Feed the Patient - Starve the Cancer

Jennifer Coates, DVM
By Jennifer Coates, DVM on Nov. 2, 2012

Feeding pets that have been diagnosed with cancer is a challenge. It is not unusual for cancer patients to lose their appetites as a result of the disease or its treatment, and this occurs at a time when good nutrition is vital. Cancer also changes a pet’s metabolism. He has to compete with the cancerous cells in his body for energy and nutrients. I talked about this in a post that ran last September called Nutrition for the Canine Cancer Patient. Take a look at it if you haven’t already.

What I didn’t touch upon in that post was the role that home-prepared diets can play in feeding pets with cancer. In general, I worry about the long term effects of even relatively small nutrient deficiencies and excess with home-prepared meals for pets, but frankly, long-term isn’t a big concern with cancer patients. I’m focused on the here and now and am much more willing to recommend recipes for my clients who are up to the extra time and work involved in cooking for their pets.

Food prepared from scratch has some obvious benefits for pets that are very sick:

  • It is more palatable than commercially prepared foods and will usually tempt even the pickiest of pets to eat.

  • It can be easily modified as a pet’s condition changes.

  • Supplements and medications can be hidden in the especially delicious bits.

  • The extra work involved gives owners the opportunity to become very involved in their pet’s care at a time when many are looking for every opportunity to show their love.

Dr. Robert Silver discussed these very points in his Integrative Oncology lectures that I sat in on during the Wild West Veterinary Conference, and he made some specific recommendations regarding recipes for home-prepared cancer diets.

For Cats:

  • Protein 90%

  • Carbohydrates and Vegetables 10%

  • 30 mg/kg/day of DHA [fish oil]

  • Light Salt (KCL/NaCl) 1/16 tsp/10#/day

  • Calcium 10 mg/#/day

  • Feline multivitamin

  • Flax seed freshly milled ½-1 teaspoon per meal or flax seed oil ¼ tsp per meal

For Dogs:

  • Protein 50-75%

  • Carbohydrates 10%

  • Vegetables 15-40%

  • 30 mg/kg/day of DHA [fish oil]

  • Light Salt (KCL/NaCl) 1/16 tsp/10#/day

  • Calcium 10 mg/#/day

  • Canine multivitamin

  • Flax seed freshly milled ½-1 teaspoon per meal or flax seed oil ¼ tsp per meal

Dr. Silver explains the inclusion of large amounts of fish oil and flax seed in these diets in this way:

The two biologically-active fatty acids found in fish oil have been intensely studied for the past 10-15 years for their benefit to cancer patients. The oncologist-recommended dose for fish oil for cancer, based upon research studies, is about 30 mg/kg/day of DHA. If extra EPA is given along with the DHA it will help to improve patient outcomes. This can be a high dose of fish oil for many patients. To avoid diarrhea or pancreatitis, the fish oil should be introduced gradually. The use of fiber, both insoluble and soluble, can help to dampen any GI reaction to that amount of oil. This author recommends flax seed meal to increase the fat content of the cancer diet with a healthy fatty acid, and alpha linolenic acid, [which] has some evidence of benefit to cancer patients. Fiber will bind carcinogens, the lignans in flax seed competitively bind with estrogen receptor sites, thus reducing the adverse impact of toxic estrogens that come in food, pesticides and from our own bodies.

It should go without saying that switching to diets like these needs to be done gradually and under a veterinarian’s supervision. If your "regular" veterinarian is not comfortable with you feeding a home-prepared diet to your pet with cancer, you can always bring a holistic vet onboard your pet’s healthcare team.

Dr. Jennifer Coates

Image: Homemade dog food by Canucklibrarian / via Flickr

Jennifer Coates, DVM


Jennifer Coates, DVM


Dr. Jennifer Coates is an accomplished veterinarian, writer, editor, and consultant with years of experience in the fields of veterinary...

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