Category Archives: Animal Cancer

Is a raw food diet right for your pet?

Labrador retriever puppyCommercial pet food has only been around for about 100 years but animals have hunted prey or scavenged for millions of years. Unfortunately, many commercial pet foods contain lots of carbohydrates in the form of corn, wheat, rice or potato, which our dogs and cats find difficult or impossible to digest.

Over the years, an increase in the number of health problems in our pets such as itchy skin, allergies, dental problems and sore ears to name a few, were thought to be related to what our pets were eating.

In 1993, Australian veterinarian, Dr. Ian Billinghurst, published his groundbreaking book, Give Your Dog a Bone, which is said to have started the raw food diet movement. Now, with some science under our belt and much anecdotal evidence, feeding raw seems to be gaining momentum with both veterinarians and pet guardians.

What is a raw food diet?

A raw food diet usually contains bones, muscle and organ meats, vegetables, fruit and other whole foods. The theory behind feeding raw food is that our pets’ ancestors ate raw meat and bones, and represents a more natural diet for our dogs and cats.

These days there are several different types of raw food diets including frozen raw and freeze-dried. As with all pet foods, some are better quality than others, so make sure you do your homework to ensure you make the right choice for your pet.

What are the benefits of feeding a raw food diet?

Just some of the benefits of feeding a raw food diet include:

  • Cleaner teeth and fresher breath
  • Low stool volume
  • Healthy skin
  • Shiny coat
  • Fewer arthritic symptoms
  • Higher energy levels
  • Improved circulation

What health issues are known to respond well to raw diets?

Raw diets, with additional Vitamin A may help prevent cancer. Cancer cells feed on carbohydrates, which are not present in a raw diet. Organ meats, which are part of a raw diet, are an excellent source of Vitamin A, which is also thought to prevent the growth of cancer cells.

Most kibble-fed dogs have a tendency to develop tartar and plaque that can lead to periodontal disease. Dogs do not produce the enzyme amylase, normally present in human saliva, which helps break down carbohydrates and prevent tartar and plaque build up. A raw diet contains few, if any, carbohydrates, minimizing the risk of tartar and plaque build up and dental disease. Other health issues that may respond well to a raw diet include diabetes, obesity, epilepsy, allergies and gastrointestinal problems.

How much raw food should I feed my dog?

The amount to feed will vary from one dog to another depending upon age, activity level and size. Generally you will feed adult dogs 2 per cent to 2.5 per cent of their body weight, active dogs 3 per cent and puppies 5 per cent per day. Overweight or senior dogs need 1.5 to 2 per cent of their body weight per day. Let your dog’s activity levels, appetite and body condition be your guide!

Is raw food safe?

Preparing raw pet food is no different than preparing raw meat for your human family. Raw pet food from a reputable manufacturer that takes safe food handling seriously combined with safe food handling at home poses no bacterial threat to your pet or your human family.

What about salmonella?

Salmonella is found in about 40 per cent of healthy dogs and about 20 per cent of healthy cats regardless of whether they are fed a raw diet or not. Salmonella is a normal part of a pet’s gastrointestinal system and they naturally shed salmonella bacteria in their feces and saliva.

There is no risk to humans of being infected with salmonella from pets who are fed a raw diet. The risk of getting salmonella poisoning lies in how raw pet food is handled. As when preparing meals for people or pets, you need to wash your hands before and after handling any raw meat or other foods. Make sure to disinfect counters, bowls, cutting surfaces and utensils that came in contact with raw pet food. Also, wash your pet bowls often.

Can I feed my cat a raw diet too?

Cats are true carnivores and need a meat-based diet. Cats derive the same benefits as dogs from a raw diet. In fact, raw meat is one of the best sources of essential amino acids pets need to grow healthy and strong.

Hunting cats will eat the contents of their prey’s stomach and small intestine. This provides them with a source of dietary fibre and nutrients like Vitamin E that are available primarily from plant sources. In order to mimic this, you can give your cat access to some natural greens like cat grass and supplement their diet occasionally with Vitamin E.

How much should I feed my cat?

Adult cats should eat about 5 per cent to 8 per cent of their body weight per day, depending on their activity level. Also, it’s best if cats are fed two or three times a day — do not leave raw food out for cats to graze on. Kittens require about 8 per cent to 10 per cent of their body weight per day (Weigh your kitten each week and adjust the amount fed accordingly). This amount should be split into three to four small meals daily. As kittens reach their full adult weight around 10 to 12 months, you can gradually reduce the amount and times per day you feed to adult levels. These percentages are meant to act as a guide only — every cat is different. Adjust the amounts to keep your cat at a healthy weight.

The obesity epidemic

Fat ginger catObesity is not just a problem for people, our pets are packing on the pounds too. According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, it’s estimated that over 45 per cent of all the pets in North America are overweight or obese. The major cause of this epidemic is overfeeding. Overfeeding our pets can lead to a number of significant health concerns. Not only can obesity shorten our pets’ lives, the health risks can include Type II diabetes, respiratory disorders and many forms of cancer.

It’s important to periodically check your pet’s weight throughout all life stages. Putting your pets on a scale is not the best way to evaluate their weight because within each breed there are varying sizes and weights. Instead, look at the appearance of your pet. This means you should be able to feel the ribs easily without pressing, but you should not be able to see the ribs through the coat. The torso should also resemble an hourglass when viewed from above.

You can conduct these quick checks on your own but since it can be hard for pet guardians to be objective, it’s best to seek a second opinion. If you’re pet is overweight, make sure there is no medical reason for the extra pounds before putting them on a diet.

Portion control is the number one way to combat obesity. Feeding recommendations or instructions on your pet’s food are sometimes inflated. The portion size on the packaging is for the average pet. Lifestyle, activity level and age also affect how much food a pet should receive. If your pet is overweight, feed less from the recommended amount and adjust from there.

Measuring out your pets’ food may not be as convenient as filling a bowl and letting them “graze” for the day, but the benefits far outweigh the extra time it takes to measure. And, feeding your pets two to three times a day will keep you in control of how much they eat and should keep any hunger pangs at bay.

If your pet is on a weight-loss program, it may be difficult to resist the temptation to give them more food when they look at you with their begging eyes or paw at their dish. The solution is to give them some extra attention. Most pets will substitute a walk, some TLC or chasing their favourite ball for that extra portion of food. Besides, most pets could probably use a little extra exercise.

A vet’s perspective on human and animal health care

0915bookreviewcoverBy Susan Crawford, M.Sc.

Dr. Sarah Boston takes a provocative look at cancer treatment from the human side and from the animal side in her book, Lucky Dog: How Being a Veterinarian Saved My Life. What makes this book unique is the fact that Boston herself is a cancer survivor and a veterinary surgical oncologist.

Back in 2011, Boston discovered a worrisome lump in her neck, only to hear from her doctor that the lump was “probably fine.”  The Calgary native suspected otherwise, from its increasing size, and from the way it pushed against her neck. Upon hearing it would take two weeks for an ultrasound, she had her husband (also a veterinarian) bring home a portable ultrasound machine so that she could view the lump herself. To Boston’s educated eye, it looked like a carcinoma, so she pushed to have it surgically removed almost three months later.

Boston takes her readers on a thought-provoking journey through the human healthcare system.  She weaves funny, yet poignant stories of dogs she has operated on, and draws parallels between her own care and the care she provides animal patients. Boston’s hope for speedy treatment is unimportant — she has to wait her turn. Canine thyroid cancer patients, on the other hand, can have their diagnostic tests completed in 24 hours and be operated on the next day. Their human thyroid cancer counterparts often wait weeks or months, with mounting anxiety.

Boston tells about her patient Sasha, the miniature poodle with a bone tumour. Like Sasha’s surgery, Boston’s is successful, but unlike Sasha (who got top care and went home the day after her operation), Boston has vastly different experiences in the two hospitals where she has each operation. Her doctors give her the anti-nausea drug and specific pain medication she requests for her first operation, but for her second operation (at another hospital), she receives cheaper medications instead, with harsher side effects. Despite being a health professional, Boston was often treated as hysterical, and was often dismissed. She mentions meeting other patients, fighting just as hard to be heard and treated. As a cancer survivor myself, I can attest to the challenges patients face. The picture she paints of Canadian healthcare is not flattering.

Perhaps her negative experiences are more related to incompetence, but readers gradually see that the major difference underlying the animals’ care and the speed/quality of the treatment Boston receives is the private versus public nature of veterinary care versus human medical care. Sasha’s treatment involves a $2,500 MRI and $4,200 worth of surgery/aftercare. Fortunately, her owners could afford it. Not everyone, human or canine, is so fortunate.

Lucky Dog provides its readers with a much-needed look at the way our socialized system works. You should eventually get the medical care you need, if you’re intelligent, know people, and have the advocacy skills to fight for yourself. The importance of taking personal responsibility for your own health and your pet’s health is central to Boston’s book.

 If you want a thought-provoking, stimulating book, Lucky Dog fits the bill. Four paws up!!

Kali’s Wish Cancer Foundation set to launch new website

By Sherry Warner

Over the past several years, Kali’s Wish Cancer Foundation has been focused on generating awareness into the causes of animal cancers; available conventional and alternative treatment options; and ways to prevent cancer in our animal companions.

While we recognize that awareness plays a role in fighting this disease, we see a more immediate need — to make a concerted effort to help families understand the nature of pet cancer and its prevention as well as offering support to families caring for a pet with cancer through every stage of their journey including diagnosis, treatment, survival and/or loss.

With that in mind, our mission for 2015 is to develop a new, comprehensive website you can trust as a credible source of pet cancer-related information and resources, then take that information and resources on the road and into your community with our mobile pet cancer centre. Money raised during the year will help fund both the development of the website and the mobile pet cancer centre.

The new website, slated to launch in May, will roll out in stages during the rest of the year. When complete it will include lots of information about how to prevent cancer; common types of pet cancers; conventional treatment options and complementary therapies; frequently asked questions about pet cancer; and information about pet loss along with a Directory of Veterinarians and Complementary Therapy Practitioners.

Whatever pet cancer-related information or resources you’re looking for — such as healthy pet food choices to help prevent cancer; recipes for eco-friendly cleaning products; the difference between chemo and radiation therapy; where to find a veterinary oncologist in your area; or how do help your child cope with the loss of a pet — we can help.

And, you can be sure that all the information you read on our website has been gleaned from trusted sources and/or vetted through our Editorial Advisory Panel — a group of veterinarians, veterinary oncologists and complementary therapy practitioners — to ensure its accuracy and relevancy.


Once the website is up and running, we will move on to the next phase of our plan, launching the mobile pet cancer centre along with a schedule of events where you can find us in your community.

Please help us become the trusted source of pet cancer-related information and resources so we can support families faced with a cancer diagnosis in their pet and help prevent this dreaded disease.

To donate or become a Kali’s Wish sponsor for our website and/or our Mobile Pet Cancer Centre, please call 403-249-2233 or email

Vet oncologists talk feline cancer

Photo by Darby Leigh

Photo by Darby Leigh

We asked Dr. Valerie MacDonald, DVM DACVIM (oncology), Associate Professor at Western College of Veterinary Medicine in Saskatoon and her resident, Dr. Charlotte Johnston to answer the following questions about feline cancers. Below are their answers.

  1. How common is cancer in cats? What are some of the more common cancers found in cats?

The prevalence of cancer in cats is increasing. The increase is due to a variety of reasons — cats are living longer, increasing care given by owners and advancing veterinary care. Cancer remains a major cause of morbidity and mortality in cats.

Some of the most common cancers seen in cats include:

  • Lymphoma: Cancer arising from lymphoid tissue. Infection with feline leukemia virus increases their risk of developing lymphoma.
  • Mammary cancer: Spaying cats before their first heat can decrease the risk of developing mammary cancer.
  • Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC): Most commonly affects the skin and mouth. Sun exposure increases their risk of developing skin SCC and it most commonly involves light or unpigmented areas of skin.
  • Injection site sarcomas

2. What are some of the symptoms of feline cancers?

There is no single symptom that can confirm cancer in cats. Cats are also hard to evaluate, as they tend to hide their disease well. In general any cat that is not feeling well should be examined by a veterinarian.

Some symptoms to monitor for include:

  • Lumps
  • Persistent sores or skin infections
  • Abnormal discharge from any area of the body
  • Sudden lameness or lameness that is not improving
  • Weight loss
  • Decreased appetite
  • Vomiting, diarrhea, coughing or sneezing
  • Changes in behaviour
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Bad breath

3. What are some of the causes of feline cancers?

In general there is no single cause for cancer in cats. There are hereditary and environmental factors than can contribute to the development of cancer in cats. Cats that receive excessive exposure to sunlight are at risk for skin cancer. Feline leukemia virus has also been linked to the development of the malignant cancer lymphoma in cats. Injections into the muscle and subcutaneous tissue have been linked to the development of injection site sarcomas at a later date.

4. What are some of the more common treatments for cats with cancer? Are there any new treatments or advanced technologies for the treatment of feline cancers?

There are three main types of treatments that we use for cancer — surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Surgery is the most common treatment that is used to remove tumours that are found. For localized tumours surgery may be the only treatment needed. Chemotherapy is used to treat systemic cancers (such as lymphoma) and also cancers that have a high chance of spreading. Radiation therapy can be used to treat tumours in locations not amenable to surgery (for example the nasal cavity) or where surgical removal is unachievable.

There is research being done constantly to try and identify advancements in radiation therapy, new and novel chemotherapy protocols and new surgical approaches.

5. How much does it typically cost to treat a cat with cancer?

The cost to treat various different cancers in cats by a specialist depends on a number of different factors including type and location of the cancer, the treatment that is recommended (surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy) and ultimately where you live.

6. If treated, what’s the cure rate for cats with cancer?

It is very difficult to comment on a cure rate. However, on a whole it is going to be very low. It will depend on the type of tumour, the location, when it was found and how it is treated.

7. What are some of the preventive measures we can take to help keep our cats cancer free? 

It is often hard to suggest a number of preventative measures when we do not know the underlying cause of most cancers. Early detection and prompt treatment are the most effective approaches for the best outcome. Having your cat spayed early can reduce the chance of mammary cancer. Avoiding excessive sunlight exposure and sunburn can help reduce the chance of certain skin cancers. Vaccinating for feline leukemia can prevent the development of the disease. There has been no links of feeding certain foods or using a particular cat litter to the development of cancer. Feeding a well-balanced diet and getting regular exercise can help your cat stay healthy with a good body condition score to reduce the risk of a number of health related diseases, not just cancer.

World-class Pet Care Centre planned for Calgary

Over the next five years, Kali’s Wish Cancer Foundation’s fundraising efforts will focus on raising money to build a world-class Pet Cancer Centre that will offer the latest in research, education and complementary healing programs for our beloved pets.  Our vision for the Kali’s Wish Pet Cancer Centre is shared in detail below.

To make your donation online to Kali’s Wish Cancer Foundation in support of the Kali’s Wish Pet Cancer Centre please call Sherry at 403-249-2233 with your credit card number. Donations are also generously accepted at all Pet Planet locations. Thank you for your support! 

Kali – Our journey begins

When Kali was diagnosed with cancer in the Spring of 2003, her family rallied around her to provide her with comfort, strength and support. They sought advice from conventional resources; their doctor, the Internet, literature, family and friends. They made her comfortable and simply loved her until she was ready to let go. Reading this you would think that Kali and her family worked through their grief in all of the traditional ways. The only problem was — Kali was a dog.

When Kali’s family reached out, looking for ways to deal with her illness, and eventually her loss, there was nothing to grab onto. There were no resources to help them through the grieving process. The one and only directive they were offered upon the news of her diagnosis was to euthanize her — an option that seemed completely unimaginable. Kali’s family had to grieve without support, without understanding and without comfort.

Kali’s “wish” is that this never happens again to another family. Kali’s Wish Pet Cancer Centre is her wish come true.

A Place for Hope

Our vision for Kali’s Wish Pet Cancer Centre, is a welcoming place for families to learn, make informed decisions, find comfort and remember. It will marry integrative holistic health services, education and support with a peaceful and trusting atmosphere for pets and their families.

This one-of-a-kind integrative pet cancer centre will work in collaboration with traditional and  complementary medical communities to offer both consultative and support services for families dealing with a cancer diagnosis in their pet. Our practitioners will offer families hope by assisting in the creation of personalized treatment protocols, by being a trusted advocate and by offering support through the grief of diagnosis and loss. Multiple complementary therapies including, but not limited to, nutrition therapy, homeopathy, acupuncture, chiropractic care and spiritual healing will be offered to improve quality of life, support the immune system and reduce any treatment-related side effects.

The centre will house a large library related to pet health and wellness — a place to learn all about pet health maintenance and disease prevention. Online tools, literature and our knowledgeable practitioners and counsellors will be readily available. Whether a family is looking for resources to prevent disease, dealing with a new diagnosis, supporting a pet through treatment programs, or grieving the loss of a beloved family member, the centre will be there beside them, every step of the way.

The Kali’s Wish Pet Cancer Centre will also be a special place for children. Whether they are learning how to become a responsible guardian to their new family pet or struggling to understand the sadness and separation associated with the loss of their pet, we will offer programs designed specifically for them. However children express themselves — through art, conversation or reading and reflection — the goal is to provide them with a comfortable place to find their strength and to build confidence in their role as a pet guardian.

Kali’s Wish Pet Cancer Centre will be a place to learn, to find comfort and to remember. It will be a welcoming place where families can trust that their feelings and emotions will be understood and will remain sacred. Most importantly, it will be a place where Kali’s “wish” will come true — the elimination of cancer in our animal companions.

On our opening day, a single paw on our wall of remembrance will mark the beginning of our journey. As pet guardians who visit Kali’s Wish Pet Cancer Centre place their own paws on the wall to memorialize lost companions, each one will join Kali on her path towards the fulfillment of her wish, aligning them in a promise to be as much of a guardian to us as we were to them.

Kali’s Wish Pet Cancer Centre — A place for hope.