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

Dog Food: Is There A Cancer Risk?

Updated: October 8th, 2018

dog food and dog cancerNaturally, when we talk about the  cause of cancer, diet is brought up.

Many will immediately poo-poo the notion that what is eaten can have an impact on cancer development.  It is amazing.  Watch the condemnation without investigation.

On the other hand, many feel there is a link, and there is evidence to support that view.

Why are we so reluctant to think about food contributing to cancer?  Likely because it becomes inconvenient.

Well, most of us would rather get information than be in the dark, so let’s do just that.What about a dog’s diet might contribute to cancer?  Here’s a  look at a couple of things.

First,  high temperature cooking of meat or fish, or the creation of their extracts can produce nasties called heterocyclic amines. You can read a little more about this here and here.  These little guys have been shown to promote tumors in lab animals.  Do dogs eat food that has been exposed to high temperatures?  The truth is: yes.

Another carcinogen is polyacrylamide, again from high temperature cooking, this time of sugars in starch.  Oddly, different strains of potatoes will produce different amounts of acrylamide when it is cooked.  The bottom line though is that the different sugars influenced how much of the carcinogen is made. Here is some more on the topic.

Yet another is acylamide, related to polyacrylamide. Acrylamide levels go up when food is fried, and it is estimated in this paper that the levels of the acrylamide from fried food, in lab animals, might increase to risky levels contributing to possible cancer risk.

So what does this mean?  Well, we don’t want to go around saying that every dog who eats dog food in a bag (and pressed through an extruder at high temperatures) will get cancer.  That would be irrational and untrue.

However, there are genetic differences and lifestyle differences and carcinogen exposure differences, all from one dog to the next.

Since we know that cancer is created by many separate hits to the system, in certain dogs diet might be the thing that tips the scale.

These carcinogens hit the DNA, and damage genes. If the damage occurs to genes that are controlling cell growth, and enough hits happen, cells can start getting deranged.  They divide and divide, instead of getting dismantled into their component parts by a process called apoptosis.

Deranged cells are supposed to be taken apart.  Apoptosis is the thing that does it in the body. When cells become unhealthy, the apoptosis genes should get turned on to subvert the badness.

When there are too many cells with their  growth genes stuck in the “on’ position, avoiding apoptosis, cancer can develop. This basic science led to the development of Apocaps, by the way.

The take home message is that the folks pushing for less cooking may have a point.  I am not advocating an entirely raw diet for dogs by the way, and especially not for cancer patients.  Raw from the grocery store is not raw out on the plains of Africa.  Germs grow on the surface of meat in the store and dogs with cancer usually have immune compromise.  That’s a bad mix.

But trimming the outside off and  cooking  red lean meats in low sodium broth at around 200 degrees while keeping the inside rare seems logical.

For more on diet and dog cancer, read The Dog Cancer Survival Guide.


Dr D

  1. Constance on May 29, 2013 at 6:11 am

    Dr. Dressler,
    All the information you provide helped me take care of my 5 year old boxer who was diagnosed with lymphoma. Unfortunetly after 10 months of on/off chemo he lost his battle. I have learned so much from you. I am in the process of finding another boxer and before I do I want to make sure I am more then prepared food wise. Can you recommend a homemade diet for a healthy puppy and a healthy adult boxer?
    Thank you,

    • Dr. Demian Dressler on May 30, 2013 at 3:39 pm

      Hi Constance
      I’m sorry to hear about your boxer’s passing, but glad that at least we were able to do some good things.
      In the back of the Guide there is a plan to decrease cancer risks. I would get some Everpup, consider low temperature, low carb foods like origen, solid gold, Evo, honest kitchen, etc.
      Home made diets are kind of a pain to formulate actually. I would do half dog cancer diet and half over the counter, and don’t forget your multivitamin, calcium, and omega 3’s.
      I hope this helps
      Don’t forget veterinary supervision for all steps!
      Dr D

  2. Jennifer on May 19, 2010 at 7:32 am

    Dr. Dressler,
    I have a question about dog food. I was feeding my Boxer Hills Presctiption J/D formula. I was just told he has a heart based tumor (our previous Boxer also suffered from this). I am devastated and researching holistic food and supplements. i am amazed that science diet along with other name brands still put corn and animal by products in their food as the first two ingredients. I know you recommend Hill’s ND for cancer. My vet had also mentioned that food. I noticed that they have animal by products in theirs too as the first ingredient. I can’t, in good conscience, feed my pet something that contains all those low quality ingredients. Do you really think that the cancer fighting ingredeints in that food will override the bad stuff. I am desperately trying to figure out what would be best for my dog.
    Thank you,
    in Kansas

  3. Suzanne Prince on April 8, 2010 at 11:42 am

    My 11 year old Ridgeback has just been diagnosed with Mast Cell Tumor. I want to treat with diet and supplements as much as possible. When I read your book today I noticed that you say to cook the meat and veggies and yet many people feed raw (including us as our dogs get Orijen grain free kibble in the morning and raw green tripe in the evening). Could I do your recipe but raw – or is cooking it important?

    Many thanks – Sue and Cindy (RR)

    • Dr. Dressler on April 12, 2010 at 12:53 am

      Dear Sue and Cindy,
      here is more info for you:
      The bottom line is that dogs with cancer are different from healthy dogs, and the microbes pose a bigger risk. Trim the meat, cook the outside in boiling water, and don’t feed raw ground meat, raw poultry, or raw chicken to dogs with cancer.
      Dr D

  4. Charles Easterday on March 27, 2010 at 7:45 am

    Dr. D,

    Can you give a little advice on food? I have 3 labs and one has cancer. The one with cancer gets a combination of EVO canned and EVO hard, since I mix Neoplasene in with it. I also have a 1 year old and a 6 year old that are healthy. They are on Innova and I am going to switch them to EVO slowly. Do you feel EVO is a good option for my non cancer dogs? I want to try and avoid cancer if possible. Thanks for your help!!!

    Charles Easterday

  5. Helen Morrill on March 25, 2010 at 4:54 am

    I feed my dogs Blue Buffalo or BilJack-are these good dog foods (I at leastthought they were for several reasons), if not, please what do you recommend? Nutrition is one of my most frustrating situations in an effort to give my dogs good care, lots of love and excellent nutrition-or at least the very best that I can afford.

    Thanks so much for your response and all you do to help and educate petowners!!!!! Helen Morrill

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