Just like humans, dogs can get cancer. It's a serious and expensive illness, and it can be devastating to watch your best friend deteriorate over weeks or months. But there are things you can do to reduce your dog's chances of cancer and increase the likelihood they'll survive it.
Avoid unnecessary vaccinations
According to the Journal of Veterinary Medicine (August 2003), some vaccines can cause cancer in dogs at the injection site. And a Purdue University study showed that the additives in some vaccines (serums and proteins) can cause autoimmunity problems, which can include cancer and organ failure. Only get your dog vaccinated if a) the vaccine is required by law, b) the vaccine is required to prevent more serious or immediate threats, or c) you've researched the vaccine carefully and weighed the pros and cons with your vet.
At the very least, with your vet's permission, avoid vaccinations after your pet has been diagnosed. A vaccination actually suppresses the immune system, which could counteract immune-boosting drugs used to treat the cancer. You can also ask your vet about a homeopathic treatment called Thuja Occidentalis 30C, which may reverse the immune-suppressing effects of some vaccines.
Spay or neuter at the right time
As we all learned when Angelina Jolie had her controversial preventive mastectomy, it's possible to prevent certain types of cancer by removing the sites where they'd lurk. Some types of cancers can be prevented completely by spaying or neutering. But be careful about doing it too early. According to Laura J. Sanborn, M.S., of Rutgers University, some types of cancers, like bone cancer, actually increase if the neutering is done before the dog is a year old. Talk to your vet about your breed's risks.
A 2004 study by Purdue University showed that dogs exposed to certain synthetic chemicals used in lawn treatment were significantly more likely to develop transitional cell carcinoma. As if the green movement weren't enough reason to stick to organics, using them may also benefit your fur baby. The same goes for flea and tick treatments. If you can't pronounce the ingredients, research them before you put them on your pet.
Cut down on indoor pollution
This should go without saying, but don't smoke around your dog. They can suffer from the effects of secondhand smoke just as humans do.
As with humans, regular exercise and a proper diet are key to preventing a multitude of ailments, including cancer. Stick with reputable brands for your foods and treats to be sure they are made with human-grade, all-natural ingredients. These foods don't contain unnecessary chemicals. Take your dog for regular walks or make sure she participates in fun activities, like agility activities or playing Frisbee.
The negative emotions associated with stress can overwork the liver, which, according to Dr. Cheryl Schwartz, is dangerous because the chemicals created can stagnate and create tumors. While the link between stress and cancer is controversial, do you really want your pooch stressed anyway?
Keep in mind that stress can't be measured by the type of event. Just because you're stressed out when a large dog gets aggressive with your Jack Russell doesn't mean she took it that hard. Similarly, a sudden change in your dog's routine can cause stress, even if it's a positive event like going to a fun new dog park.
The key is avoiding stress over time, not stressors altogether. If your dog is stressed for a few minutes, that's normal. But symptoms like loss of appetite, excessive barking or any odd behavior that can't be explained may be a red flag that it's time to protect your pup from excess stress.
More on dog cancer
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Cancer in pets: The warning signs
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