"Your Pet has Cancer" How food can help.
These are words that no veterinarian wants to say, and no pet parent wants to hear. First let me start off by saying, I am so very sorry that your pet has cancer. I've been on both sides of that conversation. I have had to break bad news to my clients, and I've had the same bad news broken to me. It is a heartbreaking, stressful and emotional time. Yet, it is a time that decisions have to be made for your pet and for you.
I would encourage you, that once you can think clearly after the shock and dismay of finding out that your pet has cancer, educate yourself, as much as you can, on your pet's particular kind of cancer. Unfortunately, there are cases where time is not an option. But if it is. Take that time to get informed. There are quite a few cancers that can be cured. There are some that can be put into remission. There are some cancers where all we can do is make your pet as comfortable as possible. Then, last, there are some cancers where your pet is suffering so badly, that it would be inhumane to let them continue to suffer. Please beware of "Dr. Google". There is some good information on the internet. But there is also some bad information on the internet, and it is very difficult to tell the difference.
It takes time, but you will learn what information is accurate and what information should be viewed skeptically. Learn. Read. Research. My recommendation is to start at veterinarypartner.com. This website is affiliated with a large well known informational website that is run and used by veterinarians for consultation and education. The information you will find there is very accurate and up to date. My second recommendation, is that if you want a second opinion, seek out a veterinary specialist, not just another general veterinary practitioner. There are Board Certified Veterinary Internists and Oncologist all over the country in private practice and in veterinary schools, who are educated, respected and will typically give you the best and most up to date diagnostic and treatment options. Most of them, I have found, are very realistic in their prognosis for your pet. Vetspecialists.com is a website with a ton of information about what a veterinary specialist is and where to find them.
Why do this? Your veterinarian will be a valuable resource for information and a good advocate for your pet. He or She will give you information about your pet's condition and options for further diagnostics and treatment. But we are human. We don't know everything. And we can struggle with communicating effectively sometimes. It is so much easier to discuss options when the person we are talking to has a basic foundation to begin with. Also, personally, I have learned a lot by listening to and looking into information gathered by my clients. And I've helped them sort the good from the bad. Ultimately, though, you and only YOU will have the ability to know what your pet AND YOU can withstand in the coming weeks, months, even years. You will, unfortunately, have to make some decisions for them and for yourselves. The more information you have; the more realistic you are about your pet's condition, and the prognosis; the better off both of you will be in the long run.
So, why am I writing about all this in a dog food blog? Because, if you still have some time with your pet, if your pet is going through surgery, or radiation, or chemotherapy, your dog's nutrition will be a key element in helping them feel better. Even those pets that are only being kept as happy and as comfortable as possible, will need to eat. And, quite simply, food can help life be better. Food can help treatments be more effective. Food can help slow down progression of disease. Food gives energy, and, yes, food can give joy. When a pet has cancer they need all the energy and joy they can get. But please note, food will not cure cancer. Food will not prevent cancer. It is, however, a powerful tool in helping fight it, helping live with it. If your pet is cured of cancer (for example, some tumors can be surgically removed and no more treatments will be necessary), I still recommend a homemade diet. But I don't think a specific cancer diet is necessary for them. This cancer diet is for pets who are going through treatments for cancer, those who are in remission with cancer, and those who's cancer can not be treated effectively western medicine and therapies, and only palliative care is being done.
My first piece of advise is to get your dog off all commercial (both prescription and over the counter) dog food (I'll discuss cats later). This goes against most of what veterinarians are traditionally taught. You will not find a whole lot of veterinarian who will support this statement. Personally, I think that they are wrong. I think processed diets can be harmful to your pet overall, and can definitely work against your pet fighting a serious illness like cancer. I am not a trailblazer by any means. There are vets out there that have years of experience feeding more wholesome diets, and who have seen some pretty amazing results doing it. We are just few and far between. (I am talking about actual veterinarians here, not people who call themselves veterinary nutritional experts, without the education or certification to back up their claim) Most veterinarians (and even human medical doctors) have, for a while now, advocated a high protein, low carbohydrate diet for cancer patients. It's not a new theory. But only in Traditional Chinese Medicine do they use this same theory PLUS the healing effect of certain foods to actually fight cancer. So, I recommend cooking for your pet . No more dog treats (there are some freeze dried liver treats out there that are OK, as long as they are pure, with no preservatives or additives), no more bags or cans of food.
One of my primary rules when feeding a pet with cancer is AVOID ALL SIMPLE CARBOHYDRATES, and limit complex carbohydrates. Find a protein they like, and find vegetables they like, and get them enjoying food. It may take some trial and error to find what they like. My dog, for example HATES mushrooms and carrots. But loves yellow bell peppers and spinach... She prefers turkey over pork. She's not a fan of fish, or tomatoes, but thinks chicken liver is the bomb. Food preferences are not just for people....
My second rule is GET THEM EATING. All these good-for-cancer-food recommendations are great but will not help at all, if your dog wont eat them. And you should never force a dog or a cat to eat (especially not a cat, you may end up losing either a limb, or several pints of blood in the attempt). If they wont eat something? Keep trying different foods. I had one cancer patient that we tried to feed everything. She refused all proteins, all vegetables, and all complex carbohydrates. All we could get her to eat was the occasional can of cat food (she was a dog, BTW) and SpaghettiOs. This was in no way the ideal diet for her. But she loved her SpaghettiOs and lived for a full year past her parent's decision not to treat her cancer, and just try and keep her comfortable. (She also refused herbs, and the only thing I could treated her with was acupuncture and the occasional herb, if I could slip it in her food after an acupuncture session) She was more the exception than the rule. In my experience, dogs who eat a home cooked diet for their cancer tend to do better than those that dont.
I am posting on my website, under the about our clinic: recipe tab, a handout that discusses what types of foods to choose for your dog with cancer. I will typically do a mix of 60% protein and 40% vegetables. If I add a complex carbohydrate like sweet potatoes or beans to get in extra calories and help them with more energy, I will reduce my vegetables, not my protein. I will also include on my website a balanced Cancer Stew recipe (for those of you who don't want to wing it), as well as a recipe for dogs with upset stomachs. These handouts are a starting point. You can tailor the diet to your own pet and their likes and dislikes. I have listed foods that are anticancer, antioxidants, give energy and provide as much of a dietary chance to help your pet's cancer as possible. The Beef and Mushroom recipe I posted is balanced according to AAFCO standards. If you vary it, and you may have to, it will not be balanced. BUT, my opinion is to not worry so much about balancing if your pet is a dog. If your pet makes it to the 6-9 month mark and is either in remission, or living well with their cancer, you might want to then consider balancing the diet with multivitamins and calcium supplementation.
In the last two plus years, I have treated multiple cases of dogs with cancer, including my own. All of the dogs I've treated were not candidates for western therapies including surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation. Please note: Traditional Chinese Medicine also works very well in ADDITION to western therapies. You don't have to choose one OVER the other. You can choose a combination of both. My cases were, for whatever reason, simply not candidates for western therapies. I encourage you to use any tool you have available to help you and your pet fight this. But if there are no western therapies left, Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine can be a sole therapy. Before I became educated in Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine, I would have given all of my patients only days to maybe 2 weeks to live. And not a happy, wagging, eating few days to 2 weeks.... Most of the cases I treated with TCVM (a combination of herbal therapy, acupuncture and cancer diet) have really done well. They were eating, happy, and back to themselves within a week of starting TCVM therapy. (with the exception of Lizzie, my SpaghettiO patient, who was back to her ornery self, but just not eating what I wanted her to or taking the herbs I wanted her to take).
Kima had large tumors in her lungs. She was coughing and lethargic, although still eating ok. She stopped coughing within a few days, she loved her Cancer stew and responded well to her herbs, and happily lived another 3 months. Lizzie had a malignant mass in her liver, and lived another year (just eating SpagettiOs no less). Bailey had a large bleeding mass invading the roof of her mouth and nasal cavity and lived (Again, happily lived.... not just hanging in there) for another 6 months. Gus had a bleeding tumor in his spleen. Gus is 17 months post diagnosis and still going strong. Carbo also had a bleeding tumor on his spleen, he lived happily another 6 months. Knuckler was showing symptoms of a brain tumor (although we never did the MRI to prove it), he went back to fighting crime on his family farm for another 7 months. Most of the pictures posted are of these dogs post TCVM therapy. They had limited time, true. But the time they did have was happy and special. None of them were expected to make it past a couple of weeks. Most got another 6 months.
The Chinese say all living beings have Jing. Jing can not be translated easily into English. It is like saying we have "essence" or life force. I like to picture Jing as my life candle. My life candle will burn as long as there is Jing or wax left. I don't know about you, but I don't want to end my life with a sputtering, sad looking flame in a puddle of unused Jing. I want my candle to burn bright until there is not a drop more wax or Jing left to burn.
Food Therapy, Herbal Therapy, and Acupuncture, can strengthen the wick in a life candle and, thereby, help your pet's life candle burn bright. The most amazing thing I have discovered practicing Traditional Chinese Medicine, is that when the pets still have Jing left, I can usually work with them and their parents to get that candle burning bright again. And when the Jing is all gone, and the wick has nothing left to burn, it is usually obvious that the time has come to let them go. There is no stuttering and sputtering of the flame in the meantime. The flame burns bright until it cant. In dogs treated with Traditional Chinese Medicine, there doesn't seem to be any lingering questions about "is it time". The pets I can get back to normal will stay happy, bright and fairly energetic until it is time. Sadly, I can not necessarily predict which pet has some Jing left and which don't. There are some that simply have no Jing left to respond with, as was the case with my own sweet Domino, and a beautiful soul named Midnight. RIP Domino and Midnight. I miss you both with all my heart.
Dog parents... you can skip the next three paragraphs.... Cat parents, read on....
Last, a not so short message for cat parents (Ahem... I really mean cat servants...) Cats are special, ornery, picky, demanding creatures that we spend our lives catering to. On a good day, feeding a cat is a lot like feeding a two year old child. In a word... Frustrating. Feeding a cat with a decreased appetite because of illness is like trying to feed a very cranky, very willful, temper-tantrum-throwing toddler who refuses all food other than McDonald's chicken nuggets. And, then, the nugget better be the perfect shape, size and consistency or watch out.... (any other mom's out there had a child throw a knock-down, drag-out fit because their cookie had a crack in it??? Yep, me too.) Yes, cats can be THAT irrational, THAT unpredictable, and, even, THAT gleefully spiteful.
Sometimes, with cats, you just cant do what's best. And that is OK. Metaphorically speaking, sometimes it's OK to give up, give in and just buy several 10 piece McNugget combos looking for that perfect nugget because that is the only thing your child will eat (ask me how I know...). Because.... Ultimately, its more important to just get your cat to eat, than getting them to eat what is good for them. (just like toddlers....) So, try to feed cats clams, clam juice, greek yogurt, liver, goat's milk, sardines, tuna, whitefish.... Try them out on many different proteins. Don't fret if they wont touch it. Just try. Oh, and leave the veggies for the dogs. While mushrooms are a great anticancer food, your cat will not (so. very. NOT.) appreciate it's value. (And, face it, all us cat servants live in fear that our cats will secretly join a feline led movement to rid the world of all humans....Let's not give them any more ammunition against us.) (Oh, and if your cat does eat mushrooms, send a picture... That is something I really want to see...)
So, what DO you feed cats? Cats, also, need a high protein (50%-60%), low carb (<15%) diet. (In my opinion, all cats should be on a high protein, low carb diet their entire lives anyway) BUT cats have specific vitamin and mineral needs that are very difficult to meet with a home made diet. Try and get them to eat, and do try anything.... but once they are eating, you will need to get their diet balanced. It is best, if you want to continue to cook for your cat, that you work with a veterinary nutritionist to balance their diet. That takes a LOT of work, and a LOT of time (and not a small amount of money)... I've seen it done, and I greatly admire those people who can do it... I admire them from afar, though, as I, a single mother of 2, and a small business owner, just don't have the time or energy for it (nor the money. A rich veterinarian is an oxymoron). As an alternative, it may be best to use a commercial high protein, low carb diet and give them other natural foods as you can. Innova EVO kitten, and Wellness CORE kitten are the ONLY dry cat foods on the market that are over 50% protein and under 15% carbs (and, yes, I do mean the kitten food.... for cats... I fed both to my cats for years...). There are quite a few canned cat foods that have 50-60% protein and <15% carbs, so look for foods that meets that criteria and see if they will eat it. But if they are anything like Lizzie (yes, I know Lizzie was a dog.... But based on her temperament and attitude, I highly suspect that she may have been a cat in a former life....) and her SpaghetiOs? You may have to look for alternate ways to help them beyond food.
I want to apologize not keeping up with my posts for the last few months. It's been one of those times that my to do list is way too long, and there just aren't enough hours in the day. Plus, my computer crashed and I lost a bunch of files... Ugh. Apparently, I needed a back up for my backups... I am hopeful that once I take my daughter to college next week (I'm still trying to figure out just how we are going to fit a dining room full of stuff in one half of a teeny tiny dorm room...) I should be able to get back on schedule and start writing again. For those of you who were expecting a post about feeding your Fire dog? It's coming... Soon.