Nutrition for Dealing with Cancer in Dogs and Cats How Diet Can Help in Pet Cancer Treatment

Nutrition for Dealing with Cancer in Dogs and Cats
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vet verified Dr. Joseph J. Wakshlag, DVM Associate Professor of Clinical Nutrition

Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine Ithaca, NY

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Cancer is a disease that does not only affect humans, but dogs and cats as well. Diet and nutrition can play a huge part in both prevention and treatment.

Cancer is an unfortunately prevalent concern for cats and dogs, and diet plays a role in both its prevention and treatment. Following proper food and nutrition guidelines may help improve your special pal’s quality of life.

Symptoms of Cancer in Dogs and Cats

The following digestive and nutritional issues can signal cancer in dogs and cats:

  • Problems with chewing and swallowing
  • Appetite loss and resultant weight loss
  • Weight loss even if your pet is eating enough
  • Problems with urinating, defecating, or labored breathing
  • Diarrhea or vomiting
  • If you pet has black stools or bad body odor or bad breath, this could be a sign of advanced cancer, or of other problems. Be sure to talk to a veterinarian immediately.

There are other common signs of cancer in dogs and cats; if any of these issues persist, consult a veterinarian right away.

Cancer Prevention through Diet

Can diet play a role in prevention? Some studies show that it can.

Healthy weight:

Two studies have shown that obesity is a risk factor for cancer in cats and dogs, so making sure your pet sticks to a high-quality, balanced diet and maintains a healthy weight is crucial.

Nutrient and antioxidant rich vegetables:

A veterinary study in Scottish Terriers, a breed predisposed to bladder cancer, suggests that Scotties that ate fresh vegetables had a lower risk of developing bladder cancer. Based on this and human studies, it’s thought that natural antioxidants may be the reason for these health benefits.

Fish oils:

Many veterinarians agree that a diet supplemented with large amounts of fish oil (which contains the omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA) can help boost overall wellness in dogs and cats, and possibly help to prevent cancer.

Cancer Treatment through Diet: A Continuing Question:

If a pet has been diagnosed--typically via biopsy, surgery, ultrasound, or blood tests--it's natural to wonder what role food and nutrition will play in your overall treatment plan for cancer in dogs and cats.

There are many so-called “cancer diet” claims for pets--among them that low-carb, grain-free, and raw-food diets benefit cancer patients. Many websites today offer recipes for home-prepared pet diets based on these claims, but there’s little evidence that any of these diets help, and some evidence that they can hurt if relied on for all your pet’s nutrition.

Low-carb diets in particular have been recommended for dogs with cancer on the assumption that this eating plan could, in essence, starve cancer cells of the glucose needed for their survival. A recent study, however, found that there’s little data to support this theory.

The study, headed by Cailin R. Heinze, VMD, and a diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Nutrition, tested and analyzed several of these home-prepared diets, all claiming to benefit dogs, including low-carb diets, and found that none included all of the essential nutrient requirements based on the American Association of Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) guidelines for complete and balanced nutrition. These guidelines are essential for making sure your pet’s dietary needs are met, and what’s more, a European study found that dogs fed complete and balanced rations had a decreased risk of mammary cancer.

The best way to ensure your pet is getting balanced nutrition is to look for AAFCO claims on commercial pet food and work with your vet to find the best option for your pet. If you wish to prepare meals for your pet at home, consult with a vet or certified veterinary nutritionist to design a balanced diet.

Feeding Your Pet with Appetite Loss Due to Cancer

Due to both the disease and the treatment, cancer often affects metabolism, appetite, and muscle mass of cats and dogs. Such changes can be rapid and dramatic and can result in risky weight loss and malnutrition. Your loved one may also struggle with additional issues that affect appetite and overall nutrition, including nausea, vomiting, troubles digesting, changes in sense of taste and smell, and repulsion to certain foods, particularly if they are undergoing aggressive treatment.

If this is the case for your pet, it’s very important to make sure your pet is consuming an adequate amount of water.

The following may be of help your cat or dog who is suffering from appetite loss due to cancer:

  • If your pet has developed an aversion to certain foods, offer novelty food items
  • Appetite-stimulating meds may be prescribed
  • Dogs are more likely to eat when their human families are eating, so consider coordinating mealtimes
  • Keep eating times as comfortable and stress-free as possible
  • Offer many small meals throughout the day
  • Add water to dry food or switch to wet, canned food
  • Consider switching to foods that are higher in fat, moisture, and protein, which are often more appealing to cats and dogs
  • Warm up your pet’s meal to just below body temperature, which may up the aroma of the food and boost the taste; however, for pets experiencing food aversion, serving items at room temperature or chilled may be more beneficial

Speak with your vet to see if these recommendations are a good fit for your pal.

More on Pet Nutrition

Food to Treat Kidney Disease in Dogs and Cats
Food for Liver Disease in Dogs and Cats
Nutrition to Help Cats and Dogs Lose Weight

This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian. It has however been reviewed for accuracy by Dr. Joe, a board certified veterinary nutritionist and graduate of Cornell University's program for Veterinary Medicine.

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