an empty nest lifestyle blog

Saving Bella

After reading this post, some of you will think I’m ultra crazy (no “crazy dog lady” posts, please). And some of you will understand and appreciate my efforts. The truth is, I would do anything to save my best friend. It just so happens, in this case, my dog is my best friend.

Here’s the story:

Bella is a happy, active yellow lab, eight years old and has always had joint issues (she tore both ACL’s before the age of three). She’d been limping slightly so I took her in to see the specialty vet who said her right elbow was swollen and he suspected arthritis. He wanted to X-ray both front legs for comparison sake and was shocked to see what appeared to be bone cancer, osteosarcoma, in her left shoulder. Mind you, she’s limping on her right leg. The first cellular biopsy came back inconclusive so I opted for a bone biopsy. That came back negative. Yet based on the doctor’s opinion (and a few colleagues he consulted), it clearly appears to be bone cancer. We are in total shock as it was discovered so randomly.

If it is cancer, which I’m still in denial it’s not because she has no symptoms, I’m going to fight it. I’ve spent the better part of the past three weeks researching the disease, reading veterinary research, and ordering holistic treatments. (Because there is no definitive diagnosis, I won’t do any further medical intervention yet.)

I started with an herbal drug called Artemix which has shown promise in treating her specific type of cancer. She gets two pills at bedtime in a bowl of cottage cheese (dairy increases the effectiveness of absorption) with an anti-inflammatory for her elbow.  Then, I started giving her turmeric, an anti-inflammatory, which has numerous medical benefits with her evening meal. She also takes glucosamine and salmon oil capsules which I’ve read help stem the progress of osteosarcoma. I implemented all of these protocols before her bone biopsy.

I recently began researching dog cancer diet information to, hopefully, stem the metastasis of this aggressive cancer (it metastasizes quickly to the lungs which is typically the cause of death — her lungs were fairly clear with a few questionable shadows but nothing that stood out). And so, I spent the weekend making Bella’s Scare-the-cancer-away Dog Food. Those who know me know that I voraciously read about food and I love to cook. So why not?

Key ingredients for Bella's food
Key ingredients for Bella’s food

 

I read dozens of accounts of dog owners’ experimentation with canine cancer diets and several sites by vets warning of the dangers of homemade pet food. And I realize how critical it is to ensure homemade food includes all of the proper nutrients. So I combined the best of everything I read and here’s what I came up with.

Most of you already know that I make bone broth for Bella. So I decided to try my hand at homemade dog food (with ingredients that have proven cancer-fighting benefits). Caveat: doing your research is critical. For example, dogs on chemo should not eat a raw diet (I’m not doing raw anyway).

I read several accounts and some promising research that flaxseed oil can help prevent the spread of this cancer so mid-morning, Bella gets a bowl of cottage cheese (which increases absorption) with the flaxseed oil.

I went out and bought tons of ingredients to make huge amounts of dog food (see below), not even knowing if Bella would eat it. But she’s a Lab. I figured she lives for her meals so I gave it a shot.

Bella’s Scare-the-cancer-away Dog Food

Meats/Proteins

  • Chicken thighs (I bought them because they were the cheapest cut of meat I could find, although I’ve read that leaner cuts, like breasts are better – the fat in skin can feed the cancer so I did remove that)
  • Chicken livers
  • Ground Turkey
Chopped chicken thighs, livers and ground turkey breast
Chopped chicken thighs, livers and ground turkey breast

 

I chopped all of this into bite-sized pieces and browned it. Again, I chose not to do a raw diet because I read that dogs with compromised immune systems (and cancer) may not be able to process raw meat. Another very interesting thing I learned in my research: cooking meat at a high temperature increases the carcinogens (even for people). So I simmered the meat over low heat until it was thoroughly cooked, which took about an hour. Despite being a foodie, I’m a bit squeamish about certain foods. So chopping the chicken livers was quite the challenge.

Veggies

Veggies for the canine cancer diet
Veggies for the canine cancer diet

 

You can really use any vegetables you choose, but it’s proven in both dogs and people that green cruciferous vegetables, like broccoli, have more cancer fighting agents. For my first batch, I used carrots, broccoli, sweet potatoes, and zucchini (which I had in the fridge that needed to be cooked). Oddly enough, there is research that shows that shiitake mushrooms are great at preventing the spread of cancer, so I added those in as well. I also grated garlic and turmeric root over the veggies, which are both anti-inflammatories. I chopped the veggies into small pieces and boiled them until they were tender.

Dairy

Several of the recipes I read said to add cottage cheese or yogurt to the mix to ensure your dog gets the proper calcium. Since she gets two bowls of cottage cheese already, I added plain yogurt to her food.

Eggs

Most recipes also call for eggs (scrambled). Interestingly enough, as you’ll see in the photos, I also added the egg shells to the mix because I learned that one eggshell has the daily calcium requirement for a dog Bella’s size.

All of the ingredients ready to mix, including egg shells
All of the ingredients ready to mix, including egg shells

 

I cooked all of the categories separately, and then mixed them all together. I tried to do a 50/50 ratio of protein to veggies. I then scooped out one cup of the food into Ziploc bags, with a few going into the refrigerator and most going into the freezer.

The cost

I spent $32 on the ingredients (I had the cashier ring these ingredients separately) and it made roughly 8-9 days of food. So yes, it will be a more expensive method of feeding her than most commercial dog foods, but considering the alternative, I’m willing to take that risk.

I’ll have to do some more research on where to find the best, and most affordable, cuts of meats.  And I’ll ask the butcher to chop it for me since it took me about an hour to debone and de-skin the chicken (although I did save those for her bone broth). To quell your fears, I did not introduce this all at once. I took my time mixing it with her premium dog food to ensure she could tolerate it well.

I’ll keep you posted on how it goes. Since the biopsy came back negative, the vet wants to do new X-rays in four weeks to see if there’s been any change. It will be interesting to see if any of these protocols are working.  I don’t expect to heal her, but if I can simply prolong her healthy, happy life, that’s good enough for me.

 

 



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