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

Immunity and Dog Cancer

Updated: December 14th, 2018

dog cancer immunityCancer is the ultimate foe in veterinary medicine. It has so many ways of surviving and eluding. One of cancer’s clever survival tricks is avoiding destruction by the body.  A dog’s body has many ways of protecting itself.  A biggy is the immune system.

A dog’s immune system is able to tell what is supposed to be in the body, and what is not. The first way it does this is by being able to differentiate between “self” and “non-self”.  This is a basic difference.  Self-cells belong in the dog’s body, and they perform normal functions.  Spleen cells are in the spleen, bone cells in bone, mammary cells in mammary glands, and so on. Non-self cells should not be in the body.  Some of these include viruses, bacteria, damaged cells, fungi, and more.

The situation changes when a tumor, say a hemangiosarcoma, grows in the spleen.  Or an osteosarcoma grows in the bone or a mammary adenocarcinoma in the mammary (breast gland).  Bone, mammary and spleen tumors are some common cancers in dogs. The cells in the cancer are different from normal cells, and the dog’s immune system is supposed to pick them up and destroy them.

Here is the catch: since cancer cells came from body cells, the immune system often misses them.  The dog’s immune system “reads” the outside of cells to tell if they are part of the body or not.  The outside of cancer cells are very similar to normal body cells, and the immune system does not react to them.

This is an area that is quite hot in cancer research.  We can increase the immune system’s activity in a dog’s body.  There are MANY ways to do this, some that don’t cost a cent.  I found lots of publications with very solid data in my research for the book.  I look forward to keeping you in the loop! I’ll go into one in the next post.


Best to all,

Dr. Dressler


Leave a Comment

  1. Dr. Dressler on November 16, 2008 at 12:03 am

    Kat, I have a book coming, also check out the dog cancer coping guide available as a download. You could consider, as a start, the entries in this blog about the omega fatty acids, carbohydrate restriction, curcumin, medicinal mushrooms, melatonin, EGCG and others. Do some research on artemisinin.
    You want to run everything by the oncologist to avoid chemo interference. I have seen dogs who lived way beyond (years) the median survival times following amputation with cancer appropriate diet and these supplements. Don’t forget sleeping in total darkness, building self esteem through gentle training and stimulation, exercise to avoid stress, and social interactions. All of this is part of full spectrum care.
    I wish you the very best during this challenging time

  2. Kat Meyer on November 14, 2008 at 3:41 am

    My Rottweiller(age 5) begins chemo today for osteosarcoma. His front left leg was amputated & his lungs looked clear & no lymph nodes involved. I need to know the best diet during & after, as well as any supplements. Do you have any books to recommend? What is the longest survival time you know of for a dog w/ this kind of diagnosis? Thank you, Kat 214-349-4641

Scroll To Top