Five Ways to Help Keep Them Healthy
by Karen Shaw Becker
Veterinarians are seeing cancer in more and younger pets these days than ever before. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, approximately one in four dogs will develop cancer at some point in life, including almost half of dogs over the age of 10. But taking practical steps can help lower a pet’s risk.
Don’t allow a dog or cat to become overweight. Studies show that restricting the number of calories an animal eats prevents and/or delays the progression of tumor development across species. Fewer calories cause the cells of the body to block tumor growth, whereas too many calories can lead to obesity, which is closely linked to increased cancer risk in humans.
There’s a connection between too much glucose, increased insulin sensitivity, inflammation and oxidative stress, all factors in obesity and cancer. It’s important to remember that fat doesn’t just sit in a pet’s body harmlessly—it produces inflammation that can promote tumor development.
Feed an anti-inflammatory diet. Anything that creates or promotes inflammation in the body increases the risk for cancer. Current research suggests cancer is actually a chronic inflammatory disease fueled by carbohydrates. The inflammatory process creates an environment in which abnormal cells proliferate.
Cancer cells require the glucose in carbohydrates to grow and multiply, so work to eliminate this cancer energy source. Carbs to remove from a pet’s diet include processed grains, fruits with fructose and starchy vegetables like potatoes.
Keep in mind that all dry pet food (“fast food”) contains some form of potentially carcinogenic, highly processed starch. It may be grain-free, but it can’t be starch-free because it’s not possible to manufacture kibble without using some type of starch. The correlation between consuming fast foods and cancer has been established in humans, so it’s wise to incorporate as much fresh, unprocessed food into an entire family’s diet as can be afforded.
Cancer cells generally can’t use dietary fats for energy, so high amounts of good-quality fats are nutritionally beneficial for dogs fighting cancer, along with a reduced amount of protein and no carbs—basically a ketogenic diet.
A healthy diet for a pet is one that’s anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer, and consists of real, preferably raw, whole foods. It should include high-quality protein, including muscle meat, organs and bones. It should also include high amounts of animal fat, high levels of EPA and DHA (omega-3 fatty acids) and a few fresh-cut, low-glycemic veggies. This species-appropriate diet is high in moisture content and contains no grains or starches.
Also make sure the diet is balanced following ancestral diet recommendations, which have much more rigorous standards (higher amounts of minerals and vitamins) than the current dietary recommendations for pets. A few beneficial supplements like probiotics, medicinal mushrooms, digestive enzymes and super green foods can also be very beneficial to enhance immune function.
Reduce or eliminate a pet’s exposure to toxins and minimize chronic stress. These include chemical pesticides like flea and tick preventives, lawn chemicals linked to cancer (weed killers, herbicides, etc.), tobacco smoke, flame retardants, household cleaners and air-scenting products like candles and plug-ins. Because we live in a toxic world and avoiding all chemical exposure is nearly impossible, a periodic detoxification protocol can also benefit a pet.
Research points to the benefits of identifying and removing sources of chronic stress in an animal’s life. Focusing on providing environmental enrichment and opportunities for dogs to just be dogs (play, sniff and run) on a daily basis is important in keeping them happy and healthy.
For dogs, especially a large or giant breed, hold off neutering or spaying until the age of 18 months to 2 years. Studies have linked spaying and neutering to increasing cancer rates in dogs. Even better, investigate alternative ways to sterilize a pet without upsetting their important hormone balance.
Refuse unnecessary vaccinations. Vaccine protocols should be tailored to minimize risk and maximize protection, taking into account the breed, background, nutritional status, lifestyle and overall vitality of the pet. Vaccines may cause cancer, and titer testing is a responsible way to ensure a pet has adequate immunity in place of over-vaccinating on an annual basis.
Karen Shaw Becker, DVM, a proactive and integrative veterinarian in the Chicago area, consults internationally and writes Mercola Healthy Pets.