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

Dog Cancer and the Malaria Drug Artemisinin

Updated: October 11th, 2021

Summary

Artemisinin for dogs with cancer? Yup. This herb can help make chemo more effective, and may also target cancer directly.

The anti-malarial remedy artemisinin may be beneficial for dogs with osteosarcoma (the most common bone cancer). And more good news: it may also help several other cancers.

Studies have shown this herb can help chemotherapy do its job, and may also target cancer directly!

Let’s take a closer look at using artemisinin for dogs with cancer because there are several things to consider.

From Malaria to Cancer

Artemisinin is most famous for treating malaria infections.

It is derived from sweet wormwood, which has been used for centuries in Traditional Chinese Medicine to treat fevers.

Chinese scientist YouYou Tu even won the Nobel Prize in 2015 for her discovery of the compound and its anti-malarial properties.

Many drugs and remedies originally used for one thing turn out to have additional properties.



And as it turns out, artemisinin is also helpful in the fight against cancer.

How Artemisinin Works

Artemisinin reacts with iron in the body. How could that help with cancer?

Well, cancer cells take up more iron than normal body cells, because of their habit of rapidly dividing.

More Iron Uptake Creates Free Radicals Which Damage Cancer Cells

This iron uptake creates free radicals, which are little unstable atoms that can cause major damage in the body.

Normally, this is not good, because we don’t want healthy cells to encounter free radicals.

But when those free radicals are in cancer cells, it’s actually a good thing.

The free radicals caused by the extra iron in cancer cells react with parts of the cancer cell to cause injury.

Since normal body cells have much less iron, they are less affected by this damage.


For more helpful information and tools, get a copy of the Dog Cancer Survival Guide


Again, when it comes to cancer, more free radicals (inside cancer cells) is desirable.

But that’s not all that artemisinin does!

Other Artemisinin Benefits

Some of the other properties that artemisinin has shown in studies include:

Problems with Using Artemisinin

One of the challenges of using artemisinin is that it has a short half-life. That means it doesn’t stick around long.

It also has low bioavailability. This means that the digestive system may destroy it before it gets to the cancer cells where it is needed.

To help counteract these factors, some synthetic versions have been created. These forms can be more effective.

Artemisinin for Dogs

In a recent podcast (episode below), my colleague Dr. Nancy Reese, DVM, PhD, says that artemisinin has been shown to be beneficial for these cancers:

  • Osteosarcoma (bone cancer)
  • Melanoma
  • Breast cancer
  • Rectal Cancer
  • Prostate cancer
  • Kidney cancer

For dogs and owners battling osteosarcoma, anything that might help is welcome!

Many of the artemisinin studies have been done in vitro (in the lab). Others have been done using human subjects.

Humans and dogs are very similar when it comes to cancer, so what helps us may help them, and vice versa.

But some artemisinin studies have used or looked at dogs.

And one study even showed increased survival times for dogs who got artemisinin.

How Much Artemisinin to Give to Dogs

We are still learning the best dosage and dosage frequency.

In the past, it has been recommended to give artemisinin for five days or so and then take five days off. This is called “pulse dosing.”

But the current general recommendation is to give a lower dose every day consistently.

This still gets good results, but with fewer side effects.

The possible dose spread is huge, vaguely around 2 to 15 mg per pound one time a day. There is much variation on recommended doses.

It’s best to work with your veterinarian about dosing artemisinin, because there is no “one best dose” and frequency that fits all dogs and all situations.

Note: Keep in mind that if you are using my other “big gun” herbal apoptogen, Apocaps, you shouldn’t use both Apocaps and artemisinin on the same day. They are both potent, and artemisinin can be hard on the stomach (see below). If you want to use both together, rotate their use.

How to Give Artemisinin to Dogs

I recommend giving artemisinin with a small amount of something with fat. This could be fish oil, krill oil, peanut butter, or cream cheese.

This is because fat helps to increase the bioavailability of artemisinin.

NOTE: as always, if your dog has pancreatitis, avoid extra fats!

Some people recommend giving artemisinin with iron-rich foods, such as red meat.

Others are concerned that the artemisinin would react with the iron in the stomach, before it can get to the cancer cells.

Because of this, I recommend giving artemisinin four hours before or after a meal. This helps make sure the artemisinin targets the iron in the cancer cells.

But as always, ask YOUR vet the best plan for your dog. Your dog may have unique needs!

No Antioxidants With Artemisinin

When your dog has cancer, you often use more than one supplement, and sometimes you use an immune booster or antioxidant supplement.

If you do, remember that artemisinin is pro-oxidant and works by creating free radicals in cancer cells.

Antioxidants can counteract artemisinin’s effects.

Antioxidants will destroy those free radicals that are killing the cancer cells.

Because of this, giving artemisinin along with antioxidants can make it less effective.

How to Choose Artemisinin for Your Dog

As with any supplement, choose your product wisely and choose a reliable brand that makes a product to human-grade standards.

The absolute best way to pursue artemisinin with your dog is to see a veterinarian who uses it regularly and can recommend a reliable product.

They’ll also be able to give you the best dose and timing schedule for your dog’s situation.

When NOT to Give Artemisinin

Artemisinin is a powerful compound and can have negative effects as well as positive ones.

  • Do not give artemisinin if your dog is getting radiation therapy. The current recommendation is to separate these two therapies by a couple months.
  • Dogs with seizure disorders also should not get artemisinin.

Overall, artemisinin is very safe with low toxicity. However, it can cause adverse effects, such as:

While we still have a lot to learn about the best dosing for artemisinin, this herbal compound has a lot of promise as an adjunctive treatment for cancer in dogs.

Best to all,

Dr. D

For more details, you can also check out the recent interview with Dr. Nancy Reese on Dog Cancer Answers.

Here is the video version of the podcast:

Have a Great Question for Dog Cancer Answers Veterinarians?

Call the Listener Line at 808-868-3200

Further Reading and References:

Artemisinin

Anticancer and Antimalarial Efficacy and Safety of Artemisinin-Derived Trioxane Dimers in Rodents

Antitumor Activity of Artemisinin and Its Derivatives: From a Well-Known Antimalarial Agent to a Potential Anticancer Drug

Cytotoxic Effects of Artemisia annua L. and Pure Artemisinin on the D-17 Canine Osteosarcoma Cell Line

Experimental Therapy of Hepatoma with Artemisinin and Its Derivatives: In vitro and In vivo Activity, Chemosensitization, and Mechanisms of Action

Inhibition of angiogenesis in vivo and growth of Kaposi’s sarcoma xenograft tumors by the anti-malarial artesunate

Retrospective study of small pet tumors treated with Artemisia annua and iron



 

Leave a Comment





  1. Doryan on October 1, 2012 at 1:52 pm

    Dear Dr. Dressler,
    Thanks for your reply. For now, I have decided against trying the artemisinin because I am afraid to take any risks. Yes, I just received your book and have been reading it. What I’m finding is there is not a lot of info re chronic lymphocytic leukemia in dogs. I was told not to give antioxidants by regular vet as his immune system is already overly stimulated. Another Chinese medicine vet said it would be okay, so it’s getting confusing. Are the Apocaps antioxidants? Do you feel that natural treatments for CLL are different than other forms of cancer? thanks, Doryan

    • Dr. Demian Dressler on October 3, 2012 at 8:04 pm

      Doryan,
      here is information about antioxidants and pro oxidants you should read:
      https://www.dogcancerblog.com/blog/anti-oxidants-versus-pro-oxidants/
      apocaps is more of a pro-oxidant therapy.
      As to the general treatment recommendations in the Guide, these hold for most cancers including CLL as many of the cancer pathways and effects in the body are shared between cancers…which is why the book uses these strategies specifically- to address shared paths.
      Best
      DrD

  2. Doryan on September 27, 2012 at 8:06 pm

    Is it safe to use artemisinin on a dog with a 2nd degree AV heart block? My chow chow was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia and I was told by Dr. Lai that artemisinin can be effective against CLL. Dr. Lai also mentioned that artemisinin can have an effect on the electrical activity of the heart, so I want to make sure it is safe before trying it. Do you think it would be safe to try?

    • Dr. Demian Dressler on September 28, 2012 at 12:43 pm

      Dear Doryah-
      I have not seen this in clinical practice but it does not mean the possiblity does not exist. Whenever we are in the realm of steps that do not have clinical trials there is always some degree of risk…even with clinical trials. There are other items that can be used in place of artemisinin to induce apoptosis (apoptogens). Have you read the Guide? Discuss Apocaps with your vet. (Always confirm all steps with your veterinarian.)
      Best
      Dr D

  3. donna on September 14, 2012 at 3:00 pm

    Our dog Timber was developing lumps on the back of his neck and down his shoulders when we started giving him artemisinin once a day. Within 1 week, the lumps started to go away and no new ones formed. Now he only has a couple small lumps or tumors that are not growing in size. We lost Timber’s son last January to canine osteosarcoma. They are Rottweilers and we feel that Timbers’ lumps were/are probably tumors from the same cancer gene that took his son Apache from us. We’d tried the artemisinin with Apache, but the osteosarcoma was to advanced and aggressive to treat. We had the pills left over from then and hoped they could help Timber. When we started him on them, he was showing the same symptoms as Apache of depression, appetitie loss and the quickly spreading lumps. The artemisinin not only stopped the tumor growth, but it also gave us back our Timber. Within days, his appetite and spirit were back with us again. We are ever so thankful!

    • Dr. Demian Dressler on September 19, 2012 at 3:46 pm

      🙂

  4. K. MARX on June 23, 2012 at 1:19 pm

    I wish to subscribe to news letter.

  5. Tracy on June 16, 2012 at 5:41 am

    Hi Dr. Dressler–
    Thank you for all your wonderful information. In your book, you stated that artemisinin was not recommended for dogs with brain tumors due to the possibility of rare brainstem toxicity. Is this still your recommendation? My dog has a nasal adenocarcinoma that has moved towards her brain and optic nerve. She received radiation and is doing well so far. Would artemisinin not be a good option for her due to the tumor’s movement towards her brain? I do not want to miss out on the benefits of this supplement, but certainly don’t want to cause more harm than good. Thank you for your help!!!!
    Tracy

  6. Jennifer Powers on May 7, 2012 at 6:44 am

    Dr. Dressler,
    I just wish vets and scientists could agree on the proper artemesinin protocol because opinions that differ drastically really do no good. According to Dr. Singh’s protocol, artemesinin should be given at night only away from all other antioxidants and given with Vitamin D3. Then in the am and lunchtime, a low dose of Vitamin C and Vitamin E should be given to the dog as this is supposed to counter the bioavailability of the Artemesinin. He instructs to give the dog this for 8 weeks straight; so I am very curious as to why you recommend pulsing it 5 days on and 5 days off. I believe you also mentioned giving it in the AM or PM, but since cancer grows worst at night, that is why it is strongly recommended to give at night, 4-5 hours after the last meal. You mentioned writing another blog on Arte but I can not find anything else further than this one blog thread. Since I have a dog with OS in the jaw with 3 months projected from his regular vet, I am looking to find something that will help increase his odds and time with us. But getting confused with whether to go with the protocol the scientist who has been studying this since the 90s says and what a vet says is becoming very overwhelming.

    • Dr. Demian Dressler on May 9, 2012 at 4:00 pm

      Dear Jennifer,
      I am sorry to hear about your boy’s tumor.
      the absorption of artemisinin shuts down after about 5 days, so pulsing can trick the body into absorbing it more.
      The facts are that little real clinical work has been done in real life dogs with real life cancers comparing different treatment protocols, so we are forced to use the information we have in the best way we have. A study would be great contrasting dosing protocols but we don’t have it. In the absence of this study, you will need to consult with whomever you feel most comfortable with and go with your gut. I would focus on other supplements as well. I hope you have read the Guide, as you will need more than just artemesinin…I hope this helps
      Dr D

  7. Geoff on April 20, 2012 at 11:15 am

    HI Dr Dressler

    my Golden Retriever has Lymphoma.I was not sure whether i can give apocaps during the day at the given dose and then artemix at night ? is this safe ?
    She is having DCA 2 times a day as well..

    Thank you

  8. Farzin Firooznia on January 20, 2012 at 6:20 pm

    Dear Dr. Dressler,
    I hope this e-mail finds you well. As you can suspect from the subject, I am unfortunately writing in response to finding out that our dog has cancer. We are owners of a Bernese Mountain Dog (Ruby – female, 6 yrs 9 mos; 94 lbs). She recently began limping and we confirmed via bone biopsy this week that she has stage 1 osteosarcoma in her left hind leg (knee). As of now, her lungs and abdomen appear clear. The Vet and oncologist have recommended amputation and chemo as the gold standard course of treatment.

    We are obviously devastated but trying to keep level-headed and understand options for extending Ruby’s quality of life for as long as it’s “quality”. Ruby’s breeder referred me to the BoneCancerDogs website and I came across all the references to Artemisinin. I’m hoping that I can bother someone to help me understand what, if any, role this could play in Ruby’s treatment, if it should be done in conjunction with amputation and chemo, and how I would go about figuring out the proper dosage, etc.

    I am going to purchase your book tonight and start reading on the iPad, but any guidance would be appreciated.

    Can you please advise? We are looking at amputation in the next 6 days or so.

    Thanks in advance,

    Farzin Firooznia

  9. debra on December 30, 2011 at 7:15 am

    My Golden Pyrenees mix, Luna (just turned 7) was just diagnosed with anaplastic sarcoma, giant cell type, high grade. Her blood tests were good, there was no cancer evident in a lung x-ray and she generally is otherwise in excellent health. I purchased hundreds of dollars of supplements between the time the biopsy was done and now, a week later, when we have the results.(She was originally thought to have OSA, but now has been diagnosed with Malignant Fibrous Histiocytoma). I got an OSA drop mix ( from McDowell, in (Australia)),(now that she has MFH not OSA, is it bad to give her these drops?) as well as their Maritime French Pine Bark drops from the same place air shipped, K-9 Immunity Plus Transfer Factor, Noni drops from Nutrimedix and tons of artemisinin (that I have been taking for my chronic Lyme disease). I also bought a dry mix of blue-green algae, spirulina, millet, etc. but I tried giving that to her mixed into cottage cheese, and she wouldn’t take it–since she is a big dog, I had to give her 2 1/2 tablespoons of the mix and that meant a large volume of cottage cheese–2 cups or so, but after the first try, even my “treat motivated puppy” turned her nose up at this.( I have also bought homeopathic stuff— cell salts, heckla lava, and something else I read about on a blog post, but they haven’t arrived yet).

    I have read that administering artemisinin should be on a cycle or pulse regimen. If so, and if the immune supports that I’ve gotten Luna (the McDowell supplements and the K-9 Immunity) would be contra-indicated when she is on the artemisinin, should I be giving her a week of artemisinin (1,000mg per day–she is 115 pounds), followed by a week of these immune boosters, on and off, or should I limit the artemisinin to just a week or two based on what Jane Rhoades with Pumpkin said? Does artemisinin really work that quickly–especially if there is no other cancer present? What do you think of the homeopathic items? Do they work? Are they contra-indicated when I use the artemisinin–are they contra-indicated with the K-9 Immune plus Transfer factor? Luna is currently on a salmon/chicken low carb diet and takes salmon oil too daily. Anything that you could tell me about the benefits/detriments of alternating immune therapy with artemisinin and dosing/protocols, if the homeopathic items work and when I could fit them in if they are beneficial, would be helpful. Our whole family just so desperately loves Luna and want her to be around for a few more months or even years that I’ll do almost anything–but at the same time, I don’t want to injure her (neuro-toxic effects of long term or high dose artemisinin???), and with the limited info on these supplements (or their interactions with one another) even my vet is stumped..Please help.

    • Dr. Demian Dressler on January 4, 2012 at 5:15 pm

      Dear Debra,
      wow! That’s a lot of questions. First, I am sorry to hear about what is happening with your dog. Here is some info:
      Aretemisinin should be pulsed, 5-7 days on then 5-7 days off.
      No, immune supplements are not contraindicated with artemisinin- this substance does not work by immune suppression.
      https://www.dogcancerblog.com/blog/dog-cancer-and-the-malaria-drug-artemisinin/
      BUT, maritime pine, algae, Noni, etc could interfere via their antioxidant effects.
      One of the challenges you are facing is you have encountered a lot of supplements and have no reference for what has evidence for efficacy, interactions, and side effects. Luckily this has been done already for you in the Guide, which you really should read. Maritime bark: low priority. Same with Noni. Discussed in Guide.
      I can’t find what is in McDowell’s drops, so cannot comment. Maybe he will give you a list, and if so I can do my best.
      Blue green algae has little anti cancer effect.
      You would be better served with neoplasene, curcumin, luteolin, silymarin, beta glucans, etc.
      Please be sure to have veterinary supervision.
      All my best
      Dr D

  10. Joe on October 18, 2011 at 2:34 pm

    wow im so happy i found this site. My doberman was diagnosed with mammary cancer. She is 12 years old and i had the tumors removed alst week. She seems fine and will be going in to have the stiches removed this weel. The vet suggested possible chemo but im concerned with her age.

    I have now discovered this “Artemisinim” and was wondering if it would be effective for mammary cancer. Nothng has spread to her vital organs but the vet mentioned something about possible signs on the lymph nodes, i was so shocked with the news i missed some of the info ( I will learn more this weekend)

    Thank you. Gypsy has been with me for 12 years and i love her dearly.

    Joe

    • Dr. Demian Dressler on October 20, 2011 at 7:58 pm

      Dear Joe,
      artemisin has some interesting anti cancer effects, but we need to define what we mean when we say “effective. First, there is little research in canine mammary cancer and artemisinin (like many natural compounds). Secondly, if you are asking whether artemisin can cure or prevent cancer, I would say the answer is no, not really. However, by using the steps in the Guide, including not only natural compounds like artemisinin, but also diet changes and lifestyle changes, other apoptogens, anti metastatic supplements, and appropriate veterinary care, we can often extend the lifespan of our dogs with cancer. Each tool adds to the next.
      Best
      Dr D

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