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

Food and Nutrition for Dogs with Mast Cell Tumors

Updated: May 27th, 2019


Dr. Dressler’s Dog Cancer Diet is appropriate for most dogs, but dogs with mast cell tumors need a few modifications. Read this if your dog needs a low-histamine diet.

low-histamine-mast-cell-tumWe know that good nutrition is the foundation of health. The Dog Cancer Survival Guide devotes an entire chapter to a real food diet for our dogs battling cancer, advising both on the foods to give, and those to avoid.

While every cancer journey is a tough one, the diagnosis of Mast Cell Tumor (MCT) presents a bigger challenge when it comes to feeding. In some mast cell cancers, large amounts of histamine are released in the body, causing irritation and itching. Most treatment protocols include an antihistamine to help, but many foods either have histamines or trigger the release of histamines in the body — so the diet must be looked at, as well.

Even some of the healthiest, highest recommended foods Dr. Dressler recommends in his diet are not appropriate for a dog with MCT. Dr. Dressler’s post on Diets for Dogs with Mast Cell Tumors addresses this cause and effect in more depth, and he has provided insights and reviewed this article, as well.

For more information on Mast Cell Tumors, get a copy of the Dog Cancer Survival Guide and check out Chapter 30!

Too Much of a Good Thing

First, it’s important to know that just because your dog has MCT doesn’t mean your dog is automatically having a problem with histamine levels.

The body increases histamine in multiple ways, not just from diet.

So, if your dog is not currently vomiting, itching, feeling sick, having reduced appetite, or swelling as a consequence of histamine load, there is likely little point in reducing histamine levels in his or her diet.

Also, if there are few to no mast cell tumors in the body, there is definitely little point in reducing histamine load by avoiding histaminergic foods.

If any of these symptoms are present, however, having a period of a lower-histamine diet may help.

Like most things, this is all about balance and is not a yes/no/black/white topic.

Finding Information Can Be Tough

It’s surprising just how tough it is to find more thorough information on what foods to give a dog with MCT. I honestly don’t know whether this is because no one wants to publish a recommended list, or no one has thought of it yet. But I know the need is there because our readers are asking for it.

So with Dr. Dressler’s expert input and my own background with animal nutrition, I’m going to give you a list and some suggestions, as long as you promise to note the following:

  • Please be sure to follow the recommended proportions/amounts in Dr. Dressler’s diet. Don’t go overboard on any ingredient — five pounds of brussels sprouts at a time is not good … even though they are on the “ok” list.
  • These tips were compiled by researching several human-food resources for histamine-restricted diets, and screening it against the highest recommended foods for dogs with cancer. Keep in mind that dogs and humans share many similarities physiologically, and dogs are the preferred test subjects for human cancer research. Some of these sources are The Histamine and Tyramine Restricted Diet, and The Histamine Restricted Diet.
  • No list will ever be perfect. There may be foods recommended here that your dog either just doesn’t like, or doesn’t digest well. Every dog is different, and what works for most may not work for your dog, and vice versa. Also, you may research and find a list that recommends against one or more of the items below, and lists that disagree on one item. You can find anything on the internet if you try hard enough.
  • Remember that it’s nearly impossible to eliminate everything that may trigger histamine, but that reducing the histamine load by not aggravating it is surely better than ignoring the problem.

The Definite ‘No’ List

The following foods or ingredients should be completely avoided whenever possible:

All Fermented Foods
All Processed Foods
All Leftovers
All Fish
All Berries
All Stone Fruits (ex: Apricots)
All Cheese
Citrus Fruits
Yeast products like Breads
Cottage Cheese
Walnuts and Pecans
Processed Oils with BHA/BHT
Anything Pickled
Anything with Vinegar

The Recommended ‘Yes’ List

I hope you’ll be pleasantly surprised with this. As always, the better quality, organic meats are always better to serve, if possible. And please check out the cooking guidelines below as well.

Chicken Breasts
Lean Beef (trim off any fat)
Turkey Breasts
Chicken or Turkey Necks
Mung Beans
Organic, Rolled Oats (not instant)
Brown Rice (not instant)
Cooked Cabbage
Brussels Sprouts
Butternut Squash
Red and Yellow Bell Peppers
Pure Peanut Butter
Fresh Garlic Cloves
Fresh Ginger
Coconut Oil
Krill Oil/Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Flaxseed/Linseed Oil

Get a copy of this in-depth seminar to learn more on Dr. Dressler’s recommendations for Mast Cell Tumors!

Commercial Foods

Unfortunately, even among the best-quality commercial dog foods we have yet to find one that matches these recommendations. So if your dog is showing symptoms of histamine overload, cooking for him or her is your best bet.

However, there are some really great foods available these days, many we have listed in the Dog Cancer Shop and Dog Cancer Shop UK, which will help if your dog is not showing the symptoms listed above.

If a commercial food ever does come on the market that is of high quality and would be appropriate for dogs with histamine overload, we’ll update this article.

Special Cooking Considerations

Histamine rises as meat cooks, and it continues to rise after removed from the heat. So, always cook your meat at low temperatures and don’t overcook.

For example, I’ve found the best way to cook chicken and turkey is to simmer the breasts in a large pot of water. You get more meat for your money and you have a great broth too.

You can also reduce heat-induced histamine by immediately freezing your meat in meal-sized portions.  (Even refrigerating the cooked meat has proven to raise histamine levels — so freezing is the best option.)

Don’t throw out that broth — it can be frozen in ice cube trays for treats, or in any small containers that give you up to a cup-size frozen broth-cicle which can be melted down at any time for your dog’s enjoyment.

Consider: No Leftovers

Many of us cook the dog cancer diet in a big batch and refrigerate it for a few days. But if your dog has mast cell tumors, and you need a low-histamine diet, you might consider freezing every day’s portion individually. That’s because histamines rise in food as they sit in the fridge. Leftovers have higher histamines than fresh cooked foods. When you freeze the fresh-cooked food, you avoid excess histamine accumulation.

Are Fish Oil Supplements Safe?

Is there cause for concern if you give your dog a fish oil supplement? Possibly …. although the processing of the fish to get its oil alters the original material, and likely removes any problematic metabolites that cause histamine reactions, fish flesh itself is on the ‘no’ list. So to be very safe, if your dog is showing signs of histamine overload and you have him or her on a low-histamine diet, avoiding fish oil is a conservative choice.

What about krill oil? Dr. Dressler, in general, recommends krill oil over other fish oil supplements for many reasons which he explains in the book. We have found that Mercola Krill Oil and Jarrow Formula Krill Oil report that any histamine is “below detectable levels” which is about as good as it can get.

So the benefits of giving a high-quality krill oil outweigh the infinitesimal amount of histamine which may be present. Both of these oils are available through the Dog Cancer Shop.

If you are interested in more supplements that Dr. Dressler recommends, get this seminar on the Best Supplements for Dog Cancer

A Labor of Love

All of this sounds like a lot of work, I know. But once you’re in the swing you can actually make your doggie food preparation a lot of fun. When you have your ingredients, a little organization and an hour of time is all you need to prepare a week of food for your dog.

While your meat is cooking you can prepare a pot of organic, rolled oats or brown rice, and lightly cook the vegetables.

Store the meat portions in one container, oat/rice in another, and the various vegetables in a third.

Freeze the meat, refrigerate the others.

When food time nears you can select from each to make a delicious meal. Either thaw to room temperature if you have the time, or warm in a microwave. Remember not to overheat.

I’ll bet your dog will be gazing wide-eyed until you put that bowl down.

I hope this helps those of you out there who were shaking your head in frustration. Take a deep breath, sit down with your dog and make that shopping list. You’re doing great!

Happy Tails!


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Leave a Comment

  1. Elizabeth on December 16, 2020 at 6:51 am

    My dog just had extensive surgery to remove mast cells. The majority of them were at #1; one was more severe but the surgeon said she got the margins.;After bringing her home, I found another small mass that was either overlooked or had sprung up overnight. I took her to my local vet and she suggested it might be too soon to put her under anesthesia again due to her heart mumur. i have begun a regiment of Benadryl which has shrunk the tumour. I’m wondering how long I should have her on the Benadryl and if the Benadryl will cause the tumour to eventually go away?

    • Molly Jacobson on December 17, 2020 at 9:57 am

      Hi Elizabeth, mast cells release histamines, so tumors in mast cells can cause them to release EXTRA histamine. That results in swelling (histamine is what causes swelling and hives, welts, during allergies). Anti-histamine meds like Benadryl reduce the histamine, so they also reduce the swelling. That’s why Benadryl is often used in mast cell tumors — it relieves the uncomfortable symptoms of excess histamines. Benadryl doesn’t actually kill mast cell tumors — it does reduce the symptoms, though. As far as I understand Benadryl is safe to use over the long term, but you should definitely check with your veterinarian. Make sure you have lots of water available for your dog, because they can cause dehydration!

  2. Alfie’s mom on September 29, 2020 at 7:16 pm

    Hi Susan, thank you for the tips. I have a question about meat – you mentioned that cooking meat raises histamine levels and yet there is a mention of a raw meat diet. Is raw meat not appropriate for dogs with MCT? My pup has been on raw (farm-raised) meat/organs diet (with steamed org veggies) for several years and unfortunately he still developed an MCT. Should I start cooking his meat?

  3. Georgeann Erskine on September 19, 2020 at 8:05 am

    +I have a 9 1/2 year old Red Bloodhound female who has a large Mast Cell Tumor on her front leg at the joint to her chest. She is under the care of a well know Oncologist in Northern California. I felt I was careful with her food, as I only give her Taste of the Wild Salmon kibble along with fresh chicken broth, and fresh chicken breast, some tumeric in yoghurt and a wild caught fish oil gell cap vitamin every day. She is currently on Clavamox bc she has a slight urinary infection.

    She is on Palladia, Prednisone, Benedril, and Prilosec for the Tumor. It seems that she is highly sensitive to the prednisone, so we are continually monitoring differnt dosages due to her panting episodes.

    She sees the oncologist about once every 4-6 weeks for blood work, chest x-ray and general consultation and examination.

    After reading this article, I may be doing the wrong diet for her. Can you give me any insight into that? Or any other comments or suggestions you may have about any of this information.

    I would greatly appreciate it. Let me know if you need additional information. I will do anything for my sweet girl to either make her life more comfortable or provide her with any additional medical support to help you in her last years with me. She is an amazing girl!

    Thank you so much.


    • Molly Jacobson on September 21, 2020 at 10:21 am

      Hi Georgeann! The list of “no” and “yes” foods in this article are the guidelines to follow if your girl is actively itchy. Some folks like to use these as guidelines for diet with mast cell tumor dogs even if they AREN’T currently itchy and in histamine overload. However, since histamine comes from many places (and most often, the tumors themselves) you can’t reduce histamines by diet alone. You might try cutting out the “no foods” for a while and see how she does — that’s really the best way to know for sure. There is no “one right diet” for every dog, just like there isn’t for every human. You just need to try things and see how she does. Best of luck in caring for your lovely girl!

  4. Jennifer on June 9, 2020 at 4:28 am

    Hi there! Does anyone know if the product DGP (Dog Gone Pain) is safe for a dog with a MCT?
    My lab is 13.5 yrs old and though he’s still spry and lively, I’ve noticed him slowing down in the last little while. I want to make sure that we’re keeping his muscles and joints comfortable and I know DGP has worked miracles for so many pups, especially senior pups.
    Are there any ingredients in DGP that are on the “No” list for mast cell tumours? I certainly do not want to aggravate the one he has. Thanks very much in advance!

  5. DG on May 18, 2020 at 2:22 am

    Why would you have raw garlic on this list! It’s poison to dogs!!!

    • Molly Jacobson on May 19, 2020 at 12:36 pm

      Aloha DG, that is not true, garlic is not poisonous to dogs. Garlic is very good for dogs in the small amounts recommended by Dr. Dressler in the dog cancer diet. What is bad for dogs is garlic eaten in the amounts they were forced to consume in the study that tested its safety: a clove per pound at each meal. Can you imagine the suffering of the dogs who were forced to eat that much? No one would ever do that in real life. A teaspoon of garlic is about half a clove — that’s what is recommended by Dr. Dressler. Here’s an article that explains more:

  6. John N. Bihm on February 19, 2020 at 5:50 am

    I recently picked up the Dog Cancer Survival Guide and it is helping my pup battle his mast cell cancer. I am following the cancer mast cell diet and he loves it tremendously!!! I would like to make homemade treats for him because the store-bought ones aren’t healthy for him. I plan on using mothers oats and a little bit of fresh natural peanut butter. I do not want to use flower. What would you recommend as a binder to keep everything together?
    Also, he will be starting his APOCAPS this weekend.
    Thank you from me and Milo who is a 90 pound bulloxer.

  7. Lauren on December 4, 2019 at 8:14 am

    Hello. My 12 year old dog Roxie was diagnosed with Mast Cell Tumors on her left hind leg in June 2019. She has been on prednisone, Benadryl and has even had surgery. The tumors have since gotten worst. Roxie is still very alert and in good spirits. I am determined that she will survive this. Today I decided that I would look into natural healing remedies, changing her diet etc. and that is when I found your website. I have been reading and researching a lot about this disease and your website has been helpful to me. Today will be the start of Roxie’s new diet along with other things as far as meds etc. Thank you!

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