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

Using the Full Spectrum Approach: Alternative and Complementary Therapies for Dogs with Cancer

Updated: October 10th, 2018

Complementary therapies can help relax and calm dogs with cancer. And that's always a good -- no, GREAT -- thing.

Complementary therapies can help relax and calm dogs with cancer. And that’s always a good — no, GREAT — thing.

When my dog was first diagnosed with cancer I spent time every day looking for help for him.  It’s what we do.  My vet was wonderful, and together we worked out a great conventional treatment plan.  But I wanted more. I wanted everything that had any chance of helping.

Sound familiar?

In addition to terrific nutrition, Dr. Dressler supports Full Spectrum Care and mentions many alternative therapies in The Dog Cancer Survival Guide. Basically, whatever it takes to help your dog feel better, as long as he is not overwhelmed or overdosed, is what we want.  But there is a lot of choice in strategies beyond conventional care.

Dr. Dressler refers to these as alternative, rather reluctantly, because that’s what we seem to use in common language. Personally, I use the term “complementary” therapies because they complement, or work alongside allopathic care. But whether you want to use ‘alternative’ or ‘complementary’ the point is you may want to seek other options that enhance your dog’s journey.

So Many to Choose From

If you want an alternative therapy for your pet, always find a fully qualified, reputable therapist, who is trained in treating animals.  Let your vet know you want to add a particular therapy. You want to make sure there is nothing that would conflict with your vet’s treatment plan. More and more veterinary practices are either devoted to, or incorporate complementary therapies. Even if you’re completely happy with your own vet, you can coordinate with another vet practice to provide the therapies you desire, all in conjunction with your own vet’s treatment plan.

Please remember that natural therapies can be very powerful.  Here is a list of some of the most popular and widely available therapies I have found.

  • Crystal Therapy uses natural crystals such as amethyst and quartz to help balance energy in the body.  Like many substances in nature, crystals have individual properties and the effects can be both subtle and powerful. Crystals should never be placed on a dog in a manner that takes away choice. For instance, some people believe that putting a crystal on a collar or in his bed has a healing effect. However, constant exposure can be overwhelming, especially to a dog with a compromised immune system.
  • Magnet Therapy uses the polarity of magnets to move energy in the body.  Magnet therapy is very powerful; think of magnets like batteries and then decide whether you would want to wear several around your neck.  Like crystals, magnets should never, ever be placed on a dog or in a dog’s bed that prevents their choice to not be near them. I mention this therapy because it’s been helpful to dog lovers I know, but please note: Practitioners actually do not recommend magnet therapy for dogs with cancer, as the polarities can have an undesired effect on cancer cells and possibly even encourage them. Keep this one for your healthy dogs.
  • Acupuncture is an ancient therapy from Asia, which uses very fine needles inserted in key points of the body.  The points occur along meridians, which are lines of energy flowing through all the major organs to release “chi” or “qi” energy.  It is believed that illness can cause blocks in these energy lines preventing healthy flow, and that by clearing this energy, balance can be regained.  An acupuncture therapist may recommend a single treatment or course of treatments for your dog.  Many people believe that being stuck with a needle is something no dog in his right mind would tolerate, but it is actually very subtle and most animals don’t object at all and will find it very relaxing.
  • Massage and Touch therapy, including Tellington Touch (TTouch) for animals, is different from human massage.  With human massage the therapist will usually work to release tension deep within the muscles.  Dogs don’t hold the same type of muscular tension that we do, and dog massage has more to do with releasing subtle tensions.  You can find simple stroking techniques online or from other references which are wonderful to share with your own dog, but for a full treatment, find that qualified animal massage therapist.
  • Reiki Healing, Energy Healing and Spiritual Healing all refer to therapies in which the therapist channels or directs ‘universal energy’ to bring equilibrium, balance and relaxation to the person or animal.  Despite the word ‘spiritual’ there is no religion or deity association with this therapy.  Essentially the laying on of hands, it can be deeply relaxing, and relaxation allows the release of tension and encourages healing.
  • Prayer and Love, again, are positive energies. There are even studies that show the benefit to a patient from receiving prayer, loving energy and other forms of ‘invisible’ energy. Your own loving time and the combined prayers of your family and friends can have a wonderful effect on your dog, and you.
  • Homeopathy is the administration of minute quantities of natural medicines that, in much greater concentration, actually cause symptoms similar to those being treated. The concept is described as “like treating like”. It is a holistic approach to healing and practitioners may train specifically to help animals as well as humans.  The substances are taken orally either in liquid, or small tablet form.
  • Flower Essence therapy includes well-known brands including Bach, Australian Bush, and many others. Flower essence therapy uses the energetic properties of natural plants infused in liquid to assist the emotional aspects of people and animals.  They are taken orally and can often be put into your dog’s water bowl. If this is the case however, it is important to have a second, plain bowl of water on hand.  If your dog does not want the water with the flower essence included, he may not be drinking when he wants to.  Self-selection and choice are very important to our pet’s health. Most flower essences can be used by the lay person with easy association instructions, but as in most things a therapist fully trained in their use can often advise the best or most effective combination.
  • TCM is Traditional Chinese Medicine, and incorporates the healing properties of natural herbs. Again, it is vital to find a vet or therapist fully qualified in the use of chinese herbs and to make sure that there is no contraindication with their use and the allopathic care your dog is already receiving.
  • Chiropractic and Osteopathic therapies involve the physical manipulation of the skeleton and connecting ligaments to realign or re-balance the body.  Often this may also provide tension relief and allow the rest of the body to operate more comfortably.
  • Visceral Manipulation or Soft Tissue Manipulation is a very subtle technique, which focuses on the release of tension within the organs, again providing relaxation and stress release. This must be done with a qualified practitioner.

There are many other techniques and therapies from which to choose. If you find one that feels right to you for your pet, learn a bit about it and find a good therapist who is qualified in treating animals.  Ask the therapist what to expect during and after treatment, and make sure you give them your dog’s medical history and any medication he is on and that you coordinate with your vet about the planned treatment.  Complementary therapies can be very effective and powerful, and sharing a healing session with your dog can be incredibly relaxing for you as well.

Happy tails!

Leave a Comment

  1. Suzie hardesty on July 11, 2020 at 8:32 pm

    What do you think of magnetic therapy for a 10 month old with a tumor actually attached to his spine ? I am very skeptical

  2. Ann Boulware on July 10, 2020 at 12:17 pm

    My Boy, has cancer of the bladder. The University of Florida small animal hospital has him on Piroxicam 2.5 mg cap, ever other day. His holistic vet has him on concentrated Wei Qi Booster, and concentrated Max’s Formula. His liver showed there was a problem, so U.F. wanted him to have Piroxicam every day. He is also on urinary care,and I also cook a lot of vegetables for him, is there more I can do for him . he is 13. 2007 born. sincerly Ann Boulware.

  3. Andy Watts on April 3, 2019 at 7:32 am

    Hi Susan my name is Andy, I was wondering if you could help my dog beau she has a growth on her intestines, now she hardly eats she has so much weight, I, m at my wits end because I know if nothing is done soon, it will be the end of her, please can you help. X

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