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

Diet for Dogs With Mast Cell Tumors

Updated: December 6th, 2019


Today’s post will likely be met with some skepticism from those immersed (and confined) to our Western medical approach.  So if this is your framework, please keep an open mind.  You will be pleased to know that the information here is taken from little known, but still Western, data banks.

I have recently been looking into some ways of decreasing some of the horrible effects of severe mast cell tumors in dogs.  Lots of talk these days about Palladia, but there is more you can do!

As many of you are well aware, these cancers are able to release, on an intermittent basis, large amounts of chemical signals that produce nasty effects on the body.  There are many different ones, and to avoid being utterly dull, here are just a few:  histamine, substance P, and heparin.

The one which we have traditionally focused on is histamine.  Histamine is the same stuff that our bodies, and those of our canine companions, release during an allergic reaction.

It does bad things like create swelling, redness, pain, blood pressure changes, vomiting, loss of appetite, acid stomach, and more.

Much of the sickness that dogs afflicted with mast cell tumors suffer from is caused by histamine excess.

Some focus has been placed on blocking the effects of histamine with various medications.  However, very little has been placed on cutting off the body’s supply of histamine.

This is an intriguing and quite novel approach to dealing with histamine excess, and to my knowledge has not been tried in dogs.   So here’s the info…give it a try, see if it helps the dog you love, and let our community know!

The basic story is you cut out foods that eventually end up increasing active histamine levels,  by hook or by crook.  Now, most of you know that carbohydrate restriction is important is helping with cancer generally.  I discuss details of the dog cancer diet at length in the e-book, The Dog Cancer Survival Guide.

For more helpful tools and information, get a copy of the Dog Cancer Survival Guide

Here’s a new twist for those caring for a dog with a mast cell tumor diagnosis, especially the more aggressive ones (Grade 2 and 3).

Turns out there is some cutting edge new research going on in human medicine about ways to combat digestive upset, depression, anxiety, allergies, asthma, and more.  Many cases of these syndromes involve excessive histamine effects in the body.  There are very few diseases like mast cell tumors in people, but we humans do suffer from a close relative of mast cell tumors called systemic mastocytosis.

Anyway, those in the inner circle promote cutting off the wellspring of histamine in the body by simply not eating foods that promote histamine levels. Why not use a similar approach for dogs with mast cell tumors, another condition with histamine excess?

The biggies are those foods that are fermented as a part of processing.  Dogs usually don’t eat or drink a lot of those (drinks with alcohol, the more “moldy” of the cheeses like blue, sauerkraut, and vinegar).

But…. there are some out there who feed their dogs tofu.  Be careful!  Practically speaking, tofu could be viewed as a histamine brick.

Another big no-no, if one were using this approach, is fish!  Bacteria in the intestine of fish are quite busy making a lot of histamine, and levels rise after the fish passes away (but before the remains are gutted for food).

To learn more about Mast Cell Tumors, diet, and treatment options, get a copy of this seminar!

Dyes in food and the benzoates (BHT, BHA, sodium benzoate, benzoic acid) are also excluded from the diet.  Read those labels!

Note that the items on the restricted list not only contain histamine, but also are more prone to causing mast cells to release their illness-causing histamine reserves.  This only matters if there is a large mast cell burden (lots of tumor cells in the body) and we are wanting to lessen histamine release. In addition, this is all extrapolated from human information.  The inappropriate human foods should be excluded from the dog diet even if the list says they are “ok”.

I hope this helps-


Dr D

Leave a Comment

  1. Ann Fitz-Gerald on August 2, 2022 at 2:00 am

    Further to my previous comment, how do I know my dog’s histamine levels, other than a blood test? She is extremely active and fit. Is there any way to tell from her general wellbeing?

    Every now and again I give her a small tin of tuna over the course of about three days. Should I cease this please?

    • Molly Jacobson on August 2, 2022 at 12:17 pm

      Most folks don’t use blood tests, they just monitor symptoms. The symptoms to look for are active itching, nausea (turning head away, for example) and GI upset. If your girl isn’t actively exhibiting symptoms of allergies/histamine overload, you might be fine. Not every dog needs their diet modified! And a small tin of tuna sounds delicious and is in line with Dr. D’s recommendations — although yes, it does have higher levels of natural histamines, and leftovers do, as well. So if your girl is itching, I say skip the tuna. If not, I wouldn’t worry about it.

      That said, some dogs need to be on a low-histamine diet even if they aren’t symptomatic, because they go into histamine overload easily. It really does vary from dog to dog.

  2. Ann Fitz-Gerald on August 2, 2022 at 1:53 am

    Three years ago I took on a “rescue” dog. She is an American Staffy/Boxer cross and weighs 30kg. In the first 14 – 16 months that I had her, she had three major mast cell surgeries. She is now 11 years of age.

    The vets advised me to give her a human antihistamine tablet every day, which I do. So far, no further mast cells seem to have developed.

    I have read your article on mast cells and histamine and am wondering why you only suggest Benadryl and not antihistamine tablets?

    I look forward to your reply

    Ann Fitz-Gerald

  3. Julie Anne Garlit on October 13, 2021 at 1:21 pm

    I am using your book to try to help my two 8 year old Goldens who both recently had mast cell tumor surgeries with low grades and clean margins. We have implemented the diet and several supplements.

    Can frozen home cooked meals be defrosted in the microwave?
    I read that histamines are created in refrigerated food; meat more than rice or veggies. The book says the base mixture can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 4 days
    but I am confused because refrigerated food can produce histamines.
    Did I miss something? I have been reading and rereading.
    I am trying my best to do right by Sparkle & Thunder. The holistic vet I visited shared a protocol of supplements costing $600 a month in addition to frequent blood work and tests I have never heard of before. So I am back to your book trying my best to sort through everything myself the best I can and staying within my budget. I have had many sleepless nights trying to figure out what to do.
    We lost a 3 year old Golden to heart-based hermangiosarcoma within 6 weeks of being diagnosed.
    I am devastated and overwhelmed.
    Thanks in advance.

    • Molly Jacobson on October 13, 2021 at 2:57 pm

      Hi Julie Anne — I think your questions about histamines and diet will largely be answered in this article:

      That article contains suggestions for how to modify the recommendations in the dog cancer diet for histamine overload if your dog has mast cell tumors.

      I am so sorry about your state of overwhelm — and I 100% understand it. Remember to go back to chapter 2 and try some emotional management exercises when you feel really stuck, they can REALLY help to just get your mind clear.

      And the appendix in the back of the book with Dr. D’s supplement “hierarchy” is a good idea to check out. There really only is a handful of “must-do” supplements that you and your vet could consider. It’s not that other supplements can’t help, but Dr. D’s approach hits all the hallmarks of cancer without overlapping or doing too much. And maybe just as important, none of them usually need to be stopped if you add a conventional treatment like chemo or radiation into the mix.

      Check them out and ask your veterinarian what they think — if you don’t see the appendix for some reason, they are here:

  4. Michael on December 19, 2020 at 7:17 am

    So what about fish oil? Would that also contain high histamine levels?

  5. Armando P. Diaz on August 5, 2020 at 4:48 pm

    I just wrote a note RE: my Yorkshire Daisy diagnosed with Mast cell tumor, Grade II/High, with lymphatic invasion.

    By phone, her doctor suggest chemotherapy or prednisone. I have not gotten back to her with more questions.

    Do you have any suggestions, aside of course, from diet?

    Thank you AD
    I would love to have an email to put in the safe sender list.

    • Molly Jacobson on August 10, 2020 at 3:03 pm

      Hello Armando, thanks for your question. You should definitely get a copy of Dr. Dressler’s book The Dog Cancer Survival Guide, because the answer to your question is literally an entire book! 🙂 There are lots of questions to ask your vet, and the book covers those — and then there are supplements to consider, plus diet changes. And lots of mind-body strategies!

  6. Armando P. Diaz on August 5, 2020 at 4:38 pm

    My Yorky little girl, 11 lbs, turned 11 yrs. she was recently diagnosed with “Mast cell tumor, Grade II/High, with lymphatic invasion”. She has been active and healthy. Her diet has been boneless, skinless, cooked chicken and vegetables daily. What is wrong with that?

  7. patricia weitzman on June 24, 2019 at 6:49 am

    dr. theoharides at tufts does research on mastocytosis, and has developed a supplement containing luteolin and quercetin. i might try quercetin for my dog. question: for those of us that cannot do a home-cooked or raw diet for their dog with a mast cell history, wondering what your thoughts/guidelines for kibble. i understand it’s not the first choice for food, but some people don’t have other options. thank you for your thoughts.

    • Tammy on June 20, 2020 at 4:37 pm

      Patricia, did you ever try those supplements for your pup?

      • Jan Clifford on February 20, 2021 at 3:58 am

        I’ve been feeding Dr. Dressler’s diet for months with good results. Now my 100+# greater Swiss mountain dog’s tumor is showing signs that it’s putting out high loads of histamines. I see cottage cheese is on the restricted list but is an ingredient in the cancer diet. Assume this should be left out & if so should I be adding some kind of calcium powder? Any other suggestions? I actually have to make a double batch every time I make the food since she is so large and a double batch only last every three days. I am not freezing the food in between which I suppose is another thing I could do. Thank you for any info you can share.

        • Molly Jacobson on February 21, 2021 at 2:29 pm

          Hi Jan! Yes, leave cottage cheese out of the diet if your dog is getting into histamine overload. You can use citracal max as the calcium supplement (12 tablets per recipe batch, so for you, 24 — just grind them up with a mortar/pestle and mix them into the food). Many folks use boiled egg shells to get nice calcium in (the histamine in eggs is not found in the shells). Or chicken necks! And yes, you can freeze the base mixture for up to a month, which might help you to save some cooking time.

          • Kim Fahey on July 11, 2021 at 2:53 am

            Hello, my boy was just diagnosed with mct. I feed him wild earth dry food with dr. Marty’s wet pellets. It says it’s a raw food, , but should I cook for him instead. I also ordered him a good quality Turkey tail, and a blend of other mushrooms. He takes benedryl for antihistamine. Any helpful info is greatly appreciated!

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