Dr. Louise Janes D.V.M. & Dr. Jeff Grognet D.V.M.

What to Feed a Dog with Cancer?

Posted | 0 comments

Dr. Louise and Dr. Jeff connected in 1984 while Louise was the shepherd at UBC Agricultural Sciences. They later married in 1992 and dreamed of creating a practice they could share. In the fall of 1995, they moved to Oceanside and officially opened the doors of the Mid-Isle Veterinary Hospital in Qualicum Beach in 1996. Their care focuses on dogs and cats, utilizing integrative medicine – a blend of traditional and complementary therapies. Full examination, surgical, and radiological facilities are also available. They call themselves integrative practitioners.

Almost half of all dogs over 10 years of age succumb to cancer. Is there any way we can improve the lives of canine cancer victims in a natural way? Yes, there is. By feeding them a diet low in carbohydrates, high in fat, and supplemented with vitamins and herbs, we can enhance not only the quality of their lives, but sometimes the length of their lives.

If your dog with cancer is going to withstand surgical treatments, chemotherapy, or even radiation, he must be strong. His immune system must also be well supported so it can fight the cancer. Not surprisingly, your dog will be better able to meet these challenges if he is nourished optimally. By feeding him the correct diet, you may be able to slow the growth rate of his cancer.

The most common symptom observed in dogs in the early stages of cancer is weight loss, despite an apparently normal appetite and adequate food intake. This occurs because food metabolism is deranged in cancer patients.

The most significant metabolic shift that occurs is carbohydrate utilization. Carbohydrates are one of the three primary nutrient groups; the others being proteins and fats. Tumours preferentially burn carbohydrates, and specifically glucose, as an energy source. In doing so, they release lactate, a byproduct usually only created by anaerobic muscle exercise.

This lactate must be purged from the body through a chemical reaction that also requires energy. This additional step is what causes dogs with cancer to burn calories at an accelerated rate. The end result is a loss of weight even though they are eating the same amounts of food.

In studies on dogs with lymphoma – the canine form of leukemia – lactate production was greater in dogs fed diets high in carbohydrate (grains) compared to those fed carbohydrate-reduced foods. Lactate production was low in the latter group because the tumour cells didn’t have a readily available energy source (glucose). This research suggests that cancer patients will burn fewer calories and lose less weight if the carbohydrate content of the diet is limited.

If carbohydrates are lowered, cancer diets need to be enriched with other ingredients to meet the energy demands of the body without feeding tumour growth. The most important ingredient is fat (lipids). This high energy source is poorly utilized by growing tumour cells, but it can be used by the dog’s body. For this reason, cancer diets are formulated with a high fat content. When adding fats to the diet, it is important to add extra omega-3 fatty acids (a type of lipid) because they appear to inhibit tumour growth.

Protein content is also an important consideration when creating a cancer diet. When there isn’t enough glucose (carbohydrate) available to keep up with their needs, cancer cells start to use the breakdown products of protein metabolism (amino acids) as an energy source. If the amount of protein taken up by a tumour exceeds the quantity the patient consumes in his diet, he will start to break down his muscle protein into amino acids.

Increasing the amount of protein in a dog’s diet can offset the theft of muscle protein by a growing cancer. In addition, one specific amino acid, arginine, can be added in extra amounts to cancer diets because it has been shown to slow tumour growth.

There are two ways you can feed your dog with a cancer an appropriate diet low in carbohydrate, high in protein, and high in fat (and omega-3 fatty acids). You may choose a commercially produced diet (see list), or you may decide to prepare a diet at home, with the help of a recipe.

No matter what you offer your dog with cancer, your primary goal is to keep him eating. If he won’t eat, he will waste away. His diet must have an attractive aroma and it must taste good. Warming his food to just below body temperature can enhance its odour. If you serve it too hot or too cold, he may be less likely to eat.

Though nutrition is certainly not a cure for cancer, the right diet may help your dog maintain weight and feel better for a longer period of time.

Cooking for Canine Cancer Patients


             50 percent fish or poultry

             50 percent mixed frozen or fresh vegetables

             olive oil for calories (1 teaspoon for 20 pounds body weight)

             vitamin-mineral supplement (see below)

             calcium source (see below)

The recipe detailed above was formulated by Dr. Susan Wynn, a veterinarian specializing in alternative therapies for pets. It avoids simple carbohydrates (starches and sugars), provides high quality protein sources such as meat and fish, and has added oils, especially omega-3 fatty acids. This diet is not balanced for long-term use nor is the feeding volume expected to be stable. The amount of food a dog needs to maintain his weight will change over time.

Wynn suggests cooking the fish or poultry because cancer patients may have compromised immune systems that make them more susceptible to the harmful effects of bacteria in raw food. The vegetables and meat can be put into a crock pot and stewed together. Alternatively, the vegetables can be steamed separately, and then added to cooked meat.

The easiest way to provide vitamins and minerals is to add a human daily vitamin/mineral supplement (e.g. CentrumR). The daily dose is one tablet for dogs over 20 pounds and 1/2 tablet for dogs under 20 pounds.

Calcium can be supplied with TumsR tablets. Each (regular) tablet contains 200 milligrams of calcium and dogs need approximately 20 milligrams for every pound body weight daily.

Dr. Louise Janes D.V.M. & Dr. Jeff Grognet D.V.M.

Mid-Isle Veterinary Hospital
5-161 Fern Road West
Qualicum Beach, BC
Tel (250) 752-8969
Mid-Isle Veterinary Hospital



See all articles by

Leave your comment to this article or add your own blog post below.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *