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

10 Safe Treats for Dogs with Cancer

Updated: October 16th, 2018


Is there such a thing as safe treats for dogs with cancer? It turns out the answer is yes!

treats dog cancerEveryone loves giving their dog a treat to show their love. But, can dogs with cancer have treats? Short answer, yes! Our dogs with cancer can have a cheat day every now and then. And, they certainly deserve one. There are lots of safe treats for dogs with cancer — treats that won’t feed cancer, and may even help your dog’s body stay strong for the fight.

When we’re dealing with cancer, continuous trips to the vet’s office, painful treatments, new routines, and lengthy trips to the oncologist can become exhausting. As dog guardians, we want to reward our dogs for being so good despite all of the chaos surrounding them. And for being able to handle us as our emotions run wild- even though we’re trying to contain them as well as possible.

Ten Treats for Dogs with Cancer

In Chapter 2 of The Dog Cancer Survival Guide, Dr. Dressler refers to the days our dogs with cancer have treats as ‘cheat days.’ Cheat Days are days you give your dog an undeserved, unearned, tasty treat. And, even though your dog generally shouldn’t have traditional commercial treats like Milkbones, there are other alternatives:

  1. Tuna fish in water with a dash of Italian food seasoning
  2. Lean hamburger, cooked in low-sodium or slightly diluted chicken broth (be sure to strain the hamburger)
  3. Chicken breast cooked in low-sodium or slightly diluted bullion
  4. Human baby food from a jar
  5. Turkey breast in diluted teriyaki sauce
  6. Lean lamb cooked in low-sodium or slightly diluted vegetable broth
  7. Peeled shrimp cooked in low-sodium or slightly diluted beef broth
  8. Boneless fish cooked in a clear, low-sodium, or slightly diluted soup or broth
  9. Hardboiled egg whites chopped up in low-sodium or slightly diluted beef broth
  10. Lean pork cooked in slightly diluted chicken noodle soup

Using low-sodium ‘treats,’ or salt substitutes is recommended by Dr. Dressler (page 208 of The Dog Cancer Survival Guide). Your dog might be used to more heavily salted snacks, if you’ve been feeding store-bought treats. If this is the case, salt substitutes like potassium chloride can be added. Or, you can add a dash of Bragg’s Liquid Aminos* or balsamic vinegar.

Table salt creates a slightly acidic environment, which cancer cells seem to enjoy. That’s why Dr. Dressler has recommended the options above.

Dog Cancer Treats: Add Veggies to the List

If your dog enjoys veggies, you can add those to the list, too. You should pick vegetables that are low in carbs and have anti-cancer benefits. The veggies on the ‘good list’ include brussels sprouts, shiitake mushrooms, broccoli, cauliflower, cooked mung beans, cabbage, red peppers and yellow peppers.

Peas and carrots might come to mind when you think of fresh veggies, too. But, carrots and peas are too high in carbs for our dogs with cancer.

Fresh vegetables are preferred, but you can grab a bag from the frozen food section if that’s easier. Steam or boil the veggies of your choosing until they’re soft so they’re easily digested. You can chop them into small pieces, or create a puree. It’s all about your dog- so make sure you’re making them the way he likes them.

Why Can’t My Dog Have ‘Normal’ Treats?

I’m sure you noticed that none of Dr. Dressler’s recommended treats are ‘traditional’ dog treats you’d see at your local grocery store. That’s because most treats have way too much sugar to be fed to dogs with cancer. Remember, cancer has a sweet tooth. And, we don’t want the cancer cells to be happy by giving them what they want.

The Bottom Line on Treats

Your dog deserves a cheat day and can have one once or twice a week, according to Dr. Dressler. Cheat days are powerful because your dog doesn’t see them coming. Cheat days help your dog stay optimistic. Keep the element of surprise alive- and change up the days of the week you choose as the ‘cheat day.’


*Affiliate link — please see our disclosure policy.

Amber L. Drake has been working with dogs for over 10 years. Throughout this time, she has served as a Canine Behaviorist and Canine Nutritionist working with dogs throughout the United States. She has worked with private clients, rescue organizations, shelter organizations and corporations. She has also been an Adjunct Instructor of Biology at a local community college teaching Animal Sciences for the past seven years and Kaplan University for the past two years.

In addition to experience in the field, she has earned a Doctor of Education (ABD), a Master of Arts in Education and a Bachelor of Science in Biology. She has completed coursework in Pre-Veterinary Science at Cornell University, Veterinary Technology at Penn Foster and Biochemistry at UC Berkeley. Drake is currently finishing a second Master’s Degree with Kaplan University.

She is continuously enrolling in additional courses, seminars and conferences to remain up-to-date in all dog-related topics. She has a desire to share her passion, knowledge and experiences with others.

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  1. Julie Miller on November 13, 2018 at 10:46 am

    I am actually feeding a raw Ketogenic diet. Why cannot I feed a natural treat like shark cartilage and green lipped mussel?

    • Molly Jacobson on November 19, 2018 at 12:58 pm

      Hi Julie! Thanks for your question. I’m the editor of the book, not a veterinarian, but I think I can answer your question. You can certainly feed any treats that fall within the general dietary guidelines Dr. Dressler recommends in his diet — high fat, low-carb, moderate protein. I think of green lipped mussel and shark cartilage as supplements more than treats. I wouldn’t say they are totally excluded in Dr. D’s approach, although he is concerned, and I am also, about using shark cartilage in general for the reasons outlined on his article about supplements he doesn’t recommend: https://www.dogcancerblog.com/dog-cancer-supplements-to-exclude/ Basically, shark cartilage has limited data to warrant its use and the extreme damage to the ocean’s ecosystem done by harvesting top predators is a real factor. Just something to consider.

  2. jEAN cOOPER on April 10, 2018 at 5:09 am

    Im wondering if cheese is an OK treat? Low fat cheese, my girl loves it!