Cancer – that word we all dread to hear. Coping with an animal with cancer requires a fully integrated approach and we are fortunate to have vets in the UK who have skills at their disposal to tailor an appropriate approach for each individual animal. The use of herbs is one such approach. We asked Holistic Vet, Iris Ege, to write about her experience in the use of herbs in cancer cases.

Cancer is always a devastating diagnosis and often lumps aren’t even diagnosed with the excuse that it wouldn’t make a difference to the prognosis. But I think the peace of mind with regards to knowing what a growth actually is is very commonly underestimated. Yes, many of the fine needles aspirates I have done to diagnose lumps just confirmed a fatty growth – but isn’t that a great relief?

An example of how helpful it is to know what you are dealing with is illustrated by the following example: 

The subcutaneous form of the most common malignant skin tumour, a mast cell tumour, can unfortunately look very similar to a fatty growth – and they really need immediate action, with both conventional and alternative medicine having promising approaches available.

Surgical removal is the gold standard for many cancers, but it is not always possible. I feel that it’s very important to carefully take every aspect into account before setting off on any one course of action. What is the bigger picture? What might be the short-term gains versus long term difficulties?  For example, I am commonly contacted with regard to herbs after a dog has had a leg amputated  followed by chemotherapy. I usually offer acupuncture and strongly recommend physiotherapy for those cases. Unfortunately, the answer is frequently, “We can’t afford that now.” If that is the case, palliative radiation would probably have been the better option for the dog.

There is no black and white course of action in non-curative situations. I think palliation always needs to consider quality of life for the patient over the whole course of the treatment. Yes, once they have recovered from the surgery most animals feel much better for a few weeks after a very painful bone tumour has been treated by means of amputation, but any dog weighing more than 20 kg will suffer from compensatory issues affecting the musculo-skeletal system. Careful thought therefore needs to be given as to how the dog will feel and how/if they can be supported through this.


Herbs are certainly the mainstay of my approach to holistic cancer treatments. In herbalism it is often as important to have a diagnosis as it is for other treatments, if not more so because certain herbs work better for certain types of cancer.

Explaining even just a fraction of the dazzling array of herbs that might have a positive effect on cancer treatment would require writing a book. But to be very clear, there is no panacea and if any ‘holistic’ approach promises the miracle for all types of cancer it will probably be the latest hype and needs to be carefully considered.

I will briefly explain about three herbs that I use frequently in cancer cases: mistletoe, mushrooms and CBD oil. What they all have in common is that firstly they are suitable to be used alongside most conventional treatments for a wide range of different types of cancer and secondly, they have some evidence base behind them. There will be the odd diagnosis/case where I use none of these three, however I use one, two or even all of them in most of my cancer cases.

Mistletoe therapy

Mistletoe as medicine

My interest in herbs for cancer was sparked by a course on mistletoe therapy. The herb is probably best known as a Christmas decoration (please keep your dogs from eating any as the unprocessed plant is toxic). In Europe, injections of an extract of mistletoe is commonly integrated into conventional oncology and statistics show improved survival times and quality of life in people.

In Switzerland a research group has been establishing protocols for animals over the last 20 years. Mistletoe therapy can be used alongside other therapies or on its own in palliative care. Establishing a treatment regimen needs a well-trained herbal vet. The British Association of Veterinary Herbalists has run a CPD for vets on the topic and many of their members are now able to offer mistletoe therapy.  Once a protocol is established, your first line vet might be able to continue to support you through mistletoe therapy, which needs to be given lifelong in palliative cases. Well established post-surgery protocols exist for mammary tumours in bitches and fibrosarcomas in cats. There is also a protocol available as a stand-alone treatment for equine sarcoids.

Medicinal mushrooms

Turkey Tail Mushroom used to treat cancer

These are widely available and usually combine well with other forms of therapy. The best evidence is available for Turkey Tail with most of the research being done in people in Japan. Research is mostly focused on one of the active ingredients called PSK (Polysaccharide K ), and within protocols that also include surgery, chemotherapy or radiotherapy. A veterinary product is available with instructions for use alongside surgery or as a stand-alone treatment and amazingly enough it is palatable – even for cats – and usually very well tolerated.

Cannabidiol or CBD oil

CBD Oil used in treatment of cancer

Quality is paramount when using CBD oil in dogs. With good quality products, fitting is a very rare side effect. We MUST avoid products with the active ingredient THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). Products with a THC content which is tolerable for people, can cause neurological symptoms in dogs. However, it is far more likely that you end up with a poor quality product that simply doesn’t do anything. The quality of CBD products varies greatly. We at A.P.Vet Ltd. have chosen a local supplier to work with, but your first line vet might be able to get a product that meets the standards expected by VMD from their usual supplier. 

The Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD) acknowledges that CBD works as a medicine in animals and has classed it as prescription only drug.

Getting the dosage right in cancer cases isn’t always easy. The most impressive result I have seen was when CBD clearly made a marked difference to the quality of life for a dog with a brain tumour with very poor prognosis and marked neurological problems. At the point where she wasn’t able to tolerate the steroids anymore, a high dose of CBD alongside mistletoe therapy enabled her to enjoy life for longer.

Bringing you into the equation

Fortunately, our patients themselves don’t have the same anxieties around the diagnosis of cancer as we do but they are very good at noticing how we feel, and this is why the approach you take in dealing with cancer in your pet needs to feel right for you too.

Iris Ege Dr med vet, MRCVS, Cert Vet Ac

Iris grew up on a smallholding in Germany.  She studied Veterinary Medicine in Germany and graduated in 2003, she trained in Wings® Animal-Kinesiology and did her Practitioner exam in August 2007. This enables her to access other complementary therapy forms, especially for chronic cases.

Iris qualified in Acupuncture training with the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society (IVAS) in 2013.  She covers the fields of Traditional as well as Western Acupuncture and Low-Level Laser Therapy. As a result of qualifying as a veterinary herbalist and becoming a member of the British Association of Veterinary herbalists, Iris enhances or sustains the effects of acupuncture with herbs as well. She combines the scientific approach to herbal medicine with holistic herbal knowledge.  She also has an interest in nutrition and is a member of the Raw Feeding Veterinary Society (RFVS).

Iris has worked in general practice not only treating pets and horses but also cattle and goats holistically with good results. Acupuncture has become her main interest and in October 2012 she left mixed practice to focus on alternative veterinary medicine founding A.P. Vet Ltd in January to facilitate the team approach for the benefit of her patients.

Visit Iris’s website here

Read more about our blogs on herbs here

Read other blogs on cancer here

Disclaimer – Where blogs have been created by a guest author, CAM4Animals has reproduced this in good faith but cannot be held responsible for any inaccuracies of information in it or any use you make of this information

The veterinary Surgeon’s Act 1966 restricts the treatment of animals (usually other than your own*) by anyone other than a qualified vet. Always consult a veterinary surgeon if you are concerned about your animal’s health. *For full details visit the RCVS website