Cancer and Diet…Maintaining Your Pet’s Quality of Life

In the last 6 years, I’ve lost 3 dogs to cancer…the third, only 6 weeks ago–my handsome greyhound. Losing the big guy has made me think a lot about when it’s the right time to say goodbye. Did we hold on too long? Did we let go too soon?

My vet and I are on the same page about this tough decision. It’s not the quantity of years your pet has lived; it’s the quality of life they had in those years.

And the quality of a pet’s life with cancer can turn bad fast.

My first dog to die from cancer lived for a few years after she was diagnosed, and had a great quality of life until the day before we put her to sleep.

My second dog suffered in silence, never letting on she was probably in pain for months until one day she started to seem unbearably sick.

Our last dog died only 3 months after being diagnosed. For him, we made the decision it was time when he stopped eating and lost interest in life.

Although their cancers were all different, there was one common thread running between all 3 of my dogs. They all suffered from cancer cachexia, the loss of body fat and muscle that occurs with cancer, even if the amount of food they’re consuming doesn’t change.

Cancer cachexia

Unfortunately, cachexia often results in poor quality of life.

The wasting that occurs with cachexia causes lethargy and a loss of interest in daily activities like going for walks, playing fetch, swimming and romping with their other four legged friends.

To me, once that starts happening…it’s time. The quality of my dog’s life is gone and they’re starting to suffer.

Cancer cachexia will also compromise the immune system, which can mean death from infection and other secondary illnesses.

So how can we manage the effects of cancer cachexia in our pets, canine or feline, and maintain their quality of life for as long as possible?

First, we have to understand a little bit about how cancer works.

Cancer affects your pet’s metabolism

Cancer causes the body to metabolize carbohydrates, fat and proteins differently than in a healthy body.

Cancer cells thrive on sugar. They use sugar for energy. Sugar helps the cells grow and reproduce. When the cancer uses sugar for energy, lactate is produced. This is a waste product that poisons the cancer’s host…your pet.

Lactate depletes your pet’s energy. This weakens the body and allows the cancer to grow. It weakens the immune system and allows infections to take hold.   It saps your pet’s strength making them lethargic.

In addition to sugar (carbohydrates), the tumor needs protein. But your pet needs protein too, and a lack of it will reduce muscle mass. Your pet needs to consume more protein than the tumor is using to maintain muscle. Feeding a diet with a greater percentage of calories from high-quality protein will help.

The body fat lost due to cachexia is particularly problematic because the body will go into its fat stores to replace that lost fat. Your pet’s body relies on those fat stores to be available during short-term fasts when they aren’t feeling well and don’t want to eat. Adding the right types of fat to the diet, like omega-3s, is necessary to help offset the fat loss that comes with cachexia.

And since tumors thrive on sugar, carbohydrates should be kept to a minimum.

The right diet may help

Knowing what we know about cancer cachexia, we can manage the effects of cachexia with the right diet, even if we can’t reverse it.

According to the website vetlearn.com, a diet consisting of 50-60% of calories from fat, 30-50% of calories from high quality protein, and the remaining calories from carbohydrates offers the right balance.

But cachexia causes weight loss even when our pets are eating normally and their appetites are unaffected. As you can imagine, having cancer can cause your pet to not want to eat.

Some times the treatments and meds can be nauseating. And some times the disease itself can prevent eating. Cancers to the mouth can make eating painful. And stomach cancers can make eating problematic, too.

Some times a pet can develop a learned food aversion. They may associate eating with something bad like taking medicine, if you happen to put it in their food or give it to them soon after eating. Obviously, you want to try to minimize food aversions as much as possible.

Keep mealtime as pleasant as it can be for your pet during this time when eating just may not have the same appeal it used to.

And now more than ever, water is the most essential nutrient you can give your pet. Be sure they always have a full bowl of fresh clean water available to them.

You may also want to talk to your vet about the benefits of supplementing with arginine and glutamine, 2 amino acids. Arginine helps the immune system and glutamine maintains the health of the intestinal tract. If you have a cat with cancer, vitamin B12 may be beneficial.

It’s always a good idea to talk to your vet before giving your pet a supplement. But this is especially true when your pet has cancer.

We can’t keep our pets alive forever, as much as we wish we could. And a cancer diagnosis is devastating. Knowing you gave your pet the best life possible with the least amount of suffering is the most you can hope for. Minimizing the effects of cancer cachexia can go a long way to accomplishing that.

If you’re looking for a food that provides the right balance of protein, fat and carbs to manage your pet’s cancer, consider Husse’s Valp, Valp Maxi and Valp Mini for dogs; or Exclusive Lean and Exclusive Lean Sensitive for cats. Although the dog food is formulated for puppies, they are excellent choices for an adult dog with cancer.

Have you had a pet with cachexia? How did you manage it? Tell us in the comment section above. Your experience may help someone else going through it.

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5 Reasons a Pet is Good for Everyone

Last week I talked about the value of growing up with a pet. But pets aren’t only great for kids. They’re great for adults too.

Here are 5 reasons why.

  1. They lessen depression and anxiety

Having a pet has been shown to reduce depression and anxiety in their owners. If you’ve ever spent any time with an animal you know that their behavior can put a smile on your face. Their love and affection can help you feel better about life, and they just generally calm the nerves.

Animal-assisted therapy is proof of this. Dogs are often used in hospitals and nursing homes to reduce anxiety in patients. They’re also used to help veterans overcome post-traumatic stress disorder.

Dog owners who suffer from depression often say that getting out for a walk with their dog makes them feel better. Having a dog forces someone who might not otherwise want to leave their house to get up and go.

  1. They improve cardiovascular health

The largest studies that have been done to date about the health benefits of pet ownership relate to cardiovascular health.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) have done extensive studies that show that pet ownership lowers blood pressure, cholesterol and triglyceride levels, for overall improved cardiovascular health.

If you own a pet, stressful situations aren’t as stressful on your body as they are to non-pet owners. In one study referenced by WebMD, stockbrokers with high blood pressure that adopted pets had lower blood pressure readings in stressful situations than non-pet owners.

So your pet doesn’t even have to be present to positively impact your health. Even away from a pet, pet owners have lower blood pressure than non-pet owners in stressful situations.

  1. They boost the human immune system and reduce the incidence of allergies

Anyone who’s ever had a pet knows they aren’t always the cleanest. The added dirt and allergens a pet brings into your home can boost the human immune system. And as I said in last week’s post, growing up with a dog reduces the likelihood of allergies and asthma in kids.

  1. They can help you feel less lonely and encourage socialization

Pets are particularly beneficial for people who live alone. Having a pet can help someone living by themselves to feel less lonely. They’re a companion, someone to talk to—even if they don’t talk back.

Getting out for walks with your dog leads to more conversations with people on the street than you might have walking by yourself. And walking a dog can foster connections and maybe new friendships with other people walking their dogs.

This is a real benefit for the elderly. It’s a fact that people who have more social connections tend to live longer, and experience slower mental and physical decline.

Having a pet companion is great for your spirit, plain and simple.

  1. They force you to get more exercise, reduce the occurrence of obesity and improve mobility.

This is true for a pet that gets you outside. If you have a dog, you have to walk it. They need exercise…and so do you.

The good news is several NIH studies show that walking your dog regularly really does reduce your likelihood of being obese, compared to people who don’t have dogs, or people who have dogs but aren’t responsible for walking them.

These studies also show that people who walked their dogs, walked faster and for longer periods each week than those who didn’t walk regularly with a dog.

Older dog owners who walked regularly had greater mobility in their homes as a result of their improved fitness. And greater mobility means fewer falls, and an ability to stay independent.

If an elderly person can care for a dog, there’s no better companion.

The human-animal bond is special. This remarkable connection goes back at least 12,000 years. A human skeleton that dates back to that period was found in Israel a few years ago. The skeleton was found with its hand resting on the skeleton of a 6-month-old wolf pup.

“The bond between animals and humans is part of our evolution, and it’s very powerful,” says Dr. Ann Berger, a physician and researcher at the NIH Clinical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.

Although this relationship has existed for eons, the scientific study of the human-animal bond is in its infancy.

Pet owners already know the blessing of having a pet. The many studies that are going on now, and those that will take place in the future, will only confirm what we already know about the positive impact they have on our health.

Have you personally experienced any of these health benefits of pet ownership? Please share your story in the comment section above. We’d love to hear your thoughts.

On the fence about getting a pet for your kids? This may push you over.

Everyone knows kids love animals.  They grow up reading books about animals, seeing movies about talking animals, and collecting a treasure trove of stuffed animals.

All you have to do is look in my kids’ rooms to know that animals rock. Their rooms are a menagerie full of stuffed animals, books about animals, and cute photos of all sorts of creatures from pigs to puppies…and my kids are teenagers!

But they’ve grown up with a love for all things furry, scaled and sometimes smelly.

It’s true that no one has to tell me that having a pet helps kids grow up to be empathetic, healthy and happy, but not everyone has experienced this for themselves.

So if you are seriously considering adding a pet to your family but your just not sure you’re ready to take the plunge, I want to tell you why you should.

Pets can help kids…

…to be responsible

While you shouldn’t think that your kids would be responsible for the daily care of your pet (that’s your job), having a pet will teach them how to care for something other than themselves. It will teach them about responsibility because they can certainly help you take care of your pet, and they’ll see you taking care of it.

…to nurture

 But beyond teaching responsibility which your child will have lots of opportunities to learn along the way, it teaches a child to nurture. That’s a skill that’s learned. It doesn’t just happen.

In many societies, children learn to nurture by caring for their younger siblings but that’s not usually the case in the United States. In fact, you might find yourself in some serious trouble if your 8 year old is responsible for taking care of your 3 year old while you’re at work.

The thing about caring for a pet is that it gives both boys and girls an opportunity to learn to nurture. As they get older, boys don’t always feel as comfortable playing house, playing with dolls or even babysitting as girls do, but nurturing a pet is acceptable to them.

…to be empathetic

Many studies show that kids who live with pets score higher on measurements of empathy than kids without pets. Pets teach kids that others have feelings and reactions to their behavior.

Pets get sick. They even die. And that’s sad for the pet and for your child who’ll be learning a lesson. Pets and people feel sad and sometimes we just have to let them be sad. And sometimes all we can do is be their friends when that happens…and have empathy.

…to feel less stress and anxiety

There’s nothing like a pet to cuddle or stroke when you’re feeling stressed or anxious. Numerous studies have shown that pets are so great at relieving stress that having one can even lower blood pressure.

Mary Renck Jalongo, Ph.D., and author of The World of Children and Their Companion Animals, says, “Kids who get support from their animal companions are rated by their parents as less anxious and withdrawn.”

…to feel less lonely and better about themselves

When I was a kid, I went through some difficult times with my friends as most kids do at some point. Kids can be mean. But not a pet. When I was going through a rough patch with my friends and felt alone, the first thing I’d do after school is lay with my dog for a while.

She loved me no matter what. Her kisses and nuzzles were all I needed to feel at least a little less lonely. And if she loved me, heck there must be something wrong with my friends because my dog thinks I’m terrific.

And if your child struggles with friendships, a pet can be a conversation starter and a shared interest with other kids.

…to be healthy

Numerous studies have shown that a child growing up with a pet has a reduced risk of allergies and asthma, even if your family is allergy prone.

They get your kids outside and away from electronics. When my kids have been glued to a screen for too long, it’s time to go out and throw the ball with the dog. Getting some fresh air and some exercise is good for everyone.

Maybe your pet of choice isn’t a dog, but other animals can get your kids outside too. Horses, goats, chickens all require your kids to get outside in order to enjoy their company.

…to be a better reader and better in science (believe it or not)

Kids who struggle with reading are more likely to want to read to their dog or cat, maybe even their fish or hamster, than to read out loud to their parents.

In fact, there are a number of reading programs in libraries and schools around the country where kids can read to a therapy dog. So if you decide not to get a pet, you may want to give one of these programs a try if your child could use a book buddy.

Interestingly, studies have shown that kids with pets have a better understanding of biology than their pet-less peers. In one study, kindergarteners that care for goldfish were better able to respond to the question, “Does a goldfish have a heart?” These kids also had a better understanding of biological processes. For example, baby frogs grow to be bigger frogs.

…to learn new things

When kids have a pet, they may take a real interest in that specific type of pet or a specific breed of their pet. This is an opportunity for children to read about and learn something new. They may even want to learn to train their dog and go to obedience classes with you.

Pet ownership could foster an interest in veterinary science. Visiting the vet with you and your pet could be inspiring and informative for your child. They can learn about proper pet care and pet health.

These kinds of experiences, and this kind of knowledge, builds confidence in kids.

…to bond with their families

When the every day pace of life gets wearing, it’s time to take a break.  That’s when we need to take a step back and be together with our family.  We need to bond. Pet ownership is full of great bonding moments.

Some of my most wonderful memories with my children revolve around our dogs…the times we all just laid on the lawn with the dogs, looking up at the clouds.

Or throwing the ball around with the dogs. We laughed at their antics.  One would steal the ball from the other with no interest or plan to return it. The other would bark at us as if to say, “Help, he’s being mean to me!”

During these great family moments, there was no agenda, no fighting, no expectations. Just laughs and smiles. Pets force you to have those moments…those moments that would just get away from us if we didn’t slow down.

Pet ownership is not for everyone for a lot of reasons. So if you aren’t convinced these are good reasons to take the plunge, there are many other ways you can expose your kids to animals–ways you can give them at least some of the benefits of pet ownership.

You can find volunteer opportunities at animal shelters. Maybe you have a friend or family member your children can pet sit for.  You can brighten your children’s lives by including an animal in it, even if you don’t own one. You just need to be a little creative.

Are you on the fence about getting a pet? Was this helpful to you? Let us know in the comment section above.

Omega 6…and the other Omega you may have heard of

Last week we talked about how important omega-3s are to your cat and dog.   They’re one of two essential fatty acids your pet needs to keep their immune system functioning and to minimize inflammation.

Omega-3s can be added to your pet’s diet by buying a food that includes it in the formulation. Or you can give your pet a supplement. But this fatty acid is critical to good health.

The other essential fatty acid that both humans and their pets need is omega-6.

Why omega-6?

A lack of omega-6 can result in poor development in puppies, liver and kidney degeneration, poor wound healing, miscarriage, and sterility in males.

The good news is that omega-6 deficiency is rare because most commercial pet foods contain plenty of omega-6s. In fact, maybe more than your pet actually needs.

It’s found in many of the ingredients in their food; plant oils, grains, poultry, lean meat such as pork, and eggs. And because omega-6s are found in corn, any meat in your pet’s food that comes from animals that are fed corn will be high in omega-6s.

Meat from animals that are grass-fed or free range will be higher in omega-3s.

The Omega-6:Omega-3 ratio

What’s most important about the amount of omega-6s and omega-3s in your pet’s diet is the ratio between the two. Generally speaking the suggested ratio of 6s to 3s is 5:1 to 10:1.

You probably can’t reduce the omega-6s in your pet’s diet in order to improve the ratio. But you can increase the omega-3s by feeding a food that contains it or by giving your pet a supplement. This will bring the ratio down to where it should be.

The risks of a ratio that’s out of whack

Here’s why you have to be careful to keep the right balance between omega-6s and omega-3s.

Some omega-6s actually promote inflammation, which is necessary in the healing process. But if your pet is receiving too much 6 relative to 3, it can cause an imbalance between the pro- and anti-inflammatory agents in the body. This can exacerbate conditions brought on by inflammation like allergies and joint problems, to name a few.

But the right balance between omega-3s and omega-6s–that’s an elixir for good health, and can prevent:

  • Dry flaky skin, hair loss, and a dull coat
  • Inflammation
  • Allergies
  • Immune system dysfunction
  • Yeast infections
  • Heart conditions
  • Obesity

Therapeutic doses of omega-3s and 6s can be used to treat high cholesterol and triglycerides, behavioral problems, and even to slow the growth of some cancers.

For pets that have these types of chronic diseases, a supplement may be beneficial. But for most healthy pets, the additional cost and inconvenience of a supplement isn’t necessary.

Feed your dog or cat a super premium food like Husse that’s rich in essential fatty acids. And they’ll get the right balance between omega-6s and omega-3s to keep them healthy.

All this talk about essential fatty acids and omega-3s and 6s may have you wondering about omega-9. Do your pets need that too?

Omega-9 is not essential in humans, or our cats and dogs. This fatty acid is produced in our bodies in sufficient amounts to keep us healthy.

In all of my research on this subject, the only arguments I found in favor of giving our pets omega-9 came from the companies selling a supplement that contained it. Otherwise, most sources seem to suggest that it’s unnecessary to add omega-9 to your pet’s diet. The body produces what they need.

Do you give your dog or cat an omega-6 supplement? How about a supplement that contains omega-9? Let us know about your experience with these fatty acids in the comment section above.