Receiving a cancer diagnosis for a beloved friend is heartbreaking for any pet guardian. While conventional Western medicine sometimes offers effective treatment options (such as surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation) for extending survival time and quality of life, these treatments come with high monetary expense for pet guardians and challenging physical side effects for the animal. Other times, Western medicine doesn’t offer any good treatment options, other than controlling pain until an animal succumbs to the cancer.
As a house call vet who specializes in combining Western medicine with holistic medicine, I commonly treat patients with cancer. Holistic medicine, which considers and treats the whole animal — body, mind, spirit, and emotions — can be utilized in a variety of ways in the treatment of cancer. It can either be used in conjunction with these Western medicine options (I often work in close collaboration with vets who specialize in oncology) or on its own. Holistic medicine has the potential to not only slow the progression of cancer, but to also focus more globally on maximizing life and vitality, resulting in better outcomes for both pets and their guardians.
A combination of things — diet, herbs, mushrooms, acupuncture, and ozone therapy — can extend both survival time and quality of life. These natural and non-invasive options promote the body’s natural defenses against the growth and spread of cancer cells, help to reduce the side effects of chemotherapy and radiation, stimulate appetite, and aid with pain control.
Diet is one of the most important factors I discuss with my clients as a means of maximizing their pet’s health and wellness, and this is especially true in the case of cancer. I recommend incorporating as many fresh, unprocessed ingredients as possible, and help them to formulate a diet that is specific to the individual patient’s needs in order to promote appetite, reduce inflammation in the body, and bolster the body’s immune response.
Customized traditional Chinese herb formulas and dietary supplements play a key role as well. Many of these formulas and supplements have been demonstrated to work on some of the same biochemical pathways that more conventional chemotherapy targets. Furthermore, they protect the digestive tract, reduce pain and inflammation, reduce the risk of bleeding, and support the immune system. Several species of medicinal mushrooms have well-documented anti-cancer properties. One of these, turkey tail (also known as Coriolus), was the focus of research by the University of Pennsylvania. The study showed a dramatic improvement in survival rate in dogs with a very aggressive and common type of cancer called hemangiosarcoma. I use my training in herbs and supplements, as well as my knowledge of the biological behavior of cancers common in dogs and cats, to determine the combination that would most benefit the individual.
Acupuncture is another fantastic tool to utilize in treating cancer cases because of its ability to strengthen an animal’s innate healing ability. It helps reduce pain and inflammation, addresses issues that arise secondary to conventional treatments, and manages clinical signs secondary to the disease itself. Most patients feel really relaxed during and immediately after the acupuncture treatments and demonstrate improved energy and appetite in the days following the treatment. I’ve found the combination of acupuncture and Chinese herbs is especially effective.
Ozone therapy has been used extensively for its immune-modulating, anti-inflammatory, and anti-cancer effects. It creates an oxygen-rich environment that creates a protective barrier around healthy cells and limits the viability of cancer cells, which require low oxygen to divide and spread. In my house call practice, I use ozone therapy via rectal catheter, which is quick and painless for the patient.
My clients appreciate having a suite of effective treatment options to maximize the life and vitality of their pet. They feel empowered to take an active part in their animal’s care in a way that focuses on optimizing wellness rather than merely “battling” against the invading cancer cells. This personalized style of treatment is also very rewarding for me, since there is nothing better than helping pets enjoy longer survival times and a greatly improved quality of life with their beloved humans.
Rachael Feigenbaum, VMD, owns Lotus Veterinary House Calls, www.LotusVet.com, 415-484-5842, serving San Francisco and the Peninsula since 2008. Lotus combines holistic and integrative treatments with Western veterinary care, providing comprehensive house call veterinary services in the stress-free environment of your home. Lotus was voted Best Mobile Veterinary Practice in Bay Woof’s Beast of the Bay Awards 2019.
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