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

Dog Cancer and Food…what’s the Carbo Problem?

Updated: December 18th, 2018

Everybody loves sugar.

Late night snacks, movies, late afternoon….kids and grown-ups alike….and dogs like their carbs in dog food and in dog treats, which of course are changed in the body to sugars…

Cancer in dogs loves sugar too.  Especially sugar.  Cancers tend to gobble sugar way more than fat or protein.  Cancer definitely has a sweet tooth.

It is an odd thing in some ways.  Fat has more calories than sugar on the basis of weight (a gram of sugar has fewer calories than a gram of fat, roughly 4 cal versus 9 cal).   It seems strange at first that cancer would like to use a lower calorie food for fuel.

Turns out that one of the  most reliable changes that happens in the dog body, usually before any signs of actual cancer, is that the metabolism of sugar starts to change.  The blood sugar starts to go up.  This favors the growth of the developing cancer.  The cancer sends messages to the body to kick up sugar release into the bloodstream.  Once in the blood, the circulation delivers the cancer cells their favorite meal.  Read more.

As a matter of fact, sugar use is a reliable indicator of the progression of cancer.  New technologies are being developed (positron emission tomography) that can see how the chemo is working by looking at the sugar levels in the blood. Here’s the abstract.

Cancers start more easily in the presence of sugar in the bloodstream. That means high blood sugar is present first, then cancer develops. Some examples in human literature include cancers of the pancreas, liver, colon, rectum, cerix, esophagus, and the bile duct. Check it out.

So here we have links both between sugar before cancer starts, and sugar after it starts.

Take home message: limit carbohydrate intake in your dogs, whether cancer free or cancer patients. Some of the newer pet foods producers are aware of this concept and have integrated it into their pet food design.

Best to all,

Dr D


Leave a Comment

  1. Vyolet Albano on December 22, 2008 at 2:03 pm

    Boomie (11 year old Rottie mix) does get raw beef bones regularly. I also supplement him with efa caps, plain yogurt with active cultures, cottage cheese and flax seeds. He also was diagnosed with Addison’s which I have been treating with Percortin and pred. for the past 2 years. He hates the vets office and gets very stressed in the car. After talking to a couple of veterinarians I have decided to keep him as comfortable as possible and follow a more holistic approach with pain management, supplememts, acupressure, massage and energy work. Actually he has stopped limpping and looks better than he has in a while.
    Thank you for your prompt reply and I will incorporate some oatmeal in his food and remove the apples. Thanks again, Vyolet

  2. Dr. Dressler on December 20, 2008 at 12:20 pm

    Vyolet, we are going for carbohydrate restriction, but you need to pay attention to the nutritional needs of the dog too. Fruit, with the exceptjon of berries as long as no chemo or radiation, in my opinion, is a no-no for dogs with cancer. You should be supplementing with a lot of omega 3’s, see that blog. You need to provide a calcium source. Small amounts of oatmeal combined with cottage cheese are acceptable, low glycemic index as well as some favorable anti-cancer compounds in oatmeal.

  3. Vyolet Albano on December 20, 2008 at 7:37 am

    My dog has osteosarcoma. I have switched him to a diet of meat, vegetables and some fruit. I have heard that grain in any form is bad and I have heard that oatmeal is benefical. Which is correct?

  4. Dr. Dressler on November 8, 2008 at 12:25 pm

    It depends on the fruit. The antioxidant activity of berries in particular for a dog that is not on chemo or radiation usually outweighs the downside of sugar as long as the overall amount is not excessive.
    Go back to nature for your answer….how often would a dog in the wild get a perfectly ripe banana to snack on? I would not give my dog bananas or carbohydrate based diet on any regular basis. You should check on the carb content of that food. Make sure at least that there are a lot more protein grams than carbs as a bare minimum.

  5. Sheila Kitchens on November 6, 2008 at 7:26 am

    Dr. Dressler: Sugar is bad for cancer, how about fruits, they contain natural sugar? The newest Holistic diet I have purchased for my canine with cancer contains fruits. Also, since he was a puppy he has loved bananas. Should I cut the bananas out? He is currently eating his dog food just fine. Should I be concerned about fruits in his commercial dog food? Thank you. Sheila

  6. Dr. Dressler on October 29, 2008 at 6:13 pm

    Nancy, epuli that are benign usually don’t come back. That is usually one of the criteria of a benign growth: you remove them and they stay removed! No recurrence, no metastasis. I question the classification of your dog’s growth as strictly benign, there is a piece here that needs clarification. Perhaps the epulis could recur (come back in the same spot) but not metastasize (spread to other sites in the body)…which is a grey area but not benign in the pure sense of the word.
    So either the original mass was not truly benign, or it is a new mass.
    Definitely have it checked out. Your dog does not benefit from a delay.

  7. nancy Weaver on October 29, 2008 at 1:31 pm

    My dog has and epulis on his gum in the front lower jaw. It is begine and has been removed once but has come back up. It does not interfer with his eating or anything else and does not seem to be painful. Should I have it remove again or wait a while. Nancy

  8. Dr. Dressler on October 20, 2008 at 2:47 pm

    All depends. If your cancer patient won’t take in anything but can get a little mild down, and the milk does not cause vomiting or diarrhea, I say okay. Everything is relative. I do not recommend it as a main course. Some dogs have allergy, some have lactose intolerance, it does have milk sugar, etc. etc.I would rather give some low fat cottage cheese in general.

  9. Lori Michaelson on October 19, 2008 at 11:13 am

    I have had dogs ever since I can remember. My grandmother was a cook and ran her own restaurant out of one part of her home. If she was not cooking or entertaining friends & family in her small kitchen she was feeling inadequate. LOL.

    Anyway, I distinctly remember her frying up an egg (not at meal time) every once in a while for one of my dogs! And other times she would put down half a bowl of milk with shreds of bread broken up in it. They LOVED it!

    Well, not quite a year ago my husband began giving our Golden what little milk was left in his glass after lunch or dinner. Even though my Golden likes just about anything — she literally goes ga-ga over that little bit of milk every day. It makes her entire day! Using her body language and shaking her head — my husband can not move fast enough after eating to get that little bit of milk in her food bowl.

    Since you lived on a farm Dr. Dressler… what is your take on milk being given to dogs? Unlike in the movie “Old Yeller” — my Golden is not an egg-sucking dog but if we had any cows they should surely watch out! LOL


  10. Lori Michaelson on October 17, 2008 at 2:48 pm

    Ok on the sugar but how about talking about milk next? I will follow up on my meaning, examples, etc with my dogs ASAP!


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