Hi stranger! Signing up for MypetMD is easy, free and puts the most relevant content at your fingertips.

Get Instant Access To

  • 24/7 alerts for pet-related recalls

  • Your own library of articles, blogs, and favorite pet names

  • Tools designed to keep your pets happy and healthy

or Connect with Facebook

By joining petMD, you agree to the Privacy Policy.

Select the type of pet you have to find

essential nutrition advice for your pet.

A Review of Diets Intended for Dogs with Cancer

Nutrition Nuggets is the newest offshoot of petMD's Dog Nutrition Center. Each week Dr. Coates will use her expertise and wisdom to blog about the intricacies of dog nutrition.

A Review of Diets Intended for Dogs with Cancer

December 28, 2012 / (9) comments

Faced with a diagnosis of cancer in a beloved dog, many owners turn to dietary modifications as part of a treatment protocol aimed at maximizing the length and quality of their companion’s life. For my patients, I typically recommend a diet that is relatively high in protein and fat, low in carbohydrates, and supplemented with omega-3 fatty acids. Others promote raw diets, the avoidance of grains, and a variety of other supplements.


Commercial foods can fit the bill, as can some home-prepared diets, but a new report published in the December 1, 2012 issue of the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association raises concerns with both of these options. Here are a few highlights taken from the paper:


Published recipes of home-prepared diets for pets with various health conditions are rarely nutritionally adequate. None of the 27 recipes identified and evaluated met NRC RA [National Research Council Recommended Allowances] or AAFCO [Association of American Feed Control Officials] nutrient profiles for all essential nutrients. In some cases, the recipes contained excessive, potentially toxic amounts of nutrients. Recipes formulated or provided by veterinarians were not more nutritionally sound than were recipes formulated or provided by nonveterinarians.

There is a paucity of experimental data that support specific nutrient profiles or ingredients for dogs with cancer. Dogs with cancer do not have higher or lower requirements for protein, fat, calories, or any other specific nutrients, compared with requirements for healthy dogs. Therefore, it is of concern that none of the recipes for home-prepared diets met NRC RA or AAFCO nutrient profiles for adult maintenance in dogs. Two of the commercial diets also did not meet AAFCO nutrient profiles (adherence to NRC RA could not be assessed). All of these inadequate diets have the potential to cause nutritional disease at a time when nutrition should be optimized to provide maximum metabolic support and immune system function and to help decrease adverse effects attributable to cancer treatments…

Commercial diets and recipes of home-prepared diets reflected the current popularity of grain-free diets. No data support health benefits of nongrain sources of carbohydrate over carbohydrates provided by grains; however, many manufacturers still tout the nutritional superiority of grain-free products. Grain-free diets are often marketed as lower in carbohydrate content, but this is not a consistent finding. Approximately one-third of the recipes of grain-free home-prepared diets and commercial diets did not meet the defined criteria for low-carbohydrate diets…

The number of recommendations for feeding raw meat diets to cancer patients is a concern because contamination with pathological bacteria has been reported for raw meat for human consumption and for commercial raw diets. Cancer patients, even those not receiving chemotherapy, likely have some degree of altered immunoregulation, and many dogs receiving chemotherapy are clinically immunosuppressed, which dramatically increases the risk of illness or even death from contaminated food sources. In humans, the risk of illness attributable to foodborne bacteria in cancer patients is such a concern that patients receiving chemotherapy are commonly advised to eat raw fruits and vegetables only when at home.


So it looks like a few over-the-counter foods and most readily-available recipes for cancer diets in dogs do not hold up to scrutiny. Make sure you feed your dog, whether he has cancer or not, either


  1. A home-prepared diets made using a recipe designed by a veterinary nutritionist (your local veterinary college, Petdiets.com, and BalanceIt.com are all excellent resources), or
  2. A commercially-prepared food with an AAFCO “complete and balanced” statement on its label that is made from wholesome ingredients.

Dr. Jennifer Coates


Assessment of commercial diets and recipes for home-prepared diets recommended for dogs with cancer. Heinze CR, Gomez FC, Freeman LM. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2012 Dec 1;241(11):1453-60

Comments  9

Leave Comment
  • Comment
    12/28/2012 12:01pm

    Adding a comment so subsequent comments will come via email.

  • nutrition
    12/28/2012 11:55pm

    I have 2 Llasa-apsos a 9y/o male and a 1 1/2y/o male(son) healthy thank God.. I have been reviewing diet and nutition and now I'm given them Blue Buffalo.. seems the most complete diet. Any thoughts?

  • Forget "nutritionists"
    12/30/2012 06:54pm

    True, that most "over-the-counter" foods are inadequate for cancer patients. No news there. Most "over-the-counter" a/k/a "commercial diets", particularly kibbles and so-called "prescription diets", are junk food for dogs. Even the major ingredients in canned "Prescription Diet n/d Canine" are disgraceful. Look those ingredients up for yourself: http://www.hillspet.com/products/pd-canine-nd-canine-canned.html

    So, what to do? Forget the "board certified veterinary nutritionists". Most of them have sold out to the junk food manufacturers. You usually don't get the "board certified" title if you speak the truth about kibble. Instead, seek out D.V.M.s who practice holistic veterinary medicine, if you want healthful advice about properly balanced home-prepared diets for dogs and cats.

  • give it a rest
    12/31/2012 03:41pm

    Rod, are you planning to repeat yourself on every blog post? You post the same opinion on every nutrition blog here and elsewhere, and its always the same thing. And yes, its an *opinion*, not an "I'm right, you are wrong" sort of thing.

    Did you read the paper that is discussed above?

    Typically, when someone presents an opinion, especially one that so dismissively disparages veterinarians (and specialists at that), they are expected to come to the table being well informed of the topic, and acknowledge where knowledge gaps are. They should give their own credentials or evidence of expertise. Or at least some evidence for what is essentially a very serious attack on someone's professional ethics.

    We have yet to see any of this from you, and you certainly are not changing any minds with your attitude and approach to "discussion."

    So, what scientific research have you done, or found to exist, that explores or supports your hypotheses? Can you direct us to some of the peer reviewed work in the area of "holistic" approaches to dog and cat nutrition, or that support your "junk food" allegations? I'd be interested to hear your sources of information in this area.

  • 12/31/2012 04:50pm

    So many questions, "science matters"! First, am I planning to repeat myself on every blog post? That depends. If the blogs repeatedly advise that veterinary nutrionists should be consulted for the best diets to feed our pets, then, yes, I will repeat myself, too. If only the same thirty or so people bother to read these blog posts, then it may seem repetitive, especially to those like you, who resent my message. The blogger has her opinion about the value of veterinary nutritionists, and I have my opinion about their bias and overall worthlessness.

    Second: Did I read the paper discussed above? If you mean the JAVMA article, yes, I did.

    Third: My credentials? That avoids the substance of the discussion. I don't care who you are. These comments should not be about personalities.

    Fourth: Peer-reviewed work in the area of holistic approaches? There is plenty. Search Google Scholar. But, in general, I have found that a very high percentage of companion animal nutrition "research" is funded by Hill's and Royal Canin/Waltham, among others, all of which are heavily invested in hyping their junk dry pet foods. The value and significance of the term "peer-reviewed" is in the eyes of the beholder. For example, this article was peer reviewed and accepted by the research journal, "Advances in Pure Mathematics": "“Independent, Negative, Canonically Turing Arrows of Equations and Problems in Applied Formal PDE”, http://thatsmathematics.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/mathgen-1389529747.pdf The article was a computer-generated hoax, consisting of computer-generated, random words and mathematical notations, which the author's peers found to be acceptable for publication.

    These days, the "peer-review" argument is a form of scientism ("Scientism takes science to be not only better than philosophy at answering such questions, but the only means of answering them." -- See, "The Folly of Scientism" in The New Atlantis, http://www.thenewatlantis.com/publications/the-folly-of-scientism). When most all of a given veterinary nutritionist's peers are in the same tank, one must consider the insignificance of the term "peer-reviewed".

    The holistic approach is thousands of years old and has preceded allopathic ("treat the symptom, not the cause") medicine by most of those thousands of years.

  • Huh?
    01/01/2013 01:18am

    "These comments should not be about personalities."
    Then why continue with the sweeping ad hominem attacks on veterinary professionals? Why the straw man arguments? Shouldn't you instead be presenting facts with some references or at least a coherent position or even some science so that an actual discussion can take place? It seems your approach is overshadowing any sense of community or normal, productive, social interaction we all could be engaging in here.

    "Certitude is not the test of certainty." Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

    Ah, well. Best of luck on your bizarre mission, anyway.

  • 01/01/2013 01:42am

    I don't make ad hominem attacks. You need to look up the definition of that term. Straw man arguments? I don't make those either. But when you accuse me of making ad hominen attacks and straw man arguments, you are using a straw man argument.

    The facts are obvious: most all veterinary nutritionists advocate meatless dry food -- kibble -- as being more healthful for dogs and cats than fresh meats and vegetables. Most kibble is non-meat dehydrated junk food not naturally intended to be consumed by dogs and cats, which are carnivores and need to consume meat with adequate moisture (70%) for best digestion and metabolism. Corn and grain-based protein is practically a religion with these "veterinary professionals". They think corn -- the main ingredient in Science Diet -- is God's gift to the American Indians and dogs and cats, and they prefer it to fresh meats as a main ingredient.

    But just for you, here is a specific fact: Lisa Freeman, one of the authors of the JAVMA article, has stated: "Some owners are concerned about using diets that contain any vegetable-based proteins, such as soybean or corn. These are NOT added as fillers and contain important nutrients. There is no reason why 'grain free' foods are better for either dogs or cats." (http://www.dcavm.org/11maynotes.pdf) So, she indicts herself.

  • 01/01/2013 02:46pm

    Here are a couple more quotes from board certified veterinary "nutritionists", which should give every dog and cat owner pause:

    Sherry Lynn Sanderson of the University of Georgia veterinary college: "If one considers that corn was a main staple in the diet of Native Americans for many years, it is difficult to understand how critics can claim that corn is a filler used in pet foods." http://veterinarycalendar.dvm360.com/avhc/Medicine/Raw-diet-Do-they-make-you-want-to-BARF-Proceedings/ArticleStandard/Article/detail/675277

    Joseph Wakshlag of Cornell University's College of Veterinary Medicine: "... often by-product is as good, maybe even a better source of over-all nutrition ... better off eating by-product than chicken breast." "My preferred method of feeding presently is kibble."

  • Dr Karen Becker weight in
    01/02/2013 01:03pm

    Read "Veterinary Nutritionists Promote Pet Food Containing Corn, Wheat and Soy", published today. http://healthypets.mercola.com/sites/healthypets/archive/2013/01/02/veterinary-nutritionists-favor-commercial-food.aspx