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Featuring Demian Dressler, DVM and Sue Ettinger, DVM, Dip. ACVIM (Oncology), authors of The Dog Cancer Survival Guide

DCA Not Advised At This Time for Dog Cancer

Updated: October 1st, 2018

DCA, also called dichloroacetic acid or sodium dichloroacetate, is gaining popularity for dog cancer. It is now widely available.  In the search for something better, Guardians are scouring the internet to get an edge on the disease.  And this is understandable, as a dog cancer diagnosis with statistics can be very difficult to accept for anyone.

Having said that, not every “outside the box” idea is necessarily a good idea.  One of the benefits of the Guide is that thousands of hours of medical research weighing different options for dog cancer created this book. Unconventional treatments usually have little actual data, so we have to be very careful in how we look at the information.

And we have to take safety into account. Remember, any recommendation must apply to large numbers of dogs and turn out well, or at least do no harm.  Of course, smaller numbers of dogs may get good results with safety, but when we use the treatment on thousands, we start seeing reactions.  This has happened with pharmaceutical drugs as well as “natural” supplements.  I’ve seen both personally.

DCA is a substance that has interesting effects but has “interesting” possible side effects too.  Let’s look at both sides of the coin.

Here’s the good stuff:

There is some early research.  A study on 5 human brain (glioblastoma) cancer patients showed that DCA caused the cancer cells to commit suicide (apoptosis).  The same thing was shown on human uterine (endometrial) cancer cells in a laboratory. DCA was found to add to the good effects of the chemo drug cisplatin in HeLa cells, which are a form of human cervical cancer cells.  Finally, DCA shifts the metabolism of cancer cells to oxygen use, which can help shrink tumors.

So this seems rather encouraging.  And truthfully it may turn out that DCA is used as a tool to help with cancer. But the side effects need to be handled, and there can definitely be some side effects that may be serious.

Side effects of this molecule include being a carcinogen in rats (ouch!), which of course does not bode well for a cancer treatment.  Truth be told however several chemo drugs are carcinogenic and are being used right now widely. Very deeply ironic but true. We do the best we can in medicine with the tools we have.

But there is more to DCA that is troublesome.  This substance can create nerve damage that is very real.  In another study, 100% of the patients had to stop the study due to nervous system damage at the doses they were using.  Granted, lower doses could be evaluated, but this is not encouraging.   Here’s another study with a similar effect.  Thiamine was tried as a way to stop this side effect but nerve problems were still seen, although not nearly at 100% of the patients.

What’s the bottom line?  I can’t recommend this stuff for dog Guardians to use on their loved dogs.  We know the side effects are very real and in my opinion this is much closer to a pharmaceutical with serious side effect potential.  This means we had better have very strong evidence for some very good things from DCA before we want to use it.


Dr D


Leave a Comment

  1. ekev on April 16, 2016 at 9:35 am

    DCA is not dichloroacetic acid, I just wanted to point that out. I have been doing a lot of research on this recently for obvious reasons and it’s not the same. I’ve also found a number of positive articles so clearly I need to keep reading (some pros, some cons).

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