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From Speaking for Spot
It’s estimated that 80 percent of people with cancer take herbs and/or supplements as part of their treatment regimen. This trend has extended to animals- more and more people are administering these products to pets diagnosed with cancer. More commonly used supplements and herbs are described below. Further studies on most if not all of them are warranted to know how best to incorporate them as part of a cancer-fighting regimen for for dogs and cats.
Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acids have multiple proven anti-inflammatory properties. There is evidence in human patients that they help reduce “cancer cachexia,” the profound weight loss associated with certain types of malignancies. They may also reduce radiation therapy side effects and infections following cancer surgery. Lastly, some studies suggest that omega-3 fatty acids may have a direct impact on cancer cells that diminish their ability to proliferate.
While omega-3 fatty acids are used extensively in veterinary medicine, there is only limited research pertaining to their use. In a study of canine lymphoma, some but not all dogs receiving a fatty acid supplement had improved treatment outcomes.
In another study performed on dogs undergoing radiation therapy for nasal cancer, those receiving omega-3 fatty acids experienced lower levels of inflammation compared to the placebo group.
The optimal fatty acid dose for dogs and cats with cancer isn’t known. The good news is that omega-3 fatty acids tend to be quite safe, even at higher dosages.
A primary ingredient within the herbal mixture Yunnan baiyao is panax notoginseng, a substance believed to reduce bleeding tendencies. For this reason, it may be recommended for dogs with cancerous processes with a propensity for bleeding such as nasal tumors, bladder cancer, and hemangiosarcoma.
Although this herbal treatment is commonly prescribed, there is limited and conflicting published research about its use. One study found that Yunnan baiyao may directly kill hemangiosarcoma cells. Other research found no benefit in blood clotting in response to this product. There has been no evidence that Yunnan baiyao is harmful.
Curcumin is the primary component within the commonly used cooking spice, turmeric. A number of studies have demonstrated its ability to inhibit the growth of cancer cells. Unfortunately, most over-the-counter turmeric products are poorly absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract. Efforts are currently underway to develop an injectable form of curcumin. A delivery method referred to as “liposome encapsulation” shows promise for allowing curcumin to achieve high concentrations within body tissues.
The active product within I’m-Yunity is the mushroom, Coriolus versicolor. Also known as the turkey tail mushroom or cloud mushroom, this herb may inhibit cancer cell growth. Studies on people with cancer indicate that it can enhance survival times when combined with other treatment methods.
A study of dogs with hemangiosarcoma, demonstrated that I’m-Yunity is well tolerated. Dogs receiving the highest study dosage experienced a longer duration of time before cancer progression, however, actual survival times within the treatment groups did not significantly differ.
Valproic acid is a fatty acid that has been studied in the past for its anti-seizure properties. It also has an effect on DNA that may render it more susceptible to chemotherapy drugs. It has been shown to enhance the impact of doxorubicin (a chemotherapy drug) on canine osteosarcoma cells grown in the laboratory.
While herbs and supplements are available without a prescription, it is imperative to have conversation with your veterinarian before giving them to your dog or cat. While some of these products are like chicken soup (“It couldn’t hoyt….”), others are unsafe or counterproductive. For example, garlic, vitamins E, A or C, grape seed extract, red clover and the ginsengs all have antioxidant properties that can interfere with the effects of radiation or chemotherapy.
Does your pet receive any herbs or supplements? If so, what is the intended purpose?
Nancy Kay, DVM
Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Author of Your Dog’s Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect From Your Vet