Dog lovers will do anything they can to help their dog with a cancer. And you should! This can be one of the hardest times anyone will face.
Many times the effort helps, and other times it may not.
This, of course, is not due to any ill intention on the part of the dog’s human. Rather, it is simply because there is inadequate use able information out there.
Take, for example, the use of vitamin D supplements for dogs with cancer.
Well yes, sure, cancer in the test tube will undergo apoptosis (normal, healthy end of life cycle) when exposed to the body’s active form of vitamin D.
And yes, some cancer cells have little empty “locks” on the outside of them (receptors) that fit the vitamin D “key”. When the key fits the lock (vitamin D binds the receptor on the outside of the cancer cell), the cancer cell commits suicide.
So, doesn’t it make sense that if a dog were to get cancer, giving vitamin D would be a smart move??
Well, not really, not quite.
First, remember we always have to ask whether the stuff in the pill gets all the way to the cancer in the body. We give our dog a pill, and the active ingredients have to be taken into the blood by getting through the wall of the intestine, making it past the liver, escaping excretion into the urine, getting back out of the blood, and bathing the cancer cells in the tumor.
That’s a pretty long trip.
Turns out that it is hard to get the vitamin D all the way to the cancer cells. Blood levels of the most active form of vitamin D (calcitriol), are mainly produced by exposure to direct sunlight on the skin, not by taking it by mouth to get high blood levels. Look for yourself.
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Of course, if you take enough, you can get high blood levels that can help with cancers in the body. The problem is that you also may get dangerously high blood calcium levels. Active vitamin D boosts blood calcium levels. When you get excessively high calcium levels, bad things start to happen (kidney injury, heart problems, and more).
So we have a quandary.
What to do?
Well, big pharma is trying to make drugs like active vitamin D for cancer, but without the high blood calcium bit. Here is some info about that. The problem is that they are not available yet.
So can we do anything?
Yes, two things. First, get your dog into the sun, with a few exceptions. Sunlight has a dramatic effect on active vitamin D levels in the blood. We are talking about direct sunshine a couple of times a week, about 10-20 minutes each time.
A word of caution: do not overheat your dog!! Long hair, short muzzles, breathing problems, obesity, and other issues can increase heat stroke chances. Check with your vet.
Another word of caution: squamous cell carcinoma, as well as hemangiosarcoma of the skin, have increased risk with sun in dogs. Don’t do a lot of sun if your dog has these cancers. Get a full spectrum lamp for seasonal affective disorder in people.
For more helpful tools and information, get a copy of the Dog Cancer Survival Guide
By the way, do not worry if your dog has melanoma. This cancer has not been shown to have a link with sun in dogs.
The second thing you can do is make sure your dog is getting maintenance vitamin D levels. My personal opinion supports a balanced multivitamin for dogs with cancer. It has been shown that vitamin D deficiency does bad things like increase certain cancers, like colon cancer in mice. Read about it here.
So get your dog some sun and his or her normal, dietary level of vitamin D. Don’t bother with the high doses for dogs with cancer.
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.