When facing a diagnosis of cancer in a beloved pet, it’s easy for owners to become overwhelmed with all the treatment options, associated prognoses, and emotions involved. One topic that can get overlooked is the important role that nutrition plays during this time.
A dog’s metabolism changes when he has cancer, and he is essentially in competition with the neoplastic cells in his body for energy and specific nutrients. So it’s not too surprising that altering a cancer patient’s diet can have a big impact on his well-being. Many veterinarians recommend that cancer patients eat foods with the following characteristics in an attempt to "starve" the cancer and best meet the dog’s nutritional needs:
Low in carbohydrates: The simple sugars that are present in many carbohydrate sources are a preferred energy source for cancerous cells. Dogs, on the other hand, can get their calories from fats and proteins.
High in quality proteins: Dogs with cancer often suffer from a severe loss of both muscle and fat, a condition that goes by the name cachexia. Eating a lot of high quality protein can help combat cachexia. The amino acid arginine also plays an important role in the ability of the immune system to do battle against cancerous cells.
High in fat: Fats are the most calorie-rich ingredients that can be included in a dog’s diet and also help make food taste good. If a dog’s appetite is not all that it once was, maximizing the palatability of a food and the caloric content of every bite is very important. In addition, omega-3 fatty acids can also help a dog’s immune system fight cancer. Fish oil and flax seed oil are good sources of omega-3 fatty acids.
It is important to remember that even the best "cancer diet" will not do a dog any good if he won’t eat it. To encourage your dog to keep eating:
- Do not mix medications with food as they often have an unpleasant taste and/or smell. If you need to hide pills in a treat, use something completely different in taste and texture from the main source of his nutrition. Switching to an injectable form of your dog’s medication may also be a possibility.
- Keep meal times positive. Do not do anything that might be unpleasant for your dog, such as changing a bandage, while he is eating.
- Try warming your dog’s food slightly. This can enhance its smell and palatability.
- Try canned rather than dry food. Many dogs prefer canned formulations to kibble.
- Feed several small meals throughout the day.
If your dog simply won’t switch to a diet ideally designed for cancer patients, talk to your veterinarian about whether you should add anti-oxidants, fish oil, or other supplements to the food that he will eat.
Dr. Jennifer Coates