November is a month that hits home to many pet owners, including myself. Pet Cancer Awareness Month was created to increase awareness around the signs, prevalence and treatment of cancer for pet owners. Cancer is the leading cause of death in pets. As a veterinarian and pet owner, I believe this horrible statistic. I am now on my third pet with cancer, and I am a holistic veterinarian! Something has to change.

Cancer is not always a death sentence, and treatments are improving to help our pets go into remission. It is usually rare if we can’t do something to improve the quality or quantity of your pet’s life. However, have you ever been on the receiving end of a cancer diagnosis for your pet? I have had to give the news to pet parents, but the blow to the gut when it is your own pet is astronomical. What can we do to lower the chances of our pet developing cancer?

Here is a picture of my two sweet kitties who both passed away from aggressive gastrointestinal lymphoma. Stanley and Callie were my heart and soul, and if I could change their diet from the beginning of their lives knowing what I now know, I would in a heartbeat.

Let’s start with what is cancer?

Cancer is a long-term process of degenerative changes in the body that continues without resolution. So what are the causative factors that cause these changes to occur:

  • chronic inflammation
  • toxins in the environment
  • stress
  • trauma, physical and emotional

All of these can activate cancer genes and the breakdown of the repair processes in the body that ultimately lead to cancer.

How do we prevent this inflammatory cascade from occurring and support the body naturally:

1. Antioxidants

Antioxidants are important to protect and reverse tissue and DNA damage. These can also decrease side effects from chemicals and drugs, and improve regeneration. The goal for whole body health is to support it so it can repair, regenerate and restore. If we achieve this, we avoid cancer from developing.

Feed fresh foods high in antioxidants. Add in dark colored vegetables like kale, spinach, broccoli and other brightly colored vegetables like pumpkin, carrots, squash, and purple sweet potato. Not only are these vegetables good for us, but they are excellent antioxidant sources for your pets too. If your pet is on a kibble diet, start by adding in steamed veggies to their food. Try to work with a holistic veterinarian or your normal veterinarian to transition your pets to a biologically appropriate, balanced diet for your pet if you can.

2. Mushrooms

Medicinal mushrooms are very powerful at improving the immune system function. Reishi, maitake, shiitake, and turkey tail are some of the power mushrooms that are commonly used in cancer patients. They are a source of anti-tumor and immuno-modulating polysaccharides. The polysaccharides are the important part of mushrooms which slow down the tumor growth, reduce metastasis and activate the immune response in the body to fight the mass.

Lots of research is being done on how mushrooms are a great adjunct to treatment for cancers, especially turkey tail for hemangiosarcomas. However, we can use medicinal mushrooms as general support for the immune system to hopefully prevent cancer from even forming in the first place.

3. Balanced biologically appropriate diets

Nutrition is the foundation of health – whether it’s our pets or ourselves. As Hippocrates stated, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” We have stepped so far away from using nutrition as the medicine it can truly be. Can you imagine if you were at the pediatrician with your newborn, and they handed you a bag of kibble and said you only have to feed this for the rest of your kid’s life?! What do you think you would say?

An unbalanced diet is not ok, but there are so many resources out there now where we can formulate a home-cooked diet or even use one of the many food services that are making a balanced diet for your pet with real food. Commercially prepared foods can contain many harmful contaminants (arsenic, dioxins, and pesticides) that create inflammation and cellular degeneration in our pets’ bodies, which can lead to cancer formation. Check out for a simple to use website that will help you formulate a balanced diet for your pets.

4. Chinese herbal formulas

Chinese herbal medicine can seem quite foreign to people who are not familiar with Eastern medicine. However, this is a huge tool for helping to control cancer and can be integrated into a conventional treatment plan and increase the efficacy of the conventional drugs being used and reduce the side effects. Chinese herbal medicine should be used with guidance from a holistic practitioner who is familiar with Eastern medicine. I have had some really good success at helping to control chemotherapy side effects, improve the patient’s quality of life, and increase longevity. My own dog, Finn, is still here in large part to using Chinese herbal medicine with him. Chinese herbal medicine can also be used long before cancer develops to keep the body healthy and happy.

5. Supplements

There are numerous supplements that help support whole-body health and reduce inflammation naturally in the body. Fish oil is a great supplement to add in, especially for older pets to help their joints. I recommend using a pet brand like Nordic Naturals where you can easily dose based on their recommendations for body weight.

Another supplement that strengthens the body’s resistance and enhances vitality is ashwagandha. Ashwagandha is an adaptogen. This plant possesses anti-inflammatory, antitumor, antistress, antioxidant, immunomodulatory, and rejuvenating properties. As always if your pet is on any medications or has other issues, please consult with your veterinarian to ensure there are no side effects.

There are many supplements out there to help improve the way our pets’ bodies work and to support them. The supplement industry is not well regulated. So I look for well-known and researched brands but also the NASC brand. NASC stands for Nutritional Animal Supplement Council which is one of the few regulatory companies.

Remember, we can control a lot of components that our pets are exposed to, but we also cannot control a lot of what they are exposed to. We can only do the best with what we have and the knowledge we have at the time. Losing two pets and possibly another soon to cancer has been devastating to me, and I have learned to give myself grace. I do my best to support them and give my pets the best life possible, because that is all we can do at the end of the day. Our pets know one thing and one thing only, the amount of love they receive from us. So make each day amazing with them, regardless of whether they have cancer or not and never take a single day of life for granted, because we never know how long we are here on earth.

Here are some of the supplements I recommend for maintaining your pet’s health and wellness: General Wellness Support


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*Disclaimer: This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of your own veterinarian or doctor. The information contained in is strictly for educational purposes. Therefore, if you wish to apply ideas contained in, you are taking full responsibility for your actions. Please consult your veterinarian for medical advice for your own pets. Dr. Katie Woodley cannot answer specific questions about your pet’s medical issues or make medical recommendations for your pet without first establishing a veterinarian-client-patient relationship.

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