Your Dog and Serious Illnesses

Unfortunately, our dogs are susceptible to the same serious illnesses that humans are, such as cancer. Nobody who really loves their 'furry buddy' (and don't we all?) wants to hear the bad news from the veterinarian. However, just as in 'human' medicine, new treatments are being discovered that will not only help your CBF feel better, but can extend the quantity and quality of his life--a 'win-win' situation for both of you!


A diagnosis of 'the Big C' strikes fear in the heart of any pet parent. Unfortunately, canine cancer is the number-one natural cause of death in older dogs. Early detection is key to successfully treating this horrible disease. Below are the ten warning signs of cancer:

1. Unexplained weight loss

2. Loss of appetite

3. Unusual lumps or swellings that continue to grow

4. Sores that don't heal

5. Difficulty in eating or swallowing

6. Bleeding or discharge from any body orifice

7. Offensive odors

8. Loss of energy

9. Persistent lameness or stiffness

10.Difficulty breathing or eliminating waste

If you notice ANY of these, call your veterinarian as soon as possible. Some of the most common cancer types in dogs are:

1.Lymphoma (cancer of the lymph system) is a very common cancer and so is the most treatable. This form of cancer usually responds very well to chemotherapy protocols, depending on the stage the cancer is in. (Your veterinarian will tell you this at the time of diagnosis.) Bone-marrow transplants have been used successfully to treat canine lymphoma, but only on a very limited basis and the cost is prohibitive to most pet parents. North Carolina State University is one of the veterinary colleges in the United States where these transplants have been done with a high percentage of success. Dog World magazine has an excellent and informative article about this new treatment in their November 2010 issue.

2. Osteosarcoma (bone cancer) accounts for only about 5% of cancers but is by far the most common bone tumor. Osteosarcoma starts deep within the bone and destroys it from the inside out. This cancer shows up most often in the bones around the shoulder, wrist or knee. Certain larger breeds, such as Rottweilers, seem to be predisposed toward this cancer, and prior 'disturbance' of the bone, such as a break or a metal plate, can also predispose. Since this is a very painful cancer, the usual first line of treatment is to amputate the affected limb. Since your dog still has three other legs, he won't be nearly as affected by the loss of a limb as you would be if you lost one of your limbs. Dogs who lose a limb adapt quickly and easily. Depending on how much the cancer has metastasized (spread) will determine the next course of treatment.

3. Mammary cancer is one of the most easily preventable cancers. Spaying a female before her first heat will almost completely eliminate the chance of this cancer. If your dog does get this cancer, removal of the tumor is a successful treatment in the earlier stages of this disease. Your veterinarian may also want to remove all mammary tissue at this time, as well as spaying her, which will greatly diminish her chance of getting any reproductive-system cancers. Since a dog's mammary tissues are completely outside the muscle wall, removal of these tissues is much less radical than a mastectomy for a woman.

4. Hemangiosarcoma is a very aggressive cancer of blood vessel cells. Since your dog's entire body has blood vessels, this cancer can appear just about anywhere in the body, but usually show up in the skin, soft tissue, liver, or spleen, with the most common being the spleen. Because these tumors originate in the blood vessels, they can become filled with blood and burst, causing internal bleeding. This type of cancer is highly metastatic (fast-spreading) and will often spread to the brain, lungs, heart, or kidneys. The type of hemangiosarcoma that forms on the skin is called dermal hemangiosarcoma, and the breeds who usually get it are dogs with short, white coats, such as Dalmatians, as this form is usually associated with sun exposure. Dermal hemangiosarcoma is easily treated in the early stages by tumor removal. The tumor appears as a dark-red or black spot on the skin. Since this cancer is likely to metastasize internally, any growths must be removed promptly.

5. Mast-cell tumors form on mast cells, which are highly specialized cells throughout the body which help your dog respond to inflammation and allergies. Mast cells release several different chemicals into the body, including histamines, prostaglandins, and seratonin, which are necessary for normal immune response but can cause damage (such as internal bleeding) when released in excess quantities, which is a characteristic of this cancer in the more advanced stages. The tumors can form anywhere in the body, and the first line of treatment involves removal of the entire tumor (if possible) as well as a margin of healthy tissue surrounding the tumor. Surgery may be followed by chemotherapy or radiation.

There are other forms of cancer, but the ones listed above are the more common types.

Although chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation are the most common treatments for cancers, and all are effective to varying degrees, there are several alternative therapies that can be used to complement mainstream treatments, such as herbs, acupuncture, and chiropractic. The herb artemisinin has been showing some promise. Recently, an article regarding asparagus puree as a cancer preventive appeared on the website. Asparagus has an abundance of proteins known as histones that are known to control cell production. The article contains several testimonials. Granted, these are human patients, not canines, but asparagus is safe for dogs in limited quantities. (I have consulted with our holistic veterinarian regarding the safety of asparagus for dogs. She concurred that small quantities are safe.) Go to for the complete article and testimonials. **A word of caution here: PLEASE consult with your veterinary oncologist before giving your dog asparagus or any other treatment.** Another important part of your dog's cancer treatment is his diet. It is vitally important to feed him well to keep up his strength as he fights what may be the battle for his life. Research has shown that a diet high in simple carbohydrates and sugars 'feeds' cancer, so these must be kept to a minimum.

Unfortunately, there's really no way to 'cancer-proof' your best friend, but there are some precautions you can take that may decrease his chances of coming down with the disease.

1. Feed him the best diet you can. Avoid foods containing 'animal by-products', which can actually contain roadkill. Also avoid ingredients such as corn gluten or wheat gluten or processed animal fats, which could include rancid restaurant grease. (Yuck...) Don't feed him any junk food.

2. If you can, give him filtered water for drinking. Filtered water does not contain harmful chemicals such as chlorine.

3. Give your dog plenty of exercise. Romping in the fresh air will benefit you both.

4. Try to keep as many chemicals as possible out of his environment. This means using natural, non-toxic cleaning products, both indoors and out. Don't get your grass or flowers sprayed by a lawn-service company. Some of the chemicals in these sprays are suspected to cause lymphoma. As far as cleaning products go, plant-based products are just as effective as the popular, heavily-advertised, chemical-laden brands. We use products from Mrs. Meyer's Clean Day, which are plant-based and are available in several natural fragrances. (Try the lavender.) This company offers a complete line of cleaning products such as dish soap, laundry soap, dryer sheets, all-purpose cleaner (great for washing floors), counter spray, scrubbing powder, hand soap, and hand lotion. They're a bit more expensive than the 'popular' brands but well worth the extra cost. We switched to plant-based products because Buster has allergies--but they're much healthier for us too.


Osteoarthritis is one of several 'autoimmune' diseases, in which the body attacks itself. Although osteoarthritis is most commonly seen in older dogs, especially the larger breeds, an injury such as a broken bone can precipitate the development of osteoarthritis at any age. This disease is a low-grade inflammation of the joints that causes abnormal wear and tear on the cartilage and the synovial fluid which cushion and protect the joints. As the cartilage wears away, the bones become less protected, causing pain and stiffness in movement. Your pet naturally becomes less active because it hurts, which in turn creates muscle and ligament atrophy (shrinkage).

Some common treatments for osteoarthritis are NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) such as aspirin, which is usually safe to give--but please consult your veterinarian first. One currently-used NSAID is Rimadyl, which seems to work for some dogs but not in others. Some dogs (like Buster) do not tolerate Rimadyl well as it can cause intestinal upset. There is also some evidence that long-term use of Rimadyl and other NSAIDs may cause future liver and kidney damage.

Supplements like a glucosamine/chondroitin complex or fish-oil capsules (a good source of Omega-3 fatty acids) may help him. One supplement that is relatively new to the market is a liquid called Trixsyn, which contains a form of hyaluronic acid, a substance naturally found in the body that helps maintain and rebuild collagen and cartilage. (Hyaluronic acid has been used in anti-aging products for humans for some time now with success.) Trixsyn also helps replace the lost synovial fluid to help cushion your pup's joints. It's relatively inexpensive, odorless, and taseteless. Since Buster has osteoarthritis and glucosamine didn't work for him, we tried Trixsyn, and this seems to help him more than anything else we've tried. Trixsyn is available online only.

Joint replacements have also been performed, but the cost is prohibitive for most owners and the success rates aren't wonderful.

Hydrotherapy is another treatment to consider. This treatment involves immersing your dog in a special tub of warm water that has a current flowing through it. He may wear a special life vest or harness to increase his buoyancy. He swims 'in place' against the current, building his muscles while keeping stress on his joints to a minimum. Plus, the warm water helps to ease any stiffness that he may be feeling from the disease. You may consult your alternative-medicine veterinarian for advice on which supplements and treatments will work best for your CBF's osteoarthritis. Cushing's Disease

Cushing's disease, usually seen in middle-aged to older dogs, is caused by a benign tumor on the pituitary gland. This gland is responsible for secreting a hormone called ACTH (adrenocorticotrophic hormone) which causes the adrenal glands to secrete cortisol, a 'stress hormone' which is essential to many of your dog's systems, including metabolism, kidney functions, and immune response. The pituitary tumor causes this 'feedback system' to go awry. Here are some of the symptoms of Cushing's disease:

1. Excessive appetite

2. Excessive thirst which leads to excessive urination(your dog may start having 'accidents' in the house)

3. Bloated, saggy-looking belly

4. Thinning hair/coarseness of remaining coat

5. Thinning skin/darkening of skin pigment

6. Loss of muscle mass

7. Loss of energy and lethargy

**Note: These are not all of the symptoms of Cushing's disease, but they are some of the most noticeable. These symptoms may also be indicative of other diseases. For example, years ago, I was the 'parent' of a Labrador/Beagle mix named Sam. When Sam was around six years old, he developed most of these symptoms. He was diagnosed with hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) and was placed on a medication. Within a couple of weeks, he was well on his way to being the 'real' Sam again.

Several treatments for Cushing's disease are in use at the present time, including different types ofchemotherapy and surgical removal of the tumor. There are alternative treatments, such as herbal supplements and special diets, for Cushing's disease. Please consult with a holistic veterinarian for advice.


Diabetes mellitus is a disease in which the pancreas does not produce enough insulin to metabolize glucose. In humans, there are two types of diabetes. Type 1 is an autoimmune disease in which the body attacks and destroys the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. This disease is irreversible but can be controlled by insulin injections. Type 2, also known as adult-onset diabetes, is usually associated with obesity and can be controlled by oral medication and diet. Dogs almost always have Type 1.

The earliest symptoms include weight loss (although the dog may show an increased appetite), and excessive thirst, accompanied by more frequent urination. If left untreated, these symptoms may be followed by vomiting, weakness, lethargy, and loss of appetite.

Once the diagnosis made, the next step is to get the dog's blood glucose stabilized and begin running tests to determine the proper dosage of insulin. When a correct dosage is determined, it may take months to get blood-glucose levels stabilized. The dog's blood will need to be tested on a daily basis. A regular feeding schedule must be adhered to, and the diet may need to be adjusted. Insulin is usually given at 12-hour intervals. A couple of possible side effects of this illness are hypoglycemia, in which the blood sugar drops too low, and cataracts on the eyes. Cataracts can be surgically removed and will not recur. Hypoglycemia is the real danger here--the rapid drop in blood sugar can cause coma, brain damage, or even death.

If your dog is diagnosed with diabetes, your veterinarian will advise you of the treatment most appropriate for your individual situation. Although it is a serious illness, with the right treatment, your dog can live a fairly normal, happy life.

These are just a few of the more serious illnesses seen in dogs. Please visit our pages regarding general dog health and foods and treats to learn how to help your best friend stay healthy.
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