|This year, cancer will kill half of dogs over 10 years old. This devastating disease is increasingly seen in cats, and in younger pets as well.
Because cancer is so mysterious and seemingly powerful in its ability to destroy health and deplete us emotionally (and financially), it is easy to become overwhelmed, and to take a fatalistic attitude. We know so little, and cancer seems to strike our pets and us almost randomly; we may think, “What’s the point of trying to do anything about it?” However, there are simple, practical steps you can take that will greatly reduce your pet’s risk of cancer.
What causes cancer?
In most cases, cancer is not caused by any single factor (the exceptions are cancers directly caused by vaccination, such as vaccine-associated sarcomas in cats and, to a lesser extent, dogs and ferrets). Factors such as age, genetics, exposure to toxic carcinogens, lifestyle, infections, and stress may all play a role in the development of cancer in pets. Cancer develops when abnormal (mutated) cells begin to reproduce in the body at alarming rates, and begin to interfere with the normal functioning of healthy cells, organs, or body tissues. Our pets’ bodies produce so many cells every day that large numbers of abnormal cells are created all the time. In a healthy body, the immune system scavenges and destroys these abnormal cells. According to the National Cancer Institute, tumors develop when this immune surveillance breaks down or is overwhelmed. It is overly simplistic to state that cancer is always and only due to immune system failure, but the immune system is certainly always involved.
The immune system plays many roles in both cancer prevention and cancer development. Surveillance for and destruction of abnormal and damaged cells is one such role. Another—and perhaps the most important—is inflammation. While acute inflammation is one of the body’s major defense mechanisms, chronic inflammation is now thought to be at the root of many diseases of aging, and other conditions that are associated with cancer.
The bottom line is this: the best defense against cancer is a balanced, healthy immune system—one that responds appropriately (not too little, not too much) and cleans up after itself (once the problem/inflammation is resolved). Therefore, supporting a properly functioning immune is the single most important thing you can do to minimize your pet’s cancer risk.
How the immune system becomes unbalanced:
The immune system is negatively affected by many factors:
Some of these factors are within our control; but many are not. We can’t slow down the passage of time, alter the weather, or escape from solar and man-made radiation, but we can make many important changes to improve our pets’ (and our own) immune systems and reduce cancer risk.
Supporting the immune system:
Here are some positive, proactive steps you can take to support your pet’s immune system, decrease stress, and reduce chronic inflammation:
If you already know a little bit about holistic pet care, these steps will be familiar to you, but really understanding that they can help reduce the risk of cancer will help reinforce their benefits in your mind and—we hope—motivate and encourage you to implement them for your pet’s health.
If you are interested in more information on cancer and immune support, click here for related articles in our Holistic Healthcare Library.
Archive for News from Dr. Jean
by Dr. Jean Hofve, DVM
Most of us are out and about much more in the summer, including many of our pets! But summer comes with its own set of potential problems. Common sense and preventive measures can prevent illness and injuries for our pets. Here are our Top 10 tips for a safe and happy summer:
1. Prevent Parasites. Fleas, ticks, mosquitoes, and other parasites are a year-round problem where warm weather is the norm, but in summer they’re practically everywhere. Not only are these pests a nuisance to your dog or cat, but they can carry tapeworms, heartworms, and diseases such as Lyme, Bartonella (often called cat-scratch disease, although dogs actually carry more species of this nasty bacteria than cats), West Nile Virus, leptospirosis, and even bubonic plague. Keeping your pet parasite-free requires a broad approach and vigilance on your part, with a little help from effective preventives. (See our comprehensive article on fleas here. Many natural products are available; talk to your vet about what’s needed for your area.
2. Stay Cool! Pets can succumb to heatstroke, so be sure that whenever your pet is outdoors, he always has a shelter from the sun, and plenty of fresh water. Add ice cubes or blocks to the water to keep it cool longer. If it’s extremely hot and humid in your area, consider a cooling vest for your dog. Don’t jog or bike with your dog in hot mid-day temperatures; stick to morning and evening. This is especially important for short-nosed (brachycephalic) dogs (Pekes, Pugs, Bulldogs, etc.) or those with double-thick coats or long hair (huskies, shepherds, collies, some terriers and retrievers).
3. Leave Rover at Home. You’ve heard it before, but we’ll say it again: never leave your dog in a car if the weather is warm, and certainly not if it’s hot! Cracking the windows makes no difference in the temperature gain. It doesn’t take high temperatures for it to be dangerous. A car parked in the shade can reach dangerous temperatures on a hot day; and if it’s in the sun, the temperature can rapidly rise up to 160°F. Experiments showed that even at a mild 72°F, the inside of a car reached 116°F in an hour, plenty hot to kill a dog. One dog died after being locked in a parked car on a sunny, 67°F day, even though the car windows were cracked. If you’re out running errands, the safest place for your dog is at home.
Dogs can’t sweat—they control their body temperature by panting. If the air in the car is near or above the dog’s body temperature (about 100°F), the dog will be unable to cool itself, and its body temperature can quickly rise to fatal levels (over 107°F). Heatstroke symptoms in dogs include: heavy panting, salivation, disorientation, agitation, rapid heart beat, lethargy, vomiting, seizures, coma and death.
If you see a dog left alone in a car under dangerous conditions, note the car’s location, color, model, make, and license plate number, and contact local humane authorities or police, who usually have authority to break in to save the animal. If you can make a good guess as to which store the driver might be in, ask the store manager to page them. If the animal shows symptoms of heatstroke, immediately take these steps to lower its body temperature in a controlled manner:
* Move the animal into the shade or an air-conditioned area. * Apply ice packs or cold towels to the head, neck, and chest; or immerse her in cool (but not cold) water. * Allow small amounts of cool water or let the dog lick some ice cubes. * Get to a veterinarian as soon as possible.
4. Avoid Sunburn. Sunscreen may be needed for pets with white fur around their face and ears—even indoors, if they’re sunbathing through windows. Susceptible areas are where the fur is thin and the skin is white or pink. You can use a human sunscreen or sunblock product (but be sure to clean it off when you get home), or get one especially made for pets, such as Solar Rx, which is green, vegan and chemical free.
5. Protect Against Poisons. Toxic mushrooms grow in many areas of the country, so be vigilant about removing them from your yard. Many plants (and all bulbs) are also toxic. Bulbs look a lot like dog toys, so keep them out of reach!
Summer also brings chemical hazards. Antifreeze is particularly deadly, so leaky cars are a hazard; clean up any spills immediately. This is the also the time of year when people are using fertilizers, mulches, and pesticides in yards and on lawns. While professionals will usually put flags up, do-it-yourselfers might not. Don’t let your dog wander in other yards where chemicals or cocoa mulch (toxic if ingested) might be used.
If you suspect that your pet has gotten into something, poison-control hotlines (there may be a charge) include:
• Kansas State University Veterinary Teaching Hospital 785-532-5679
• ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (888) 426-4435
• The National Animal Poison Control Center 1-900-680-0000 or 1- 800-548-2423
• Angell Animal Poison Control Hotline at 1-877-2ANGEL
6. Watch Out for Critters. Walking and hiking with your dog summer increases the chances of encountering unpleasant or even dangerous wildlife, such as skunks, porcupines, scorpions, or rattlesnakes. Some toads have poisons on their skin that can be deadly even if your pet merely licks at the toad. Toads come out in wet weather and when it’s dark, so be especially careful when letting your dog out at these times.
7. Don’t Let Burrs Get Buried. Summer grasses often produce sticky or spiky seed cases. Foxtails and burrs can get caught in the paws or fur and work their way into—or even through—the skin. Foxtails have been known to work their way inside the chest or abdomen, where infection can be life-threatening. Check your pet after every outing to ensure its fur isn’t harboring any of these nasty items. Other sharp items also multiply in warm weather…if you live near water or take your dog on fishing trips, be careful with your fishing hooks and lines, and watch out for those that may have been left behind by others.
8. Drive Safely. As much as your dog may love to ride in the bed of a pickup, or hang his head out the window, either can cause your dog a world of hurt. Dust and gravel in the eyes are just the beginning; every year thousands of dogs are injured or killed when they jump or fall from vehicles. Even in an enclosed car, pets can be thrown and injured if you have to brake suddenly.
For car rides of any length, the very safest place for pets is in the back seat, either wearing a safety harness, or in a carrier or confined area. Pets loose in the car can distract and interfere with the driver, which could result in an accident. Harnesses designed as “doggie seat belts” provide safety during the trip, and prevent your dog from getting loose if someone unexpectedly opens the door. If your dog must ride in a truck bed, use a carrier or cross-ties to prevent injuries.
Cats should always be kept in a carrier while the car is in motion; many cats actually prefer it, because the smaller space makes them feel safer. Always make sure the cat is well secured before opening the car door. Some cats can be trained to walk with a harness and leash, but this is not something to try for the first time the day of the trip!
9. Always Carry Identification. Pets should always wear a collar or harness and ID tag, no matter where they are or where they’re going. Cats should be fitted with a breakaway collar for maximum safety. Please consider having your pet microchipped as added “insurance.” Rumors of cancer from microchips are greatly exaggerated, while the sad truth is that lost pets are often gone forever. Thousands of lost pets have been returned home thanks to microchips!
10. Be Prepared. Whether at home or away, keep a first aid kit ready in case of emergencies. There are special kits for both dogs and cats, so you never have to panic! You might also want to keep flower essences on hand, to keep your pet calm while you give first aid or head for the vet. Several products are available:
And there you have it! Once you’re prepared for summer hazards, you’ll be able to relax, have fun, and enjoy the summer season with your pet!
by our myth-buster Jean Hofve, DVM, Veterinary Advisor to Only Natural Pet.
- Myth# 1: A healthy pet won’t get fleas – While not a guarantee, it is true that a healthy animal is a much less attractive host for fleas. That’s one of many good reasons to feed a high quality diet of natural food. However, even a healthy pet can get fleas in heavily infested regions, so keep a watchful eye out and use a natural flea repellent on all at-risk pets.
- Myth #2: Fleas live on pets, not in the houses – Fleas usually enter the house on pets, as stated above, but they can quickly find refuge in the house. Carpets, bedding, pet beds, and upholstered furniture make cozy homes for fleas, flea eggs, and flea larvae. If you find fleas in the house, you must take quick action to eliminate them there (as well as on your pet, and even in your yard).
- Myth #3: Keeping the house clean will prevent fleas – Unfortunately, fleas can infest even the most spotless home. Fleas usually enter the house on your pets, but they can also hitch a ride on clothing, and have even been seen to jump right into the house on their own. Hard-surfaced floors are no protection, either; fleas can live in the cracks and around the edges of wood, laminate, or tile floors. They can also take refuge in furniture, bedding, and area rugs. If you live in an area with fleas, it is important to protect your pets at all times. It’s also important to get rid of fleas in your yard. Creating a flea-free buffer all around the house a great way to prevent infestation.
- Myth #4: If I only see a couple of fleas on my pet, then it’s not a big problem – More than 90% of a flea population is in the egg, larval, or pupal (cocoon) stage, all of which take place off the pet, usually in carpet, bedding, or furniture, or shady areas in the yard where your pet (or other critters) hang out. If you see a few fleas, it’s certain that there are hundreds of eggs and immature stages in the environment. The process of producing an adult flea can take weeks or even months. There’s no quick fix, but vigilance and persistence can get rid of even stubborn infestations.
- Myth #5: Once the fleas are gone from my pet, the problem is solved – Fleas do not surrender easily. If you have seen fleas on your pet or in house, you need to treat the house with a safe product, and stay vigilant for months. Fully solving the flea problem requires a 3-pronged approach of treating the pet, the house, and the yard. Use an outdoor treatment in shady areas under decks, bushes and trees, where fleas like to hang out. The best approach is prevention, so always protect your pets with a natural flea repellent, especially if they spend time outdoors, or at a dog park or doggie day care.
- Myth #6: I don’t have to worry about fleas during winter – Although you may not see them in the winter in cold climates, fleas can live quite comfortably in your house, as well as on wildlife. If your pet or your house had fleas during the warm months, you’re likely to have fleas during the winter months as well. If your pet goes outdoors and may have contact with squirrels, birds, or other wildlife, they can still get fleas. And, of course, fleas live happily in warm climates all year long, so flea control is a year-round battle.
- Myth #7: My veterinarian can most effectively treat fleas – It is fine to consult your veterinarian about flea control, but be wary of the chemical flea control products she may recommend (see Myth #8). In addition, veterinarians may not know the best ways to get rid of fleas in the environment. We recommend trying to find a holistic veterinarian who can guide you on natural flea control products. One resource for finding a holistic veterinarian is the directory of the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association.
- Myth #8: Chemical spot-on flea products are an easy and safe way to prevent fleas – They are easy, yes, but they are not necessarily safe. The US Environmental Protection Agency recently (2010) completed an in-depth investigation due to the hundreds of reports of illness and death in pets. Serious adverse effects were reported for every product EPA assessed. EPA is in the process of increasing restrictions on their use. You can read more on the EPA website here.
- Myth #9: Chemical flea collars are an easy and safe way to prevent fleas – Flea collars are the least effective control method. Fleas spend most of their time off the animal. Their effects tend not to last very long. Conventional flea collars which use chemicals may contain potentially harmful residues that are transferred to pets’ fur and can be transferred to humans who handle them. The Natural Resource Defense Council is involved in a lawsuit in California to block the sale of these products, some of which contain cancer-causing agents and poisons that linger on fur for weeks. Children are most at risk for neurological damage. A great alternative is natural flea tags, which are effective for most pets and can work for up to two years.
- Myth #10: Natural flea control products don’t work – Although many natural flea control products don’t have to go through EPA-mandated tests because they aren’t classified as pesticides, this doesn’t mean that they don’t work. People all over the country use the natural approach to flea control effectively, and although it is not always as easy as using chemicals, you can rest assured that the products are safe for your pet and your family.