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

Dog Cancer diet: Higher Protein Bad For Kidneys?

Updated: April 2nd, 2019

Is High Protein Bad for Dog Kidneys?

Time to bust another myth.

How many of you have heard that “protein is hard on the kidneys?”  Well everyone, it is time for a reality check!

This matters quite a bit for dogs with cancer.  Most of us with some interest in nutrition agree that there is sound logic that a high protein, moderate fat, low simple carbohydrate, low vegetable diet is a good choice for dogs generally, and specifically for systemic cancers.

This data is taken from human research (which is an interesting twist, since we humans can be the lab animals for the dogs!)

But wait!  Someone said that a diet with  higher protein is bad for the kidneys!


First of all, let’s widen back for just a second.  As we all know, dogs used to live out in nature, right?  And guess what these dogs ate? Did they go munch on corn on the cob?  How about a delightful snack of wheat gobbled off the stem? Rice paddy foraging?

No, of course we all know that dogs were hunters primarily, and sometimes scavengers, and nibbled a little bit of berry, shoots, bark or things like that from time to time, when things were lean.

This tells us that the body of the dog, at least out in the wild, was pretty much adapted to eat a lot of protein (since hunted or scavenged meat has tons of protein).

So that’s the “back to nature” argument.  What about the science argument?

There is a bit of confusion around kidneys and protein.  Here’s the bottom line:  if your dog has kidney disease already, high protein will increase the kidney toxins in the bloodstream.

This is very different from saying that high protein causes kidney disease.  That’s wrong!

Here’s a study that showed that dogs with 75% of their kidney tissue gone did fine on a high protein diet. That means that dogs with 2 normal kidneys should be just fine.  Now, unless some new data comes in, it is fine to give a dog a diet that is close to what they would be eating out in nature!

Another fascinating tidbit is that there could be a reason for dogs to eat certain some pre-digested plant materials.  The source of this would likely be the stomach or intestine of the prey animals, which normally contain partially digested plant material.

Why do dogs in the wild like these bits?

I believe that they contain nutrients that are vital to helping the body later in life, when accumulations of deranged cells are supposed to be cleared out by normal body processes.  This process is apoptosis, which is programmed cell death.  Cells that are damaged, infected, oxidized, or otherwise deranged are supposed to commit suicide.

Certain substances in plant material are able to activate apoptosis.  This process is a normal process that I focus on a lot in The Dog Cancer Survival Guide (which has tons more diet details), and was the basis for the supplement engineering behind Apocaps.

So what’s the bottom line?  Dogs with cancer have different needs metabolically, and most vets with an interest in nutrition will recommend a higher protein diet for cancer patients. Unless your dog has kidney disease, and as long as you follow your vet’s directions, it is the best choice at this time.

Best to all,

Dr D

Discover the Full Spectrum Approach to Dog Cancer

Leave a Comment

  1. Susan Kazara Harper on December 9, 2013 at 4:36 am

    Hi Ashley, You’re certainly doing a wonderful job with the nutrition! I know it can be labor-intensive to start but it soon gets easier. When a dog has elevated BUN levels and a lower protein diet is recommended, it’s actually the phosphorus that accompanies protein which is the problem, not the protein itself. Our dogs were designed to have about 25% protein every day. So the trick is to focus on foods with a lower phosphorus content…. Generally beef has a lower phosphorus content than chicken, so you could change the ratios of the meat content of your recipe. Egg whites are full of protein but no phosphorus, so you could add cooked egg whites (not the yolk which is high in phosphorus). The tumor itself can cause elevated BUN so being as gentle as possible with what the digestive system handles is helpful. Feeding a few small meals a day will help, and as you’ve said you already went to 3 meals you may consider sticking with this. Your diet with these few modifications is really very good with good quality, lean proteins. I recommend you ask your vet about the changes I suggested, and also find out how often you can monitor the BUN levels — weekly? biweekly? You and your vet need a measure of how your dog is balancing and how your dietary work is helping. It’s wonderful news that the other lab results are good. Everything headed in the right direction. Good luck!

  2. Ashley Wells on December 5, 2013 at 10:46 am

    are following your diet while our minpin undergoes chemo for a bladder
    mass. Today her labs showed elevated BUN at 51. All other labs are
    within normal levels. The vet said a high protein diet could stress the kidneys. We are feeding her 3 times a day to prevent further weight loss
    (she weighs 6.1 lbs down from 6.5 lbs when we started chemo). Could you
    suggest a recipe as close to the one in your book with less protein?
    Chemo is going well as the mass has decreased by half after just 2

    • Susan Kazara Harper on December 6, 2013 at 3:23 am

      Hi Ashley, This is a great question, and what wonderful news that your girl is showing improvement! It’s all a balance, and yes it’s quite possible to modify the diet to help the protein situation. Now I don’t know specifically what you are feeding within the dog cancer diet… there is a wide range of options. But consider the following:
      Use only lean meats such as chicken breast and/or turkey breast without the skin, and possibly some fish, again without any skin. I cook a big pot of boneless, skinless chicken breasts and simmer them in a large amount of water. Cook slowly and you’ll not only have a god supply of lean meat for her, but delicious broth that you can add to her meal or even serve as a separate treat. Emphasize more of the good colored vegetables such as brocolli, brussel sprouts and red and orange bell peppers. Make any changes gradually, and sometimes it helps to not mix all the food together in a meatloaf. That’s easier to store and feed, but if your girl does not want one ingredient she could turn up her nose at the whole thing, and you want the good calories in her. I store my cooked meat in tupperware, and my cooked veg in a separate container in the frig, and it makes it easy to pick out pieces to mix and match in my dog’s bowls. I hope this helps. Give your dog a cuddle form me and let me know if there is anything else I can help with. Happy tails!

      • Ashley Wells on December 6, 2013 at 12:48 pm

        The diet is from Dr. Dressler’s book–base is made of 2 1/2 lbs lean protein (hormone/antibiotic free ckn breast and ground beef from a local farm), 1 lb brown rice, 1 lb veggies–broccoli, cauliflower, red pepper, brussel sprouts, 1/4 to 1/2 lb beef liver. This is cooked by simmering in water until done, combined and pureed then frozen into 3 day portions as it makes a lot! We feed her this 2 times per day about 1/3 cup each time and mix in cottage cheese and blueberries each serving and 1 capsule of fish oil at dinner serving. I started feeding her a 3rd meal at night because she lost weight after we changed her diet from commercial dog food to this diet and the vet was concerned. The 3rd meal is 1lb ground turkey breast, chopped spinach, pureed pumpkin and greek yogurt–it is 1/4 cup or so for the serving. She has gained back 0.1 lb (was 6.5 lb now 6.1 lb). We just need to reduce her protein intake without compromising caloric value or adding anything that may feed the mass!! Any suggestions for tweaking the recipe would be helpful 🙂

  3. Emilia on February 22, 2012 at 3:37 am

    How about dogs that had a cancerous tumor in one kidney and had it removed… What do you suggest for this type of situation?

    • Dr. Demian Dressler on February 28, 2012 at 4:27 pm

      Dear Emilia
      if the kidney is working and the urinalysis and blood work are normal…just do the dog cancer diet as described in the Guide.
      Double check with your vet of course-
      Dr D

  4. Debbie on August 11, 2011 at 9:41 am

    What if a dog has kidney disease and then gets cancer? My 15-year-old dog was diagnosed with hemangiosarcoma this morning. I know the odds are terrible, but I’m not going to put her through chemo, so I want to do whatever else I can, including changing her diet. She currently eats prescription food (k/d) for her kidneys.

  5. Chadwick Dew on June 11, 2011 at 11:19 pm

    protein diet,grapefruit diet,how to diet

  6. Dr. Dressler on March 21, 2010 at 9:00 pm

    Dear Marilyn,
    please know you are not alone and we are all sending you our good thoughts. We hope you can feel them during this difficult time.
    Dr D

  7. marilyn miller on March 18, 2010 at 10:49 am

    Thanks for this valuable information. I lost my female basset hound to a breast cancer two years ago. She was twelve years old. I still have not gotten over it. Now I just learned that my seventeen year old male basset has lymphnoma cancer. I’m beside myself.

  8. Gwen on March 18, 2010 at 6:07 am

    I have a six year old Border Collie who was diagnosed with high-grade malignant lymphoma in June of ’08, after six months of chemotherapy, I’m happy to say, she’s shown no sign of the tumor (which had been so invasive in her lower GI tract that it was inoperable)! I have had her on a high protein diet (Evo) ever since her original diagnosis, and I try to limit her carbs. I have blood work done bimonthly as well as a physical exam, and (so far) all of her kidney functions are normal.

    Good Luck to all of you with dogs afflicted by this terrible disease!


  9. Aleeya on March 17, 2010 at 10:04 am

    My five year old Siberian Husky has low grade fibrosarcoma. The tumor is located beside his spine and had invaded and eroded some of his vertibrae and is putting pressure on his spinal cord. The tumor was inoperable. At the moment he is still able to get around normally.

    He is on metronomic chemotherapy (radiotherapy is not available in New Zealand). He is having cyclophosphamide every third day at this stage (his platelets dropped really low when he first started on the treatment, he was having it every second day then). He is also having piroxicam every day.

    I know protein is good for the tumor but am hesitant to increase his protein intake as his kidney parameters and urea levels have been a bit elevated, even prior to starting the treatments. His WBC was also a little low prior to starting treatment.

    What would be an ideal diet for him? I would really appreciate your advice as my boy is living on borrowed time as it is – the surgical specialists, radiologist that did the CT scan and all of the medical specialists we have seen can’t believe he is still walking normally (and that was back at the start of December!).

    Thank you

  10. Joanne on March 17, 2010 at 5:20 am

    I couldn’t agree with you more. My greyhound, JD, survived for nearly a year with osteosarcoma with no radiation, chemo or even amputation. He was on a raw high protein diet that you are describing. No grains and as few cancer feeding carbs as possible. The cancer in his leg wasn’t what got him in the end, it moved to his lungs and we had to put him to sleep when he was having problems catching his breath. His final day when we went to the vet he walked to the van and jumped in on all 4 legs.

    BTW There is another way that wild dogs get predigested vegetables in their diet. Eating the poop of grazers. We all are disgusted when our dogs eat fresh steaming horse poop or deer poop. They all do it every chance they get though and will spend a lot of time searching it out. Makes since since dogs can’t digest vegetable matter.

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