This week we are celebrating a decade (10 years) of Dog Cancer Answers. To ring in this milestone, we are revisiting the episode that started it all in 2011. Filmed between host James Jacobson and principal author of The Dog Cancer Survival Guide, Dr. Demian Dressler—the interview is overflowing with time-tested, rock-solid dog cancer recommendations and advice. Aimed to help you focus, plan, and create actionable steps that will help you help your dog fight (and even beat) their cancer.
Links Mentioned in Today’s Show:
The Dog Cancer Survival Guide: Full Spectrum Treatments to Optimize Your Dog’s Life Quality and Longevity by Dr. Demian Dressler and Dr. Susan Ettinger.
https://www.dogcancerblog.com/articles/your-role/guardian-versus-dog-lover-in-dog-cancer/ by Dr. Demian Dressler
https://www.dogcancerblog.com/articles/book-excerpt/financial-assistance-for-dogs-with-cancer/ Book Excerpts: Free Chapter
You can reach out to Dr. Demian Dressler directly on his veterinary hospital’s website: https://VetinKihei.com.
To join the private Facebook group for readers of Dr. Dressler’s book “The Dog Cancer Survival Guide,” go to https://www.facebook.com/groups/dogcancersupport/
About Today’s Guest, Dr. Demian Dressler:
Dr. Demian Dressler, DVM is internationally recognized as “the dog cancer vet” because of his innovations in the field of dog cancer management. A dynamic educator and speaker, Dr. Dressler is the author of the best-selling animal health book The Dog Cancer Survival Guide: Full Spectrum Treatments to Optimize Your Dog’s Life Quality and Longevity.
Dr. Dressler is the owner of the accredited practice South Shore Veterinary Care, a full-service veterinary hospital in Maui, Hawaii, Dr. Dressler studied Animal Physiology and received a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of California at Davis before earning his Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine from Cornell University.
“Your dog does NOT have an expiration date, and there are things ALL cancers have in common that you can help fight. Imagine looking back at this time five years from now and not having a single regret.” - Dr. D
You can find hundreds of articles Dr. D wrote about dog cancer on his immensely popular website: https://www.dogcancerblog.com/meet-the-veterinarians-dr-dressler/
This episode is sponsored by the best-selling animal health book The Dog Cancer Survival Guide: Full Spectrum Treatments to Optimize Your Dog’s Life Quality and Longevity by Dr. Demian Dressler and Dr. Susan Ettinger. Available everywhere fine books are sold.
Listen to this podcast episode for a special discount code.
If you would like to ask a dog cancer related question for one of our expert veterinarians to answer on a future Q&A episode, call our Listener Line at 808-868-3200.
Have a guest you think would be great for our show? Contact our producers at DogCancerAnswers.com
Have an inspiring True Tail about your own dog’s cancer journey you think would help other dog lovers? Share your true tail with our producers.
Dog Cancer News is a free weekly newsletter that contains useful information designed to help your dog with cancer. To sign up, please visit: www.dogcancernews.com
>> Dr. Demian Dressler: There are many, many different causes of cancer. So, this is one of the diseases that we call multifactorial. That means there are different steps that need to be accomplished in the road to the development of cancer. And these different steps, all have different causes. For example. We can look at carcinogens these are things that everybody has heard of that are found in our air, in our own water and in our diet.
>>Narrator: Welcome to Dog Cancer Answers, where we help you help your dog with cancer. Here’s your host, James Jacobson.
>>James Jacobson: Hello friend. Can you believe it? We have made it into 2021. It didn’t feel like 2020 would ever end, but I’m so glad we are here because this week we are celebrating a huge milestone for our show. This year, 2021 marks 10 years– one full decade of us bringing Dog Cancer Answers to you. That’s right. The first Dog Cancer Answers came out in 2011 a decade ago. And after 2020, it feels like even more time. So, we thought that we would start a new year by bringing back the ultimate rewind episode, which happens to be the first interview between myself and Dr. Demian.
Now a little background on the episode that you’re about to hear before we get started. When we did this back then a decade ago, my gosh, we used to actually meet in person. Do you remember those days? Anyhow, we met at his veterinary office in Hawaii and I interviewed him in front of an audience of his in-house animal patients. So, don’t be alarmed if you hear a little barking or meowing here and there throughout the discussion.
Also, because this is one of our older episodes, we did our best to review and remove outdated information, but remember, veterinary information can change rapidly. So, we want to remind you that after listening to all the great topics in this show, you can write down some notes or keywords or topics that most interest you, then I encourage you to take those notes over to the website, dogcancerblog.com. That’s the website that started off this whole series at dogcancerblog.com. When you’re there, you can type in any of your keywords from your notes and pull up a list of articles that are written by Dr. Dressler or Dr. Sue Ettinger or other veterinary colleagues within the last few years.
Don’t worry, I promise that the Dog Cancer Blog website is easy to navigate. Just type in a key word into the article search box and your results will immediately populate. Of course, it depends– of course, how quickly your internet connection is, but they’re there. And we have a lot of information at dogcancerblog.com.
Now that we’ve got all of that out of the way. Let’s go ahead and get started with this week’s episode.
Dr. Dressler, thanks for being with us today. Most important question. When you deliver the news that a client’s dog has cancer, what do they need to know? What’s the most important thing that you’d like to convey to them?
>> Dr. Demian Dressler: I think what happens when we hear the words cancer, the most important thing that everybody needs to understand is that it’s not a death sentence, not right off the bat, not by any definition. Cancer can be very, very scary. Cancer, it can be overwhelming. It can make you feel as if your world has been turned totally upside down.
However, there are many, many things that can be done to help pets with a cancer diagnosis to make sure we have the best possible outcome. So, it’s very, very difficult to hear, but. There are so many things that can be done that can help the situation.
>> James Jacobson: Now, you went to the top vet school in America, according to the US News and World report, Cornell. And you trained as a traditional veterinarian for awhile. And then it’s just in the last few years that you’ve really been exploring what dog cancer is and how pervasive it is. How pervasive is it?
>> Dr. Demian Dressler: Well, when I first graduated about 12 years ago from Cornell, I had no idea. And as a matter of fact, it’s not something that’s discussed a lot in veterinary schools at all– how common is cancer? And I bet if one were to ask veterinarians across the country, not many would say that cancer is the number one cause of death right now in dogs. Number one, it’s above auto accidents. It’s above diabetes, it’s above all these other diseases. And it’s the number one cause of death right now.
And as it turns out, one out of every three dogs is predicted to get cancer in their lifetime. And the scary thing is that there’s new information that then it may be closer even to one and two, which is incredibly common. It’s practically an epidemic, but it’s around us and we’re immersed in it. So it almost seems as if it’s normal. And we’ve never actually realized how prevalent it is that we’re in the midst of an epidemic. And half of the dogs that get a cancer diagnosis and a malignancy will succumb to the disease and end up dying of it.
>> James Jacobson: That’s a lot. What’s your biggest shock as you started looking at cancer and exploring it both from the perspective of a trained Western veterinarian and then this outside of the box thinking that you’re known for, this full spectrum approach?
>> Dr. Demian Dressler: I think the thing that I realized was that, although I went to a fabulous school and got a really, really good education. There is so much more to know about cancer. We’ve got a huge area, a huge wealth of information and all it takes is a directed focus on all of the different ways that one can help a canine cancer care patient. Way above and way beyond what is traditionally taught in a standard veterinary curriculum. And all it takes is the time and the effort spent looking at the original scientific publications and finding out what other things can we do that are above what we call the big three, which are chemotherapy and surgery and radiation.
And those are the weapons that we have in conventional veterinary care towards cancer. But there are many other things that can be done as well.
>> James Jacobson: What causes cancer? Why is it so prevalent?
>> Dr. Demian Dressler: Many people will say, we don’t know, actually there are many, many different causes of cancer. So, this is one of the diseases that we call multifactorial. That means there are different steps that need to be accomplished in the road to the development of cancer. And these different steps, all have different causes. For example, we can look at carcinogens. These are things that everybody has heard of that are found in our air, in our water and in our diet. And there are lots of different names for these and they come from all over the place, but we’re constantly being bombarded with these things. We live in a global environment. The air that we breathe still has the fossil fuel remnants that are produced by burning of oil, gasoline, diesel, and all those things. We’ve got industrial wastes that are spewed into the atmosphere– heavy metals. We’ve got pesticides and herbicides that are still found in the environment in spite of the EPA’s best efforts. And don’t forget that we have dietary carcinogens that are found in diets, including our dog’s diets, that are capable of changing the DNA and establishing the road towards cancer.
>> James Jacobson: So, when you say dog’s diet– so you’re talking about things like traditional dog food that I buy on the shelf?
>> Dr. Demian Dressler: Things that are found in traditional dog foods. There are components such as sodium nitrate and sodium nitrite. Now here’s something interesting about these. They are not listed as carcinogenic, but they are turned into carcinogens in the body, very potent carcinogens– the N-nitroso compounds. Once they are ingested and put into the body.
Another one that we find is ethoxyquin. Now, ethoxyquin has been outlawed here in the United States, however, it is still found in fishmeal.
So, if you look in the ingredients that say fishmeal, it doesn’t say if ethoxyquin, but it’s within the fishmeal and this is something that has a potential carcinogenic effect as well. And there’s a whole variety of other carcinogens too, that we find– heterocyclic amines, which are the result of superheated food ingredients. Acrylamide, which is a similar substance– superheated food ingredients. All of these things have the potential when they add up over time to change the genes that control cell growth and start to lead the way towards cancer development.
>> James Jacobson: One of the things I found fascinating in your book is you talked about how dog food is manufactured and extruded into those little kibbles. And that process itself can cause cancer or there’s a chemical in it, or how does that work?
>> Dr. Demian Dressler: It’s mostly the superheated processing is the thing that we’re talking about. And it’s the conversion of normally non-carcinogenic items, carbohydrates and fats into items that either turn carcinogenic into the body or that are potential carcinogens in the laboratory.
>> James Jacobson: What about vaccines?
>> Dr. Demian Dressler: Vaccines. And I need to be very, very careful when I talk about this, because number one, I don’t want to be, well, essentially crucified by my friends and colleagues– number one.
Number two, I need to make sure that everybody understands that vaccines do have benefit. And where would we be today without the benefit of a lot of the vaccines that we have in the world of veterinary medicine? However, there are some downsides to this picture, early vaccinating, as it turns out, at least in the human literature may have links to cancer development later on.
Now there are some studies and publications that I cite in the book that allude to the fact that in infants– we’re talking human infants now, because these are the only available publications. Early vaccines that were given to newborn babies will literally shift the immune system away from cancer surveillance and towards fighting of disease-causing infections. So, we have a shift. The immune system is supposed to be active in surveilling the body for newly developing cancers and destroying those cancer cells when they develop. But instead, what happens when we vaccinate these guys at a very, very early age, we have an immune shift away from cancer surveillance and towards protection against the thing you vaccinate.
So, we’re exchanging one for the other.
>> James Jacobson: And you also talk in the book about the role of spaying and neutering.
>> Dr. Demian Dressler: Spaying and neutering is another very, very hot topic and I’m going to get in a lot of trouble, but I’ve got to say the truth. I’ve got to say the reality of what I found. Spaying and neutering at a young age will increase the odds of certain types of cancer in epidemiological studies.
>> James Jacobson: It will?
>> Dr. Demian Dressler: It will. Now the common veterinary doctrine has always been, you spay and neuter so that you don’t get breast cancer in the females.
>> James Jacobson: That’s what I heard. Yeah.
>> Dr. Demian Dressler: And which, yes, that is true. However, what we also find is a dramatically increased the rate of bladder cancer, dramatically increased rate of bone cancer, which is osteosarcoma. The bladder cancer is transitional cell carcinoma and increased rates of hemangiosarcoma, which is a blood vessel wall tumor and prostate in the males who are early neutering, prostate cancers. Incredibly we’re increasing the risk– and this is based on studies of populations where we’ve got much higher numbers of these types of cancers in animals that have been spayed and neutered, again at very early ages.
And then what I’m recommending to people is that they wait just a little bit, if they can, until the animals a little bit later to get through that period.
>> James Jacobson: So, you still recommend it, but just do it later– based on your research, do it later on.
>> Dr. Demian Dressler: Yeah, as much as possible. In my personal feeling on this, if possible, after discussing this with your vet, one consideration would be perhaps in about a year and a half old. That way we get the benefits of the mammary gland cancer protection, but we miss that early period where we’re increasing the risks of these other cancers developing.
>> James Jacobson: One of the things I found fascinating in your book is you go through all those things in terms of environmental issues and food issues and spaying and vaccines. But you also talk about the role of psychology and how that may have a role in creating this incredible incidence of dog cancer. How is that possible?
>> Dr. Demian Dressler: Well, the role of psychology is something that’s essentially completely overlooked in veterinarian medicine. And this, I believe as far as I know, would be a brand new concept for people to start considering– I haven’t heard this before. But I’ve taken the thinking that is seen in human medicine in the field called psychoneuroimmunology.
>> James Jacobson: Psycho-neuro– immunology?
>> Dr. Demian Dressler: It’s quite a mouthful.
Yeah. It’s an area of science and it’s very legitimate and very, very conventional. And what it does is it focuses on the connection between what’s happening up here and what’s happening in the body. So, a very common example of this would be if you’re stressed out, you tend to get more ulcers.
>> James Jacobson: Right.
>> Dr. Demian Dressler: Right. Everybody knows.
>> James Jacobson: In humans, absolutely– yeah.
>> Dr. Demian Dressler: Yeah. So that’s psychoneuroimmunology in action. Right.
So, what’s happening up here affects what’s happening down in your stomach. Now, there are other examples of this too, that are not as well known. In particular in the development of cancer. And in cancers, what we’re seeing is in human beings, who are more stressed, who are more lonely, who tend to internalize their emotions instead of allowing themselves an outlet, who don’t have social support– the cancer rates in these human beings are way, way higher compared to the cancer rates in people who have less stress and don’t feel as isolated and all of these things.
So, if we were going to apply some of the same thinking to dogs, all of a sudden, we have a whole new area where we’re going, wow, what’s happening with these dogs? How do we assess stress in dogs? How do we assess that low grade anxiety? And all of a sudden, we realized, wow, we may be missing something big.
>> James Jacobson: So, stress can actually be helping to contribute. It’s fascinating stuff– it really is. I mean, you’re bringing into light stuff that I’ve never heard before, and I’ve read a lot of books on dogs and stuff like that. This is interesting.
One of the things that I think is significant is when you get a diagnosis of cancer, you think my world has just changed in an instant, but my dog was looking fine just yesterday. I mean, everything was seemed okay yesterday and then today you’re telling me is cancer? How do you explain that?
>> Dr. Demian Dressler: It can be really, really shocking and very, very difficult to believe– number one, and then to sort of really integrate into your thought process. How is that possible? Well, remember dogs in spite of the fact that they’re domesticated species are essentially still animals. And in the animal kingdom, we have a mechanism in place that will help the dog to survive. And that mechanism involves hiding physical illness. We don’t want to be acting sick.
When you’re out in the wild and you’re acting sick what that sets you up for is well, potentially being attacked as a prey item, a piece of food for another animal because you see a sick animal, and if you’re a predator, you’re more likely to go gobble up that sick animal.
And also there is some interactions in the dog pack where you end up lower on the totem pole if you are acting sick or not quite up to snuff, you lose your pack position.
>> James Jacobson: So, it’s built into the DNA to sort of subvert those outward expressions of being sick.
>> Dr. Demian Dressler: You have to hide it. Yeah, precisely right.
And that is a mechanism that in the end doesn’t do good for an early diagnosis. In other words, it makes it easy to miss from an owner standpoint, because you just don’t see what’s going on with the animal because they’re hiding it.
>> James Jacobson: One of the things that was fascinating in your book, is you describe how a dog can be acting normal and you relate it to how a person acts normal, but in fact, they might not be. Tell our viewers about that.
>> Dr. Demian Dressler: Well, a little story that I talk to my clients and dog lovers about– it’s about getting a bad headache. For example, you wake up in the morning, you’ve got a splitting headache for whatever reason. You get in the car, you go to work, it’s throbbing and throbbing, and you don’t have time for your aspirin. It’s just driving you crazy. You take your lunch; you get through the afternoon. It’s horrible. You drive home– it’s still pounding. Now, if we were to look at that as if somebody was say, videotaping me with this splitting headache, who didn’t speak my language– just a moving picture of what I was doing in the day.
>> James Jacobson: It looks normal.
>> Dr. Demian Dressler: It looks normal from the outside, because if you don’t speak my language, which you see where this is going… If a dog– you don’t speak the dog’s language– we look at the dog’s behavior to establish what’s normal. So, they get up in the morning, they have their breakfast, they go for a walk. And meanwhile, we can have internal problems and internal experiences that are happening at a fairly high level of intensity, but we just don’t know about it because we only use the outside behavior of the animal to tell us this is normal.
And this is another way that sometimes some of the physical changes can go on and we can have no idea. And it’s my belief that many times we’re totally in the dark about what’s happening in the animal’s world. And that is another thing that sometimes makes it difficult to tell when something is wrong.
>> James Jacobson: You talk a lot about really working with your veterinarian and one of the first ways to work with your veterinarian strikes me as an interesting approach. You say, “get a second opinion”. Why is that?
>> Dr. Demian Dressler: There’s a couple of reasons. One of the most important things, and I include myself in this group. Veterinarians are human beings, just like everybody. We’re not robots. We have our strengths, we have our weaknesses and we’re also capable of human error. It’s possible to make a mistake. And that includes not only your veterinarian, but also the pathologist who reads the biopsy and says “your dog has cancer” or, you know, the dog that you’re interested in.
So, the reason why it’s important, I think many times to do a little bit of healthy questioning. One, it will in the end, strengthen your bond with your veterinarian, and a professional veterinary will not be insulted because this is a very, very serious stuff. And there’s nothing wrong with getting input from another side, especially if it confirms the diagnosis with increased accuracy.
And number two, when we’re talking about veterinary cancer care, especially with some of these cancers that are difficult to cure, the treatments are a fairly extensive, many times fairly involved, costs a fair amount of money, and we need to be absolutely certain that this is the right course of action for our dog. We don’t want to be doing it if it’s a misdiagnosis.
So, getting a second opinion, I think in the end will strengthen the bond with your veterinarian and also make sure that you’re on the right course.
>> James Jacobson: Related to that, one of the things you talk about is you want the dog lover to become the dog’s primary health care advocate. Why is that so important?
>> Dr. Demian Dressler: The reason why it’s so important for you to become accustomed to being in the driver’s seat is because the treatment of dog cancer will involve decisions that are not only based on clinical information. They’re going to be based a lot on how you feel, and your veterinarian will need you to be in the driver’s seat to help inform those decisions, so that they come out in a way that feels right for you.
Many times, the veterinarian will say, well, we can do this. We can do that. We can do the other. They all have certain pros, and they all have certain cons– what do you want to do? And you just have to start getting used to this idea of being in the driver’s seat, because this is gray area. We have life expectancy. We have life quality. These are two separate concepts, and we need to juggle both of those concepts in order to arrive at a treatment plan that makes the most sense for you and your loved dog. That’s the first thing.
The second thing is that veterinarians, as I mentioned before, some have certain limitations in certain things and that this is just the reality. Nobody can be good at everything all the time. We all have certain strengths and certain weaknesses.
One of the things that becomes so important, really is ascertaining in a very honest way from your veterinarian– what are the strengths and what are the weaknesses of the veterinarian? And a good vet will be completely honest and Frank about this, knowing that this happens to everybody– I’m good at things and I’m bad at things.
So, in order to understand what your veterinarian strengths are, having a good dialogue with you in the driver’s seat, speaking to your veterinarian as another human being, you know, are you comfortable with this? Should I get a second opinion? Should I look at some other options? Are there people who can do this better than you? And again, if you have a good veterinarian and a good relationship, they will be happy to give you this information and they’re honest opinion.
>> James Jacobson: Well, it’s a lot to ask for someone who doesn’t really have a medical background. I love my dog. It’s just a lot to ask for someone to really take on that role. How am I supposed to take on the role? I mean, I guess that’s where information comes in.
>> Dr. Demian Dressler: Information is absolutely critical here, because what I realized in dealing with dog lovers who own a pet with cancer, there’s so many unanswered questions. There’s so many uncertainties. There’s way too much information available for me, a veterinarian to deliver it to a dog lover in the context of a 20 minute or a 30 minute consult in the exam room, you just can’t do it.
>> James Jacobson: Right.
You go online and you Google dog cancer and you get tons of stuff and oftentimes it’s conflicting.
>> Dr. Demian Dressler: Exactly. That’s really the main reason why I wrote the book, The Survival Guide. I mean, that was really the main thing, because there is so much information that needs to be delivered. There is so many unanswered questions. There’s so much misinformation out there. What I tried to do, I did my best at and spent hundreds and hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of hours doing was ferreting out information that was, well, number one, perhaps inaccurate– we don’t want that. Perhaps side effects that could be hurting your pet with certain supplements or certain treatment courses. Those need to be taken into consideration. Which of the different treatment approaches, which of the different modalities really have clinical benefit. Either by studies or by historical use or by people’s clinical experience. Which are the real potent things that will really have a positive effect without causing harm, while at the same time being humane and improving life quality.
And that was the main reason why I wrote this. It’s just too much– you can’t do it. You can’t do it as a dog owner and many times as a veterinarian. I mean, the volume of information that you have to go through to come to a consensus– it’s way too time consuming for the average professional.
>> James Jacobson: Are some dog cancers easier to treat than others?
>> Dr. Demian Dressler: There are some that are easier to treat, indeed. I make a delineation between two groups, the hard to cure group, which is what it says it is. And the other types of cancers. Because remember when we say cancer, we’re dealing with a word that is so charged and it just sounds so horrible to the ear.
You can have a cancer that is malignant, but maybe it’s treatable. And then the main way the veterinarians will treat treatable cancers these days– and when I say treatable, I’m implying cure. So curable cancers is by surgery. You just simply remove it- you cut it out.
That’s the number one by far approach to veterinary cancer. You cut it out and there is nothing wrong with that and many times we can have cure. The problem is that there are a lot of cancer types where you cut it out, it regrows, or by the time you’ve cut it out it’s spread around in the body already and you’ve got to deal with some other things.
>> James Jacobson: When you talk about the surgery is the number one– you talk about the big three. What are they?
>> Dr. Demian Dressler: Yeah, so surgery and chemotherapy and radiation.
>> James Jacobson: Okay. Those are the big three as you call them.
>> Dr. Demian Dressler: Those are the big three, quote– unquote, and they have a lot of good with them, which is why they’re used in oncology.
They also have some bad with them, just like everything we have to juggle the pros and the cons. And they have some negative effects also– and that’s one of the things that I’m additionally trying to help people with is to empower dog lovers with the information. So, they’re aware of what some of the negatives are. So that everybody can make an educated choice when we go into a treatment protocol.
>> James Jacobson: What are some of the things that you’ve covered that are important to know, either things to do in terms of the big three or things to avoid?
>> Dr. Demian Dressler: Okay. Well, let’s see… Surgery, for example– What are the big negatives with surgery? Of course, we’ve got pain– postoperative pain. That’s a biggie. And I’ve talked about some of the different ways to help your dog with pain. Not only the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, but also some of the newer pain control medications.
So of course, pain control needs to really be addressed. And unfortunately for us, some of the less progressive veterinarians still are running around with the idea in their head that dogs are not experiencing pain. And this is something I believe, at least in the way that I think, it’s absurd. If you say ouch, why don’t I say ouch? You know, it’s the same thing with the animals. So, pain control would be one.
Another thing, for example, we’ve got general anesthesia. As it turns out with radiation, you have to do general anesthesia as well. Now, a lot of the anesthetic protocols use drugs that I have found out that actually increase the rate of metastasis at the time after the surgery.
>> James Jacobson: So that’s fascinating. People are using drugs to anesthetize the dog that actually could increase the growth of cancer cells?
>> Dr. Demian Dressler: They could actually increase the spread from the original surgical site to distance sites that fester up later months or possibly years later.
It turns out that we have different rates of metastasis that is cancer spread from the original site into internal sites or distance sites with the use of certain anesthetic drugs. And I’ll just tell you what they are right now. You want to make sure that your vet is not using ketamine as part of the induction protocol. That’s one of the big ones. That was one of the ones that probably had the highest effect in turning on cancer spread. Some older drugs– thiopental and halothane, which is an old inhaling gas. These should not be used when we’re doing procedures to remove cancerous tumors.
>> James Jacobson: And so, what you go through in the book, is you describe these things, and you tell people to alert their vet, cause some vets don’t know this.
>> Dr. Demian Dressler: I didn’t and I went to, as you pointed out a fabulous vet school. It’s just that nobody has actually looked into some of these issues.
>> James Jacobson: So, we’ve done surgery in terms of the big three. What about the other two, chemo and radiation and the things that people should know?
>> Dr. Demian Dressler: Well, we always want to be aware of some of the negatives and also some positives of course, too. But whenever we enter into a medical program, we need to think about possible consequences so that we’re prepared. And with chemotherapy, many of us know that chemo has some side effects sometimes that can come up. Whether it’s vomiting or diarrhea, decreased appetite, lethargy, hair loss. Some of the drugs also have some fairly potent side effects too. And most veterinarians will discuss this with the owners, but you can get damage to the heart and damage to the kidneys and damage to the neurologic system and suppression of the bone marrow. They can be a little bit heavy-duty sometimes. And we just want to make sure that we’re all prepared with open eyes walking into it.
>> James Jacobson: And when you’re talking about chemo for dogs, unlike humans, chemo is not done intravenously. It’s actually a pill– in most cases?
>> Dr. Demian Dressler: Well, we have both. A chemo that’s taken by mouth in pill form, as well as intravenous medications. And there are also some new ways of delivering chemotherapy that I talk about in the book that are pretty cutting edge. We’ll talk about that just a minute, but I wanted to get back for a second– radiation is something that can certainly help, but a lot of people didn’t know is that radiation requires general anesthesia with each radiation treatment and it’s sometimes an elderly dog, you know, that needs to be taken into effect as well.
>> James Jacobson: So, every time they go in for radiation, you have to anesthetize the dog?
>> Dr. Demian Dressler: Yeah, they need to be anesthetized and which can be kept very, very safe. But the problem is some of these radiation protocols– often, we’re looking at several times a week over the course of about four weeks and sometimes even daily. And that’s a bit heavy duty for most people to have their dogs undergoing that degree of general anesthesia. You know, it’s quite extensive. And whenever we’re doing general anesthesia, especially in an elderly patient, there are anesthetic complications sometimes that come up.
Now, I’m not saying that it’s bad, bad, bad. I’m just saying that we need to look at the big picture when we’re assessing each of our different choices. Something else that’s not really known a lot, is in particular when you’ve got a bit of a younger dog with cancer and we’re considering some of these options, some of the drugs actually are carcinogenic.
>> James Jacobson: The drugs are carcinogenic?
>> Dr. Demian Dressler: The chemo drugs are actually carcinogens. And that is something that I did not even know about before I started looking into this.
Similarly, radiation effects can be carcinogenic, but we usually don’t see it. And the reason is because they are doing chemotherapy in dogs with cancer or radiation, they’re usually more elderly. And by the time you would see the new cancers developing as a consequence, the animal would be– have passed on.
>> James Jacobson: So, I’m kind of fascinated about the different types of chemotherapies– some are pills, some are IV, and then you said there’s some new cutting edge stuff?
>> Dr. Demian Dressler: Yeah. There’s some newer stuff that’s really just being investigated now, but that is available in some locations of the country. Let’s see– Open-cell polylactic acid, which is a polymer. It’s like a little sponge and it can be surgically implanted into the dog’s body. And impregnated in this material would be the chemo agent. And the neat thing about this stuff is that it gets released slowly into the body over time. And it improves median survival times quite dramatically. But it’s a sponge, basically.
>> James Jacobson: That’s pretty cool.
Let’s talk a little bit about the role of palliation versus cure. Cause that’s really fascinating for me.
>> Dr. Demian Dressler: Yeah. Palliation is defined as a reduction in the signs and symptoms of any illness or any disease– we’re focusing on life quality. We want to make the dog feel better. It’s all about feeling better. Yeah. And when we’re referring to cure, it means eradication. It means completely gone and no longer present in the body.
So, these things have to be carefully analyzed when we’re embarking on a treatment plan. What are we actually focusing on here?
>> James Jacobson: What struck me when I read this is that most traditional treatments are not aimed at curing cancer, they’re aimed at palliation.
>> Dr. Demian Dressler: That’s exactly right. And one of the reasons is that…
>> James Jacobson: That’s not the case in humans.
>> Dr. Demian Dressler: We’ve got a disparity. It’s a different scenario. In human beings we focus on cure, but in veterinary medicine, the traditional focus has not been on cure. The reason for that is because– at least in the hard to cure cancers, these are the ones that spread throughout the body, or perhaps can’t be removed because of their size, or if you remove them, they regrow– or something like that.
With these cancers, the doses of chemotherapy and the doses of radiation required to actually eradicate the cancer– cure it, would be so drastic and so intense that we would be damaging the body cells as well, to the point where the animal would either expire, would pass away due to the toxicity of the treatment or the side effects would be so unacceptable to the owners to achieve a cure that it would be unacceptable.
And so, what we focus on are veterinarians– keeping that in mind, is we’re trying to kind of improve the life quality of the animal while at the same time eliminating or decreasing as much as possible the toxicities related to the treatment.
And what I’ve tried to do in The Survival Guide is give a lot of information and supplements and action steps that can be used to lessen the side effects of the conventional care treatment in such a way where we can improve life quality, while at the same time, extending life expectancy.
>> James Jacobson: Now, sometimes there’s this gray zone between those two extremes. How do you counsel people to walk that line?
>> Dr. Demian Dressler: I believe that you need to do everything that you can to counteract the toxic effects. Number one, you should do everything that you possibly can. Number two, one of the things that I’ve emphasized is, defining where you stand as a dog owner. What are you willing to handle? And I give three different basic personality types in the book, and it’s useful to group yourself among one of these three. So, are you the type who will do everything possible and at the same time, be willing to deal with sometimes severe side effects? Or maybe a different type of person, moderate intervention intensity, with only some side effects tolerable. Or are you more of a hands-off person where you want to say, I’m not interested in life expectancy so much– I only want to keep my dog comfortable and I want to minimize side effects as much as possible.
So, when you define for yourself where you stand, it helps your veterinarian create a plan and it helps you create a plan being your dog’s advocate. In a way that makes the most sense for you and for your dog.
>> James Jacobson: Now, you can’t talk about that and not at least touch on the concept that all of this treatment can get pretty expensive. One of the things that I thought was really cool about this book is you have a list of places that people can go to, to help get some funding or some help to finance their cancer treatment.
>> Dr. Demian Dressler: Yeah. A statistic that’s out there states conventional cancer care has a price tag of somewhere between $5,000 to $8,000, if we’re using combination treatments– you know, surgery, chemo, radiation.
>> James Jacobson: $5,000 to $8,000?
>> Dr. Demian Dressler: Yeah. And over the span of the treatment duration, however long it lasts.
>> James Jacobson: Right.
>> Dr. Demian Dressler: That’s very, very, very pricey for a lot of people. So, the first thing that I’ve provided in the book in The Survival Guide is a list of resources to get financial assistance, because it can be totally overwhelming, especially in today’s economy. Number two, I’ve provided people with a lot of fairly low-cost options for treatments – things that can be purchased either online or at even health food stores– that really don’t cost a lot of money. And lastly, I’ve offered a lot of suggestions because remember, we’re focusing on life quality– to improve life quality that are perfectly free. Because in cancer care, it’s not just about prolonging life, prolonging life, prolonging life. That’s not what our concern is. We need to make sure that the animals life quality is good. We don’t want to cause suffering and have a long life.
>> James Jacobson: One of the things that’s really helpful is to look at the average lifespan of a dog, so you can help make those decisions about, you know, what care give and what not to give. Now, you have a list in the book of tons of different breeds and their life expectancy. What’s the purpose of that?
>> Dr. Demian Dressler: When you’re coming up with a rational treatment plan, you need to take into account what your dog’s expected life expectancy is. And the reason for that is say, for example, you have a dog, who’s got an expected life span of about 12 years of age. If you receive a cancer diagnosis and your dog is 13, it’s my opinion that you shouldn’t focus very much on enhancing life expectancy. Perhaps we should only focus on life quality or focus more on life quality. Because it doesn’t make any sense. The reason there is that your dog may actually pass away due to some other disease. So, in the broad scheme of things, looking at how much time your particular dog has on the planet needs to be taken into account when you’re coming up with a plan.
>> James Jacobson: I’ve never seen a list like that before, anywhere. I had a Maltese who was sick, and I went and looked all over to find out how long they’re expected to live and I just couldn’t find this information. How did you come up with this list?
>> Dr. Demian Dressler: Well, there was a couple of different ways. Through my own research and also through my clinical experience. Because you get very comfortable after a while– you see a number of these dogs and the number of breeds, and you’re able to kind of come up with a number from clinical experience after seeing the same thing over and over and over again. And there’s another way that we can do it based on body weight, because as it turns out, a dog who is much smaller, has a much longer life expectancy than say a giant breed dog. So, a miniature Poodle for example, would live to be on the average, maybe about 14 years or something like that. Whereas a Bullmastiff would be say 8 or 9 years, or somewhere thereabouts.
>> James Jacobson: You are recognized as sort of the creator, this concept of full spectrum approach. How do you define that to people?
>> Dr. Demian Dressler: The key element of the full spectrum attack or the full spectrum approach is avoidance of personal prejudice and bias. And the reason why this is so important is that we have groups of veterinarians who are what they call allopathic. This is normal, conventional Western medicine and we have other groups of veterinarians who are the more reactive ones who go against that. And those are the quote unquote “alternative”, and they also go by the holistic title.
Now, we have good, useful bits of information and therapies in both camps. The problem is that we have also prejudices and biases. The holistic vets will say, “we don’t use antibiotics. They are bad.” And we have from the allopathic side, “well, we won’t use enzymes– that’s silly because those guys are a bunch of hippies.” It’s not like that. In actuality, when you look at the basic science and the information and the clinical responses, it doesn’t matter where the information comes from. So, you need to avoid personal bias, instead select something that makes sense, examine it critically with as clear an eye as you can for safety and efficacy and ease of administration and scientific proof, and then included in your attack plan.
So, what I’ve tried to accomplish is a full spectrum approach where we are sampling from holistic, we’re sampling from allopathic– and don’t forget also, there are other countries, you know, from Japan and from China, and don’t forget, of course we have the Europe, Germany, France, places like that. And we have information from all of these different sources that could have applicability. We don’t want to exclude ourselves and limit our options to something that might work.
>> James Jacobson: And that’s how you develop this full spectrum approach– borrowing the best from all these different types of disciplines.
>> Dr. Demian Dressler: It’s the best from all the different disciplines.
>> James Jacobson: What are some examples of full spectrum approaches that applies to say nutrition for dogs with cancer?
>> Dr. Demian Dressler: Okay, well say from the allopathic side, normal, conventional veterinarians– we all realize now that carbohydrate excess is something that is bad. We don’t want to be feeding our dogs a lot of carbs because carbohydrates are broken down into sugars and cancers absolutely love sugar.
As a matter of fact, simple sugars are cancers preferred food source for multiplication and growth. So that would be something that we’d want to avoid a lot of. Now, for example, we might also want to include some information from say China and Japan– medicinal mushrooms.
These are used every day, as a matter of fact, PSP and PSK are compounds that are derived from certain fungus’s– and this sounds weird, but remember, penicillin was from a fungus, so it’s not that weird. These are the third, most commonly used anti-cancer drugs in China. And they are found in mushrooms and the mushrooms that are found in are shiitake and reishi and cordyceps and mushrooms like this. They’re all over the place and everybody uses them, just like we all use antibiotics over here. So, we talk about medicinal mushrooms, also in a full spectrum attack plan, in addition to, you know, chemotherapy and the allopathic things.
>> James Jacobson: You talked about other supplements. What are some other suggestions for supplements that may be beneficial?
>> Dr. Demian Dressler: Okay, well, in Germany, they very, very commonly use enzymes. A lot of the Western vets will be like enzymes, that’s ridiculous– that’s absurd. The enzymes are all broken down in the body when you take it by mouth. First of all, it turns out that’s not true. That’s the first thing to remember. If you actually look at the publications, you find out that plant derived enzymes are stable in the stomach. So, that’s a false statement. And the funny thing about it is we, Western allopathic veterinarians, classically trained, use enzyme therapy in our chemo– l-asparaginase, is something that we use. It’s an injectable chemo drug. It is an enzyme, but we’re using it right here in spite of the fact that we usually poo-poo enzymes from other sources.
As it turns out, the oral enzymes that can be used to help with cancers and publish data– it’s not American data, it’s European data, but published data have shown that wobenzym, which is an oral enzyme, has been shown at least in people to extend survival times. And this is something that’s safe. It’s non-toxic, it’s a pill that you can give at home. I talk about it in The Survival Guide. It’s used all over Europe. We just haven’t heard of it in the United States.
>> James Jacobson: And you give dosing instructions and all that in The Survival Guide?
>> Dr. Demian Dressler: Sure. Yeah. Dosing Instructions, precautions, and I also indicate to dog lovers that especially with certain supplements and certain therapeutic options, you need to be hopefully working with your healthcare team, with the oncologist, with the veterinarian, because these are not minor things. These are potent, they have potent effects. And what I’m hoping to do is not only get dog lovers involved, but also get oncologists and veterinarians involved to assimilate all of these different facets of the full spectrum attack plan, so that everything can be worked together. We’re not excluding anybody. We want to take the best from each of the different areas to get the best possible outcome.
>> James Jacobson: Let’s talk about the role of diet. If my dog has cancer, should I change what he or she is eating?
>> Dr. Demian Dressler: Absolutely. I referred to a little bit earlier, the carbohydrate content of the food. We really want carbohydrate restriction. Cancers, love sugar. We really want to avoid them as much as possible. And I give some homemade recipes too, for people.
>> James Jacobson: Well, talk about that, because you have recipes that are things that you can actually cook at home and you can add not just the meat and vegetables, but you actually can add some of those supplements to it.
>> Dr. Demian Dressler: Oh yeah, I’ve got so many different ways of attacking cancer. In the forms of supplements and things that can be added to the food that it’s sometimes a little bit overwhelming. So, I’ve tried to condense it into an easy to read outline, because there’s just so much information.
But yeah, there are all kinds of different things that can be mixed into the food, in addition to the base, that have not only affects to decrease cancer cell growth, but to cause program cell death of cancer cells to decrease cancer spread, and also to enhance the immune response of the dog and to slow the weight loss that accompanies cancer. To help with sleep, to promote the body’s antioxidant reserves. So, there are a bunch of different venues to attack, that all can be done at home in your kitchen, or with a trip down to the health food store or a grocery store, or a couple of clicks with a mouse online.
>> James Jacobson: Now, let’s talk about the role of life quality. You alluded to this earlier. This is an important thing that I was struck by. You really talk about the things that you can do to enhance the dog’s life quality. Why is that important?
>> Dr. Demian Dressler: Life quality is something that affects cancer. Life quality affects the body– remember the psychoneuroimmunology.
>> James Jacobson: So, that’s the stress?
>> Dr. Demian Dressler: Yeah, that is stress. And we want to try and do everything that we can to minimize stress, but we’re also focusing on life quality enhancement, because we want to make sure that we’re doing everything that we can to decrease the suffering and the anxiety and the negative life experience of the animal.
So yeah, we have focused on a lot of different things to improve life quality in a cancer patient. Now, not every dog is going to be able to do certain things because there’s certain physical limitations that accompany having a cancer diagnosis.
>> James Jacobson: What are some of the things that you suggest to do to enhance the dog’s life of quality?
>> Dr. Demian Dressler: Suppose for example, we were involved in a treatment plan and nobody’s having very much fun– it’s labor intensive– you always got to put the pills down your dog’s throat or you’re in and out of the hospital– trips to the vet, and all of these things. What’s wrong with once a week, having a “cheat day”?
I borrowed it from a diet plan book that my wife and I were doing. And a “cheat day” is once a week where we say, you know what, let’s just take it easy. Let’s just enjoy the time that we have, give ourselves a break, and cheat a little bit, because that’s allowed, everybody.
And in cheat day for dogs, dogs, many, many times will love to eat. And if we can provide something that they love on cheat day, that’s not harmful for them, then we’re doing them a big service. So, an example– we talk about things like braised fish cooked in consommé.
>> James Jacobson: That sounds delicious.
>> Dr. Demian Dressler: Yeah.
>> James Jacobson: Okay, so that’s the type of little indulgences that can…
>> Dr. Demian Dressler: Absolute indulgences and they need to have their environment shifted around, so they’re getting natural sunlight. Because dogs like to have stimulation. They don’t like to be bored. They don’t like to be staring at the same thing every time.
Even if your dog is having a hard time moving around, you can still help, he or she to get them outside or to get them to a new location where they can be stimulated. We talk about self-esteem building, which is really, really important if we can– remember what we talked about with human cancer development, low self-esteem and those bad psychological states that really hinder the body, as far as the fight against cancer.
And don’t forget about massaging. There are things that you can do just with your hands that many dogs will really, really like– and we discussed that in the book, too. There’s sleep, sometimes they can’t sleep very well, and that’s something that’s very, very important in the fight against cancer.
>> James Jacobson: Right. That’s what you talk about in the book. You talk about how a dog needs about nine hours of sleep in order to really help the cancer treatment.
>> Dr. Demian Dressler: Yeah and it’s not any sleep. This is sleep that is occurring in utter darkness and here’s why this is so important. Most of us have heard of melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone that’s produced in a little gland in the brain called the pineal gland. Now, we’ve heard of melatonin usually to help you sleep. It’s like a pill you can get at the health food store or to help with jet lag, perhaps.
Melatonin is a natural hormone in the body. It’s one of the most potent anti-cancer hormones that are known to man. It’s just that this information is not very well known.
Now, when the body is exposed to light, the body will shut down the natural melatonin production. And I’m not necessarily talking about daylight– that does it too. I am talking about the light that comes off of computer screens, blue light– actually, and television screens. Remember those big plasma screens? Blue light from a monitor is the most potent wavelengths to suppress melatonin production. This is not what you want when you’re trying to fight cancer. So, it’s very, very important to hide the light. Try to create a cave, a warm little dark cave for your dog to sleep in at night to maximize the peak melatonin levels that should be happening right around 2:00 AM to get the benefit of that anti-cancer hormone in the body.
>> James Jacobson: That’s fascinating.
>> Dr. Demian Dressler: Yeah.
>> James Jacobson: Eventually, in every dog’s life and every one of our lives, they have to come to an end. And one of the things that you do in a very touching part of the book is you talk about how to deal with bad news and how to really prepare for that end of life. Why is that so important and what do you recommend?
>> Dr. Demian Dressler: Well, the end of life is something that we’re all going to be dealing with someday. And one thing I should emphasize here is I don’t want to focus on that because sometimes if we’re focusing only on the end of life, it can interfere with our ability to have a dynamic productive life during the time when we’re actually living it.
But it is true. We do enter at a certain time and we do leave at a certain time, too. And I think consideration of the end of life as a life stage, is really, really important, not only as a dog lover, but also for you and for myself and for our children and for a family. So, that we can start to view it as something that’s not horrible, that’s not as dark and oppressive as it seems at first examination, but something that is a normal and natural part of our big life process.
And I think it’s important to come to terms with that for us. And also, in particular for our family members and our children or younger members of our family.
>> James Jacobson: So, you have a blog– dogcancerblog.com, and I know that you must be hearing from dog owners around the world, and you also must be hearing from veterinarians? What do they say about what you’re doing?
>> Dr. Demian Dressler: They’re very interested and they want to know information– usually referred by dog lovers, by the owners of dogs with cancer.
>> James Jacobson: So, the dog lovers find the blog first and they read about it and then they go to their vet and say, what is this? And then the vet goes and checks it out.
>> Dr. Demian Dressler: And the vet says, well, I don’t really know, it’s this other vet– and they contact me.
So, they’re really interested in finding out about the things that I talk about– mainly in The Survival Guide. But I think the reason why it’s so interesting is because I’ve backed up everything that I’ve said with publications. So, the same thing that happened to me when I started to investigate this, which is like, wait a minute, there’s proof here. This is real stuff. This is not just rumor and hearsay. It’s sort of bothersome that you’ve been practicing for a decade or two and have never even heard of this before. So, it piques their interest and understandably so, I think.
>> James Jacobson: Dr. Dressler, thank you so much for being with us today.
>> Dr. Demian Dressler: You’re welcome.
>> James Jacobson: Well, friends there, you have it a mildly edited version of the first Dog Cancer Answers with Dr. Dressler, originally recorded in 2011.
If you liked this episode or need some help with resources from this week’s show, or maybe you want to review some of our older show notes for previously aired episodes, you can do all of that on our website at dogcanceranswers.com. And you know, it is a new year, so I don’t want to be remiss in thanking you as we start this new year for your continued listenership and patronage of our show. You have been helping support our mission for the past 10 years on Dog Cancer Answers– we have many more years to come and we love serving this community.
The best thing that you can do to help us out is to like us on Facebook and tell your friends about Dog Cancer Answers. Of course, subscribe to the show in your channel, in your favorite channel, whether that’s YouTube or Spotify or Apple podcasts, or wherever you listen to your podcasts. Please subscribe and tell your friends about this show.
Okay. Right now, we have a quick message from this week’s sponsor, and then I will be back to give you the details about how you can call us with your dog cancer question. Stay tuned. I’ll be right back.
We’d like to thank our sponsor today. The Dog Cancer Survival Guide book by Damien Dressler and Susan Ettinger. It is available wherever fine books are sold, both online and in physical bookstores.
And if you’d like to help support this show, get it right away direct from the publisher. You can get either the paperback with free shipping anywhere in the USA or the e-book edition. And the eBook is just $9.95. To get them go to this website, dogcancerbook.com. And because you are a listener to this show, if you use the promo code “podcast”, you can save 10%. The website, again, dogcancerbook.com. And then when you check out, use the promo code “podcast” for 10% off, that is www.dogcancerbook.com.
Did you hear that? Those tones are here to remind me, to remind you that we have veterinarians on call at our Dog Cancer Answers listener line. If you have questions for one of our dog cancer vets, give us a call and tell us about it. We’ll make sure that your question is addressed with one of our veterinary experts and it could even be featured on a future episode of Dog Cancer Answers.
The number to call is (808) 868-3200. That is (808) 868-3200. It’s a 24 hour a day, seven day a week recorded line. So, you can call us anytime with your dog cancer questions. Again, (808) 868-3200.
Well, that is it for today’s show. Until next time, I’m James Jacobson and from all of us here at Dog Cancer Answers and Dog Podcast Network, we wish you and your dog, a very warm Aloha.
>> Narrator: Thank you for listening to Dog Cancer Answers. If you’d like to connect, please visit our website at dogcanceranswers.com or call our listener line at (808) 868-3200.
And here’s a friendly reminder that you probably already know. This podcast is provided for informational and educational purposes only. It’s not meant to take the place of the advice you receive from your dog’s veterinarian. Only veterinarians who examine your dog can give you veterinary advice or diagnose your dog’s medical condition.
Your reliance on the information you hear on this podcast is solely at your own risk. If your dog has a specific health problem, contact your veterinarian. Also, please keep in mind that veterinary information can change rapidly. Therefore, some information may be out of date.
Dog Cancer Answers is a presentation of Maui Media in association with Dog Podcast Network.
Maui, Hawaii, USAMore Episodes
Dr. Demian Dressler, DVM, is internationally recognized as “the dog cancer vet” because of his innovations in the field of dog cancer management. A dynamic educator and speaker, Dr. Dressler is the author of the best-selling animal health book The Dog Cancer Survival Guide.