Supporting chemotherapy with anti-oxidants and herbs in dogs and cats

If you do a search of Medline, you will not find one study that shows that anti-oxidants or herbs have a negative effect on outcomes of people or animals with cancer who are getting chemotherapy drugs. Even though most oncologists recommend that you do not use anti-oxidants or herbs when an animal is undergoing chemotherapy, there are no studies to support this.

However there are studies that show the opposite. They show longer survival, less toxicity, better quality of life, improved blood work values (such as increases in white and red blood cells) and longer tumor remission with herbal and anti-oxidant treatments.

So why are oncologists so against anti-oxidants and herbs?

These supplements support the body, they keep cells strong, they prevent oxidative stresses, they help with blood flow and blood supply to cells, the very things that chemotherapy doesn’t want when it destroys cancer cells. What many oncologists don’t realize is that cancer cells are very different than normal cells when it comes to natural supplements/herbals.

Cancer cells don’t rely on the things normal cells do. For example many cancer cells live in an oxygen-deprived environment that would kill normal cells yet cancer cells can thrive in such a state. See Oxygen deprivation in cancer cells leads to growth and metastasis. Anti-oxidants don’t appear to protect cancer cells from oxidative stresses. What makes a normal cell strong does not make a cancer cell strong. In fact if we keep the normal cells of the body strong they can help fight the cancer.

With chemotherapy, we are poisoning the body with chemicals that destroy rapidly dividing cells, and cancer cells are very rapidly dividing and reproducing. Unfortunately we also kill off rapidly dividing normal cells such as the lining of the gut and red blood cells and immune system cells (white blood cells). Herbs, supplements and acupuncture can help support normal cells while making it harder for cancer cells to survive. This increases chemotherapy’s effect while decreasing its side effects.

I often use anti-oxidants and herbs with animals undergoing chemotherapy and find that it improves longevity and helps reduce side effects. In addition I love to get these animals on a good acupuncture schedule, as acupuncture is amazing at helping the body during chemotherapy.

Here is a short list of my favorite supplements and herbals to use during chemotherapy. There are many more out there but I think these are the best.

  • First I just have to mention acupuncture – I have had a number of dogs through the years who had to stop chemo because of side effects or low blood cell counts. After one or two acupuncture treatments almost all these dogs were able to continue with chemo. I love that acupuncture is very non-evasive and has many other actions to help animals with cancer. Also see Acupuncture for animals with cancer.
  • Bu Zhong Yi Qi Tang – every dog I treat who is undergoing chemotherapy is on this formula. Click on the name to read more about it. I can’t say enough about this formula. Now available through my etsy store Kingdom of Basil.
  • IP6- Inositol Hexaphosphate also known as IP6 is important in stimulating the immune system’s natural killer cells to destroy cancer tissue. It is an antioxidant and has effects in inhibiting cancer cell growth and division. Not much research has been done in humans with this supplement but a lot of cancer studies have been done in animals. IP6 has been shown to enhance chemotherapy’s effect. IP6 can be bought off or at your local supplement store.
    I dose cats at 400mg two times a day and dogs 800-1600mg twice a day when I use this supplement.
  • Milk Thistle – prevents oxidative damage to normal cells and helps to support the liver in detoxification of chemotherapy drugs. There are studies that show that Milk Thistle not only protects normal cells but also enhances the outcomes of chemotherapy drugs, i.e. it helps them work better and kill cancer cells more effectively. See National Cancer Institute’s Page on Milk Thistle and Sloan Kettering Cancer Center article on Milk Thistle.
  • Coenzyme Q10 – prevents cardio toxicity of doxorubicin without reducing its effectiveness. In addition it is a good anti-oxidant, stimulates the immune system and has its own anti-cancer activities. I almost always use this supplement with doxorubicin. I dose Coenzyme Q10 at 200mg per day for dogs and 50mg per day for cats. Coenzyme Q10 can be buy off of or at your local supplement or natural food store.
  • Medical mushrooms such as shitake, maitake, reishi, turkey tail and/or cordyceps help to enhance the immune system and have strong anti-cancer activity. There are many good products out there. I like the MUSH mushroom blend for pets. If you are cooking up mushrooms as part of a homemade diet check out Fungusamongus. Human mushrooms supplements can also be given. I recommend at least 500mg of mushrooms be given daily for every 50lb of cat or dog. More is fine.
  • Fish Oil supplements – help with cancer cachexia and weight loss and help to support the body through anti-oxidant activity. I like the Nordic Naturals – Pet Cod Liver Oil.
  • Food therapy – add in anti-oxidants such as berries, green veggies and sweet potato which are high in vitamin A, medical mushrooms with anti-cancer properties and liver which is high in vit A and iron. See Diets for cancer in cats and dogs – you are what you eat a fighting cancer machine.
  • Work with herbals that fight against cancer so that it is not just the chemotherapy at work. I often include artemisinin, Xiao Chai Hu Tang or Xue Fu Zhu Yu Tang in my protocol for animals getting chemotherapy. I rarely if ever use something very strong which can be toxic like Hoxsey with chemotherapy, although will use it after chemotherapy is over if it fits the cancer. If I am working with a cancer where Hoxsey is a good fit I often use Si Miao San. Use what fits your animal best. This is a very good place to get your holistic vet on board.

As with all articles on this blog please check with your animal’s veterinarian before adding any supplements or herbals.

Back to Integrative and holistic methods for treating cancer in dogs and cats

4 Responses to “Supporting chemotherapy with anti-oxidants and herbs in dogs and cats”

  1. Mimi Says:

    Hello Lena,

    It’s Mimi again, Binny’s mom from BC. (See last post under “Healing from Surgery on Sept. 10th, 2012)

    Tomorrow it will be 13 months since her amputation, she is still smiling and doing very well.
    She has however developed severe lymphedema in her 3 legs, furosemide and spironolactone/HCZ 25/25 mg don’t seem to make a difference. I read that Selenium might help, benzo-pyrones seem to be controversial…

    She is on the same protocol as the one described on Sept. 10th, to which I added 25 mg of pred a day.

    I thought that I put it to you, hoping that you might have one more of your wonderful remedies up your sleeve… Any advice would be most appreciated.

    Thank you Lena

  2. Lena Says:

    Hi Mimi,
    Its great that she is happy but the lymphedema sounds very difficult. Number one would be if there is anyone in your area that does manual lymphatic drainage – . There are a few veterinary massage practitioners in Seattle that do it but you may be able to find a human massage therapist up there that is willing to do it on a dog, maybe even someone who could teach you do do it. Chinese herb wise, the two that come to mind would be Ling Gui Zhu Gan Tang which is used more for heart edema but because it drains dampness might be very helpful and is quite safe. If she runs more heat and seems more excess to you Si Miao San (four marvels) might be more helpful. I would check these two out and see if one fits more but if you can find someone who can do the lymphatic drainage that would probably be the very best. Hope something helps.
    best wishes,

  3. Mimi Says:

    Hello Lena,

    Thank you for your reply.

    I found a video on YouTube ( , and we performed the 1st lymphatic drainage massage immediately. I will however, keep searching for a therapist just to make sure we do it right.

    Lena, thanks to Binny, our vet that was opposed to amputation and always suggesting euthanasia in case of an osteosarcoma diagnosis, now recommends amputation, even if the front legs are the ones affected. I know that he performed quite a few surgeries recently.

    I wanted to let you know that your sharing your experience does make a difference and thank you for it.

    Have a wonderful Christmas and a very happy New Year.

  4. Lena Says:

    I love the internet! Never thought to look for a youtube video. It warms my heart to hear that I could help make a difference in Binny’s vets thinking on osteo. I wish you also a wonderful holiday season!
    best wishes,