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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. Dallas Ryan Roberts on September 6, 2019 at 2:17 pm

    Would sweet potatoes be okay? To help with the liver.

  2. Tracy Price on August 5, 2019 at 6:08 am

    What about DAO supplementation for dogs with high histamine production?

  3. Melanie on July 19, 2019 at 5:12 pm

    Thank you. My dog has lived 3 1/2 years past her mast cell cancer diagnosis. Two tumors were removed, but the primary tumor could not be removed. I also give her 5 ml of children’s Benadryl before her meal. I’ve been cooking for her based upon your recommendations since February 2016.Steamed Broccoli, oats, organic chicken breasts, and flax oil seem to work best for her.

  4. Bonoca on July 14, 2019 at 6:18 am

    Dr. Dressler’s book version on page 209 recommends adding cottage cheese whereas your list says not to. I’d love a proportion recommendation of protein to oatmeal/brown rice to veggies for a 60 pound dog.

    • Molly Jacobson on July 14, 2019 at 3:53 pm

      Hi Bonoca! Thanks for your question. This post is only for dogs with mast cell tumors who are actively itchy/over-histamined. These are MODIFICATIONS to the dog cancer diet in the book. So, follow the book in general, including the ratios of protein, carbs, and veggies in the regular recipe. If your dog has mast cell tumors AND is currently super itchy/overloaded on histamine, THEN you should modify what you are doing to follow these suggestions. So for example, if your dog is overloaded on histamine, and you are currently giving cottage cheese as recommended, eliminate the cottage cheese until the histamine is under control. As for weight, the amount of food in the recipe guidelines in the book will last a 50 pound dog 2 to 4 days. So a super-active 50 pound dog would eat half one day, and half the next. A couch potato 50 pound dog would eat 1/4 that amount of food each day for four days. Your 60 pound dog would need a little more than a 50 pound dog, but exactly how much would totally depend upon your pup’s level of energy. I recommend making the recipe and then give your dog what you THINK he needs based on his activity level. If he’s really active, this might only last you two days, or even a day and a half. If he’s not as active, though, it might last two or three days. The only way to figure this out is to experiment and see how he does. Once you have an idea of how long this amount of food lasts you, you will get an idea of how much to make at a time for your dog and your schedule. I personally make a month’s worth of food for my dog, and then freeze it in containers that hold about two days’ worth of food at a time. That way I have one big cooking day per month, but I don’t have to do it again for a long time. I just take a container out every other day and thaw it to room temperature and then refrigerate until it’s gone. Happy cooking!

  5. patricia w. on June 24, 2019 at 6:52 am

    any kibble guidelines for people who cannot home cook for their dog with a history of MCT? it would be hugely helpful. thank you.

  6. Ann on May 26, 2019 at 7:27 am

    Hello. My boxer has had 3 low grade MCT all benign. Would you recommend following this suggested list of food even though he doesn’t have cancer? Thanks!

    • Dog Cancer Vet Team on May 27, 2019 at 9:04 am

      Hey Ann,

      Thanks for writing. Dr. D does recommend that if your dog has a grade 2 or 3 MCT, you should try to incorporate a low-histamine diet into your dog’s treatment plan. You won’t be able to eliminate histamine from your dog’s body entirely, but you can take proactive steps to reduce the amount of histamine in the body 🙂

      However, 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 diet.

  7. Maha Omais on March 25, 2019 at 3:21 am


    in the Yes list is there no eggs?

    i am very sad because all that is good my dog does not like, i am loosing him, nothing i could do to help him , i am left with dozens of Apocaps and k9 and citrus Pectin, nothing and no vet in my country
    i am very very sad extremely sad he only accepted ham this morning, he is in pain i do tramadol injections every 6 to 8 hours…All is in God’s hands
    thank you for all you do to try to help

  8. Susan Cosentino on February 9, 2019 at 2:22 pm

    I thought garlic was toxic for dogs……along with onions, grapes, etc.

  9. Bobby Fletcher on January 17, 2019 at 7:11 am

    Hello there,

    my dog has been diagnosed with a M.C.T. We are not sure of the grade yet, surgery in 7-days and its been about 7-days since we found out. We are giving her turkey tail mushrooms in small dosage, increasing slowly every 5-7-days as well as CBD & THC( very monitored with THC). We give our dog dehydrated apple slices for a treat, but I am wondering if we should stop? She doesn’t itch often but sometimes after we put a C.B.D/T.H.C cream on, other than that not too bad. She has had a small loss of appetite but she is around 70-95% regular food intake. We give her Open Farms food brand, the flavor is usually wild salmon or whitefish. I have just read your article as well as others and should i change the flavor of her food to a turkey flavor for the next month or so?
    I really appreciate any information you may have here as to my questions and ANY tips at all that helped you and your fur-babies beat this horrible disease. I was so glad to read that you and your pups made it against some not so great odds.
    Her name is Shinobi and she is a Pug/Boston/Papilon/Pom mix, and weighs about 10-12 lbs.

    Thank you very much.

    • Dog Cancer Vet Team on January 17, 2019 at 8:51 am

      Hello Bobby,

      Thanks for writing, and we are sorry to hear about Shinobi! As we’re not veterinarians here in customer support, we can’t offer you medical advice. We can, however, provide you with information based off Dr. Dressler’s writing 🙂

      Diet is very important in helping your dog with cancer– Dr. D even dedicated an entire chapter to diet in the Dog Cancer Survival Guide. In the article above, Susan has Apples in the Definite No list for dog’s with MCT.

      If you are looking for some healthy treats to give your girl, some** of the options in the articles below may be good for a dog with MCT:

      ** Eggs is an example of a treat that can’t be given to a dog with MCT

      In general, the Dog Cancer Diet is ideal for most dog’s with cancer, and they actually enjoy eating it! The reason why Dr. D has a list of healthy options that you can add to the diet is to help enhance the diet’s flavour, and provide some variety for your dog. However, consult with your vet to tailor the diet to your girl’s dietary needs, and see what they would recommend to include or exclude 🙂 Here’s a link to the Dog Cancer Diet that readers of the blog can get for free:

      We hope this helps! 🙂

  10. Terri Beirne on January 14, 2019 at 3:22 pm

    My catahoula cur had a subcutaneous mast cell tumor removed. If graded it would be a 3. So far no signs of metastasizing. I would like to make her food using the diet. However, it does not say how much of each ingredient to use. Please clarify.
    Kind Regards,

    • Dog Cancer Vet Team on January 15, 2019 at 8:14 am

      Hello Terri,

      Thanks for writing. We’re not veterinarians here in customer support, so we can’t offer you medical advice. However, we can provide you with information based off Dr. Dressler’s writings 🙂

      Most of the exceptions for dogs with mast cell tumors that are listed in this article only applies if your dog is actively itchy and has histamine overload (not all dogs with mast cell tumors do)– your veterinarian may be able to help answer this for you. As for a recipe, here’s a link to the Dog Cancer Diet PDF that readers of the blog can get for free :

      In general, this diet is ideal for most dogs with cancer. If your dog can not tolerate an ingredient or it isn’t good for her, or if your vet tells you to not give it to her, then exclude it. Dr. D lists a number of healthy options that you can add, so that you can find a way to give your dog a balanced diet, even if you can’t do everything he recommends.

      You should also consult with her veterinarian to see if they have any suggestions on what to include, or exclude 🙂

      We hope this helps!

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