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Featuring Demian Dressler, DVM and Sue 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. 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. 🙂

  2. 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.

  3. 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

  4. 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.

  5. 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

  6. 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

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

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

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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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