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

Immune System Fuel

Updated: October 18th, 2018

Dogs with cancer, especially widespread cancer, have a lot of different health issues that need special attention.  The cancer has a way of overtaking and affecting many different body systems.  In order for us to beat the odds in any consistent way, we need to tend to each of these different cancer effects.  As readers of this blog know, dogs fighting cancer often need more than surgery, chemo and radiation.

One of the biggest oversights in modern medicine is the role of the immune system in cancer.  Sure, it is researched, but there is almost no practical use of this knowledge in actual clinical medicine.  If a veterinary client were to bring up the fact that systemic cancer almost always creates immune suppression to an average vet, there would be little actionable response.  Us doctors sometimes act like there is no issue if we are not well schooled in it, unfortunately.

So to reiterate a given fact: immune suppression goes along with cancer.  This has been discussed at length in the Guide and elsewhere in this blog.  Some common strategies have been to use beta glucans, AHCC, biobran, astragalus, Berez drops, and other items discussed.  However, I have not gone into good immune system fuel.  For in order for the engine to run, there must be fuel, regardless of whether we go from 4 to 8 cylinders.

White blood cells require an amino acid called L-glutamine to operate on 8 cylinders. Of course, we want turbocharged white blood cells to not only recognize and destroy cancer cells (ideally), but also protect the body from microbes.   This becomes even more important when the body is weakened due to stress, surgery, chemotherapy and radiation.

Some amino acids are essential (without them the body develops nutritional deficiencies), but L-glutamine is now being viewed as “conditionally essential” during times of stress or treatments that create inflammation the body such as surgery or infection…and cancer of course should be on that list.  This means that the body needs it but only when there are certain conditions occurring.

L-glutamine has a whole slew of really beneficial effects for cancer patients.  It boosts the gobbling of microbes by white blood cells.  It causes more of the cells that make antibodies to be made.  It activates LAK  (lymphocyte activated killer) cells, which target abnormal body cells.  Glutamine helps block cancer cachexia, which is the loss of healthy muscle and body condition in ongoing cancer cases. For more information, click here.

As if that were not enough, glutamine helps the lining of the intestine in patients with diarrhea…and also helps with toxicity seen with chemo drugs like doxorubicin and cisplatin.  Glutamine also helps increase healthy, programmed cell suicide of cancer cells, limits tumor growth (there used to be a question about whether glutamine accelerated tumor growth as cancer cells can consume it too…now debunked), and may be beneficial in bone marrow transplant patients.  Cancer patients are frequently deficient in glutamine. Another good abstract is can be found here.

There has been a point raised that glutamine may act as an “excitotoxin”, and if so may injure nerve cells in the brain if used in high doses for long periods of time, especially for patients with pre-existing brain issues.  This point is debated in human literature and is not in canine research at all. However, just to be safe, we use modest doses in Apocaps.  If you have a dog with brain or seizure disorders, discuss this topic with your vet specifically.  You vet will likely say there is little to be concerned about, but it is always prudent to have your vet involved.

So fire up those 8 cylinders and get that puppy rolling!


Dr D






Discover the Full Spectrum Approach to Dog Cancer

Leave a Comment

  1. Debbie W on January 16, 2013 at 11:07 pm

    Hi, Im not sure where to post this but I am desperately trying to find a treatment to ease my dogs symptoms. She is 13 1/2 yrs and has had mast cell cancer diagnosed since she was 2. We have followed a natural diet nearly all her life and for the last 5 plus years she has been on a low carb diet. In her life time she has had 22 lumps removed the majority being mast cell. Surgery now is not an option but recently she has developed a severe non productive cough and sounds asthmatic. My vet has treat her with codiene for 3 days and I told him of another treatment suggested to me by another vet who we have been getting various herbal remedies for a few of my dogs. He has heard sodium cromoglycate has been successful at stabilising histamine release which we are sure is the issue. She has been affected by this in the past but affecting stomach acid to which we have used anti histamine and antacid products, which she is currently on daily. I am hoping someone has some suggestions to eleviate her symptoms as she is otherwise happy and eating well

  2. Amy Chacon on November 1, 2012 at 2:32 pm

    By the way, I love the book….bought it….read it and have implemented many of the things you suggest. My baby girl Missy now has a “den” with black out curtains and taking some of the supplements you suggest and is doing well on them! Looking for more that I can do and came upon Avemar combined with beta glucs. Let em know what you think and thank you so much for everything you do for us and our dogs!

  3. Amy Chacon on November 1, 2012 at 2:24 pm

    Dr. Dressler I would love to get your opinion on Avemar in combo with Beta Glucans. I’m not sure about it so I would love to get your two cents. Thanks!

  4. David on October 12, 2012 at 7:33 am

    We are currently on Dr. Demain’s diet for shoulder cancer in our Golden. She loves the food, but is losing lots of weight. I only feed her cooked hamburger, steamed broccoli and steamed yellow squash. Should I add non low fat cottage cheese? I know the book suggests it, but it has carbs, and cancer loves carbs. I also read in the book where fats have Omega 6’s in them, which are bad. That stops me from adding bacon fat to her food.

    Any thoughts?

    David & Ms. Gracie

  5. Terrie Lavelle on October 3, 2012 at 8:50 pm

    Dear Drs. Dressler and Ettinger,
    We have an eight year old Sharpei mix who was diagnosed with oral Melanoma following removal of a mass located above her right first premolar on August 16, 2012. The initial tumor had a low mitotic index of 4. She had invasion to of the vessel wall,(tumor was on a stalk) so she subsequently underwent wide excision, including removal of the three teeth behind her canine, partial maxilectomy, and partial hard palate removal. –leaving greater than 1 cm tumor-free margins throughout. Unfortunately, the biopsied submandibular node, on the right, was positive for melanoma. CXR and ABD ultrasound have been negative. Bloodwork has been fine. She underwent oral exam under anesthesia last week, which showed no new lesions.
    She was placed on Cimetidine 400 mg b.i.d. and piroxicam 6 mg qd on 9/4/12. She began the University of Wisconsin tumor vaccine on 9/4/12. She has completed the weekly treatment x4 and begins the every other week schedule next week.
    Hope has always been on either a home-made diet (basically the original renal diet of Chicken or beef, rice, hard-boiled eggs, toast and lots of veggies. I am a vegetarian, so all of my dogs love veggies.) and/or Honest Kitchen. I also make them soups (chicken noodle, vegetable) on a regular basis. Hope is lactose intolerant, so she misses out on the cottage cheese that the others get. They also love veggie-burgers.
    I purchased your Cancer Survival Guide around the time of her diagnosis…there was discussion surrounding the use of Appocaps, as she is on the piroxicam for it’s anti-inflammatory properties. Initially, her oncologist felt use of the Appocaps would be fine, until I noted the advise to reduce either the Appocap or NSAID dose, when used concurrently. She is on one Appocap twice a day. She also gets Omega 3 supplements bid, and Everpup multivitamin on her food.
    Hope has tolerated this course well…is eating fine (her weight has remained stable at 50#) looks good — eyes bright, plays a little with the younger dogs, but mostly, she seems genuinely happy and as if she feels well.
    My delima is that my Hope has a bad disease….she looks great and seems to feel well, her labs are fine…..but, the vaccine won’t really “kick-in” for another 4 weeks. I feel as if there has got to be more that I can do. I am considering increasing the Appocaps to the full dose, as she has tolerated this “baby-dose” thus far. Her diet, I think, looks good. She undergoes acupuncture weekly to boost her immune system and treat her generalized arthritic issues.
    Do you have any other suggestions? I feel there just has got to be more that I can do or give her to help her fight this battle of her lifetime. Please let me know if you can think of anything. I will review the Survival Guide again, to see if I missed anything.
    I would like to thank you both for putting together the Dog Cancer Survival Guide. When I learned of Hope’s diagnosis, I was so bewildered, I just did not know where to turn. In reading your book, I was reminded that this isn’t the end of the world and that if there was ever a time that Hope needed me to get it together, this was it. Your book is so very helpful and hopeful. You have provided a true “gift” for those of us trying to survive the probable premature loss of one our best friends. The Survival Guide is not only informative, but also reminds us that our dogs may have cancer, and they may be dying, but they have a lot more living to do and as stewards to their well-being, we (I) must get it together to be there for my little buddy, until her last breath. This time is such a gift, as Hope is showing me that there is an awful lot of living still to do and that she wants to spend it with us.

    Thank you so much.
    Terrie Lavelle & Hope and her canine “brothers” — Winston, Marley & Dudley and Dad

    • Dr. Susan Ettinger on October 9, 2012 at 4:04 pm

      I applaud your positive attitude, I know it is not easy right now. And I thank you for your kind words about the book. It really makes me so happy that the book is informative and helpful.
      As for increasing Apocaps, I caution you from full dose while on piroxicam. Maybe your oncologist feels she does not need the anti-inflammatory now. Best to discuss.
      As for additional therapy, some oncologists will combine conventional chemo with the vaccine or even low dose oral chemo, to target anti-angiogenesis. These are not considered the standard of care, but maybe options to consider.
      Remember it’s hard to make specific recommendations for Hope through a blog. So discuss with your oncologist.
      You can consider other supplements as in the Guide. And keep the positive attitude. Hope is lucky to have you. I know you feel that way about her! =)
      All my best, Dr Sue

  6. Kris Graham on September 14, 2012 at 12:43 am


    Thanks so much for your sweet comments. I hope your dog, Chart, heals from his cancer and lives a long life with you. I am not familiar with Salvestrol. Can you tell me more about it? What is the benefit of L Glutamine for cancer? I did read yesterday that Golden Retrievers and German Shepherds are at high risk for hemangiosarcoma. Also, I believe Great Danes are at risk for it. My Axel is half German Shepherd. I most certainly hope he never gets this cancer.

    Give a big hug and kiss to Chart from me. German Shepherds are loyal dogs and they are smart as all get out. I used to have one many years ago. His name was Max. He had bowel cancer or something and was in a great deal of pain, so he had to be put to sleep. I believe he was about 7 years old, too. I wonder if he had hemangiosarcoma. Back then I didn’t know anything at all about dog cancer. I will tell you that we were having our yard sprayed for weeds by Chemlawn and also our house sprayed with pesticides for roaches. I didn’t know anything about anything back in those days. I was young and pretty ignorant about a whole lot of things.

    I’m also glad there are people in the world like you and others who post on this blog that love their animal companions madly and deeply.

    Big hug for you and Chart. Please keep us posted on his progress.

  7. Peter Long on September 13, 2012 at 9:52 am

    Hi Kris

    I was so very sad to read about your great loss. It is good to read that there are people like yourself out there that feels and gives so much back to our wonderful fury friends. I have been through what you have recently experienced, and know the dreadful pain and feeling of huge loss that consumes one day and night. I can only say that you are not alone out there, and that Maddie was blessed to have you and your husband.
    I am trying to cure my beloved boy right now from Hemangiosarcoma, and we have just reached 3,5 months. I feel about him as you did about Maddie. In fact he has to go for a minor (I hope) surgical proceedure tomorrow, and so i am already anxious.
    I do give him many supplements and follow the cancer diet. He is also on Salvestrol which I believe is a huge winner with all cancer types.
    Hope that Maddie’s memory will give you great comfort, together with the knowledge that she enjoyed a wonderful earthly life with you both.
    Feeling your pain.

  8. Kris Graham on September 13, 2012 at 2:31 am

    By the way, thanks also to Leanne for your comments. Sorry I left you out in the earlier post. 🙂

  9. Kris Graham on September 13, 2012 at 2:28 am

    Thanks for your comments, Jenna and Mary. I have been researching hemangiosarcoma in Staffordshire Terriers, and it seems that this cancer is prevalent in this particular breed. We did not have Maddie on the highest end food, but once I read Dr. D’s blog and advice about cancer, I went out and purchased the Core Wellness formula food and added red cabbage, cottage cheese and Salmon Oil to my dogs’ diet. We were already steaming and chopping up broccoli, carrots and baby sweet peas before Maddie got the cancer, but we left off the sweet peas and carrots after her diagnosis and started steaming cauliflower and boiling brussels sprouts along with the red cabbage. All my dogs love the new diet and chow down. Anyhow, when Maddie started walking away from her food without finishing it, not wanting to take her K9 Immunity Plus wafers and her Apocaps mixed with a little food and when her belly started swelling again, I knew she was in trouble. She was such a brave, sweet girl and never once cried out or complained. She just got very lethargic and couldn’t jump on our bed anymore. This cancer hit her hard and fast.

    I wish I knew definitively what causes this type of cancer. I am not going to vaccinate my other two dogs ever again. Axel, my German Shepherd/Collie mix is 8 1/2 and I don’t know how old Frodo is because my neighbor’s wife kicked him out of the house two years ago in freezing weather, and we rescued him. My vet thinks he’s between 5 and 7 years old. He’s a beagle. I don’t want to destroy their immune systems with any more vaccines. They don’t come into contact with other dogs that much, and they are never kenneled. They also don’t go to the dog park, so I see no reason to vaccinate them anymore.

    I am sticking to the new diet with my two dogs and hoping they live long, healthy lives. I sure miss my Maddie, though. I am waiting for the vet’s office to call me and tell me her ashes are ready to be picked up. In a way I am dreading this, but in another way, I am looking forward to bringing her home again. I loved that dog like she was my own child. I feel the same way about my other two hairy babies. I feel the loss of Maddie profoundly, and there is a huge hole in my heart and in my husband’s heart. Maddie was his shadow and followed him everywhere. She slept between us in the bed and always had to have a part of her body touching Ron’s. She was the sweetest, most loyal and loving dog anyone could ever hope to have. Pit bull breeds get a bad rap. If treated with loving kindness, they are the best dogs in the world. They only want to be loved and love you back.

    Thanks again for your comments. It sure helps me to talk things out with people. I don’t feel so despondent and alone when I can talk to people about how I’m feeling.

  10. Peter Long on September 13, 2012 at 1:18 am

    I too appreciate all that Dr D has written.
    Like Leanne, I too have bought L-Glutamine and need to know in teasons how much and how often to mix this powder in his food. I have a 7 year old German Shepherd of about 39 kilograms who had his spleen removed with a Hemangiosarcoma tumour on 1 June this year. I also have him on Salvestrol which I have huge faith in. He is doing VERY well, and now in his 4th month which i believe is good for Hemangiosarcoma patients ! I love this fellow, and have all the supplements possible as suggested. I cannot obtain Apocaps nor K-9 in South Africa sadly, and Amazon will not post here.
    PLEASE can you advise the dosage of Glutamine for his daily need. Any other important suggestions will also be most appreciated.
    Much apprecaited.
    Kind regards
    Peter and Chart

  11. Nancy on September 12, 2012 at 8:38 pm

    For My Precious Lab JB ~

    I saw a picture of you online; your owners didn’t want you anymore because you shedded on their kitchen floor.
    You were 2 1/2 then and I fell in love…just based on your adoption photo.
    You became an instant family member…so full of love, devotion and loyalty.

    We’ve taken many walks, spent time in the mountains and the beaches. I cherish every second we have with you…and every hair on your beautiful body.

    My baby boy is now 8 ~ diagnosed with intermediate fibroblastic sarcoma.
    I was so terrified when we took you into the vet, and then the surgery.
    Thankfully, you did great…and for now, no chemo/radiation treatments.

    It’s been 5 months now and no new lumps have been found. Your mommy makes all your food now, I can’t help but wonder if I did something wrong or missed something I should have noticed…

    I love you Jack Black…to the sky! You are EVERYTHING.

  12. Melissa on September 12, 2012 at 4:06 pm

    Dr. Dressler, thank you so much for your ApoCaps and the reminder about the immune system. Because of you my little old dog has experienced weight gain and improvement in quality of life and energy. He actually tried to catch a fly the other day, and I have not seen him try to do that in years. It is as if he has regained his interest in the things around him again. I know that we are not talking about a panacea here and that I must face the fact that he is an old dog and will need to go to his earthly rest at some point, but I do believe that ApoCaps along with the cancer diet have improved his time left here, and I am eternally grateful to you and Dr. Ettinger for that! The words “Thank you” cannot express my gratitude enough.

    • Dr. Demian Dressler on September 19, 2012 at 3:47 pm

      Thanks Melissa!
      Great news

  13. Leanne on September 12, 2012 at 11:53 am

    Hi Dr Dressler,
    I purchased some L-glutamine this week and have been giving my 64 lb boxer (lymphoma patient, 9 y.o., 4 weeks into chemo) approx 1 gram twice a day – I’ve found very little dosing information, and also my scales aren’t sensitive enough to accurately weigh such small quantities.

    What dosage would you suggest? Thanks so much for the information.

    And Kris, so sorry you lost your lovely girl 🙁 We had our dogs vaccinated for the first time in 3 years about 6 moths ago, and then along came this cancer …hardly evidence but does make you wonder. Hang in there.

    • Dr. Demian Dressler on September 19, 2012 at 3:53 pm

      Dear Leanne
      please have your vet assist with this. Everything on this site should be done under vet supervision. Most vets have gram scales too that can help with dosing!
      Dr D

  14. Ralph Patuto on September 12, 2012 at 10:15 am

    How can I purchase this immune system fuel L- Glutimine ASAP

  15. Mary Emmons on September 12, 2012 at 10:03 am

    I was just reading your blog to the Dr. and my heart goes out to you. Cancer is ugly and is most terrible in our much loved fur babies, as they can’t speak to tell us where they are hurting or just how miserable they are. It sounds like you tried to do so much to help her and I am sure she felt your love. Don’t feel like your efforts were null. . . you tried and that is all we can do is try our best to help them. I have lost a dog to pancreatic cancer and now I am dealing with mast cell tumors in my AB. I am so sorry for your loss! Supposedly vaccines are now in question and then what about all the treats/bone poisoning from China? We really have to take that in to consideration as well.

  16. Jenna Lee on September 12, 2012 at 8:31 am


    I’m so sorry your girl had to go through that. I lost my sweet Rottweiler, Ruby, on June 3rd and it still seems unreal. Her birthday is this Saturday (September 15th) and she would have been 14 years old. The only comfort I have is knowing that I tried my very best her whole life to keep her as happy and healthy as I could.

    Vaccinations, chemicals (in yards, spot on flea products, household products…), water, diet, immune system, inflammation, genetics, spaying/neutering early… all can play a role in cancer development.

    We can’t control everything, even our best efforts aren’t enough sometimes.

    I read a quote once that said – “ I did the best I could with what I knew how, and when I knew better I did better”. That quote helps me sometimes when I remember about over vaccinating, putting spot on flea products, giving all my dogs crappy dog food, neutering them very young… I didn’t know better then and was told that was what I should do, so I did. I learned from my mistakes and once I knew better, I did better. We can’t change the past though, so don’t ever beat yourself up for listening to another about giving all the vaccinations and everything over the years. Nobody can say for sure if she would have gotten this type of cancer anyway, even if she wasn’t vaccinated. I know of a Boxer right now that wasn’t vaccinated at all (maybe as a puppy only), ate a more expensive kibble and raw food most of her life and is only 8 years old and was just diagnosed with Lymphoma.

    I can see you cared for her very much and I was very angry and heartbroken too, I still am heartbroken. I’m sure your girl had a better life with you than most dogs ever get in there 15+ years on this earth. Someone asked me when I lost Ruby, “Would it have been better if she was never in your life?“ Of course not… even with the horrible end I wouldn’t have traded our life together for anything.

  17. Kris Graham on September 12, 2012 at 1:48 am

    We had to have our 7 year old Staffordshire Terrier put to sleep yesterday because she had another major bleed internally due to the hemangiosarcoma she contracted back in July. She had already had her spleen removed along with a grapefruit size tumor. I had her on Apocaps as well as K9 Immunity Plus. I had also changed her diet to a grain free one and had already been giving her cruciferous vegetables. I added berries to her diet as well as cottage cheese on your advice, Dr. D. Nothing helped, obviously. I am so sad and sick at heart this morning. I miss my girl horribly.

    I’m now wondering if all the vaccines she received over the years had anything to do with her contracting cancer. There seems to be some speculation on the role of vaccines destroying the immune system. I believe too many vaccines are given in dogs and humans. There is also some speculation that diet plays a role in dogs contracting cancer, which makes sense because we already know diet plays a role in human beings contracting cancer.

    Anyway, I’m sad and angry that my dog had to die at the relatively young age of 7. She was a sweet, innocent, loving being and didn’t deserve cancer. It would seem that all my efforts to save her were for naught. Cancer is an insidious foe and is very hard to beat.

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