Canine Health and Nutrition Information from Dr Ken Tudor.

The Best Food for Dogs with Cancer

Ken Tudor - Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Specially formulated dog food can help dogs with cancer. Cancer cells rely on sugar for their rapid growth. Restricting the amount and type of carbohydrates in dog food can slow cancer cell growth and aid in the treatment of your dog’s cancer during chemo or radiation therapy.


Sources of Energy in Food

Humans and animals need to eat for two reasons: to extract essential amino acids, fats, vitamins and minerals from food and extract the food’s energy. Normal human and animal cells can derive energy from proteins, fats and carbohydrates (various forms of sugar). Cells that have turned cancerous lose the ability to use proteins and fats for energy and rely mainly on energy pathways that require glucose (the sugar end product of carbohydrate digestion and metabolism). Oncologists or cancer specialists can use this to their advantage by limiting the amount and type of carbohydrates in their patient’s diet. Deprived of energy, cancer cells grow more slowly and are more easily controlled or eliminated with cancer treatment.


What is the Best Food for Dogs with Cancer?


The primary goal of a cancer diet is to reduce the carbohydrate intake. Cancer diets generally limit the carbohydrate content to about 10-15% of the total diet calories. Additionally, these carbohydrates are in the form of high fiber and have a low glycemic index. Pearled barley, beans, garbanzo beans, soybeans and lentils are examples of carbohydrates that are high fiber and with low glycemic index scores.

High protein in cancer diets not only provides energy but also amino acids for maintaining muscle mass. Cancer patients have often lost large amounts of muscle before their cancer is diagnosed. The higher protein diets help recover and maintain muscle mass or at least slow its loss. Amino acids from protein also aid immune function and tissue repair after surgery and/or chemo and radiation therapy. A target of 30-40% of total calories from protein is typical for cancer diets. My formulations are typically 35-40% providing the patient does not have complicating medical problems like kidney or liver disease.

Fats and oils provide the largest amount of calories in cancer diets. 50-60% is common. Dogs can tolerate up to 65% of their calories from fat if slowly adapted to it. Often cancer patients are also overweight or obese. Diets with this much fat may not be appropriate for those patients. Cancer patients that also have pancreatitis, inflammatory bowel disease or other conditions requiring a low fat diet may also not qualify for this type of cancer diet. Your veterinarian and oncologist may opt for a different dietary strategy in these cases.

Where Do You Get Cancer Diets?

Presently there is only one commercial diet recommended for canine cancer patients. It is only available through a veterinarian or with a veterinary prescription. It only comes in a canned formula and only one flavor. Beef by-products, chicken, chicken liver and pork liver are the protein ingredients. Cellulose and beet pulp are used as the carbohydrates sources.

A homemade dog food cancer diet allows much greater ingredient flexibility. It also allows you to pick ingredients your dog likes and will eat. Often cancer patients are disinterested in food and don’t eat enough to meet their metabolic needs and continue to lose weight. The side effects of chemo and radiation therapy also decrease appetite. 

Homemade dog food helps keep these dogs eating during these treatment periods. Better body condition aids cancer recovery. Homemade dog food is by far the better choice for designing a cancer diet. Make sure you find an informed recipe source that also includes a complete vitamin and mineral supplement.

Next blog: The Best Supplements for Dogs with Cancer

Related Link: Diet, Dogs and Cancer.. An October 14, 2014 blog by veterinary oncologist, Dr. Julie Intile

Dr. Ken Tudor,



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