Sadly, cancer is a common diagnosis in older dogs and cats. It is responsible for almost 50% of natural deaths in dogs over 10 years old; 1 in 4 dogs and 1 in 6 cats will develop cancer at some point in their lives. Although great advances have been made in conventional cancer therapy, these treatments are expensive and there are often adverse side effects. Acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine can be used together with conventional medicine to treat both the cancer itself and the side effects of conventional treatment, making the conventional treatment more effective, or alone for those seeking a more natural approach. These therapies often allow an animal to "live with" their cancer for months to years, maintaining a good quality of life.

Chinese Herbal Medicine for Cancer

Herbal medicine is the mainstay of Chinese medical treatment of cancer. From a Chinese medical perspective, cancer is rooted in deficiency of Qi (energy), which leads to stagnation of Qi, blood or phlegm, causing physical masses to develop. By tonifying Qi and breaking down the stagnation, cancer can be treated, either reducing the size of tumors or at least preventing further increase in size.

Modern scientific research is establishing that chemical components of herbs used in Chinese medicine have genuine anti-cancer effects. These natural chemicals have been shown to prevent multiplication of cancer cells or even induce them to die. Herbs have also been shown to stimulate the immune system to act against the cancer cells and suppress both metastasis (spread) and development of new blood vessels by the tumor. Herbs can therefore be used to both prevent and treat cancer.

Clinical studies in humans have shown that addition of Chinese herbs to conventional chemotherapy can improve the efficacy of chemotherapy and increase survival time. Other studies have shown that herbs can affect the oxygen levels in tumor cells, making them more susceptible to radiation therapy. These studies show how an integrative approach to cancer, utilizing both Western and Chinese medicine, can be more effective than a purely Western approach. Chinese herbs can also combat the side effects of conventional treatment, for example by strengthening the immune system and stimulating appetite, making the conventional treatment more tolerable and more likely to be effective.

Chinese herbal medicine is safe and can generally be used with whatever conventional medications an animal is currently taking. It can also be beneficial to help treat other problems that an animal may also be suffering from. Many of the animals diagnosed with cancer are older and so have other problems such as arthritis or general decrease in vitality. Chinese herbal medicine (and acupuncture) can simultaneously address these problems, improving the animal’s quality of life.

Acupuncture for Cancer

Acupuncture has a synergistic effect with Chinese herbal therapy to rebalance the body and relieve the stagnation and underlying Qi deficiency that is causing the cancer from a Chinese viewpoint. It can help strengthen the body, enhancing immunity and appetite and reducing pain and inflammation that is associated with the cancer. This is important because cancer is associated with chronic inflammation.

Acupuncture can also relieve the fatigue and anxiety caused by cancer and conventional treatment, which is important because these are well-known to depress the immune system. Acupuncture is not generally painful and causes release of endorphins, which promote relaxation. Many animals become drowsy or even fall asleep during acupuncture treatment, and most owners report that their pets sleep deeply after treatment.

If an animal is also receiving conventional cancer chemotherapy, acupuncture can help relieve side effects such as nausea and reduced immune function. For those animals that have undergone surgery, acupuncture can help to stimulate healing and relieve pain. Acupuncture is therefore a valuable addition to conventional cancer treatment.

Food Therapy and Dietary Modification for Cancer Patients

Diet is an incredibly important part of cancer treatment and the good news is, this part of cancer treatment is something animals actually enjoy! The ideal diet for a cancer patient is a carefully formulated, whole-food diet and generally not a highly processed commercial pet food.

So why are commercial pet foods generally not good for cancer patients? Many (although not all) commercial pet foods contain chemicals such as nitrates, nitrites and ethoxyquin, that can be converted to cancer-causing (carcinogenic) compounds by the body's digestion. In addition, the process of producing kibble involves heating the food to very high temperatures. This high temperature processing ('extruding') can generate chemicals such as acrylamide and heterocyclic amines, which are powerful carcinogens in laboratory studies. Since these chemicals are not ingredients as part of the recipe for the food, they do not have to be listed on the food label. These chemicals are part of the reason that highly processed foods and foods cooked at very high temperatures (such as frying) are not recommended as part of a healthy human diet. Another reason that most pet foods are not ideal for cancer patients is that they often include corn or wheat as a major ingredient. These grains contain simple carbohydrates that are quickly broken down into simple sugars, which are the preferred energy source of cancer cells. Research increasingly supports a low carbohydrate diet for cancer patients.

The best diet for a cancer patient includes lean meat and organ meat, vegetables that are high in complex carbohydrates, grains (such as oatmeal) that are high in complex and not simple carbohydrates and healthy oils to supplement omega-3 fatty acids. These foods are cooked at low temperatures to avoid formation of carcinogens, or alternatively vegetables can be pureed to improve digestion. The principles of Chinese food therapy can then be used to select specific foods to include in this diet, for example cooling foods for a patient that is too warm or foods that strengthen blood for patients with the Chinese diagnosis of blood deficiency.

Effects of Cancer on the Body

Cancer has numerous effects on the body, including:

  • Interference with the body's vital functions
  • Immune system suppression
  • Consumption of the body's energy, leading to weight loss and weakness

How Can Holistic Medicine Help Cancer Patients?

Acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine, dietary modification and nutritional supplements can benefit cancer patients by:

  • Reduction in tumor growth and spread
  • Reduction in pain and other cancer symptoms
  • Reduction of side effects of chemotherapy and medications
  • Rebalancing of the immune system
  • Improvement in energy and general well-being
  • Improvement in appetite

When Should I Start Holistic Treatment for my pet with cancer?

The best time to start holistic treatment of cancer is as soon as you are able. It is always easier to treat a tumor as soon as it is diagnosed rather than waiting until it has progressed. While animals with cancer may feel unwell, acupuncture is a very gentle treatment and causes little stress when performed in the comfort of your pet's own home. If your pet is painful, acupuncture can help and most pets welcome the treatment as it makes them feel better. An initial consultation and treatment with Dr. Wedemeyer lasts 60-90 minutes, so there is plenty of time for you to ask questions and discuss any concerns you may have.


New York Veterinary Acupuncture Service provides acupuncture, herbal medicine, Tui-na and Chinese food therapy on either a house call basis or at several area clinics. House calls are offered in New York's Orange County (Newburgh, Middletown, Beacon, Warwick, Goshen, Washingtonville, Florida, Chester, Monroe, Harriman, Tuxedo and surrounding areas). Thursday house calls are available in Manhattan. Fees vary by location; for more information, please This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Office visits are available as follows:

High Point K9 Center
2224 Mt. Hope Rd., Middletown, NY
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for appointments

Compassion Veterinary Health Center
235 South Ave., Poughkeepsie, NY
Contact CVHC on 845-473-0358 for appointments

Contact NYVAS