Just a bunch of woo?
February 25, 2013 6:46 PM   Subscribe

Do nutritional supplements for dog cancer work?

I'm not looking for a cure, but some sort of immune system support seems nice. Unfortunately, I am a believer in evidence-based medicine and not a fan of holistic veterinary medicine (especially considering that so many of these alternative medicine vets want to sell me some TOTALLY ESSENTIAL product that is probably crap).

Any benefit to using lysine? Fish oil? I don't want to skimp on something that could help my dog, but I don't want to spend a lot of money on snake oil that does nothing. I'd honestly rather spend a lot of money on treats and other things that make my 77-pound baby happy.

In short: Did/does your dog have cancer? Did you give your dog nutritional supplements? Do you think that made any difference?
posted by ablazingsaddle to Pets & Animals (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Unfortunately, you're not going to be able to find "evidence-based" reports here unless someone can chime in with links to reasonably high-quality clinical trials.

This is an appropriate question for a vet that isn't pushing fake "medical" treatments. If you can't find one locally, I'm sure there are enough pet-owning Mefites in LA that you can get some good leads on a solid, rational vet.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 7:05 PM on February 25, 2013

Completely anecdotal: I take prescription-strength fish oil that helps with my auto-immune disease. My rheumatologist told me it can help.

I think, if your vet is an "alternative medicine" vet, that you are seeing the wrong kind of vet. If you are seeing a liscenced vet who is recommending something along the lines of what my rheumie recommended... Why not try it?
posted by two lights above the sea at 7:14 PM on February 25, 2013

I am not seeing an alternative medicine vet. My vet (and the specialist who performed the biopsy and gave me the bad news) both recommended some pain killers towards the end and lots of belly rubs.

I do not have a scientific background, I am not great at figuring out my own health situation, and I am really confused by all of this. I think alternative medicine is, with a few exceptions, total nonsense.

I am looking for links to studies or anecdotal evidence from rational people. Sorry that my question was so poorly laid out. As I said, I am really in over my head.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 7:17 PM on February 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm not looking for a cure, but some sort of immune system support seems nice.

Since you believe in evidence-based medicine, you know there is no such thing as "immune system support". There is no one "immune system". It is a collection of numerous body mechanisms. It cannot be "boosted" or "supported". A "boosted" immune system means you have an autoimmune disorder. Supplement manufacturers can get away with saying "support", "promote", and the like because those words make no claims about efficacy.

I am sorry to learn of your dog's terminal illness, but no OTC pills are going to do anything. Follow your vet's advice.
posted by Tanizaki at 7:22 PM on February 25, 2013 [13 favorites]

Lysine and fish oil have helped the general health of my kitties. Both lead to nicer coats and with the lysine they produce less eye goop (which I assume is a good thing?). One of my kitties has itchy dry skin and dandruff, and it clears up within a few days of getting daily fish oil doses, though returns if I stop the dosing. My vet gives me lysine powder for dirt cheap, and as for fish oil I just give them the same liquid fish oil I take (protip: they'll take the lemon but not the orange flavored) and mix a little in with their food.

So in my experience those two particular supplements have real health benefits to my cats. It's not going to be magical and fix everything but it may help the pet feel a little better. But they definitely aren't going to send cancer into remission or anything. If you're hearing that from an alt-vet then they're full of it.
posted by schroedinger at 7:28 PM on February 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

My vet recently recommended I give my dog fish oil for his dry skin. Which, to me, implies two things.

1. It's not dangerous to give your dog Fish Oil, in general.

2. Fish oil probably works similarly in dogs to the way it works in humans. In other words, it's probably no more likely to prolong your dog's life or help his immune system than it is to work as an important line of defense in human cancers.

So, I guess it couldn't hurt to try, but it probably won't bring about noticeable results.
posted by Sara C. at 7:38 PM on February 25, 2013

When my dog had bone cancer my vet recommended fish oil tablets. What my vet said and it was easy enough to cut a capsule and put the oil on her food. The only evidence I could find suggested it shows some difference in animals but has not shown it in humans and it couldn't hurt. My dog underwent chemotherapies.

You may consider this slightly in the Whoowhoo department but I also put her on a mixture called "Sasha's blend" I have seen this mix help dogs with arthritis and some studies in Australia have shown that it, like the fish oil helps with inflammation and pain so I added it to her diet with the vets hearty OK, It is recommended by a lot of Australian vets for arthritis and I had some around as we had an old dog too, it is pretty expensive in the US though it is available.

There are some not expensive and not dangerous drugs that may slow the cancers growth/spread you may want to discuss with your vet, at one point the vet explained the fact if my dog hadn't been on steroids for a skin condition she would have put her on them as it can help with inflammation and associated pain caused with cancer.

Upping basic nutrition is probably a good idea as well, as your dog feels more pain it will most likely eat a lot less, so if you don't use a high quality food now might be the time to splurge.

I am so sorry for what you and your dog are going through, I know how very much this sucks. Feeling helpless in the face of cancer is scary and if spoiling your dog and if feeding it a few supplements that your mainstream non holistic vet OK's helps you cope, that's not a bad thing even if there is a little bit of whoowhoo and blind faith involved. Lord knows it helped me cope.
posted by wwax at 7:45 PM on February 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'd recommend the Dog Cancer Survival Guide as a good starting point that explores some of the more holistic approaches, traditional, evidence-based medicine, and everything in between, all with a healthy grain of salt.
posted by disillusioned at 8:02 PM on February 25, 2013

We are currently going through the same thing. We are working with our vet to keep our dog as comfortable as possible, but are not pursuing anything supplemental. We are, however, kind of ruthlessly science-based.

Watching your dog die of cancer is really, really hard. If it makes *you* feel better to give your dog (beautiful pup, by the way) lysine or fish oil or whatever, go for it. Personally, I am hating this helpless feeling of knowing what is coming down the pike and not being able to do anything about it. Just double-check with your vet that any supplement plays nicely with whatever medications your vet has prescribed.
posted by ambrosia at 8:03 PM on February 25, 2013

Woo. Fact has a way of successfully propagating. Woo does not. You have woo.

Supporting the dog's immune system would be unwise if the immune system is the thing causing/aiding the cancer. (This may have been a factor how my first wife died if I am to believe the docs. Let me tell you, if you think you've seen a lot of 'essential' support suggestions with a sick dog, imagine what happens when a young woman gets the big C. Charlatans came out of the woodwork as if attracted to the smell of desperation. Evil. Vitamins, books, incense, aroma therapy, light therapy, meditation, prayer, christian science, acupuncture, potions, lotions, native American shamans, psychic readings. They were followed by asset thieves and scavenger humans galore.)

One thing I learned was that cures and palliatives for humans are marketed by the entire 'care' chain, from oncologist to priest, and the only one you can count on to be honest is the funeral home, and even they upsell services and caskets.

Vets are truly wonderful people. If Fido is on the way out, use them for the final part, euthanasia, when YOUR subjective assessment of quality of life/pain says it's time. Otherwise, you are paying their mortgage via increased margins on stuff that makes no difference. The implied contract with pets has a clause that you outlive them, usually.

If you are in the mood for anecdotes, I had a friend once... lawyer. Nicest guy.

He had a dog with intractable skin problems. As a last resort before put down, he took dog off commercial dog food and began feeding him 1/4 organic chicken a day, raw from a bag in the fridge, bones and all.

Dog's problems completely vanished within weeks.

Friend got liver cancer and died. Dog is rocking steady.

And so it goes. Draw your own conclusions.

Woo. Don't fall for it. If it worked, it would be sold as a cure.
posted by FauxScot at 11:19 PM on February 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

N'thing "woo." For humans, nearly every claim made for a 'nutritional supplement' vis a vis disease process where there is clinical trial based evidence, that evidence says 'woo' or 'placebo effect.' For most supplement claims, anyone who knows basic biochemistry or physiology can reason that the claims are woo.

The persistence of the entire industry, up to and including the multivitamin industry and the entire aisle of crap at Walgreens (looking at you Airborne) is utter, specious, lying, crap designed to separate the gullible from their cash.

So sorry about your dog.
posted by spitbull at 11:33 PM on February 25, 2013

I hesitated to post it, but I have anecdata similar with FauxScot's.

Sadie, a lumpy, cancerous white lab that went to Phil's to have some good final days in the sun, eating goat poop and chilling with the pack, was put on a "spoil her to death" much-more-meat diet. She suffered sudden and persistent remission of cancer, and lasted 4 years instead of 6 months. She finally died in her 'teens because of the typical old-dog "couldn't get up anymore".

Extra meat. It can't hurt, unless the vet says so.
posted by the Real Dan at 11:44 PM on February 25, 2013

Our dog has cancer, which we are opting not to treat due to her breed and age (she's a ten year old Boxer. She's going to die of old age/heart failure before this slow-growing cancer kills her.) We give our dog fish oil or other oils with every meal for her skin and coat. We top-feed her raw, so she gets whole raw chicken legs, beef bones etc. This has not caused a magical remission of cancer, but I like to believe giving her this kind of excellent nutritional support is supporting her ability to slow the cancer. I am also perfectly willing to believe this is just something I tell myself to make myself feel better.

All companions age; all companions will die of something - and in fact, 42% of dogs die of cancer. With senior dogs, my tactic has always been to accept this and focus more on quality of life than on treatment. For my dog this includes awesome raw food, delicious fish oil, Greek yoghurt and palliative support as that becomes appropriate.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:30 AM on February 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

Just to put it out there, feeding your animal raw food may give your animal a bacterial infection resulting in acute gastritis. It also may not provide sufficient nutritional value for your pet.

I used to feed my cats raw food, until all of them contracted Salmonellosis. Vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy resulting in vet visits, bloodwork, radiographs and medication. Expensive, and heartbreaking, and embarrassing, because I am a vet tech and a vet student, and exactly what I was warned could happen as a result of feeding raw indeed happened. And I was responsible for my pets' misery.

So if your dog is already suffering from cancer, you may not want to pile a bacterial gut infection on top of that.
posted by Seppaku at 5:55 AM on February 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Just to put it out there, feeding your animal raw food may give your animal a bacterial infection resulting in acute gastritis. It also may not provide sufficient nutritional value for your pet.

Yes! I am fully aboard the Raw is Not a Good Idea Train. My dog has a wonky digestive system, and I don't want to mess with the formula at this point. I am adding some high quality wet food to his decent (Fromm's classic) kibble for nutritional support. Maybe I'll add some pet-store purchased raw food, but I can't afford to switch over to that completely.

I appreciate the reality check. This morning I was out with my dog and I stopped to talk to a neighbor who was surprised that I'm not pursuing holistic treatments. I didn't scream, "Grar! Leave me alone!", but I really, really wanted to.

As I said, I have no idea what I'm doing. I'll give him some fish oil, play around with his diet, and try to make it through the Kubler Ross Stages as gracefully as I possibly can. Thanks, everyone.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 9:24 AM on February 26, 2013

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