Cancer is a common and frightening disease, and many pet owners will have to face making decisions about cancer care for their pets at some point. While there are many therapies that can improve quality of life for a veterinary cancer patient, extend life, and even cure cancer in some cases, the painful reality is that there is much we don’t know about cancer. Often, cancer will be life limiting despite the best care possible.
This unpleasant reality leads many to seek alternative therapies for their pets with cancer. Unfortunately, those alternatives are almost never proven to be safe or effective, and many, such as homeopathy, are unquestionably nonsense. Yet despite the lack of evidence to support many alternative cancer treatments, and the evidence that shows some such treatments can cause real harm, some vets will try to frighten and mislead pet owners into avoiding scientific medical therapies and grasping at the various straws they offer, from homeopathy to acupuncture, from supplements and magical diets to outright magic such as so-called “energy medicine.”
A recent article in the always unreliable Dogs Naturally Magazine provides a number of examples of the kinds of opinion and advice pet owners should recognize as a sign of unreliable, unscientific, and untrustworthy alternative approaches. Along with other warning signs of quackery, statements like these should send pet owners running the other way and seeking legitimate medical advice from real veterinary cancer experts.
The conventional approach is that cancer is a disease separate from the animal, one to be attacked in various ways.
So the attitude is one of attacking something separate from the patient.
The homeopathic approach is to understand the new growth as being generated by the body – by the same energy (life force) that grew other parts of the body. So homeopathic treatment doesn’t fight against the growth or see it as separate.
Instead, nutrition and homeopathic treatment work with the natural healing mechanisms to rebalance the life energy so the tumor is no longer needed or supported.
Then it is resorbed or expelled.
Dr. Richard Pitcairn
Dr. Pitcairn is a leading figure in veterinary homeopathy. Which is to say he is an expert on a large and complex field with no connection to reality and no legitimate medical use. Here, he uses deceptive language to suggest that conventional cancer therapy is aggressive and brutal and that homeopathy is gentle and supportive. The reality is that conventional therapy for pets often provides significant comfortable, enjoyable time for pets with cancer and rarely has side-effects that outweigh the benefits. Homeopathy, on the other hand, is completely and utterly useless, and relying on it for cancer treatment is essentially letting your pet go without any treatment at all. (Here is more information on homeopathy).
Apart from surgery to de-bulk or (hopefully) completely remove the cancer, the conventional veterinary approach is to bombard an already compromised body (scarred by a lifetime spent consuming fake industrial food) with chemical poisons and radiation.
If these modalities don’t kill the patient immediately, they usually promote a more damaging and more aggressive form of cancer, further down the track.
Obviously there are exceptions to this dismal picture, but they are rare exceptions.
Meanwhile, the terminal part of the dog’s life becomes an endless round of treatments, tests and misery.
At this stage, everybody is clutching at straws, hoping against hope that this particular cancer in this particular patient proves to be the exception.
My work (and the work of others who understand that cancer is one of many degenerative disease processes) approaches cancer from the other end of the spectrum.
Instead of weakening the body with poisons and radiation, the far more rational (and genuinely scientific) approach is to strengthen the body, to give it the nutritional tools that allow it to fight the cancer and at the same time use appropriate nutritional means that weaken and take the power away from the cancer.
We find that in most instances, this not only allows longer survival times, but does so with a vastly improved quality of life.
Dr. Ian Billinghurst
Dr. Billinghurst is a well-known proponent of the unproven and theoretically dubious BARF diet (more information about raw diets). In this article, he repeats the inaccurate and misleading characterization of conventional cancer therapy as more harmful than helpful and, without seeing the irony of it, refers to it as “clutching at straws.” His alternative to this is vague and unproven but confidently claims about the ability of his personal dietary theories to provide better outcomes than conventional cancer care. Like Dr.Pitcairn, and the other vets cited in this article, Dr. Billinghurst presents as facts what are really merely his personal opinions. “We find” is code for “there is not controlled research or actual evidence, just our personal anecdotes and beliefs.”
I have written often about why such anecdotes are not reliable substitutes for real science, and this is as true for vets and for pet owners:
Why We’re Often Wrong Testimonials Lie
The Role of Anecdotes in Science-Based Medicine
Why We Need Science: “I saw it with my own eyes” Is Not Enough
Don’t Believe your Eyes (or Your Brain)
I like to use a Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine approach: clean up the food, detox the dog and use herbs as well as acupuncture.
I also use herbal chemotherapy agents like Neoplasene and Essiac.
Other options include intravenous vitamin C and B vitamins
The Banerji protocols use two or three remedies in each protocol, with amazing success.
I’ve used these protocols on a lot of animals and many got better.
Cannabis is another option, with different options for different types of cancer.
Dr. Patricia Jordan
Dr. Jordan is one of the most extreme a rabid anti-vaccine vets out there, and I’ve written about her bizarre ideas before. In this article, she illustrates one of the classic alternative practitioner approaches, which is to throw a hodgepodge of different and mutually incompatible practices together into an irrational amalgam that is united only by the practitioner’s fervent loathing for anything scientific or mainstream. I’ve written previously about why TCVM is mystical nonsense that is more religion than medical practice, Neoplasene is a dangerous poison, and cannabis is a mildly promising but as yet unproven remedy that might have some benefits in cancer patients but is not going to cure cancer. Others have discussed the complete lack of evidence to support claims of benefit for Essaic and Vitamin C. The Banerji protocol, of course, is just more homeopathic voodoo.
Apart from the fact that none of the methods Dr. Jordan refers to have any compelling scientific evidence to support their value, they are also completely incompatible in terms of the basic theories about cancer and its treatment that they rely on. Such a mélange exemplifies the desperate and irrational desire to reach for anything not associated with real scientific medicine, and pet owners should avoid any vet who takes such an approach.
Typical conventional medicine includes radical surgery, multiple doses of poisonous chemicals and multiple caustic burning “treatments” to the affected area … slash, poison and burn.
In my holistic practice, homeopathy is the headliner. I use constitutional prescribing to support the entire body, mind and spirit.
Dr. Dee Blanco
Another homeopath, Dr. Blanco repeats the typical fear-mongering mischaracterization of conventional cancer therapy and then promotes replacing real treatment with magic water. She reveals the ultimately faith-based nature of homeopathy by pointing out it is a therapy for the “spirit.” This idea, going back to the inventor of homeopathy, is often concealed by modern homeopaths who realize that many pet owners would be reluctant to replace scientific medicine with a treatment that is more of a religious practice than a medical therapy.
Reliable Cancer Resource for Pet Owners
In the face of the ubiquitous unreliable information from holistic vets such as these, it can be hard to sort out which information is truly useful. Here are some resources that are a good bit more trustworthy.
Veterinary Cancer Society (This group also has a tool for finding a board-certified veterinary cancer specialist.) Here are some of the links the VCS recommends:
- ACVIM Foundation
- American Animal Hospital Association Healthy Pets
- American Association of Feline Practitioners
- American College of Veterinary Radiology
- Animal Cancer Center at CSU
- Animal Cancer Foundation
- Animal Clinical Investigation, LLC
- Boo Radley Foundation
- Brazilian Society of Veterinary Oncology
- C3O: Center of Clinical Comparative Oncology
- Canine Health Foundation
- Cornell’s College of Veterinary Medicine “Consultant”
- ESVONC (European Society of Veterinary Oncology)
- Magic Bullet Fund
- Perseus Foundation
- Morris Animal Foundation
- The National Cancer Institute
- UC Davis Comparative Cancer Center
- University of Pennsylvania’s “Oncolink”
- Vaccine Associated Feline Sarcoma Task Force
- Veterinary Center for Clinical Trials at the University of California-Davis
- Veterinary Society of Surgical Oncology
I hope this isn’t off topic, but, is a lipoma considered to be a form of cancer?
Someone on another forum insisted that their dog does not have cancer as the tumor tested not to be malignant., despite having a problematic lipoma removed and the dog is under the care of an oncologist and receiving radiation treatments…
I thought tumor meant cancer (benign or malignant).
The terminology here is often used inconsistently. In technical terms, a “tumor” is simply a swelling or mass of some kind. This can include both “neoplasms,” which are abnormal overgrowths of tissue, or other swellings such as abscesses, hematomas (collections of blood), etc. However, in practice most people limit the use of the word tumor to neoplasms, not these other kinds of swellings.
In turn, neoplasms can be benign (meaning unlikely to spread elsewhere in the body or invade deeply into local tissue) or malignant (likely to spread or invade deeply). Malignant neoplasms are usually what we mean by “cancer,” though some people also use the work to refer to benign neoplasms.
So a lipoma is technically a tumor which is a benign neoplasm. I would not call a lipoma a cancer. In fact, there is a more aggressive form, called a liposarcoma, which is cancerous, but it is much less common. However, biology rarely fits neatly into the linguistic categories we set up for it, so there is room for variation in how people use these terms.
Hope this helps!
It does help. Thanks.
I know this site is all about being “skeptical” but everything I’ve read here is about what not to do and how almost everything is bad.
Can you share any actionable advice on what we can do to help improve our pets lives? Is there anything that, in your opinion, you recommend that we do?
Particularly around feeding and supplements?
It sounds like you are against raw foods, coconut oil, etc… But what is a better alternative? Kibble? Is that the only option for people that want to raise optimal pets?
That doesn’t sound right to me, surely some type of fresh food must be better than processed foods but if not raw then I’m not sure where to go from here…
There is a lot of positive advice offered here, but the main purpose of this site is to provide an alternative to the overwhelming amount of internet propaganda for untested or outright useless alternative veterinary practices. People should have the option to hear about the science about these things, not just the anecdotes of true believers. And yet skeptical sources of this information are uncommon because it’s a lot of work, it draws a huge amount of hate mail, and it’s essentially a public service done in my spare time since I’m not selling anything.
When it comes to nutrition, I have said repeatedly that no one knows what the optimal diet is for a given pet. However, the commercial diets available do have a mountain of evidence to suggest that they support a healthy life for most animals. And if someone prefers to feed a home-cooked diet, that’s fine too, so long as they consult a veterinary nutritionist to help them make sure it is balanced. I have provided a number of resources for finding good nutritional advice, including the great book Dog Food Logic and the list of nutritionists at the Academy of Veterinary Nutrition.
I have also provided direct recommendations on appropriate vaccination choices, detailed information to inform decisions about neutering, and the list of cancer resources in this very article. Overall, I recommend establishing a good working relationship with a veterinarian who can communicate effectively with you and answer your questions in an evidence-based way. The internet is no substitute for talking with a vet who knows you and your pets about their specific needs.
Are there statistics on animal cancer on west coast? Seattle vet quoted very
high cancer rates.
None that I have seen.
Our girl, Luna, was recently diagnosed with osteosarcoma of the ear pinna. Her lymph node biopsy and chest xray were clear. We do no know what to do. Any advice would be a help.
The most important thing you can do is find a veterinary oncologist, a board-certified cancer specialist, who can talk you through your options. There are a lot of decisions to make, and no perfect answers, but you can’t do the best for your friend without reliable information, and that has to come from a real specialist with whom you have a personal relationship.