Caring for a dog with cancer is one of the most difficult tasks that pet parents face. If your dog was recently diagnosed with cancer, you might wonder: What foods I can feed them? Are there foods that can help your dog beat cancer? Some websites tout feeding your dog whatever they like, while others say load up on superfoods for dogs. There is no one-size-fits-all cancer diet for dogs.
What your pet should and shouldn’t eat will depend largely on the type and stage of cancer they have. Your veterinarian will be your best source for information about what to feed your dog if he has cancer and especially if he is going through cancer treatments. With that said, here are a few guidelines that may help your pet get through their cancer treatment and still enjoy life.
Dog Foods to Avoid During Cancer Treatment
Eating a nutritional diet throughout your pets’ lives can help ensure they stay healthy and potentially avoid life-shortening diseases like cancer. However, if your dog is diagnosed with cancer, what they eat may improve the longevity and quality of your pet’s life.
We asked BarxBuddy’s partner veterinarian Sara Ochoa what foods to stay away from when a dog has been diagnosed with cancer.
“It is best not to feed your dog a raw food diet,” she said. “These (raw foods) can cause them to develop salmonella or E. coli. They are already immunocompromised, and these diseases can be very hard on their body to recover.”
Do low-carb diets help dogs recover from cancer?
“Some people think that low-carb diets will help, but there are no studies that prove this,” she said. “There are studies that have looked at the survival rate of dogs with cancer who … did not eat a low-carb diet. The reasoning behind a low-carb diet is that carbs are fuel for our body and cells, so the thinking is that if we fed our pets a low-carb diet you will starve the cancer cells.”
Some people believe that there is a link between sugar and cancer; however, according to Cancer.net (a site operated by the American Society of Clinical Oncology), there is no evidence of direct causation between cancer and sugar. Sugar can lead to obesity, which can put humans (and animals) at risk for cancer and other diseases, and, because sugar is a carbohydrate, that may be why some people believe that a low-carb diet benefits cancer patients (human and canine).
What to Feed Dogs With Cancer (and No Appetite)
If your pet is doing well with their current diet and maintaining their weight (assuming it’s a healthy weight), there’s no reason you need to adjust your pet’s diet, whether it be commercial dog food, home-cooked foods or a combination of the two.
Some experts recommend dogs with cancer eat a diet rich in easy-to-digest proteins such as chicken, turkey, pork, eggs. Because omega-3 fatty acids, an essential nutrient, helps support the immune system, they may prove beneficial in the fight against cancer. However, the body does not produce Omega-3 fatty acids. For that reason, humans and dogs alike must get them from foods like fish, anchovies, sardines, some nuts, and plants oils. Because the availability to get Omega-3 fatty acids can be limited, adding omega blend dog food supplements with krill oil, fish oil, cod liver oil can be a good way to get it.
Superfoods, like dark green vegetables (broccoli, kale, and spinach), sweet potatoes, beets, pumpkin, are rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, further supporting the immune system and, in turn, may help your pet in the fight against cancer.
If a dog has lost his appetite, what can you do?
If your dog has been diagnosed with cancer, and they won’t eat, Dr. Ochoa recommends trying a few human foods to entice them: Boiled chicken and rice, scrambled eggs, and turkey are safe options that you can feed your dog.
“Another thing to try is warming their dog food for just a few seconds in the microwave, adding canned food to the top or a little bit of warm water,” she said. If your dog has end stage cancer and is on hospice care, most vets will say to feed them anything that they will eat.
“I had a cat with cancer who would only eat Cheetos, so for the last few days of her life only at Cheetos,” Dr. Ochoa said. “This is the one time I make exceptions and say feed your pet anything that they will eat.”
If your dog has cancer and is constantly hungry, what do you do?
Cancer burns calories, so if your dog seems to have an increased appetite and has been diagnosed with cancer, this could be why. Your veterinarian will watch your dog’s weight gain and/or loss and advise you on whether you should increase your dog’s calories or supplement with healthy snacks between regular feeding times.
A change in a dog’s appetite is a normal side effect of cancer, but it’s not to be ignored. See your vet if you notice sudden changes in your dog’s appetite, whether she’s hungrier or loses interest in food.
As a pet parent struggling with your dog’s cancer, know you’re not alone in the fight. Although diet alone is not enough to win the battle, it can help.