March 03, 2011 Oncology

Traditional Chinese Medicine and Cancer Therapy for Your Pet

A cat

Traditional Chinese Medicine and Cancer Therapy for Your Pet

My inspiration for today’s blog post comes from two wonderful patients of The Animal Medical Center, Baby and Basil, who benefited from both traditional Chinese medicine and Western chemotherapy during the management of their cancer and inspired me to research the topic further.

Traditional Chinese medicine is an alternative medical system different from our more familiar Western medical system. Traditional Chinese medicine is based in the Taoist religion and encompasses acupuncture, herbal therapy, mind-body therapy and Chinese massage, Tui-na. Although these treatment modalities have been used to treat diseases for five millennia, their use is not widespread in the Western world.

Despite this, there are people in the West seeking traditional Chinese medicine for themselves and requesting the same for their pets.

Some traditional Chinese therapies have been used in pets. Acupuncture is one of them. According to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, acupuncture has been shown to be safe in human cancer patients and may help to ameliorate treatment associated nausea.

The AMC’s acupuncturist, Steven Chiros, DVM, CVA used acupuncture to help decrease Basil’s nausea, improve her appetite and increase her energy. The photo of Basil shows an acupuncture treatment in progress. In addition to acupuncture, Basil received two Chinese herbal formulas. Basil’s owner reported a significant improvement from the two therapies. Based on its safety in humans with cancer and experience with acupuncture in my patients, I do not hesitate to have my patients see AMC’s acupuncture specialist.

Baby was a cat with intestinal cancer whose Chinese medicine practitioner referred him to The AMC for treatment with Western medicine chemotherapy in addition to the traditional Chinese therapies. Baby received an herbal antioxoidant, coenzyme Q and other herbal therapies as well as well as traditional chemotherapy. The use of Chinese herbal therapies in cancer patients is not as straightforward as the use of acupuncture.

Herbal therapies must be carefully selected in pets on chemotherapy. Strong evidence exists indicating St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforata) extract decreases blood levels of various anticancer agents in human cancer patients and this herb should not be used in conjunction with chemotherapy. Other herbs, such as ginko, may decrease the ability of the blood to clot, resulting in excessive hemorrhage during surgery.

Investigation of natural compounds active against cancer is currently an area of enormous interest. Between 1981 and 2002, 62% of cancer drugs approved by the FDA were of natural origin. Today, the National Cancer Institute Office of Cancer Complementary and Alternative Medicine is funding studies on tumeric (Curcuma longa), a spice commonly used in African and Asian cultures, often as a component of curry powder, and in traditional Chinese medicine.

In the November issue of the American Journal of Veterinary Research, a laboratory study showed the carotenoid lycopene slowed growth and killed canine bone tumor cells grown in cell cultures. Even more promising was the fact that lycopene did not interfere with chemotherapy drug effects on the tumor cells. These are hopeful findings, not yet ready to be translated to use in clinical patients.

Right now, what is critical to treatment success is an open dialogue between your veterinarian and your traditional Chinese medicine practitioner. Be sure to tell them you are giving your pet herbs or they are undergoing chemotherapy.

This blog may also be found in the “Tales from the Pet Clinic” blog from WebMD.


For over a century, The Animal Medical Center has been a national leader in animal health care, known for its expertise, innovation and success in providing routine, specialty and emergency medical care for companion animals. Thanks in part to the enduring generosity of donors, The AMC is also known for its outstanding teaching, research and compassionate community funds. Please help us to continue these efforts. Send your contribution to: The Animal Medical Center, 510 East 62nd Street, New York, NY 10065. For more information, visit To make an appointment, please call 212.838.7053.

Tags: acupuncture, AMC, american journal of veterinary research, animal, animal hospital, animal medical center, animals, ann hohenhaus, cancer, canine, cat, chemotherapy, chinese medicine, complementary medicine, dog, dogs, FDA, feline, health, herbs, intestinal cancer, JAVMA, lycopene, massage, national cancer institute, new york vet, pet, pet emergency, pet health, pet healthcare, pet insurance, pet owner, pets, st. john's wort, steven chiros, tales from the pet clinic, taoist, tumeric, vet, veterinarian, veterinary care, WebMD,

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