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

Diet and Dogs with Cancer

Updated: August 20th, 2021


Dr. Ettinger’s views on diet have changed since she co-authored The Dog Cancer Survival Guide and attended the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Associations’ conference. This is important stuff!

My thoughts have evolved on diet, pets and cancer.

We’ve known for a long time that some cancers may result in potentially significant weight loss. The impact on the dog depends on tumor type, location, and whether it has spread. Cancer patients are known to have significant changes in metabolism of carbohydrate, proteins, and/or fat.

Just cancer itself and/or its treatment can also contribute to weight loss, especially if there is nausea and decreased appetite: The dog takes in fewer calories than its body requires, so the dog loses weight.

In some patients, there is a syndrome is known as cancer cachexia. These dogs have progressive weight loss, in the face of adequate calories and nutritional intake.

In either case, decreased body condition can eventually lead to decline in quality of life and overall survival.

So it is no surprise how important nutrition is in dogs with cancer. The goals of nutritional management in cancer patients are to provide adequate nutrients to aid in recovery, decrease the negative energy balance brought on by cancer cells, and continue to maintain appropriate body mass.

This will ultimately aid in improving their quality of life, possibly increasing the effectiveness of cancer treatment and survival times.

These nutrition goals are not new. For years I’ve included a Nutrition & Cancer information sheet with the handouts I provide at an initial oncology appointment in my practice.

But, after co-authoring the Dog Cancer Survival Guide, and recently attending the AHVMA (American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association) meeting this summer, I decided the handout needed a good update. My thoughts on nutrition have evolved, for cancer patients and all pets. We will get to that soon.

First, a common question I get from readers and in the exam room at consultation:

“Dr. Sue, did my pet’s food cause the cancer?”

In my opinion, it is not fair to blame commercial diets alone for cancer. Cancer is not caused by one thing. Causes include genetics, environmental factors, and toxins. It’s a complicated, multi-step process to turn a normal cell into a malignant cancerous one.

But there are some potentially damaging by-products in dog food.

  • Processing and high heat can alter the food value.
  • Other issues include antibiotic residues, mycotoxins, storage mites.
  • Some ingredients in some diets come from poor quality food supplies with depleted resources.
  • Some chemical preservatives put in foods may have toxicity, such as ethoxyquin, BHA, BHT.
  • Many dog foods have excessive carbohydrates (see below) including corn, soy, beet pulp which may include genetically-modified organisms (GMO) foods.
  • Genetically-modified crops are exposed to increased levels of pesticides.

Sounds pretty bad, right? All these things are not found in every bag or can of dog food, but it is worth looking into the ingredients and where they come from.

And there is an important advantage of commercial diets prepared by a reputable manufacturer: These diets are tested in feeding trials and pass AAFCO standards, so you know they meet the nutritional requirements for adult dogs.

Should I prepare my dog’s food?

Some people choose to prepare a homemade diet. The goal is wholesome unprocessed foods. The benefits/claims include: increased vigor, improved hair coat, decreased allergies, less inflammation, less stool and odor, and weight control.

But you cannot just cook meat for your dog and call it a day. These diets need to be balanced to account for important vitamins and mineral requirements, so your dog doesn’t develop significant deficiencies.

I suggest a reputable source for the recipe. Dr. Dressler has a cancer diet in the The Dog Cancer Survival Guide, and many of my clients use it and are very pleased. If you are interested in cooking, you can try this one.  Pay close attention to the vitamin supplementation recommendations.

Also consider consulting with a veterinary nutritionist to assist in creating a balanced food for your dog – especially important if your dog has other medical issues. Check out to find a nutritionist. Another helpful site to help you is

In my opinion, a homemade diet can be a lot of work. As a working mom, getting a homemade diet to the kitchen table for my family on a daily basis is a challenge in itself. I do not home cook for my pets, and I’ll provide alternatives later in this post.

To learn more about Diet for Dog’s with Cancer, get a copy of this informative seminar!

What’s the deal with cancer diets? No carbs, right?

Since cancer cells use glucose (carbs) as an energy source, there is a lot of worry with feeding carbs to cancer patients. The idea behind a cancer diet is low carb, and high in quality proteins and fats. While there is little scientific data specifically showing feeding such a diet helps treat the dog cancer, as long as the diet is balanced, I think there is no harm, in my opinion.

Remember: carbs are not all inherently bad, and some sources contain many valuable vitamins and minerals. Instead of generalizing “all carbs are bad,” I think we should be more critical of the carbs source such as GMO (see above).

For me, the grain-free diets are less important than the source of the grains.

But I don’t think you need to eliminate all carbs.

Although fruits and veggies are carbs, they also provide naturally occurring phytochemicals, flavonoids, and vitamins. Such dietary agents are called chemopreventative because they have potentially cancer-fighting properties that promote cell death (apoptosis) in cancer cells – they help get rid of deranged cancer cells.

Epidemiologic studies in people show protective effects of diets rich in fruits and vegetables, and diets low in fruits and veggies have been associated with cancer risk.

I’m often asked about carrots since they have more carbs that some other veggies. In a 2005 study of Scottish Terriers with bladder cancer called transitional cell carcinoma (TCC), those that got veggies three times a week or more had a decreased risk of cancer, and carrots were the most common vegetable given. In this particular study, Scotties that ate more green leafy vegetables and yellow-orange vegetables had a decreased risk of TCC. (I toss carrots to my Matilda regularly, along with other veggies.)

When one of my patients gets diarrhea – whether due to the cancer, chemo, or medications (like antibiotics), I recommend boiled chicken and rice. A few days of rice is unlikely to make a significant impact on the cancer, but will definitely impact the diarrhea – in a good way. Everything in moderation, as I tell my kids.

I barely have time to cook for myself/my human family. What else can I do?

There is good news here, because newer commercial options are often minimally processed. For example, dehydrated foods use low heat for the drying process and avoid high heat issues. Usually you just add water (perfect for me!). There are complete dehydrated options that include meat, and there are options where you can add your own meat to the mix of veggies. (Both kinds have the needed vitamins, minerals, amino acids, phytonutrients and antioxidants).

One brand to try: The Honest Kitchen. It’s complete and balanced – just add water, made in USA, 100% non-GMO fruits and veggies, 100% organic seeds and grains, and no artificial additives or preservatives.

Note from the Dog Cancer Vet Team: This is the most universally-loved dog food here at Dog Cancer Vet. Dogs seem to love the taste, and we love the ingredients. Here’s a link to the “quality dog foods” section of our Amazon store at Dog Cancer Shop. Be sure to check out the many other flavor combinations!

I don’t want to completely change the current diet. Anything else I can do?

Even if you feed a processed conventional diet, you can do some simple things to improve your pet’s diet, even if it’s only a few times per week.  You can supplement with additional fatty acids and key nutrients. And mix in some “people food”! Think:

  • lean ground meat, poultry
  • plain yogurt, eggs, cottage cheese, ground almonds
  • veggies such as carrots, leafy greens (kale), yams (remember no onions)
  • fruits such as blueberries, melon, mango, peach, dried cranberries (remember no grapes, no raisins)
  • Also NO chocolate, NO macadamia nuts

Get a copy of the Dog Cancer Survival Guide for more helpful tools and information!

Take it slow!

Of utmost importance when changing diets is to do it gradually (typically over 7 to 14 days) in order to avoid complications like loose stools or refusal of the new diet.

The most common source of tummy upset is a sudden change of some kind. If you mix the new food in gradually to your regular food, and increase it over time, your dog will get a chance to get used to the taste and the way it impacts his or her gut. So take it slow!

Your Dog Is Completely Unique

And finally, it is important to remember that every patient is an individual.  One diet may be appropriate for one patient, but not another – especially if the pet is dealing with multiple diseases. Your own veterinarian is the best person to help you create a diet that suits your dog’s individual needs.

Live longer, live well,

Dr. Sue

Leave a Comment

  1. Joyce McDowell on August 2, 2022 at 2:45 am

    Ok now I’m completely confused !!!
    Honest kitchen recommended here. Its what I have been feeding my dog PRE CANCER along with partially cooked recipe from my vet….BUT with all the controversy on grain free had been buying whole grain
    And we stay away from chicken so giving mostly turkey and sometimes beef.

    So which is best for cancer diet ? I do love this product.

    • Molly Jacobson on August 2, 2022 at 12:11 pm

      Hi Joyce! I fed The Honest Kitchen prior to my dog getting cancer, as well. There isn’t a diet or food that will guarantee a dog never develops cancer — there are just too many ways for a cell to become deranged. Diet helps, but doesn’t guarantee, right? What I did when Kanga got cancer was reduce the Embark (turkey) formula to be just a little bit, and then topped with 50% cruciferous veggies and 50% lean protein as the bulk of the meal. That way she still got the vitamins and minerals and a little complex carbs … but didn’t get them in ratios of too many carbs to protein. But I’ve never relied on just one food, and have always fed a homecooked diet in addition to whatever else we were doing. In the end, the food your dog loves and is overall healthy is the best choice.

  2. Jody on May 3, 2022 at 1:49 am

    I was wondering about your suggestions of feeding a dog kale. I was giving it to my dog daily, but recently read that it can cause kidney tones and other issues, so I stopped giving it to her.
    Thank you!

    • Molly Jacobson on May 9, 2022 at 11:50 am

      Hi Jody, yes, spinach and kale have higher levels of some minerals, which could increase a risk of kidney stones. I wouldn’t feed those to dogs with those issues, or those prone to them — and I don’t make it a regular part of my dog’s diet. But it’s not inherently toxic itself, if that makes sense.

  3. Maggie on April 16, 2022 at 5:42 pm

    What do you think about Dr. Harvey’s Paradigm food as an alternative to home-cooking? Our food-allergy/IBD dog has been on The Honest Kitchen’s Fruit & Veg base mix for years, but it looks like Dr. Harvey’s Paradigm is lower-carb (and has ingredients with special value for cancer dogs).

  4. Linda on December 28, 2021 at 2:16 pm

    I switched both of my dogs to Honest Kitchen when Mandy was diagnosed with MCT. She’s been cleared after 8 sessions of chemo, but I want to keep them on it because I’ve learned so much through this whole process-and they love it! My big problem is that I was buying it as an auto-ship from but a month ago they were out of it so I had to find another source. Even the Honest Kitchen site didn’t have any. Fortunately, I found it on the Only Natural site-and bought 2 boxes. Right now, I still have most of the second box but decided I’d better make sure it was back in stock at chewy-it isn’t! And they still don’t have it on the Honest Kitchen site. I did find it at VitaCost, and once again bought two boxes. Is this problem due to growing pains in the company or supply chain issues? I’m not sure. But I am concerned-will this continue to be an issue?

    • Kate Basedow, LVT on January 7, 2022 at 8:07 am

      Hi Linda – your best bet there would be to contact the Honest Kitchen directly. I wish we had some insight for you!

  5. Georgeann on September 26, 2020 at 5:12 pm

    I have a Female Red Bloodhound named Bessie who at the beginning of this year was diagnosed with a very large, fast growing Mast Cell Tumor on the front area of one of her legs as it hangs from the chest area. She is being seen by an oncologist in Roseville, CA, and she is on Palladia, Prednisone, Benedril and Prilosec. When she experiences loose stools she takes Metro, which definitely helps. Initially, the MCT decreased in size considerably very quickly. She then became very sensitive to the Prednisone and we were forced to lower the dose of that drug considerably. Due to that, the MCT began to grow again. However, she has never lost her appetite, and has never shown signs of any pain. She also has a mass in one of her lungs that has been stable and has not grown at all for over 6-8 months, the time that we discovered it. She seems to be more uncomfortable due to the drugs than from the cancer itself. I am seeking out foods that I can cook for her. She loves turkey and I feed her nothing but fresh cooked turkey and chicken, along with a grain free turkey kibble, chicken broth, tumeric, and yoghurt . I’d like to introduce fresh vegies into her diet, and to replace the kibble with something fresh that I can cook for her, but I can’t find recipes for any of that. I’ve ordered your book, the Dog Cancer Survival Book. I hoping you may have some recipes in that. Anything you can refer me to would be greatly appreciated. I love my girl, and I am fighting this cancer, but I’m beginning to run out of money for the oncologist, chemo, prednisone, etc., etc. What to do? Can you help me?

  6. Mike on June 7, 2020 at 9:43 am

    So if your “thoughts” on diet have changed then why do you present your past and present thoughts as if they are scientific? Science doesnt change so frivolously. The mere fact you mentioned a brands name in here proves you are not credible. This is clearly yet another irresponsible advertisement piece for the unsuspecting consumer. Shame on you. Are you a board certified vet nutritionist? I dont see your name listed on the board.

  7. Cheryl Leach on April 14, 2020 at 5:33 am

    Thank you for your reply. Cheryl

  8. Cheryl Leach on April 12, 2020 at 4:50 am

    So is the rice measured before or after cooking? For example: Are we supposed to cook 1-1/2 cups of rice which will yield 4 cups of cooked rice when added to base or is the 1-1/2 measured from the cooked rice? Very different quantities.

    • Dog Cancer Vet Team on April 13, 2020 at 8:11 am

      Hello Cheryl,

      On page 209 of the Dog Cancer Survival Guide, the amount of rice listed in the Base Mixture Ingredients is the quantity prior to cooking 🙂

  9. Justin Urbanek on March 24, 2020 at 3:12 am

    I recently purchased The Dog Cancer Survival Guide book and am following the Full Spectrum Dog Cancer Diet Recipe.

    One thing that isn’t clear to me is if the oatmeal and rice ingredient recommendation is pre-cooked/dry or after cooking? For example, the oatmeal recommendation is 1-1/2 cups for a 50lb dog. Thank you.

    • Dog Cancer Vet Team on March 24, 2020 at 7:22 am

      Hey Justin,

      Thanks for writing. On page 210 of the Dog Cancer Survival Guide (in Step One: Base Mixture) Dr. D recommends that you cook the oats/brown rice until soft, according to package directions. Then, once you’ve cooked all of the meat and completed the next set of directions, add the brown rice or oats and mix (that part is on page 211) 🙂

      We hope this helps!

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