Updated: Apr 30, 2019
This world we live in together has become a much more toxic place over the past 100 years. With the advent of modern conveniences, fast-paced living and priority on low-cost over high-health choices, also came new toxins which we and our pets are exposed to on a daily basis. One of the most common questions I receive from concerned pet parents is "What can I do to prevent my next dog from getting cancer?" For the most part, it isn’t one thing that causes cancer. It is the cumulative effects of a toxic lifestyle that build up over time, stressing the body’s detoxification systems, immune function and ability to repair cellular damage and recover from metabolic stress.
The good news
There are clear steps you can take to minimize the toxins you and your pet are exposed to on a daily basis. While there are certainly many factors out of our immediate control (like air quality and technological pollution), conscious and empowered personal living is well within the reach of every single person who is motivated to make changes.
For the most part, if we are honest with ourselves, we live unconsciously. We rush through our day to get to the next task. We do things the way we were told to do them or the way they have “always been done.” Why? Because changing our habits takes effort. It is in these unconscious routines that our greatest potential exists to makes beneficial changes that will significantly affect our well-being and the well-being of those we love.
The First Step
The first, and most important, point is that the attitude in which we are approaching these changes is vitally important to how deeply they impact our overall well-being. An attitude of empowerment, of personal responsibility, and of focusing on what we can do to help each other, rather than focusing on what we can’t do, is key to our (and therefore our pet’s) overall wellbeing.
So, with that attitude of personal responsibility and empowerment in mind, here is a good place to start:
3 Ways to Decrease Toxins in Your Pet’s Environment
Clean up the toxins in your yard
Herbicides and pesticides pose a common source of chronic low dose daily toxin exposure that has been linked to increased risk in cancer. Seeking out non-toxic alternatives to yard care is a simple and accessible place to eliminate one source of toxic exposure for you and your loved ones.
Herbicides pose a specific risk to dogs.
Chemical herbicides, including 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D) which has specifically been shown to increase risk of bladder cancer in dogs, were detected in the urine of dogs in 14 of 25 households before lawn treatment, in 19 of 25 households after lawn treatment, and in 4 of 8 untreated households. Chemicals were detected in grass residues from both treated lawns and untreated lawns, suggesting chemical drift from nearby treated areas.
There is also at least one study that shows modest associations between agricultural exposure to 2,4-D and increased risk of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in dogs. Although other studies have not been able to corroborate this finding in dogs, studies in mice have linked this chemical to lymphoma, endocrine carcinomas, and lung cancer.
Investigate Natural Weed Control Options
There are lots of good natural weed-control tricks to use at home.
And there is something healing about getting back to the basics.
You can find lots of good ideas on line at places like this:
Grow an organic garden:
you and your pet can share the food
Consider Natural options for yard pest control:
Pests are a real problem in companion animal care. If you must use pesticides in your yard, there are some natural options derived from essential oils that have been shown to be just as effective as DEET.
For example, this study evaluating four natural products showed that Wondercide and Essentria IC3 were as effective as DEET at killing ticks.
This study also showed that these four natural commercially available products (Wondercide, Essentria IC3, Mosquito Barrier and Vet's Best) repelled adult Lone Star (Ixodes) ticks as effectively as DEET.
* While there are also numerous studies evaluating ability of natural compounds and essential oils to repel mosquitos and ticks (I came across 36 in my pubmed search this weekend), it is important to remember that natural pest control products generally have a very short duration of action and require frequent application. So this may not be a realistic option in households in which diligent, frequent application is not possible.*
Clean up the toxins in your pet’s food
Highly processed pet foods, just like highly processed human foods, contain many chemicals, colorings and preservatives that do not support health and healing.
Food is defined in webster’s dictionary as
“any nutritious substance that people or animals eat or drink, or that plants absorb, in order to maintain life and growth”.
So, the important question we should be asking ourselves is: “Does what I put on my plate and in my pet’s bowl qualify as ‘food’.”
Again, this is a huge topic. But one place to start is by transitioning your pet off food that has been heavily processed and onto a nutritionally balanced, minimally processed, whole food diet. Almost all traditional kibble (hard dog foods) are high heat processed. This high heat processing alter the nutrient profile in the final food product and liberates toxins, termed "process contaminants". Most traditional commercial dog foods also contain chemicals, colorings and flavorings that provide no nutritional benefit but improve palatability of poor non-human-grade food ingredients.
I will offer more information on nutritional considerations for cancer patients as we move forward together in our path to empowerment on the Metta Pets blogs. If you are interested in transitioning your pet onto a different diet, I always recommend working with a veterinarian who is familiar with your pet's specific situation and health concerns.
I address one specific example of a toxin that is often found in foods that contain carbohydrates that have been treated with high heat processing here: Acrylamide.
Supplements that might help minimize Acrylamide toxicity:
The Medicinal Mushroom Ganoderma (Reishi)
Silymarin, an active component of Milk Thistle
Clean up habits of toxic emotions
Taking steps to empower yourself to focus on the positive steps you are taking to help you and your pet through this challenging time is one of the most important things you can do for your well-being,
While we can’t always control the specific circumstances life brings us, we can always control the thoughts and emotions we choose to feed and engage with around these circumstances. And we can control what we choose to do once faced with a new situation.
An attitude of empowered acceptance and a mindset of growth and learning are powerful tools in creating a lifestyle of health and wellness for you and your pet.
Regret, anger, fear and blame/guilt are unhelpful and toxic emotions. They result in emotional stagnation and a feeling of powerlessness.
We are not victims of our life or our environment. We are active participants. Being actively engaged in practices that help us find joy and meaning in life, and connected to something larger than ourselves (this is basically our level of “spiritual well-being”) has been shown to be significantly associated with improved quality of life in family caregivers of cancer patients. These traits are not limited to religious affiliation or any specific practices.
You will hear me come back to the importance of self-care over and over again. The reason for this is that I see over and over again how lack of self-care and attention to emotional wellness can rob us of the ability to experience the happiness and love that our pets are here offering us every day of their life. And if we aren't able to enjoy the time we have and are giving them through our cancer care, then why, really, are we doing any of this?
There are many resources you can take advantage of if you are struggling with toxic emotions. If you are struggling with intense emotions, seeking the assistance of a counselor, psychiatrist or grief therapist can do wonders to help you process the natural emotions that often arise when facing a diagnosis of cancer in a loved one. The importance of self-care is often overlooked, and it can be the difference between being able to treasure the time you have with your pet, and losing these precious days worrying about the future or regretting the past.
Learning to be present in the moment is one of the most powerful ways to overcome preoccupation with the past or the future. You can find resources for learning meditation here, or look for classes in your local community. I teach a weekly meditation class, and I can tell you with 100% certainty that it changes people for the better and allows them to find peace in places they never thought they could. Unequivocally.