Featuring Demian Dressler, DVM and Susan Ettinger, DVM, Dip. ACVIM (Oncology), authors of The Dog Cancer Survival Guide.

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Dog food and cancer: help fight this problem!

In the last post I wrote about one of the issues in most commercial dog foods contributing to dog cancer: omega 6 fatty acid excess. This is a group of fats that are found in large quantities in corn products, vegetable oils, and meat products like tallow and lard, to name a few sources. Dogs in the wild eat lean meats (imagine an antelope’s body) and digested plant matter from the prey’s intestines. The diets we are feeding them currently are inappropriate, and in some ways harmful.

This omega 6 fat excess sets the stage for cancer development, stimulates cancer cell growth, and decreases the body’s natural cancer-fighting abilities.

Our dog’s bodies can better handle the omega 6 excess by providing them with another type of fatty acid that will decrease the harmful effects of too much omega 6. These are oils containing omega 3 fatty acids, which are found in high concentrations in fish oils. I outline this topic in detail in the upcoming book, but for the purposes of this discussion let’s focus on oil from sardines, menhaden, mackeral, salmon and so on. Cod liver oil is NOT a good source for omega 3 supplementation.

If your loved dog has a cancer at this time, you want to get as much omega 3 in him or her as possible. Start slowly and work your way up to large amounts over about 2 weeks to avoid an upset stomach. Give with food. For a dog about 60 lbs, you want about 18 grams of good quality fish oil containing omega 3’s. This usually means about 15-20 of the typical capsules daily, which is a large amount! For double strength caps, halve the dose. Adjust up or down for the size of your dog. The capsules can be popped and the oil mixed in food if your dog resists eating the capsules by themselves. Watch for digestive upset (vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite), and if so, stop and then later start with lower doses increased more slowly.

Krill oil is, in my opinion, the best option for supplementing fatty acids for a variety of reasons…

If your loved dog is not diagnosed with cancer and is on typical commercial food, I would have you begin an omega 3 fatty acid supplement at lower doses than those dogs with cancer. For a 60 lb dog, my opinion is a standard supplemental dose of roughly 4-6 grams of omega 3-containing capsules daily. Remember to start with low doses than work up over 2 weeks.

There is limited, theoretical evidence that you should stop these supplements 10 days before surgery as they may have mild blood-thinning effect. Do this as a precaution, to be on the safe side.

I will be giving many more practical tips to increase your dog’s health in upcoming posts!

Best to all,

Dr Dressler

About the Author: Demian Dressler, DVM

Dr. Demian Dressler, DVM is known as the "dog cancer vet" and is author of The Dog Cancer Survival Guide: Full Spectrum Treatments to Optimize Your Dog's Life Quality and Longevity.

  • http://cancer.landofpuregold.com Rochelle Lesser

    Dr. Dressler, it is wonderful to see this new blog and to have you share valuable information with folks that have had a dog diagnosed with cancer. I have been giving my 60-lb Golden 6000 units daily of Sockeye Salmon Oil for years now, and have been stressing at my site how this is critical to good health, mobility, and even coat. I will be referencing this entry, however, at my site where I discuss food as well as cancer diet recommendations.

  • http://landofpuregold.com Rochelle Lesser

    I am interested in your reference to Krill Oil. Is there a particular brand that you recommend? I see that it can be more expensive than salmon oil.

    For example, Mercola has a 100% pure Antarctic Krill Oil, but it sells for over $60 for a bottle of 180 500mg capsules. To give a 60lb dog, 6000mg Krill Oil daily would cost $120 monthly.

  • admin

    Rochelle, great point. Krill Oil has some really interesting effects that have real relevance to cancer in our loved dogs. How about I fill in the gaps in a blog post!?

    • Brian Roney

      Hi Dr…..maybe you can help me? My dog has a tumor behind his eye….it is cancer….what can I do to help him? Mass omega 3? High protein diet? Exercise? Thanks, Brian

  • Carolyn Kinsler

    Great blog. How much krill oil would you recommend for dogs who eat a diet with no corn products (1/2 home cooked with lean meats and 1/2 Wellness Core). My dogs are 45 and 70 lbs.

    Thank you

  • admin

    Hi Carolyn!
    Maintenance doses are less than cancer doses. For maintenance, I advise, using 500 mg capsules, 3-4 daily for the 45 lb dog and 5-6 for the larger doggy. Start slow and work your way up to the full dose over 10-14 days. Give with food. Don’t forget to stop 10 days before any elective surgery to be on the safe side. Give 1 month to see changes in the coat, mobility, etc.
    Dr D

    • Laurie

      I came across your website and could use some guidance on supplements. My 5 1/2 year old Bassett was diagnosed with mast cell tumor four weeks ago. It originated in his abdomen (no organ involvement can be determined on ultrasound) measure 4.5 X 5 cm. We have lymph node involvement. We decided against surgery given dogs with this usually have a poor prognosis and we wanted him to have the best quality of life possible and couldn’t see doing such an risky surgery. We began him on benedryl, predisone, pepcid A/C, Tramadol, Suclofate. Two weeks ago we started him on the new drug Palladia. He is doing well, very few side effects, is eating a high protein low carb diet (Blue Wildnerness) and is remaining active (as active as a Basset gets anyway). His fourth Ultrasound yesterday showed no change in the tumor, but a new second tumor in the abdomen has been identified (it has only been a week since his last ultrasound). The internal medicine vet is seeking consultation from North Carolina State University. Until then, what else can we do to help “Monk”? He is 82 pounds.

  • Lori Michaelson


    This is the thread that I was ‘referring to’ in my post on August 21 regarding our Golden Retriever’s diagnosis of mast cell cancer stage 3 and pain. I also read your post saying that Krill oil is probably even better even though more expensive. I also read the post from a subscriber saying that he/she used K-9 Immunity (Beta Glucan) with seemingly success for extra months of life for a diagnosed dog. And your response Dr. Dressler.

    Firstly, one has to decide to use one of the three methods above. MEGADOSES of Omega-3 fatty acids for dogs already diagnosed with cancer or Krill oil or K-9 Immunity. IF ANY. Or, let nature take its course.

    Secondly, here is the dilemma in our household:

    After our furry daughter’s diagnosis earlier this month I wrote to Rochelle and she was the one who guided me to this site/blog! After reading the first post about getting as much Omega-3s into the dog as possible (15-22 capsules daily) for bigger dogs like our 80 pound dog Golden angel – I told my husband about this. We already had/have a large jar of 500 mg capsules because our veterinarian suggested using these in February for her worsening dysplasia. It did nothing for her dysplasia is so we still have plenty left over. COSEQUIN worked for her though!!!

    Anyway, after telling my husband about the Omega-3 MEGADOSE suggestion by you he was okay with starting her out with one a day and now we are up to two a day (after two weeks). He is way too leery to try anything close to those megadoses. A few days ago I said that, if it were up to me, *I* would be giving her five capsules a day by now but my husband’s response was that we “would have a sick dog on our hands”.

    Since I am a quadriplegic it is my husband that has to feed her, give her all her medications and supplements, clean up after her, etc. and being my primary caregiver taboot. And HE recently had surgery (that is not healing) so things are harder for him. <— Huge understatement! And there is no one else.

    Even though she is just like a child of his own to him (and he has three adult children) and would do anything in the world for her — I can’t see him budging on this. Megadoses I mean. And the more I nag him about ‘anything’ the less he wants to do it. He knows about it, like I said, and he read my post and your response regarding pain and cancer in dogs. So he knows about this blog as well as Rochelle’s dedication to the cause. I cam across her wonderful website about five years ago!

    From one of his comments I think he also feels that it is all experimental and there is no REAL proof of trying this, or that or that then this, etc, etc, etc, etc. Only a testimonial here or there. and probably feels very much the same way about all of this in exactly the same way Rochelle expressed her opinion on Krill oil.

    We both are “medical people” so to speak but when it comes to many things (including the big “C”and there are many personal experiences in the medical field) I can understand his reservations. BUT, at the same time, *I* would say it couldn’t hurt to keep increasing the dose. But I am not the one in control of that. I’m sure there are many out there who find themselves in such a conundrum. So that is a topic in itself!

    I am just so thankful that our beautiful Golden (Brandy) did not have any terrible symptoms (or any symptoms for that matter) prior to her diagnosis or now. She is still acting the same, eating the same, going to the bathroom the same, etc. etc. Unfortunately, Goldens seem to be much more prone to cancers and bigger dogs do not usually live longer than smaller dogs. I chalk it up to ONLY THE GOOD DIE YOUNG when it happens no matter what we try in the human world or the other animal world.

    Now I am off to try to find the Aug 21 post you referred me to yesterday (21st also) as I could not find it earlier. It is sometimes difficult to find things on blogs even using the search box.

    Any suggestions on household dilemmas as described above are welcome!

    Thank you,
    Lori Michaelson

  • admin

    First, the post I wrote on the 21st actually posted on the 22nd, so that is the one. Second, Golden Retrievers are the number one breed for canine cancer (in the DNA). Up to 75% of them pass away due to this epidemic disease. Third, I have access to no study comparing omega 3 and beta glucan supplements, and I usually do not pick a single one, even a single combo product seems inadequate to me. We attack the cancers at different levels simultaneously for best results. So I cannot say what the best single supplement really is…kind of like saying what is the most healthy food..good in different ways. Having said that, I lean more towards beta glucans than omega 3’s in the early stages, if I were forced to make a choice. Why not add a little melatonin? It’s cheap and hey, at least it promotes a good night’s rest. Check out EGCG, curcumen, modified citrus pectin, all not too expensive. I’ve got a powerful supplement coming up too so stay tuned..in trials right now. Fourth,regarding husband: resistance to new information is common. Whenever anyone needs to integrate anything that is truly new or even groundbreaking, a consciousness expansion has to occur. This involves the loss of an old identity to make room for a new identity, which is frightening, since we all really like our identities! Hence the resistance. Don’t get mad at your husband, this resistance is really common. Compassion is best for everyone during these times.
    Dr D

  • Lori Michaelson

    Well, since she just had a Grade 3 mast cell tumor removed supposedly successfully (taking into consideration there was no Benadryl injection prior to surgery) would you put her in the early stages or the later stages of cancer?

    You now say that you lean more towards the beta glucans in the early stages but in your post on 8/02/08 you say:
    ” If your loved dog has a cancer at this time, you want to get as much omega 3 in him or her as possible. Start slowly and work your way up to large amounts over about 2 weeks to avoid an upset stomach. Give with food. For a dog about 60 lbs, you want about 18 grams of good quality fish oil containing omega 3’s. This usually means about 15-20 of the typical capsules daily, which is a large amount!”

    So I think you can see my confusion.

    I don’t even know if you can answer my question of whether she may be in the earlier or later stages of this terrible diagnosis.

    Thank you for answering the semi-disagreement between my husband and I and perhaps the omega-3’s will slowly be given by him over time. Although you suggest so much more if the dog is already diagnosed.

    Hopefully you can clear up what seems to be contradictory comments as well as suggest what stage she might be in.

    Thank you so much once again for your time and patience!

    Lori Michaelson

  • admin

    You are welcome!
    Dr D

  • Denise

    Can fish oil or krill oil be fed in conjunction with drugs like Metacam, Tramadol, or Gabapentin?

    Also, is it alright to supplement with both fish and krill oils-perhaps one in the am the other at night?

  • Jennifer

    My 10 year old lab was just diagnosed with a cancer lump near his splean. The vet has advised that it is too advanced to really do anything. He told me just to make him as comfortable as I can. He is a rather overweight dog but now I am having trouble getting him to eat. I was feeding him Iams but he refused to eat it at all. I am now feeding him pedigree, dry and canned. He is having problems with his joints because I am trying to wean him off prednisone so it is hard to get him any exercise. I have limited finances but I would like to do the best that I can for him. Is there anything I can give him to maybe make him feel a little bit better and spark his appetite? I really would like to improve his quality of life. Any advise as far as food and supplements? Thanks. Jennifer

  • Amira


  • Robin

    My 8 year old beagle has been diagnosed with hemangioscarcoma with masses affecting his entire liver. Apparently that is the site it originated in as well. So far, it has not spread and his liver function is good. He also has no weight loss and his appetite is good. He did bleed into his abdomen 3 months ago and his platelets are in the low normal range. He did have surgery and part of his liver was removed. I just started him on milk thistle, olive oil, and fish oil, but small amounts. His dry kibble is Natural Balance Venison and Sweet Potato, and I also cook for him organic chicken. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

  • http://DogCancerBlog.com DemianDressler

    Dear Robin, is there a question that I can answer for you? There is a book’s worth of advice that could be given…let me know!
    Dr D

  • Megan Squier

    Thank you for clearing up why most commercial pet foods are bad! My mother-in-law has raved about natural dog foods like Solid Gold and Evo for years but I never really believed her until I decided to adopt a dog from the local shelter. My MIL first started feeding her dogs natural foods after one of her dogs, Austin a Shetland Sheepdog died of cancer. Her vet, Dr. Moses from the Dover (DE) Air Force Base veterinary clinic told her that diet could have been the cause. I now find it quite interesting that both my parent’s Lab, Tippy, and their cat, Bubbles, both died of cancer too after being fed standard commercial diets. The food I’m feeding my dog contains no corn, wheat, vegetable oils or lard so hopefully, he will live longer.

  • Dana

    I believe it is diet and the water. First the commercial dog food is full of corn, probably GMO corn which has been proven to damage DNA when eaten. Then there is fluoride in the water which is a poison. Our dogs don’t have a chance with this kind of diet. We just lost our three year old American Bulldog to Osteosarcoma. Diagnosed Jan. 3 with a few growths on his shoulder and within a month had eaten the bone up. I had him on a cancer diet, k9immunity, transfer factor and omegas. Nothing slowed it down, it was awful. He was on taste of the wild after we rescued him but was raised on a food with corn as the first ingredient. He was already a year and a half when e got him.

  • admin

    First let’s clarify concepts. Grade and stage do not describe the same thing. A grade is given by a pathologist based on the appearance of the mass under the microscope. It has nothing to do unfortunately with the degree of spread in the body. A stage is the size of the mass and extent of spread, whether to local lymph nodes or internal spread to organs by metastasis. These are different ideas describing different things.
    Staging involves doing lymph node aspirates and imaging to see the degree of spread. I have to make an educated guess based on your description of the case that this Grade 3 mast cell tumor is in the earlier stages, but to be honest this is a guess/assumption, and I have no way of knowing, and nor do you unless more information is gathered.
    As I wrote in the post answering your question: “So I cannot say what the best single supplement really is…kind of like saying what is the most healthy food..good in different ways. Having said that, I lean more towards beta glucans than omega 3’s in the early stages, if I WERE FORCED TO MAKE A CHOICE.” ( i just put those caps in). If I had to choose between the two supplements, I would lean towards the beta glucans given the description of your dog’s case. This implies a one or the other selection. If you have access to both, give both!! One does not preclude the use of the other.
    Thanks for being in touch and I wish you and your Golden the best of luck!
    Dr Dressler

  • Lori Michaelson

    Thank you for clarifying! Much clearer now.

    It is interesting, or perhaps not, that Rochelle’s “Ollie” lived to age 11 and passed away at that age from cancer. Then, her “Darcy” lived to age 10 and passed away from cancer. I may be wrong but I think her only current Golden is “Alfie” — being a little over 9 years old. I certainly can’t keep track of everyone but I think that “Alfie” is still healthy and happy!

    Then our Brandy (age 9 1/2-10 as we do not know her exact age) has been recently diagnosed. Different types of cancer but, nonetheless, cancer.

    Dean Koontz’s Golden “Trixie” was 11 1/2 when she passed on in June 2007. She was diagnosed with a tumor on her spleen which was removed and she began chemotherapy. Within a week she was diagnosed with another tumor in her heart and not a candidate for chemo at all – potency. After that, it was “her time” to go.

    Rochelle, if you are reading this post — do you have a webpage dedicated to your findings as far as the ratio of a Golden’s age and being diagnosed with cancer? Or “how” have you determined what works (Fish oils)? Or “how” have you found that wild salmon oils are MUCH better?

    For example, were Ollie and Darcy both on higher quantities of any of these supplements? Yet their life-span was still only around 10 yrs IF that is the case?

    You also correspond with hundreds of Golden owners and perhaps have learned a great deal from them or they have learned a great deal from you! So you have a wealth of information at your fingertips too! :-)

    I am not exactly what you’d call ‘a religious person’ but often times I think that every BEING may have a preordained day to die. I know of no other way to put it. This DOES NOT mean that I think “forget everything as nature will take its course anyway” as I am surely open to “potential” antioxidants.

    And now I am preaching to the choir but we are also all born with certain genes and people can’t explain why a chain smoker lives to be 102 years old when practically everyone would argue that smoking is a carcinogen.

    On top of that is the BILLIONS of possible causes of cancer or combined factors that cause it. It could be one thing, a combination of things or nothing at all.

    Right down to… should we give our dogs purified water? I have had an indwelling Foley catheter for 29 yrs now and therefore are more prone to urinary tract infections. Yet, over a period of 20 years post-injury and living in New York state — I only had about five total UTIs! Doctors could not believe it. After I moved from New York State in 1999 Ialmost immediately began to get back-to-back urinary tract infections. Was it the water? Was my urine too alkaline with an electrolyte imbalance? I still do not have the answer to this day. Even drinking purified water and/or tap water in all the other places SINCE living in New York state — my INTAKE has not really changed. Regarding food or water.

    And THAT is only wondering about water!

    I don’t know if any answer will ever really be found regarding dog cancers but still interested in how you, or Dr. Dressler, “knows” that fish oils “work”. How many dogs TOTAL have been watched very closely with their whole lifestyles. Including holistic foods or non holistic foods.

    Not trying to build the tower of babel again but this blog is certainly a start as to “findings” and side by side “results”.

    As in: Dog A and Dog B are not related but they were born on the same day and have lived with their owners since birth. So they get the same foods, the same water, the same environment, etc.. Which dog fares best when all is said and done?

    Sorry for the long post!

    Golden wishes to everyone!

    Lori :-)

  • Lori Michaelson

    In sum, and with my small window of observations, Goldens’ who have been found with cancerous tumors… have been around the age of 10 years old. Even though the tumor may have been there some time before… the symptoms and then having the tumor raise its ugly head… cancer looks to be a common at around 10 years of age. As goldens (and other bigger dogs) have a lifespan of somewhere between 10 years old and 16 years old… Cancer at 10 is starting out young although they are in their later years.

    When I did a search on “Mast Cell Grade 3” on Rochelle’s website only ONE story showed up. A wonderful golden named “Gus” had a mast cell tumor near his left knee. I think it’s a good thing it was not nearing the major organs at that time.

    Anyway, years later he was again diagnosed and ended up having surgery in the exact same place as our Brandy girl’s was. Identical stitch line and everything!

    Rochelle wrote “According to Dr. Wen, Gus possesses a predisposition to developing cancer.” In reality I am not quite sure what that means besides the obvious. And since there was not a birth date given … I can only assume from other dates mentioned that Gus was also somewhere around 10 years old as well.

    I was quite surprised that there was only one hit on Rochelle’s site for Mast Cell Cancers Grade 3 (Gus’ story) so I do not know how rare or how common it is for Goldens.

    But from Dr. Dressler’s comment that they are considered “The Great Imitators” — more dog owners need to be aware of this terrible, infamously fast spreading cancer and get on top of it before it gets too much out of control. Gus lived five years after the one near his knee was removed and fortunately the owners had the wealth to put him on a two-year Chinese herbal regimen, etc..

    Again, I don’t know how rare mast cell cancers are in dogs but it is always great to know everything you can’t even if it is the hard way. I haven’t discovered how old this blog is yet or how many people subscribe to it but thank you both!

    Lori :-)

  • Anu

    Does this work for Lhasa Apsos too?

  • admin

    Hi Anu,
    could you please expand your question a little to help me answer properly? I am not sure which of the topics you were asking about. Could you clarify for me?

  • joanette

    We have a Rottie who has a melanoma in her throat. We just began a vaccine treatment. Surgery would be very invasive because of her age(12) and location, it is on her soft pallet. Therefore we have decided against surgery, however they can possible do a debulking surgery if it increases in size before the vaccine kicks in. Do you have any suggestions on what we can do to help her immune system fight this. Her diet consist of Nutro dog food, chicken, egg, and WD and alittle bit of Nutro puppy food to increase her protein,carlsons cod liver oil, phyto-plex dogzymes, probiotics, aloe, COQ10,cranberry capsules. Thanks for any information for our dear Little Bit

  • Shavonne Harpole

    I had no idea that the amount of fish oils was supposed to be 15-20 capsules a day. I have only been giving 8 total capsules as recommended by a cancer specialist. Is a mix of fish oils a good idea or do you just highly recommend krill oil supplements? I will change my fish oils today to the krill regardless of the cost if that is what you recommend. Are there any problems with megadoses of krill oil?
    Thanks for your help again,
    Shavonne Harpole

  • Dr. Dressler

    Shavonne, the side effects of Krill are pretty close to fish oil: theoretical blood clotting issues (“thinning of blood”) so you want to avoid surgery within up to 10 days of taking either, also vomiting, diarrhea,lethargy, decreased appetite,allergic reactions, manufacturer or ingredient contamination, possibly pancreatitits….
    Use this supplement, or any supplement, under supervision of your vet or oncologist

  • Dr. Dressler

    Joanette, that sounds tough. I answer this question in a whole lot of detail in the upcoming e-book, the dog cancer survival guide. Melanomas are tough contenders. Talk to your vet or your oncologist about cisplatin-impregnated open cell polylactic acid polymer. This is pretty advanced oncology but it is a material imbedded with cisplatin (a chemo drug) that is implanted in the dog, and showed a very large increase in median survival time. I would also discuss beta-glucan, see the post on mushrooms, as well as omega 3 fatty acids (see that post). Also consider with your vet branched chain amino acid supplements, which I talk about in the book.
    Good luck,



  • Dr. Dressler

    you need to go to the vet to get the diagnosis on these. As I pointed out in the blog, a soft mass is not necessarily a lipoma and should be checked out (along with the cough)..
    There is no link i am aware of between the pom breed and soft tumors, sorry. Good luck

  • Lisa

    Hi …

    I have an 11yr old dog who is a cross between a bull mastiff and a german sheppard. I just found out he has melanoma. It started in his mouth and they removed the growth but they don’t think they got it all. They have given him 4-5 months. I’m devastated… I’ve had this guy since he was 2 days old and I feel like I’m losing a child. I’m a student so I don’t know much about how to treat him and I’m on a student budget. My friend suggested Omega-3. I am not sure how much I am supposed to give him though? I heard something like 1000mg per 20 pounds of dog. My guy is about 85 lbs. Should I give him 4 capsules?
    Also… can anyone suggest a good diet to put him on? He’s a really fussy eater. He hates most dog food – he’s eating Iams right now with a little bit of that Ceaser’s wet food mixed in. I’m thinking that this is really bad for him. Is organic dog food the way to go or should I be giving him natural food like ground beef?
    Any suggestions would really be appreciated!!!


  • marie

    Lisa, Blue buffalo dog food was developed by some parents of an airdale how had cancer and with research they developed this food. my 3 dogs love it and the first ingredient is a protein.
    also check mydogscancer.com, and as far as the omegas 3,6,9 found in fish oil get it at costco 1000mg per 20#. my brothers bassett hound was just diagoned and i am trying to reasearch if not they will put her down. Good luck Marie

  • Darleen

    Dr. D,
    On the fish oil supplements, how much would you give a 25lb Welsh Corgie? He has been diagnosed with Leiomyosarcoma. From what I have been told this is a very rare form of cancer. He is on the chemo drug Cytoxin and seems to be responding well with it. They had found a large mass on his spleen back in late Dec. He had emergency surgery done on him and removed the mass and his spleen. He is also on Metacam everyday.They are only giving him 3-6 months to live without Radition but we choose not to do it due to his age. He is going to be 13 Mar 8th. I posted other comments on here and have not hear anything yet. I hope you get to respond to this. I know you are a very busy man and I really appreciate your work.