At the end of October 2016, my eight year old dog Zane had a mast cell tumor removed. In July 2015, my other dog, seven year old Arran, also had one removed. Neither tumor was particularly aggressive, although Zane has shown signs of being more affected by mast cell cancer than Arran has. Mast cell tumors are a sign that a dog's immune system has gone a bit haywire. Some dogs only get one tumor and that's it. Others can get very sick from mast cell tumors and die within weeks. I realize that not everyone has heard of mast cell tumors, so here's a link to an article offering a basic explanation of what mast cell cancer is. Mast cell tumors are extremely common in dogs, so all dog owners should know something about them. Some breeds are more susceptible to mast cell tumors than others are.
Before Bill and I had Zane and Arran, we had two other beagles, Flea and MacGregor. Both of them died of different cancers. Flea had prostate cancer and MacGregor had a very malignant spinal tumor. Although neither Zane nor Arran are anywhere near as sick as either Flea or MacGregor were, I have about had my fill of canine cancer. I have recently made some changes in my dogs' diets to help them live as long and as well as possible.
MacGregor (left) and Flea (right) when we lived in Germany the first time. Both were claimed too young by canine cancers.
When Arran got his mast cell tumor in 2015, the first thing I did was switch dog foods. I stopped buying any grocery store brand food and got them the senior formula of Orijen, which is an expensive grain free, high protein food made in Canada. I order it from Amazon.de, but I have heard it's also available at local pet stores here in Germany. There are other good quality commercial foods available, too, and they are a better bet than cheap grocery store brands. That being said, it's a good idea to stay away from kibble if you can. Although feeding kibble is very convenient, it's not the best thing to give dogs who have cancer, even if it's really high quality stuff.
Next, I put the dogs on what is known as Cleo's Diet. It's a high protein, low carb diet for dogs who have mast cell cancer. Basically, it consists of mixing a little bit of ricotta (or cottage cheese, if you prefer) with either fish or krill oil and feeding it twice a day with high protein dog food. I give Zane Tagamet (an antacid for humans that I get from Amazon) at each meal and both dogs get daily Benadryl (an antihistamine), although Zane gets more than Arran does. The Tagamet is important for Zane because mast cell disease gives him an upset stomach. Both Tagamet and Benadryl block histamine. Dogs with mast cell disease release too much histamine, which can cause tumors and make them feel sick. The medications help block some of the excess histamine and heparin that can make the cancer worse. Tagamet also has some anti-cancer properties that can help prevent cancer cells from attaching to internal organs.
I also give my dogs CBD oil (made from hemp). Zane, in particular, has really done well on the CBD oil. It obviously makes him feel much better by reducing inflammation and pain. I have also used CBD oil on myself to rather amazing results. It helped me get rid of a stubborn skin lesion I've had for months. I get my CBD oil off of Amazon.de. Anyone who wants to know which one is welcome to hit me up on my blog's Facebook page or on my personal page if you know me on Facebook.
A lot of people swear by raw food diets for their dogs. I do not give my dogs raw diets because they are not recommended for dogs with mast cell disease. Mast cell cancer screws up the dog's immune system, so raw diets can expose them to pathogens that might make the condition worse. Instead, for us, the focus will be on not overcooking the food. Homemade dog food isn't just for dogs who are sick. A lot of people feed raw or homemade diets to preserve their dogs' health.
There are a lot of great groups on Facebook for people who have dogs with cancer or other illnesses. There are also groups for making homemade food. Since I got us an Instant Pot at Christmas, Bill and I decided to use it to make some homemade dog food yesterday. At some point, I may take my dogs off commercial food altogether. I bought our Instant Pot on Amazon.de, but it's also available on Amazon.com. It costs about $100 and you can get one with either 110 or 220 voltage. I think there are two versions now. I would opt for the higher speed one, as it also makes yogurt.
I thought some readers might be interested in seeing how we made the food. It turned out well; the dogs love it and we can even try it ourselves.
The ingredients we used: Fresh turkey breast, kale, spinach, broccoli, brown rice, lentils, water, salt, turmeric, and black pepper.
Bill prepares the ingredients. We chose turkey as our protein source because Zane is allergic to a lot of things, including beef. He seems to do okay with chicken, but we decided that since chicken is also a common allergen in dogs, we'd try a more exotic meat source. We also have some rabbit that we'll use at a later date.
The Instant Pot. I was inspired to buy this handy appliance after reading rave reviews from one of my local Facebook friends who is a mom of three young kids. Bill loves it for a lot of reasons, including the fact that it makes perfect hard boiled eggs. The Instant Pot also makes yogurt. I don't eat yogurt, but it is a very good thing to have on hand for dogs with sensitive stomachs. Bill likes yogurt, too. Next Instant Pot project will probably be yogurt making.
Green vegetables are very important for a cancer fighting diet. I picked up broccoli, spinach, and kale. As you can see, they are of the frozen variety for now.
Arran was curious about what was going on.
One pound of turkey breast from the commissary, along with 1-1/3 cups of brown rice, 1/4 cup lentils (which we bought at a vending machine), 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon of turmeric, and handfuls of the greens. We could have also added a sweet potato and a regular potato. Because we're trying to avoid excessive starch, we omitted those ingredients.
We put the lentils and rice in the pot.
Bill cuts up the turkey.
Spoons out the turmeric, which is another powerful weapon against cancer.
A little salt.
Added to the pot, along with black pepper.
Next we added handfuls of the kale, spinach, and broccoli.
We added 3 1/2 cups of water...
and the turkey...
All set now.
I had made a video to go here, but the sound on it didn't turn out very well. I'll have to try making one the next time we do this. Bill set up the Instant Pot to run for 25 minutes on high pressure. It actually takes a bit longer than 25 minutes because the pressure has to build and release.
This is what the food looked like after it had been pressure cooked for the allotted time.
It was a little bit soupy at first, probably because we used frozen veggies. The rice eventually absorbed all of the extra liquid.
The end result was six cups of dog food. We have already given the dogs a couple of very small servings to see how they react to it. So far, they love the taste.
I am going to add links to a few great books for those of you who may be facing the same dog cancer battle we are, as well as links to some good Facebook groups.
Edited to add: Zane and Arran are still with us on February 8. 2018. They still love this food and are as healthy as ever!
The two above books are good guides to learning about canine cancer. The book below is a great book for learning about canine nutrition and homemade dog food. The vet who wrote the book below also has some fabulous YouTube videos. I recommend looking him up.
Canine diet and cancer Facebook groups I'm in... All four have been helpful, but I recommend following them sparingly, because some of the stories and pictures are really sad. On the other hand, there are also some great uplifting stories about dogs who have been helped naturally.
Holistic Help for Dogs with Mast Cell Cancer
Homemade Hope/Holistic Healing for Dogs with Cancer and Illness
Home Cooked Diets For Dogs
CBD Dog's (for dogs with cancer) in honor of Crixus James Slygo Smith
Edited to add: I have left all but the first group: Holistic Help for Dogs with Mast Cell Cancer and the third group, Home Cooked Diets for Dogs. The other groups were helpful, but my Facebook feed was getting clogged with sad stories about sick dogs. Those two groups work best for us at this time.
Hopefully, this post will be helpful to readers who are also dealing with canine cancer. My next post will be back to food and travel, as we are heading to France today! And yes, Zane and Arran are coming with us! Stay tuned!