Nutrition for Dogs With Cancer

20/03/2015 16:07 | Updated 20 May 2015

No other disease strikes as much fear deep within our hearts as cancer. We panic and start searching the Internet for something that can save our dog.

There is a lot of information out there, some websites even offering miracle supplements and cures for cancer. Please remember that promises that seem too good to be true very often are.

And don't think that "natural" is safe and more is better. This is a time to stay positive and act on scientific truths rather than hearsay or guesswork.

Goals of nutritional therapy

Most dogs with cancer have a decreased food intake; therefore a major goal of nutritional therapy is to select a food that is highly palatable and energy dense.

The food's nutrient profile should be individualized to maintain normal body condition, inhibit tumour growth and prevent or manage cachexia.

Avoid excess carbohydrates and increase protein and fat

A study done by Gregory Ogilvie, DVM, at Colorado State University, on dogs with
stage 3 lymphoma, found that a diet moderate in high quality proteins, low in
carbohydrates and moderate in fat, especially Omega-3 fatty acids, was successful
in prolonging life.

Although much more research is needed and this study did not examine all forms of cancer, the results are encouraging.

This type of diet, however, is not appropriate for all dogs and should only be fed under veterinary guidance.

Foods of interest in dogs with cancer

High quality protein such as dairy products made from goat or sheep, egg, low-mercury fish, organ and muscle meat preferable natural raised.

Healthy, functional carbohydrates such as sweet potato, broccoli, quinoa and gluten free oats.

Antiangiogenic foods such as apples, berries, pumpkin and maitake mushrooms.

Cruciferous vegetables (unless your dog has hypothyroidism) such as cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and bok choy.

Green leafy and yellow-orange vegetables such as carrots, turnip greens and sweet potato.

Avoid gluten and get rid of high-GI foods such as corn, wheat or white rice (brown rice is fine).


Increase Omega-3 fatty acids

Increase Omega-3 intake and keep the Omega-6 to Omega-3 ratio as close to 1:1 as possible.

Wild salmon oil is a good source of Omega-3 fatty acids but do not use cod liver oil as the amounts of vitamin A and D would be excessive when given at high doses.

Do not use flax seed oil instead of fish oil because the form of Omega-3 fatty acids found in plants must be converted to EPA and DHA in order to be utilized by the dog.

Vitamins C and E

There is some question as to whether vitamins C and E should be given in amounts above the daily nutritional guides set by NRC and AAFCO.

Although vitamins C and E have been shown to decrease cell damage, in particular DNA damage, their usefulness in neoplasia, once already diagnosed, is largely unknown, and some suggest they may even be harmful.

The debate starts when a patient is receiving radiation or chemotherapy. The presence of increased antioxidants in tissue may interfere with the anticancer effects of radiation and some chemotherapies and may counteract some of the cellular benefits of Omega-3.

I never add additional vitamin C or E and I urge you to ask your oncologist before adding any to your dog's diet.

Digestive enzymes

The body's ability to process and absorb nutrients in the food can be greatly affected by cancer.

Digestive enzymes help the body to break down food, making it easier to absorb nutrients. Thus they can be extremely valuable, in particular to dogs experiencing diarrhoea or weight loss.

Turmeric (Curcumine)

Turmeric is the spice found in curry which gives it the yellow colour. Although more research is needed, studies show turmeric has the ability to inhibit growth of tumours and metastasis.

Milk Thistle

This herb protects against or treats liver cells from damage from toxins such as chemotherapy drugs.


Probiotics is the 'good guy' bacteria that fights the 'bad guys' in the gastrointestinal tract, protecting the dog's immune system, improving gut health and digestion.

Bottom Line

It can be difficult to address the needs for each neoplastic condition due to the complex nature of cancer.

However, dogs that have a higher nutritional status are not only more likely to fight off infections and tolerate therapy and its side effects, they also have better odds of actually winning the battle.

For more information on diet for dogs with cancer please visit Elmo's Kitchen