The last few weeks have been a roller coaster. Since we found out that Luciano has intestinal b-cell lymphoma, it has been a whirlwind of vet appointments, medications, and lifestyle changes all surrounding his diagnosis. We are about five weeks in, so I thought it would be a good time to share the treatments we are currently pursuing for our dog with cancer.
Before I get into the dog cancer treatments we have chosen, I want to extend a heartfelt thank you to everyone who’s sent their love, support, prayers, good wishes, and advice. We are so appreciative, and it gives us great comfort to know that we have so much support. I’m sure Luciano can feel all your love!
And now, on to the treatment info. As you’ll see, we are using a combination of both medical and holistic treatments for our dog with cancer:
(Please note that the following myriad of treatments is being administered under the guidance of our dog’s oncologist, and this regimen has been developed for specifically for our dog. I am not a veterinary professional, and this should not replace the advice of a veterinary professional. I am only sharing the following based on our personal experience.)
Chemotherapy (Phase 1): the CHOP Protocol with Prednisone
Luciano has undergone four weeks of the CHOP protocol. Typically, dogs with cancer will receive an 8-week course of chemo to start with, but we opted for four mainly because of cost concerns. The costs add up fast, and we’ve realized that we need to pace ourselves. For these first four weeks, Luciano would meet with the oncologist, where he would have his blood drawn to make sure he was healthy enough to receive his weekly treatment. If all looked okay, he would get his chemo treatment intravenously. He was also taking a daily dose of prednisone concurrently (which started at 40 mg and has tapered down weekly).
Of course, one of the scariest parts of having our dog on chemo is the potential negative (and possibly life-threatening) side effects. We were constantly on guard and on the lookout during those first few weeks. Thank God Luciano did relatively well overall. The worst side effect we noticed was a substantial personality change, where he became rather withdrawn and somewhat lethargic. He is normally energetic and very social, so this was a big change for us. He also has become rather food aggressive (he has started to go after Spencer’s food). But we are told that a lot of this probably comes from the prednisone more so than the chemo. (This is one area where I can totally relate: I can personally testify as to how agitated and hungry prednisone can make you!)
Chemotherapy (Phase 2): Low Dose Lomustine and Prednisone
After four weeks of the CHOP chemo protocol, we have now opted for Luciano to switch to an oral chemo medication instead of the weekly IV treatments. From here on, Luciano will take a daily low dosage of lomustine (or CCNU), as well as continue on 10mg of prednisone daily. This provides us a more cost effective way to (hopefully) manage Luciano’s cancer. We are fortunate to have an excellent veterinary oncologist for our dog: Dr. Alice Villalobos at Pawspice (in southern California). She and her team have been very creative in helping us figure out a plan that works for Luciano and our budget simultaneously.
We will stick to this plan unless something changes (like Luciano’s symptoms returning). As I mentioned before, chemo treatment in dogs is different from how they treat humans with chemo. We’ve been told that chemo and other treatments will most likely not cure our dog’s cancer, it will only help manage it. Therefore, we are told that Luciano will most likely have to remain on some sort of chemo treatment for the rest of his life.
That being said, you all know that I’m all about what can be done naturally, and there are several research-backed alternative treatments that can also help fight canine cancer.
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The Dog Cancer Diet
We are currently feeding Luciano a fully home-cooked diet based on the diet published in The Dog Cancer Survival Guide. (The diet can also be found online here). Making a batch of food that lasts about a week typically takes us about three hours. We separate the base mix into 2-3 portions and freeze them so we have enough to last through the week. I’m not going to lie: it requires a lot of preparation and time, particularly because we’re making food for a 50 lb dog, but it has become slightly easier each time we’ve done it. How long we’ll be able to keep up a fully home-cooked diet remains to be seen, but we wanted to at least try and do as much as we can in the beginning and see it we give this cancer a good punch in the face right off the bat.
Our dog’s anti-cancer diet consists of:
- lean protein (like chicken breast, lean turkey, beef, fish, etc.)
- eggs (not part of the diet in The Dog Cancer Survival Guide, but we added them for extra protein and based on our oncologist’s advice)
- vegetables (like broccoli, asparagus, cabbage, mushrooms, etc.)
- liver (we’ve used chicken and bison liver)
oatmeal or brown rice (we keep this to a minimum, as grains aren’t good for cancer)
- source of calcium (we use a seaweed calcium supplement, but using chicken necks is even better)
- cottage cheese
- bone broth (not part of the diet in the book, but I add it for flavor and extra healing power)
- fresh ginger
- other optional ingredients as mentioned in the book
The idea behind a diet for a dog with cancer is a balanced diet high in protein and very low in sugar. This means including only a small amount of grains (if any), because grains break down into sugars in the body. The same goes for high-carbohydrate vegetables, like white potatoes, carrots, and peas. In general, high-carbohydrate diets have been linked to cancer and other inflammatory conditions. If you are going to include any grains, they should be lower glycemic, like brown rice or oats (you want to stay away from any wheat, white rice, and corn, of course).
We include a very small amount of oatmeal right now to help bulk up Luciano’s food (he goes through it so fast, we need all the help we can get), but per our oncologist’s suggestion, we may decide to omit it all together. (At the advice of Luciano’s oncologist, we now omit all grains and use eggs instead.)
Although not mentioned in the The Dog Cancer Survival Guide diet, I also add bone broth because of its ability to help heal the digestive tract, as well as its immune support properties. I make it plain — no onions or seasoning, just a splash of apple cider vinegar — so that it’s appropriate for a dog. I drink it too, and I’ve found that I actually prefer the plain version for myself! (Plus, this way, it’s so much easier to prep and make.)
If you are planning to place your dog on a home-cooked diet, please be sure to consult a veterinary nutritionist or other professional veterinary source. For example, we are following the diet in The Dog Cancer Survival Guide, written by Dr. Demien Dressler, and we’ve made some minor adjustments based on the advice of our veterinary oncologist. It’s important to make sure your dog is getting all the proper nutrients. This includes making sure you add a multi-vitamin and a proper source of calcium. If you’re not including chicken necks in the diet, you will need to add a calcium supplement. (If you are feeding your dog a commercial diet, your dog’s vitamins and calcium should already be included. Please do not add a calcium supplement in this case.)
Supplements for Our Dog with Cancer
In addition to his home-cooked diet, Luciano is taking several supplements (under the supervision of his oncologist). Please consult your dog’s oncologist before introducing any supplements for your dog:
- calcium (as noted above, critical for a home-cooked diet that doesn’t already include bones)
- Platinum Performance Canine Plus (which serves as our dog’s “multi-vitamin” and a source of omega fatty acids)
- Apocaps (promotes apoptosis; supports cellular health)
- Agaricus Bio (mushroom supplement; promotes immune and cellular health)
- Nutri-Gest (supports bowel health; helpful for intestinal lymphoma)
- VETCBD (non-psychoactive cannabis oil; helpful in treating cancer and managing chemo side effects)
We have several other supplements “in the queue” that we haven’t started simply because we are trying to introduce new supplements slowly. This way we can monitor how he responds to each supplement and whether or not he has any side effects. These additional supplements which we plan to include are: fish oil, digestive enzymes, and another immune supplement. We are obtaining most of these from our veterinary oncologist. Please only place your dog on supplements under the guidance of your veterinary professional.
Keeping Life “Normal” and Happy for a Dog with Cancer
In addition to the medical and nutritional treatments we are giving to Luciano, we are also trying to keep his life as normal as possible and make sure he is happy and enjoying his regular activities. What was “normal” changed for a while because Luciano’s personality and energy level changed a lot when he started treatment. However, we are starting to see signs of the old Luciano, which means we can enjoy even more “fun” activities, like walks and playing with his favorite toy: his tennis balls.
I’m also big on prayer and positive energy. Believe it or not, there are studies linking prayer and meditation to better healing outcomes. Either way, faith is an important part of my life, and prayer is like a form of meditation for me. So in a case like this, I am sure to say extra prayers for Luciano (and since prayer also helps to calm me at the same time, it’s a win-win).
Is This Anti-Cancer Regimen Helping?
Well, we hope so. We are happy that, so far, Luciano seems to be responding well. His gastrointestinal symptoms have resolved for now (normal stools with no blood…yay!), and he is starting to act more like his old self. He’s only been on lomustene for about a week and a half, so we will have to see if the medication works and hope that there are no scary side effects along the way. We are planning to stick to this regimen until we have a reason not to do so.
Is This Plan Right for Every Dog with Cancer?
Please note that although we have chosen to take this specific route with our dog, it doesn’t mean it’s right for every family. The decisions one makes for a dog with cancer depends on things like diagnosis and prognosis, as well as time and financial constraints. We decided to pursue this type of full spectrum treatment based on many factors (including the fact that Luciano is so young). Some may choose to forego any chemo treatment and/or fancy diets and just make life totally awesome for their fur baby, like this man did by taking his terminal dog on the trip of a lifetime. Whatever choice we make, it’s important to note that there is no one right (or wrong) choice for every family. It’s a personal decision that only you can make. As long as you are providing love and happiness for your dog, keeping your dog’s best interests in mind, and making sure your dog is not suffering, then you know you are making the “right” decision.
Have you had or do you have a dog with cancer? If so, what treatments did you choose (or not choose)? What is your advice for those of us going through it now? Please comment and share!