Diet For Dogs With Cancer

Good nutrition is undeniably one of the keys to a dog’s health. So, it should come as no surprise that a proper diet is even more crucial when a dog is fighting cancer. That raises an obvious question for pet parents: What is a good diet for a dog with cancer?

Unfortunately, there is no single or simple answer — no blanket recommendation that is optimal for every dog’s specific situation. That means pet parents should not rely solely on online suggestions when trying to figure out how to help their dog get through his or her cancer journey. The better course if your dog has cancer is to consult your regular veterinarian or a board-certified veterinary oncologist or nutritionist. They can conduct nutritional assessments, make recommendations specifically for your dog and adjust as treatment continues.

Why a Special Diet Might Be Needed

One of the symptoms of many types of canine cancer is loss of appetite, which can create its own set of problems. Depending on what type of cancer your dog has, poor nutrition may already be impacting his or her overall health by the time you notice symptoms. To battle cancer, your dog will need strength and energy and a robust immune system. Nutrition has a role in each, and the right balance is required to help your dog cope with all of the biological changes triggered by cancer.

What to Know About “Cancer Diets” and Supplements

There’s a lot of information available if you are trying to determine the best food for dogs with cancer. Sorting out fact from fiction can be confusing. To illustrate, consider one of the most common suggestions: switch to a high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet. Carbs break down into glucose, and cancer cells appear to prefer glucose to thrive, so that seems to make sense. Likewise, a high-fat diet could help prevent or reverse significant weight loss if that has occurred. Fat content helps make a food calorie-dense, too, and a sick dog needs calories for energy. Thus, the high-fat, low-carb approach may indeed be beneficial in some cases, particularly where weight loss already has occurred. But that may not necessarily hold true for your dog’s unique circumstances. Adding to fat intake is not likely to help dogs that are already obese. Nor do all dogs tolerate high-fat diets well. Switching could result in vomiting, diarrhea and pancreatitis — inflammation of the pancreas, which can be quite painful and is often triggered by fat intake. Dogs in these and other certain situations likely will have better outcomes by maintaining intake of their regular food, with a stable fat/protein/carb profile.

You may also be led to believe that a home-cooked diet will help because you are selecting the ingredients. However, if you have not consulted a board-certified veterinary nutritionist, it’s challenging to provide the right mix of nutrients to best help your dog meet all nutrient needs and fight cancer. Similarly, if you typically feed your dog a raw meat diet, there are reasons to reconsider that after a cancer diagnosis. In addition to potential nutritional imbalance, there’s the inherent risk of bacterial contamination that comes with consuming raw meat — and any resultant illness becomes more troublesome when your dog’s immune system already has been compromised by the cancer itself or due to radiation treatment or chemotherapy. For these reasons, the safest approach is virtually always to feed a good quality, complete and balanced commercial dog food made by a reputable manufacturer.

The use of supplements should be scrutinized, as well. In some cases, the efficacy of a supplement has been objectively proven, and it may help. Others are creatively marketed with glowing testimonials but have no scientific support.

These points should make it clear why no blanket suggestion for what to feed a dog with cancer can confidently be acted upon. There’s no substitute for the expertise of a veterinarian who is familiar with your dog’s specific circumstances and overall condition.

Nutritional Assessments

Nutritional assessments used to help determine whether and how to adjust your dog’s diet can be fairly simple. Asking a few questions and conducting a visual exam and palpation (feeling the dog’s body) sometimes are enough to help a veterinarian decide whether your dog’s diet should be modified going forward. Typical assessments, which should continue throughout treatment, entail collecting information to determine the following:

  • The dog’s weight
  • A body condition score, based on evaluating lean body mass and fat stores
  • A muscle condition score, based on muscle mass, so muscle loss can be detected
  • Diet history, including not only the main foods your dog has been eating, but any treats, supplements or foods used to administer medication (such as peanut butter pockets)

How to Feed a Dog With No Appetite

Once you have a recommendation on what to feed your dog during his or her cancer journey, you still have to get him or her to eat. There are a variety of reasons why a dog with cancer might have no appetite. Just feeling poorly could inhibit his or her desire to eat. That could be exacerbated by nausea. If your dog associates eating with vomiting and diarrhea, that could turn him or her off to food, too. Likewise, if a type of cancer or treatment affects a dog’s ability to smell, he or she might not find food as appealing. Additionally, if dogs have undergone radiation targeting the head or neck, they might develop a mouth ulcer and/or experience a decrease in saliva production. Any of these can make it more difficult to eat, as could an oral tumor.

To encourage eating, it may or may not be necessary to change your dog’s diet. As referenced above, consult with your veterinarian before changing. If your dog’s diet isn’t changing, or if he or she still doesn’t seem interested in eating even with a new diet, then altering how the food is presented might help. Here are just a few suggestions:

  • Add moisture/water to dry food — this might require gently steaming it or trying canned food
  • Enhance food’s natural aroma by warming it
  • Place multiple food bowls around the house to make it easier to eat
  • Hand-feed your dog; the emotional connection might be an incentive

Learn More About PetCure Oncology Treatments

The right diet and the best treatment options are both critical to helping your dog in his or her cancer journey. At PetCure Oncology, we specialize in treating cancer with a wide range of options that includes technologically advanced stereotactic radiation. To learn more about our treatments and our compassionate and understanding approach, find a location near you and reach out today.

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