Nutrition Tips for a Dog With Cancer
* The information shared here should be considered just that… information, not recommendations. Please seek the advice of your own vet before changing your dog’s diet.
If you’ve read Jake’s Story you know that he was diagnosed with liver cancer in January of 2009 and died in August, exactly seven months to the day. A very large tumor was found on his liver and his life expectation was only a matter of weeks, so it is quite astounding that he not only lived, but lived a very full and happy life, for over six months. For the majority of that time he showed no visible signs of a dog with cancer. I thought I would take a moment to share what I have learned and the approach that I took with Jake. If you are going through a similar experience with your dog, maybe this might help you. But I have to make a big disclaimer first… I am not an expert and the information I’m sharing is just what has worked for Jake, it may not work for every dog, especially given the fact that all cancers are different and may need different types of treatment. I do not claim to be an expert on this subject, or even that this information is absolutely correct, it’s just what helped Jake. Please check with your own vet for your dog’s individual situation.
When we were given the news that there was not really any traditional medical treatment that would help Jake, I started looking online and researching cancer in dogs. I found much of the same information on several different websites, which made me believe it might be true. So I took lots of notes and started to develop a game plan.
The first thing I learned was about what cancer is and how it develops, grows and spreads. Cancer can be genetic or predisposed to certain breeds, but often is a result of years of toxins bombarding the dog’s system in the form of low quality dog food or treats, among other things. So the first thing I decided to do was to put Jake on a good quality, premium dog food, free of preservatives, by-products or chemicals (watch for future articles here regarding what’s in commercial dog foods and how to find a good quality brand). Cancer cells thrive on sugar and carbohydrates, basically anything that will break down into sugar in the body. That is how they get their energy to grow and spread. What cancer cells can’t use for energy is protein or fat. So the basic game plan was to essentially “starve” the cancer cells by avoiding all sugar, carbs, and anything toxic such as any type of chemicals or man-made substances. To me that includes all grains, which fall into the category of carbs. A lot of people recommend feeding a dog rice or rice and chicken when they are sick because it is easy on the dog’s stomach. This may be true, but in the case of cancer, at least as I understand it, rice (especially white rice) is a carbohydrate and should be avoided, along with other grains such as wheat, etc. Low quantities are fine, but I opted to go with a nearly grain-free dog food and avoid the crunchy type of dog treats that have wheat and grains in them. Jake was given only treats that are pure meat such as lamb, chicken or beef jerky type treats. They are not hard to find in the pet stores, you just have to get used to reading labels.
Reading labels is always a good idea, and once you start to I think you’ll be amazed at how much stuff you didn’t realize was in the food and treats you feed your dog. For example, sugar is usually present in one or more forms such as corn syrup or other sweeteners. You can find treats that just say “Ingredients: Chicken (or lamb, duck, beef, etc.)” They are a little more pricey but worth it to me.
So I think that what I was NOT feeding Jake was probably the most important thing. Again, I avoided sugars, carbs, grains, preservatives, chemicals or toxins or any kind. And that includes medications if possible (there are natural alternatives to flea medicine, etc.), and also environmental toxins such as bug sprays, weed killers, air fresheners, etc.—be very careful of these around your cancer dog, their system may not be able to tolerate it as well as a normal dog’s. My basic philosophy is if it’s not natural or God-made, it’s usually a good idea to avoid it. Other things to avoid include potatoes (a starch), carrots, corn or fruits (high in natural sugars). Look for natural preservatives rather than synthetic. Avoid “by-products”, “meat and bone meal”, and plant proteins such as soy, tofu and grains. Also avoid rawhides and pork chews, they may contain harmful ingredients or chemicals (natural, untreated beef chews are fine).
One of the things about cancer is that it weakens the body’s immune system or ability to ward off illness. So it is important to strengthen the immune system. A high quality dog food can do this and you can also purchase immune system supplements online in a powder or pill form that can be added to the dog’s food. A good daily vitamin supplement is also important. After a lot of trial and error I settled on Innova EVO dog food. He really loved it. Up until his appetite went away he was getting a can in the morning, two cups of dry at night with half a can mixed in (that’s for a 70 lb dog, adjust for your dog’s weight). Some other good premium foods include (in no particular order) Innova, Wellness, Blue Buffalo, Canidae, Natural Balance, Solid Gold, and Taste of the Wild. There are others as well, and you won’t find these in grocery stores, only specialty pet stores, some vets or online. Complete Petmart carries many of these locally. Look for a meat such as beef, chicken, lamb or duck as the first ingredient. Look for high protein, low carb foods.
There is a lot of “people food” that you can give your cancer dog. Cooked chicken is great and they love it. Steamed vegetables are very healthy, Jake loved cooked green beans, broccoli or cauliflower. Cooked is best because a dog’s system cannot digest raw vegetables as well. Jake was getting lots of proteins such as string cheese, cottage cheese (he loved the little single serving ones as a treat), and yogurt. Plain organic yogurt is wonderful for them, look for yogurt containing live cultures such as acidophilus, it’s great for their digestive system. I would sometimes take a small cottage cheese size cup, put a small amount of peanut butter in it softened in the microwave, mix in plain yogurt until well mixed then freeze it. It makes a wonderful frozen treat for summer days. During Jake’s bouts with loss of appetite I usually resorted to cooking chicken, beef or lamb for him and he would eat that when he wouldn’t eat his dog food. You can get ground lamb or turkey or cut stew beef at most grocery stores and I’d just fry it up with a little dried garlic sprinkled in. I got the freeze dried garlic in a jar at Jungle Jim’s. Garlic is good for dogs and very enticing to them.
Jake was also on a liver supplement called Marin to help strengthen his liver. The cheapest place I’ve found it online is Allivet.com. He also was getting 4,000-6,000 mgs of Omega 3 fish oil daily. This is much more than the normal recommended dose because Omega 3 is a big cancer fighter. I have read that you should give up to 1,000 mg per 10 pounds of body weight daily (so he could have had even more). I got mine from 1800petmeds.com online, it comes in gel capsules but I would poke them with a pin and squirt it on his food. It is rather inexpensive. The daily vitamin/mineral supplement he took is NuVet Plus, I got it mail order. I’ve heard other people who swear by this also, not just for a dog with cancer, but for any dog, and cats too.
One of the hardest things was telling people Jake couldn’t have treats because he’s on a special diet. But one positive side effect of that is that it helped his behavior at the checkout counter at the pet store because he wasn’t expecting treats every time! When we were visiting with people I always carried a supply of his own treats and let them give him one of those if they wanted.
I think most people that know me would agree that Jake lived a lot longer than expected given the size and location of his tumor. And not only did he live, he thrived. Up until the last month, he had energy, his coat looked wonderful, his weight was within the normal range and it was hard to guess that he was a dog with liver cancer. Like I said, I’m no expert, but all I can say is that I firmly believe now in feeding the highest quality pet food and paying strict attention to what goes into your pet’s body. I believe it does make a difference. We had six more months with Jake than expected and they were wonderful months. I hope that some of this information will be helpful to you if you are going through a similar thing with your dog.