The veterinary oncology toolkit: taking a multimodal approach

Treating a veterinary oncology patient is complex, and it’s rare to find a single solution that addresses all dimensions of recovery. A multimodal approach often produces ideal outcomes.

Multimodal approaches to animal oncology are a growing field of study. Immunonutrition and chemoprevention are acknowledged as ancillary treatments that may benefit cancer patients on chemotherapy. They have been shown to reduce the severity and occurrence of adverse events and infections, thus improving quality of life and survival times. By incorporating a range of complementary solutions into an individualized care plan, veterinarians can help increase comfort while improving outcomes.

Low vitamin D levels

Cancer occurs when cells don’t mature, replicate, or die in a healthy way. Recent research indicates there is a correlation between vitamin D deficiency and the incidence of certain cancers in dogs and cats.

Animals mainly obtain vitamin D from their diets. When this isn’t sufficient, vitamin D supplements can help encourage healthy cell lifecycles and reduce chronic inflammation. The best supplements contain cholecalciferol, a precursor to vitamin D3 in animals.

To get an accurate idea of vitamin D levels, regular testing is recommended. Accurate, simple, and convenient vitamin D test kits are now available to veterinarians.

Weakened immune system and chronic inflammation

Without a strong immune system, cancer can grow unchecked. Further, while immunosuppressive side effects from chemotherapy are rare in animals, they still sometimes occur, making immune adjuvants doubly important for recovering and fighting off secondary infection.

There are several natural options for immune system modulation. It is important to research each active ingredient to ensure it is right for the patient.

  • Beta glucans – Blending beta glucans with immune-modulating herbs such as astragalus and licorice root have been shown to improve cell-mediated and humoral immunity over beta-glucans used alone.
  • Curcumin – Curcuminoids have been found to provide health benefits to the immune system through both upstream and downstream cell signaling molecules.
  • L-glutamine – Glutamine has been shown to reduce the development of mucositis from chemotherapy drugs in the gastrointestinal tract.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA) – In addition to numerous other benefits, Omega-3 fatty acids can help create a healthy response to inflammation. Studies indicate that EPA and DHA can also sensitize cancer cells to the cyutotoxic effects of chemo and radiation therapies without harming healthy cells.

Diarrhea and nausea

As a side effect of chemotherapy, some animals may experience gastrointestinal problems. Cannabinoids and terpenes found in extracts of cannabis reduce nausea by binding to receptor sites in the brain stem that control nausea. Hemp oil extracts, with their naturally low, non-intoxicating levels of THC, are safe and effective tools to help restore quality of life.

The secondary metabolites of chemotherapy eliminated through the bowel cause chemo-related diarrhea. Calcium aluminosilicate clay can adsorb these metabolic by-products, thus reducing the incidence of diarrhea post-chemotherapy. These clays have also been found to bind to bacterial toxins and inflammatory cytokines in the gastrointestinal tract, without interfering with nutrient or pharmaceutical absorption.


Dr. Robert Silver graduated in 1982 from the College of Veterinary Medicine at Colorado State University. He became certified in acupuncture in 1993 by IVAS and developed a passion for herbal and nutritional medicine, leading to the founding of RxVitamins. He established Boulder’s Natural Animal in 1993, and is president of the VBMA. Dr. Silver has become an expert in the veterinary applications of cannabinoid therapies, and authored Medical Marijuana and Your Pet. He is Director of Animal Health for Folium Biosciences, a biotech company that grows and processes hemp into nutraceuticals. He also provides online education to pet owners and veterinarians for CE credit on the use of cannabis in pets (


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