotec) should be considered. This drug stimulates the protective lining of the intestine and decreases inflammation of the intestinal wall. This is a prescription medication.
Slippery elm, which is from bark of the slippery elm tree, is a good supplement that can be added for diarrhea as well. It acts as a natural bandage, coating the lining of the intestine and helping soothe and heal. Slippery elm is available on-line and at health food stores.
Branched chain amino acids can also be added as a part of the arsenal. These supplement the other approaches by providing the building blocks to rebuild the lining of the intestine. Branched chain amino acids are available in health food stores and supplement outlets.
Probiotics can always be added to help a bit with diarrhea. A probiotic is a bacteria which helps restore the normal amounts of healthy bacteria in the intestine. We need these bacteria, and so do our dogs. These can be purchased at supplement outlets and health food stores.
Lastly, plain old liquid Pepto Bismol helps a lot with diarrhea as well, and is available over the counter too.
For more information and specifics on these items, you can find more details on dosage and use in The Dog Cancer Survival Guide and through discussions with your vet or oncologist.
All my best,
Dr. Demian Dressler is internationally recognized as “the dog cancer vet” because of his innovations in the field of dog cancer management, and the popularity of his blog here at Dog Cancer Blog. The owner of South Shore Veterinary Care, a full-service veterinary hospital in Maui, Hawaii, Dr. Dressler studied Animal Physiology and received a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of California at Davis before earning his Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine from Cornell University. After practicing at Killewald Animal Hospital in Amherst, New York, he returned to his home state, Hawaii, to practice at the East Honolulu Pet Hospital before heading home to Maui to open his own hospital. Dr. Dressler consults both dog lovers and veterinary professionals, and is sought after as a speaker on topics ranging from the links between lifestyle choices and disease, nutrition and cancer, and animal ethics. His television appearances include “Ask the Vet” segments on local news programs. He is the author of The Dog Cancer Survival Guide: Full Spectrum Treatments to Optimize Your Dog’s Life Quality and Longevity. He is a member of the American Veterinary Medical Association, the Hawaii Veterinary Medical Association, the American Association of Avian Veterinarians, the National Animal Supplement Council and CORE (Comparative Orthopedic Research Evaluation). He is also an advisory board member for Pacific Primate Sanctuary.