Support for Cancer Patients Using Herbs and Supplements


It’s estimated that 80 percent of people with cancer take herbs and/or supplements as part of their treatment regimen. This trend has extended to animals- more and more people are administering these products to pets diagnosed with cancer. More commonly used supplements and herbs are described below. Further studies on most if not all of them are warranted to know how best to incorporate them as part of a cancer-fighting regimen for for dogs and cats.

Omega-3 fatty acids

Omega-3 fatty acids have multiple proven anti-inflammatory properties. There is evidence in human patients that they help reduce “cancer cachexia,” the profound weight loss associated with certain types of malignancies. They may also reduce radiation therapy side effects and infections following cancer surgery. Lastly, some studies suggest that omega-3 fatty acids may have a direct impact on cancer cells that diminish their ability to proliferate.

While omega-3 fatty acids are used extensively in veterinary medicine, there is only limited research pertaining to their use. In a study of canine lymphoma, some but not all dogs receiving a fatty acid supplement had improved treatment outcomes.

In another study performed on dogs undergoing radiation therapy for nasal cancer, those receiving omega-3 fatty acids experienced lower levels of inflammation compared to the placebo group.

The optimal fatty acid dose for dogs and cats with cancer isn’t known. The good news is that omega-3 fatty acids tend to be quite safe, even at higher dosages.

Yunnan baiyao

A primary ingredient within the herbal mixture Yunnan baiyao is panax notoginseng, a substance believed to reduce bleeding tendencies. For this reason, it may be recommended for dogs with cancerous processes with a propensity for bleeding such as nasal tumors, bladder cancer, and hemangiosarcoma.

Although this herbal treatment is commonly prescribed, there is limited and conflicting published research about its use. One study found that Yunnan baiyao may directly kill hemangiosarcoma cells. Other research found no benefit in blood clotting in response to this product. There has been no evidence that Yunnan baiyao is harmful.


Curcumin is the primary component within the commonly used cooking spice, turmeric. A number of studies have demonstrated its ability to inhibit the growth of cancer cells. Unfortunately, most over-the-counter turmeric products are poorly absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract. Efforts are currently underway to develop an injectable form of curcumin. A delivery method referred to as “liposome encapsulation” shows promise for allowing curcumin to achieve high concentrations within body tissues.


The active product within I’m-Yunity is the mushroom, Coriolus versicolor. Also known as the turkey tail mushroom or cloud mushroom, this herb may inhibit cancer cell growth. Studies on people with cancer indicate that it can enhance survival times when combined with other treatment methods.

A study of dogs with hemangiosarcoma, demonstrated that I’m-Yunity is well tolerated. Dogs receiving the highest study dosage experienced a longer duration of time before cancer progression, however, actual survival times within the treatment groups did not significantly differ.

Valproic Acid

Valproic acid is a fatty acid that has been studied in the past for its anti-seizure properties. It also has an effect on DNA that may render it more susceptible to chemotherapy drugs. It has been shown to enhance the impact of doxorubicin (a chemotherapy drug) on canine osteosarcoma cells grown in the laboratory.

Potential interactions

While herbs and supplements are available without a prescription, it is imperative to have conversation with your veterinarian before giving them to your dog or cat. While some of these products are like chicken soup (“It couldn’t hoyt….”), others are unsafe or counterproductive. For example, garlic, vitamins E, A or C, grape seed extract, red clover and the ginsengs all have antioxidant properties that can interfere with the effects of radiation or chemotherapy.

Does your pet receive any herbs or supplements? If so, what is the intended purpose?

Best wishes,

Nancy Kay, DVM

Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Author of Your Dog’s Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect From Your Vet
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Please visit to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health.   There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health are available at,, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.


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5 Comments on “Support for Cancer Patients Using Herbs and Supplements

  1. Thanks Doc, we always appreciate hearing your take on supplements, especially when it comes to treating illnesses in our pets.

    When our Jerry was fighting osteosarcoma, we enrolled him in a trial for K9 Immunity, an immune booster with medicinal mushrooms. We believe the supplements contributed to a great quality of life and longevity. He lived seven additional months longer than his prognosis with lung mets, and nearly every day was a good one for him.

    One thing we practiced while deciding what supplements to use, was to stick with the rule of 3. Use no more than three supplements for him at a time. That made it easier to pinpoint any issues he might have with the supplements, it was easier to know what was working and what wasn’t, and we also felt that trying to give him too many supplements each day would lessen his quality of life. He was a picky eater even before cancer and we knew in our hearts that giving too many supplements would make him unhappy. It worked well for us and he defied the odds for a long time.

  2. Sorry Denise- I don’t know the answer to your question.

  3. Is the mushroom you write about similar to Artemisinin?
    Dr. Henry Lai from the University of Washington has studied its use for cancer.

  4. Chinese herbs, stasis breaker and astragalus 10 worked well on my 17 year old cat with lung cancer who lived another 23 months on those alone, without surgery. I also used astragalus 10 for a cat with lymphoma.

    Chinese herb, Crystal Stone Formula, along with crananidin, Dasuquin, Standard Process Feline Renal Support, and the prescription diet food helps my cat who has had 2 urinary tract blockages.

  5. Thanks for this blog.

    I use UDO’s oil for the Omega’s. I use it for myself bc I believe it’s the best on the market and it’s organic.

    Turkey Tail and Immunity both from Host Defense b/c I’ve heard Paul Stametz speak about mushrooms and he’s a wealth of knowledge.

    Turmeric I’ve made a paste b/c turmeric isn’t well absorbed w/ out black pepper.

    I also use cannabis when my pets are in pain from age related diseases.

    I will have a look at the others you mentioned as well. Thanks again for being proactive in the field of vet medicine.

    All of these supplement I use myself as a preventative except cannabis so it’s in my home readily usable for my pets.

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