Prevent Cancer in Dogs with Common Sense Lifestyle Choices

Can we really prevent cancer in dogs? Cancer thrives in certain bodies, so here's how to make sure YOUR dog's body is a hostile environment for cancer.

Prevent Cancer in Dogs with Common Sense Lifestyle Choices

Read Time: 6 minutes

The Dog Cancer Survival Guide, a book I edited, is subtitled “Full Spectrum Treatments to Optimize Your Dog’s Life Quality and Longevity.” The advice in the book is invaluable if your dog has cancer. But what about those of us with healthy dogs? Can we use the same advice to prevent cancer in dogs?

Does Dr. Dressler have any advice for us?

Yes, it turns out, in Appendix D.

Below is a summary of what he recommends. Keep in mind that ALL of this is general advice, based on what we know can help most dogs.

Also, keep in mind that because dog cancer and human cancer share so many things in common … all of this is generally good advice for us humans, too!

Prevent Cancer In Dogs: The Mindset

Dr. D’s specific advice is below, but before I get there, just a quick note about a mindset I find helpful when taking in this information.

I’ve been helping dog lovers cope with cancer since 2007. I’ve watched what works and what doesn’t when it comes to mindset.

Take this with a grain of salt, but in general, I’ve changed my mindset in the following ways:

  • I no longer aim to “cure” cancer. I aim to MANAGE it.
  • I no longer aim to “prevent” cancer. I aim to MITIGATE the risk or lower the risk of getting it.

Some folks will read those points and say I’ve given up the fight. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

Instead, I’ve decided to see cancer as a typical illness that is commonplace and should be dealt with accordingly. Why?

Because it is. Cancer is brutally common.

Cancer Is Common, So Let’s Stop Being Shocked About It

Cancer is the number one killer of dogs. One out of two dogs over ten get cancer, and one out of four dogs overall get cancer. This has been true for quite a while now.

And the same is true for humans. Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the U.S., with over 44% of humans getting cancer at some point in their lifetime. If that’s not a “common” illness, I don’t know what is!

Since cancer is so common, I think we should adjust our mindset. Let’s expect it to be a possibility, so we can DO the things we need to do to avoid it!

We expect car accidents are a possibility, so we use seatbelts. We know we can choke when we talk while eating, so we close our mouth to chew. Let’s start doing things to prevent the worst from happening when it comes to cancer.

I find it easier to cope with a cancer diagnosis when I think of it as a regular illness, not some surprising beast. It stinks, it’s awful, and it’s horrible. Some cancers are hard to treat. But they all look less monstrous when I think of them as manageable, chronic conditions.

I don’t think we should whisper the word “cancer.” It’s not unmentionable. If this attitude helps you, I suggest you adopt it, too.

So now on to Dr. D’s advice.

Treatment and Prevention are Different

Please don’t read Dr. D’s book and think “if all of these supplements and dietary choices are good for my dog with cancer, they must be good for cancer prevention in my other dogs, too.”

Nothing is that simple. For example, giving the therapeutic doses of krill/fish oil outlined in the book would be far too high for a dog without cancer. Dr. D makes recommendations on how to counteract a dangerous foe. He is NOT giving general health advice about naturally healthy dogs.

(I can hear his voice in my head right now, reminding me to say that none of his advice applies to any dog in particular. It’s all stuff to check out with your own veterinarian!)

You CAN overdo supplements — so get advice from your veterinarian about what can help your specific dog, OK?

Lifestyle Choices are Key to Prevent Cancer in Dogs

Cancer starts in and thrives in certain conditions, and some of those conditions arise from lifestyle choices. That’s why Dr. Dressler recommends the following guidelines for dogs. Don’t worry, there’s nothing radical here:

  • Provide a dark sleeping environment for your dog, and ensure he gets seven to eight hours of sleep every night. This helps your dog’s body make melatonin, a natural hormone that may prevent and fight cancer.
  • Obesity is a cancer attractor — so make sure your dog is at a healthy weight. Ask your vet to determine your dog’s ideal body condition and weight, and take steps to get her there.
  • Increase your dog’s joys of life in any way you can — because isolation and depression have strong links to cancer in humans.
  • Exercise! Exercise helps dogs feel good and keeps them strong and healthy.
  • Add brightly colored veggies, particularly bell peppers and cruciferous veggies like Brussels sprouts and broccoli, to your dog’s diet. These vegetables (and the others listed in the dog cancer diet in chapter 14) are very supportive.
  • There is some evidence that red meat in your dog’s diet should be reduced in favor of leaner white meats and fish.
  • Cancer thrives in a sugary environment — so limit starches and carbohydrate-rich foods like corn, wheat, and sugar.
  • If you are feeding commercial dog foods, choose those cooked at low temperatures. That means no traditional kibble, which is cooked at very high temperatures!
  • Avoid carcinogen exposure whenever possible. Filter your air, filter your water, use glass or ceramic bowls, avoid pesticides and lawn chemicals, and keep your pup away from car exhaust and tobacco smoke.

Cancer In Genetic Lines

When getting a new puppy, consider the following to help prevent cancer in the future:

  • Avoid high-risk bloodlines if you are buying from a breeder. It’s a terrible thing, but many of our favorite breeds (Goldens and Boxers and Labs, for example) have very high cancer rates.
  • There is compelling evidence that EARLY vaccination can train the immune system to patrol for outside invaders at the expense of killing tumors. That’s why Dr. D suggests holding off starting puppy vaccinations until the eighth or even tenth week of life. (I waited until the thirteenth week after editing this book!) Dr. D suggests a booster at one year of age and another booster at age four (three years after the first). Another can be given at age seven. He also suggests not vaccinating for diseases that aren’t in your area. At age eight, only vaccinate if titers show a need. At any point, you can also request a titer before vaccination!
  • When it comes to spay and neuter, carefully weigh the pros and cons with your veterinarian, because early spay/neuter has been associated with cancer in dogs. If you decide to sterilize your dog, Dr. D recommends spaying females between the third and fourth heat. Males can be neutered sometime between eighteen and twenty-four months. In other words, sterilize once a dog has become an adult, to ensure that they get the protection sexual hormones offer to prevent cancer in dogs.

Choosing a Breeder

Dog Cancer Answers interviewed Dr. Jerry Klein, DVM, the Chief Veterinary Officer of the American Kennel Club, discussing things to look for when choosing a breeder and how to stack the deck in your favor for getting a puppy who will live a long, healthy life. This information applies to mixed-breed dogs too, not just purebreds!

Another great podcast to listen to is this one with Dr. Jules Benson of Nationwide Insurance. He has been analyzing their claims and has a lot of great information to share about specific breeds and their relative cancer risks.

Sure, But Can We REALLY Prevent Cancer In Dogs?

The short answer is, no we cannot entirely prevent cancer. It’s one of our oldest diseases — which means that it must have some evolutionary reason for persisting.

Cancer is a multifactorial disease, which only happens when MULTIPLE things go wrong. It’s incredibly rare for one significant “thing” to happen that causes cancer. Multiple problems have to co-exist, meaning you would have to live in an absolute bubble to be sure you were avoiding cancer … and then you would still have genetic risks!

Even someone who takes ALL the steps Dr. Dressler recommends could still have a dog who gets cancer. My little pups thrived for ten years (both) with completely normal bloodwork, happy dispositions, and no major health concerns of any kind.

I credited their amazing diet for their health. I also credited daily (well, mostly) walks on the beach, lots of belly rubs and games, and tons of good sleep in total darkness. And Dr. Dressler’s supplement formula, EverPup, although I admit I’m biased!

But the odds were still 50/50 for my sweet pups. After Kanga turned ten, she developed an ovarian tumor. It was devastating. But still, she thrived on her dog cancer treatments for another three and a half years.

Some would feel really bad if they were in my shoes. I know a lot of folks who would have felt like “I did everything I could, but I couldn’t prevent cancer.”

Well, my mindset helped me tremendously. As sad and scary as it was to have cancer enter our lives, I knew I had done everything possible to prepare her little body to fight a good fight. I have no regrets about anything when it comes to Kanga. From the beginning I took the mindset of lowering risk, I did what I could, and it served her and us well up until her peaceful, loving last day.

(And by the way, the only time her bloodwork went wonky was after we started her on prednisone in the very last couple of months. She was super healthy in general, even when she had cancer.)

So take heart, friend, and do your best with the list above. You won’t regret it!

Many warm wishes to you and your pups,

Molly

Editorial Note: This post was originally published on a retired blog about dog cancer.

A photo of Molly Jacobson smiling

Molly Jacobson

Molly Jacobson is a writer and the editor of The Dog Cancer Survival Guide. She also hosts the podcast Dog Cancer Answers. A lifelong dog lover and self-professed dog health nerd, she is all too familiar with dog cancer. She has been supporting dog lovers coping with cancer since 2008. Molly earned a BA from Tufts University, and after a career in bookselling and book publishing attended The Swedish Institute to become a licensed massage therapist in New York State, licensed by the medical board. She loves explaining medical topics with care easy-going language.

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