Treating canine cancer is often a multi-pronged approach that includes care, medication, and nutrition. Today I want to talk a little bit about the nutrition aspect for dogs with cancer. What are veterinary specialists saying when it comes to the dog cancer diet, and what exactly is that?
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The Effect of Nutrition On Health
What our dogs eat and don’t eat plays an important role in their overall health. Even a healthy dog can very quickly become an unhealthy dog if not provided with adequate nutrition. When you are talking about a dog with cancer, it’s not only important to provide adequate nutrition – it’s crucial to provide optimal nutrition.
When we talk about the dog cancer diet, there are generally two schools of thought – those who believe in a low-carb diet and those who do not believe carbohydrates have any impact on cancer remission or survival rates.
Low Carb Cancer Diet for Dogs (per Ogilvie)
Cancer as a whole changes a dog’s metabolism and how their body utilizes nutrients in their food. This change is a permanent one that continues even after remission.
One result of this change in metabolism is that dogs with cancer often lose weight despite no change in their food intake. This weight loss then contributes to dog’s weakness and a slower response to cancer treatments simply because the body does not have enough energy. This is why it’s important to alter the diet for a dog with cancer – so that you can cater to the changes in their metabolism.
Much of the research on canine cancer and the metabolism comes courtesy of one of the leading experts on canine cancer oncologists – Greg Ogilvie, DVM, Dip. ACVIM, of Colorado State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. Ogilvie co-authored the 1995 book, “Managing the Canine Cancer Patient“.
Canine Cancer and Carbohydrates
Ogilvie found that a dog’s carbohydrate metabolism is most impacted by canine cancer.
As a dog with cancer consumes carbohydrates, the cancer cells break down those carbohydrates to produce glucose. During this process, the body also produces a “byproduct” called lactate. Those cancer cells then feed on the glucose produced and the body must deal with the lactate byproduct.
Not only is your dog using up energy to eat their food, but additional energy is required to break down the lactate. Meanwhile, the cancer cells are consuming the glucose that came from breaking down the carbohydrates. Essentially, the cancer is stealing the energy your dog needs while forcing your dog to use additional energy to break down the byproduct of creating that energy that is being stolen.
When this happens, pet owners often feel the need to increase their dog’s food intake because they visibly see their dog losing weight. Offering more food only makes the problem worse, though, because it just gives cancer cells more fuel.
Canine Cancer and Protein
Ogilvie also found that dogs with cancer are unable to make proteins as quickly as those proteins break down. This causes muscle wasting and weight loss and also results in poorer immunity, wound healing, and gastrointestinal health.
Canine Cancer and Fat
Lastly, Ogilvie found that fat is broken down at a much faster rate in dogs with cancer. Unlike carbohydrates, though, your dog’s ability to utilize fat as a fuel source is not affected by a cancer diagnosis.
The Ogilvie’s Dog Cancer Diet
As a result of this research, veterinary medicine is coming closer to creating a more optimal “canine cancer diet”. While these changes aren’t going to “cure” your dog’s cancer, they will help to provide better nutrition and slow disease-related weight loss. This gives your dog more energy to function and a healthier immune system to fight against their cancer.
Dr Gregory Ogilvie and his team at Colorado State are still working on optimizing their diet plan, but so far their research indicates that a cancer diet that has few simple carbohydrates, adequate bio-available proteins, and a modest quantity of fats (particularly omega-3 fatty acids.) To be specific, a recent study which Dr Ogilvie co-authored, suggests that ideally, this diet should be less than 25% carbohydrate, 35-48% protein, and 27-35% fat.
A variety of studies have found that dogs that eat a diet that is low in carbohydrates and high in healthier fats alongside chemotherapy have a higher probability of remission and a longer survival time.
The Dog Cancer Diet (per Tufts)
In comparison to Dr Greg Ogilvie dog cancer dietary approach, veterinary team at the Clinical Nutrition Service at Tufts has a different theory on optimal nutrition for feeding dogs with cancer. Tufts researchers highlight the importance of providing the right amount of appropriate nutrients and calories so that weight loss is minimized.
Maintaining a healthy weight also means not overfeeding. Overfeeding can quickly lead to obesity which makes it difficult for your dog to fight against cancer because of the extra strain on their body.
It’s also important not to feed a homecooked diet that is not properly nutritionally balanced. Many dog parents believe that a homemade dog food for cancer are the best way to give their dog optimal nutrition, and there are some recipes for that.
It’s true that homemade dog food diet for cancer can be very helpful, but only when it’s well-balanced with correct supplements to create a nutritionally appropriate meal for dogs that are not based on human nutritional needs. Without the necessary vitamins and minerals, your dog is facing nutritional deficiency while still trying to fight cancer.
Lastly, Tufts researchers note that if your dog is diagnosed with cancer and is not losing weight, it’s best to maintain their current diet.
There Isn’t a Single Successful Cancer Diet
Experts at Tufts emphasize that although there are several dog cancer diets out there, no single option has been successfully proven more effective than the other.
Tufts also highlights that low-carbohydrate diets have not been tested enough to say for sure that a low-carb diet is optimal as a cancer diet. They state that the current low-carb diet theories are based on lab results in a test-tube rather than in a practical setting.
Raw Diets Aren’t Ideal
Tufts researchers also make a point to note that raw diets, although often recommended, aren’t ideal for pets with cancer. They cite the danger of bacterial contamination from these foods being increased in dogs with cancer due to alterations in the immune system caused by cancer. They also classify freeze-dried and previously frozen foods as being equally dangerous.
Where Dr Ogilvie talks about the benefit of omega-3 fatty acids and fish oil supplements, Tufts clarifies that there are very few studies of their benefit to dogs and cats with cancer (however, there are many more studies on the positive effects of omega-3 fatty acids on human cancer patients like this, this and this).
They also note the importance of balancing omega fatty acids, particularly if you are supplementing your dog’s diet which may already have high levels of omega fatty acids.
The Bottom Line
So What is the General Consensus on Dog Cancer Diets?
There are disagreements between veterinarians, researchers, oncologists and nutritionists when it comes to how to best feed dogs with cancer, but there are some general ideas that seem to carry through each of the schools of thought and help you design a dog cancer diet for your ailing pooch.
Palatability. The better smelling and tasting food is, the more likely it is to tempt an anorexic dog to eat. This is helpful for dealing with weight loss in dogs with cancer. If this fails, appetite-inducing medications are available and should be considered.
Bioavailability. This is essentially how well a dog’s body can absorb all the nutrients from food and supplements. So the more bioavailable a dog food meal is, the better and more effective it will be in helping with cancer symptoms.
Omega-3 fatty acids. Since omega-3s are safe for dogs, based on human clinical trials we can assume that they may potentially help dogs with cancer too. But if you’re supplementing with omega fatty acids, make sure to account for omega fatty acids present in your dog’s food already.
High quality supplements. Not all supplements are created equal, and going back to our bioavailability factor, it’s important that when you add them into your dog’s meal, that they’re actually utilized by the body. Pick only high quality cancer dog supplements that come from a reputable source.
Are There Any Commercially Available “Cancer Diets”?
The problem with this question is that since there is no recognized plan for an actually proven and effective dog cancer diet, store-bought dog foods cannot be sold as being a “cancer diet” food according to AAFCO and FDA/CVM pet food labeling requirements.
Additionally, cancer dog food vet recommended for your dog is going to depend on who you ask since there are varied nutritional schools of thought as noted above. Below are some of the most commonly recommended dog foods for cancer and how/when vets may discuss them with you.
Primal Freeze-Dried Foods
Veterinarians who discourage feeding cancer dogs raw or freeze-dried dog foods usually recommend Primal Freeze-Dried Foods as the only viable option. They suggest choosing flavors that have easy to digest fatty protein sources.
Hill’s Prescription Diet n/d
The above mentioned famous researcher Dr Gregory Ogilvie recommends Hill’s Prescription Diet n/d for dogs with cancer. This is a diet that he helped to create directly with Science Diet company based on his own and other scientific studies.
Alternative Dog Foods for Cancer
Some other recommended dog foods for dogs with cancer include the below brands.
Note: We neither endorse nor discredit any of the research or perspectives noted in this article by either Dr Gregory Ogilvie or Tufts University nor do we endorse or discredit any of the dog cancer diet dog food brands. We do, however, recommend talking to your pet’s vet and consulting a veterinary nutritionist to discuss what is best for a dog with cancer.
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