Missy and Buzz at Veterinary Speciality Hospital

Cancer Trumped Raw Dog Food

Cancer and raw dog food

Today I’m sharing some bad news with you guys. Unfortunately, it looks like the nasty C has found its way back into our lives in form of a mast cell tumor on my dog Missy’s throat.

For those of you who don’t know – my Boxer mix Missy was first diagnosed with cancer in late 2014, at only 3 years of youth. Back then, she had a similar tumor removed and underwent 4 rounds of preventative chemotherapy treatment, for the grand total of $7,689.20.

Our medical illness insurance through Pets Best ended up covering $6,177.18. As the monthly insurance rate has since then climbed from $76 to $185, I just recently scratched the illness protection from our insurance plan (go figure) and only kept accident coverage, which is an affordable $20 per month.

How I found out about my dog’s cancer

A few days ago, I took Missy to our regular vet for an exam to have 2 lumps checked out. One is on the right side of her throat where the first tumor was located. The other one is on the left side of her face, right below her left ear.

Buzz and Missy, two raw fed boxer mixes

Our vet Dr. Schaller first looked at the one located on her face and was confident when stating that she could take it off at her practice, but the expression on her face immediately changed when she felt the lump on Missy’s throat.

It appears to be a grade II mast cell tumor. Those grow below the skin in the subcutaneous tissues.

Referral to oncologist

Our vet explained she would have to refer us back to the Veterinary Specialty Hospital (VSH) in Cary, N.C., where Missy had been treated in late 2014/early 2015. She gave Missy a heartfelt kiss on her cute little head. Gulp.

After Dr. Schaller made the referral to the VSH, I called to make an appointment with one of their oncologists. Missy will be examined Monday afternoon (the day this blog post goes live) and given a prognosis. We’ll take it from there, and I’ll keep you guys updated on our new cancer journey. Paws crossed for somewhat good news.

Cancer and raw dog food – Cancer busted my bubble

Now what does all of this have to do with raw feeding? Well, Missy’s first cancer diagnosis got me started on our raw feeding journey. Until then, her and her brother Buzz had been on a kibble/wet food diet, essentially for the first 3 years of their lives.

So while Missy was doing a great job kicking cancer’s butt with the help of the oncologist staff at the VSH, I attempted to understand how a 3 year old dog could possibly come down with cancer.

Cancer and raw dog food - Missy the boxer mix
Missy after her tumor removal surgery

On WeAreTheCure.org, I learned that Boxers are genetically predisposed to having the highest incidence of mast cell tumors, which did, indeed, end up being Missy’s Boxer mom’s death sentence at age 3.

I also heard holistic veterinarians such as Dr. Karen Becker, Dr. Dee Blanco, and the many contributors of Dogs Naturally Magazine say and write that highly processed dog food might be contributing to the canine cancer epidemic.

The benefits of a raw dog food diet

Coincidentally, I kept hearing them talk about an alternative that sounded intriguing to me – a fresh, raw food diet with the following benefits:

  • severely reduced allergy symptoms
  • shiny, full coats
  • white teeth
  • smaller poop
  • less doggie smell
  • strengthened immune system
  • and, what stuck with me the most, a reduced cancer risk.

So while I obviously couldn’t do anything about my little puppy girl being part Boxer, I figured I could at least give this raw food thing a try in order to keep the cancer at bay for as long as possible. Hopefully many, many years.

Over the course of the past 3 years, I was able to notice many of above listed benefits in both pups. Their coats are beautiful and shiny, their teeth are clean without me having to brush them and Buzz no longer has ear infections. Their poop volume has decreased, and they truly don’t have that typical dog smell.

I admit that once the first two yearly complete blood counts showed that Missy (& Buzz) were in great health, I didn’t think that we’d ever be dealing with cancer again.

Well, the nasty C just proved me wrong. While Missy stayed free of mast cell tumors for 3 years, the darn cancer has caught back up with us and busted my bubble, despite feeding a species-appropriate, raw meat diet.

Missy the boxer mix during a chemotherapy session
Missy during a chemotherapy session

Am I going to continue to feed my dogs raw?

You may be wondering whether I’m going to continue to feed raw? You bet.

And every dog who’ll follow in Missy’s (& her brother Buzz’s) paw prints will be fed a fresh, nourishing raw meat diet. That’s a promise you can hold me to. Although, I don’t believe a raw diet can 100% eliminate the cancer threat, especially in dog breeds that are at high risk of being diagnosed with cancer due to their genetics.

I do, however, believe that it contributes tremendously to overall health. It strengthens the canine immune system and ultimately lengthens their life expectancy.

Ask any raw feeder who proudly shows off their raw fed pups on social media and preaches about the many health benefits. Those thousands of people have got to be on to something. Need some inspiration? Just do a hashtag search on Instagram for #RawFeedingCommunity or join a raw feeding Facebook group.

Who knows, maybe Missy’s cancer would have returned a lot sooner than it did had I continued feeding her highly processed, dry dog food. Maybe the raw diet DID buy us 3 additional years with Missy.

Barbara Rivers writes regularly for That Mutt about feeding her two boxer mixes a raw dog food diet. She is a blogger and dog walker and maintains the blog K9s Over Coffee.

Related posts:

When a dear old dog has cancer (my mom’s blog, Nancy’s Point)

Benefits of a raw diet for cats

Homemade raw dog food recipes


33 thoughts on “Cancer Trumped Raw Dog Food”

  1. My deepest condolences to you and Missy. This is a terrible thing to go through, especially after you thought you had kicked it the first time. I wish you love and strength and snuggles… and lots of good food as well. I have heard the health benefits of a raw diet over and over, and I believe it makes a tremendous difference for many dogs. I’m sure it has helped Missy throughout her life in many ways.

    1. Thank you, Julia, I can definitely use a good dosage of all 3 – love, strength, snuggles…I’m trying my best to keep Missy’s nutritional needs in mind and just made a batch of turmeric paste because of its anti-inflammatory benefits. Not that it will make a huge difference at this point, but then again you never know. It definitely won’t hurt.

  2. Lindsay Stordahl

    Thank you for sharing your story with us as I can only imagine how hard that is. I have been thinking of you two all day and hope you get some positive news from the vet.

    1. Thank you, Lindsay, the news weren’t the greatest since the cancer has spread to her lungs :/ But for now she’s happy, wiggly, still loving her food, plays with Buzz, and loves her walks. If you don’t know it, you can’t really tell that she’s sick.

  3. Hi Barbara,
    I am very sorry to learn that Missy’s cancer is back. It’s so hard when our dear pets get this sort of diagnosis. Been there, too, and it sucks. I will be thinking about you. Thank you for sharing.

  4. Vaccines and inherited things from the dogs parents all play a role in cancer too for dogs. There is some great research that tumeric (tumeric paste recipes all over the internet) help shrink cancer. The http://www.dogcancerblog.com has a free dog cancer ebook and lots of really good advice. Here is putting out positive energy that since she beat it once, maybe she can beat it again.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Yes, unfortunately cancer is complicated. There’s so much we don’t know, and so much is out of out control. I wish it were less common to hear about dogs getting cancer. I’ve known way too many affected by it.

    2. I agree, there are so many environmental factors that can contribute to the formation of cancer, too many vaccines and harsh pest preventatives seemingly being some of them. I discontinued the topical pest preventatives I had been giving both Missy & Buzz on a monthly basis when I made the switch from kibble to raw. I also started introducing turmeric and turmeric paste into their lives as an overall immune system strengthener and inflammation fighter.

      Thank you for the positive energy and your good thoughts. I’ll check out the link you shared.

  5. Hang in there! Positive thoughts are sent to you. Gamer is our 3rd dog with cancer. Started my journey of raw feeding after the first 2 died. The oncologist gave him 3-6 months to live, that was 3 1/2 years ago. No chemo or radiation, it wouldn’t work anyway. We give some supplements as suggested by our holistic vet. Best wishes to you.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      So sorry to hear you have also had to deal with dogs getting cancer. I’m glad to hear Gamer seems to be doing well and I hope that continues for a long time!

    2. Thank you so much, Lynn! I’m so sorry that cancer has been a constant with your dogs, but I’m excited to hear that Gamer has been cancer free for 3 1/5 years! Yay Gamer!!! What kind of breed is Gamer if you don’t mind my asking, and which supplements are you giving him?

  6. I am so sorry to hear that Missy has cancer. Bless her sweet heart.
    I need to start my three rescues on a raw diet, but am overwhelmed on how to do this with three dogs. Anyway, I can across a group on Facebook that has amazing resources and success stories. Please check them out: Homemade Hope Holistic Healing for Dogs with Cancer and Illness. Prayers for you both.

  7. Thank you for your kind words, Sherri, and thanks a lot for mentioning that Facebook group – I just requested to join it. Chapeau to you for thinking about transitioning your pups to a raw diet. I know it can be overwhelming at first, especially when you have more than one pup.

    I found that it got a lot easier (and meal prep got a lot faster!) after a few months, and now I could feed the pups while sleepwalking, haha!

    What helped me personally get more comfortable with making the switch was feeding a commercial raw diet for the first few months. It’s definitely more expensive than putting your own meals together, but it’s a good option as long as it’s somewhat affordable. If your three rescues are on the smaller side, it’s a lot less expensive than if they were medium to large or extra large pups.

  8. So sorry. I know your pain. I have lost 3 dogs to various kinds of cancer. It doesn’t get any easier but know you are giving her the best life possible. Enjoy the time you have with Missy.

    1. Thank you, Sandy. I’m working hard on copying Missy’s “enjoying every moment” philosophy 🙂 I’m so sorry that you’ve lost 3 dogs to this nasty disease. I wish I would stop hearing about it :/

  9. sandy weinstein

    I am very familiar with VSH in Cary. my oldest passed away there in Aug. after a long 10mos battle with histiocytic sarcoma. I was referred by my vet, homeopathic vet, Dr. Alley, Shiloh, in Cary, NC, a great vet practice. Dr. Russlander was my vet at VSH. he was wonderful as was the staff. I had been there yrs b4 and seen another Dr for something else and was not at all pleased. however, Dr. R was the best. Evie mystified them because she should have been dead within a wk/month as the cancer she had was a very fast growing cancer. they tried 4 different types of chemo and 1 new drug. the 10 mos cost me over 30k. however, I did not care abt the cost. did your vet talk to you abt the mushroom therapies- Apocaps, vetriscience products, and one other I cant remember now. there are several homeopathic therapies which Dr. R is very familiar with. I cant tell you the number of young dogs, puppies that came in with cancer. I usually was there abt 1/wk sometimes more. bloodwork had to be done every few wks at my reg vet. I got to know several people and made lasting friendships with several that I still connect with. neither of my drs. expected Evie to pass away when she did. they thought she would last another 6 mos or more. she was a terrific patient. never had to be put under to do the chemo. I used some homeopathic meds to make her sleepy. they were so good to my little gal. they made a Christmas tree ornament in her name which i got to go pick up. I spent many a long, long day there. I asked my reg vet why so many dogs/pets were coming down with cancer, especially the young ones. she said even in her practice, she was seeing it more and more. a lot is the environmental issues, pesticides, what we feed our dogs, all of the vaccines we use, you need to titer your pets, don’t prescribe to all the vaccines, they are not necessary. even as your dog ages, Evie was almost 16 yrs old, they don’t need rabies. your vet should be able to write a letter regarding this for the state and county. I do only the very basic, and get my girls tittered. wipe their feet and yours when you go places b4 you get back in your car and go in the house with antibiotic wipes. wash your hands when you pet other unknown dogs b4 you pet your own. be cautious when your dogs are around other unknown dogs because they may have a contagious virus.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Thank you so much for sharing your experience, Sandy. I’m so sorry you lost your sweet Evie. I know how special she was. I can’t believe you went to the same vet Barbara is using! What a coincidence. It sounds like a very good facility. I’m glad they took such good care of Evie.

    2. How truly amazing that you are so familiar with the VSH & Dr. Ruslander, Sandy!! I am so sorry that you lost Evie, but loved reading that you had her until she was 16. That’s a great age! I just learned about the cancer diet that many holistic vets recommend for dogs who are being treated for cancer and have a weakened immune system. Working on a blog post about that topic right now.

      I am contemplating talking about Missy to a holistic vet in Cary that came recommended by one of my dog walking clients – Harmony Animal Clinic in Cary. For now, we have been seeing a traditional vet in Sanford, but she doesn’t promote a fresh food diet unfortunately.

  10. sandy weinstein

    Dr. R was a fan of raw, but not while doing the chemo. it can interfere with the chemo. I feed my dogs raw and have been for yrs. you need to ask the cancer vet abt feeding raw if doing chemo/radiation. Evie could not do radiation b/c she could no go under anesthesia because of her age.

  11. sandy weinstein

    I just saw where you are from Sanford. one the dogs, Maddie, that had cancer, I have become friends with her owner on fb. we met at VSH. Maddie was a patient of Dr. R. as well. she was older, a big dog and had a large tumor, she only lived a few weeks after seeing Dr. R. there was nothing he could do for her.

  12. I’m so very sorry, I too, like others have lost a beloved dog to this horrible disease, there are no words. Sending very loving thoughts and prayers to you and your precious pup

  13. Barabara,I am sorry about your dog’s cancer. I can understand how you feel. I have been a raw feeder for years and do my best to limit vaccines, avoid pesticides, etc. But like you pup, my 6 year old Golden was diagnosed with an aggressive lymphoma. Thankfully my oncologist was supportive of our diet and we continued raw feeding throughout her chemo treatments. She also practiced Traditional Chinese Medicine which we took advantage of. My girl made it twice as long as expected and also had very few side effects from any of the chemo’s that we used. I believe that the raw diet contributed greatly to her quality of life. Wishing you the best and hope for a good results.

    1. Thank you, Rebecca – like you, I truly do believe that raw, real food makes a tremendous difference in our pets’ life expectancies. I’m glad that it helped your girl live twice as long as expected; very encouraging news!

  14. Barbara,I am sorry about your Missy. Even though I do not know you or Missy my feelings go out to you and all pet owners who have to go through the hart wrenching of a family member having cancer. Hopefully a cure for human cancer can be found and that same cure will also help pets with cancer.

  15. So, so sorry to hear this. Cancer sucks 🙁 Though Grade II isn’t that bad; JD had grade II and it was cured with surgery. The location sucks, though. JD’s was on his leg. Hugs.

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