5 Ways to Help Prevent Cancer in Dogs & Cats

Cancer is one of the most common and dreaded diseases affecting dogs and cats. Discover five ways to help lower your own companion’s cancer risk by addressing his nutrition, weight, toxin exposure, and more.

Cancer is increasingly common in our dogs and cats. For some people, the fear of a cancer diagnosis in their beloved companions can be crippling, even if their dogs and cats are currently healthy. While some cancers may not be preventable, there are many steps you can take to improve your animal’s overall health and quality of life, while potentially decreasing their risk of cancer — from nutrition to weight control to a toxin-free lifestyle.

1. MAKE NUTRITION A TOP CONSIDERATION

To decrease the risk of cancer in humans, the American Cancer Society recommends consuming a variety of fruits, vegetables, legumes and grains, while minimizing processed meat, refined foods, and sugary beverages. This diet increases the consumption of fiber, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and other nutrients shown to lower the risk of certain cancers in humans. Here are a few ways these recommendations can be adapted for dogs and cats:

Dogs

  • Whenever possible, feed your dog a less processed diet. Raw or cooked diets are preferable, but may not be economical or work for your dog’s body. It is fine and safe to feed a mixture of high quality foods (raw, cooked, kibble, etc.) each day. It’s important to note that at least 90% of your dog’s calories should come from nutritionally balanced formulas.
  • Avoid giving your dog processed meats such as hot dogs, lunch meat and bacon.
  • Use fresh fruits and vegetables as treats, and as an addition to a balanced diet. Avoid grapes, raisins, and onions, and use garlic very sparingly. Focus on superfoods that are rich in nutrients, such as berries and leafy greens.
  • While people may benefit from legumes in their diet, dogs may not. More research is needed to understand how much of a dog’s daily diet should be composed of legumes.

Cats

  • Cats are obligate carnivores, which means they need meat to get all their required nutrients. They do not require as much fiber from fruits and vegetables, and tend to be less attracted to these foods. However, kittens can be introduced to more fruits and vegetables to provide a wider variety of healthy foods. Homegrown cat grass can be beneficial for some cats, but there’s no evidence that this fiber source decreases a cat’s cancer risk. Remember to avoid grapes, raisins, and onions.
  • Ideally, your cat should eat a high protein, moisture rich diet that’s low in carbohydrates. For this reason, most kibble is not recommended. Commercial dry foods are naturally high in carbohydrates and low in moisture, even if grain free. Raw or canned diets more closely mimic the nutrient makeup of small prey animals like mice and rabbits.
  • As with dogs, it’s best to avoid bacon and other processed meats.

2. CONTROL YOUR COMPANION’S WEIGHT

Obesity increases the risk of many diseases in humans, including several types of cancer. We know obesity also increases the risk of certain diseases in cats and dogs, but don’t yet have a clear understanding about its link to cancer. Nevertheless, it is reasonable to keep your animal lean. Talk with your veterinarian about your dog or cat’s current body condition, and if there is a need for a weight loss plan. Meanwhile, the following tips can help dogs and cats maintain a healthy body condition:

Dogs

  • Create a daily routine that includes physical activity. Adding in a few daily walks can go a long way in keeping your dog lean and well-muscled. It’s also a great way to improve her mental •
  • Keep track of the treats your pup consumes throughout the day. This is the most common means by which dogs consume too many calories.
  • Add fruits and vegetables to your dog’s diet to help her feel fuller between meals.

Cats

  • Replacing low-end kibble with a canned or commercially prepared raw food diet may be the only thing you need to do for your cat to lose weight.
  • Feed your kitty four to five small meals throughout the day to keep her satiated.
  • Play with your cat for a few minutes before meals to help burn calories and relieve stress. This also completes the prey cycle, allowing your cat to mimic the hunting process.

USE VACCINES JUDICIOUSLY

Dogs

There is no proven link between vaccination and increased cancer risk in dogs. Used judiciously — which means avoiding overvaccination or unnecessary vaccines, based on lifestyle, risk factors, health status, etc. — most vaccines are reasonably safe and are important for preventing serious infectious disease.

Vaccine technology is currently being used to treat cancer through the creation of individual vaccines against malignant cells. These vaccines have shown great promise. A vaccine trial involving 900 dogs is currently underway to investigate the possibility of cancer prevention in canines.

Cats

In cats, vaccines can sometimes cause what is known as a feline injection site sarcoma (FISS). While rare, this cancer can be very aggressive. As a result, the current recommendation is to vaccinate cats as low on the leg as possible. This ensures that in the event a sarcoma were to develop, the leg could be amputated and surgery would be curative.

While vaccines remain an important part of fatal disease prevention in cats, it is again recommended to create a vaccine protocol based on your kitty’s lifestyle, risk factors, and current health. Using vaccine technology with an adjuvant may decrease the risk of a vaccine-related sarcoma.

4. MINIMIZE ENVIRONMENTAL TOXINS

  • Exposure to environmental chemicals has been linked to cancer in both humans and animals. Carcinogenic chemicals are found in our homes, lawn care products, drinking water and air. Here are some easy ways to lower your dog or cat’s exposure.
  • Avoid lawn chemicals for weed control. When possible, use less toxic or manual alternatives.
  • Replace household cleaning chemicals with simple ingredients. Most homes can be cleaned with soap, vinegar, and water. These safer cleaning products are available in most big box stores.
  • Use filtered water. Your municipality should provide a yearly report on your water quality, so you can select a filtration system most appropriate for your area. Before purchasing a filter, research which contaminants it removes from the water.
  • Install air filters. A whole house air filter, or HEPA style air filters in each room, can drastically improve air quality.

5. DETECT CANCER EARLY

The earlier cancer is detected, the more treatable it may be. In some cases, early detection may result in complete removal and cure. If your dog or cat develops a new mass or lump, have it checked right away. Your veterinarian can help determine if the mass is benign or requires further evaluation. In the latter case, a small needle is used to pull out cells from the mass for examination under the microscope.

SOME BREEDS ARE MORE PRONE TO CANCER THAN OTHERS

Certain dog and cat breeds are at higher risk for cancer than others. Golden Retrievers, Rottweilers, and Bernese Mountain Dogs are among the canine breeds more susceptible to cancer, while Persians, Siamese and Bengals are a few of the cat breeds with higher cancer rates.

If you have one of these breeds, or mix of breeds, talk to your veterinarian about a preventative plan that includes regular diagnostics, such as abdominal ultrasounds, radiographs, and blood tests, to detect cancer before symptoms occur

Cancer isn’t 100% preventable, but taking the five measures outlined in this article will help lower your dog or cat’s risk while also enhancing her overall health and quality of life.


Veterinarian Dr. Angie Krause graduated from Texas A&M University, College of Veterinary Medicine in 2007. She incorporates many modalities into her practice, including acupuncture and herbal formulas as well as laser therapy, myofascial release, physical therapy, nutrition and more. Dr. Angie’s goal is to use the body’s innate healing ability to improve the health and longevity of dogs and cats. She has a house call practice called Boulder Holistic Vet (BoulderHolisticVet.com).

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