We know that good nutrition is the foundation of health. The Dog Cancer Survival Guide devotes an entire chapter to a real food diet for our dogs battling cancer, advising both on the foods to give, and those to avoid.
While every cancer journey is a tough one, the diagnosis of Mast Cell Tumor (MCT) presents a bigger challenge when it comes to feeding. In some mast cell cancers, large amounts of histamine are released in the body, causing irritation and itching. Most treatment protocols include an antihistamine to help, but many foods either have histamines, or trigger the release of histamines in the body — so the diet must be looked at, as well.
Even some of the healthiest, highest recommended foods Dr. Dressler recommends in his diet are not appropriate for a dog with MCT. Dr. Dressler’s post on Diets for Dogs with Mast Cell Tumors addresses this cause and effect in more depth, and he has provided insights and reviewed this article, as well.
Too Much of a Good Thing
First, it’s important to know that having MCT doesn’t automatically mean that your dog is having a problem with histamine levels.
If your dog is not currently vomiting, itching, feeling sick, having reduced appetite, or swelling as a consequence of histamine load, there is likely little point in reducing histamine levels in his or her diet.
Also, if there are few to no mast cell tumors in the body, there is definitely little point in reducing histamine load by avoiding histaminergic foods.
If any of these symptoms are present, however, having a period of a lower-histamine diet may help.
Like most things, this is all about balance, and is not a yes/no/black/white topic.
Finding Information Can Be Tough
It’s surprising just how tough it is to find more thorough information on what foods to give a dog with MCT. I honestly don’t know whether this is because no one wants to publish a recommended list, or no one has thought of it yet. But I know the need is there, because our readers are asking for it.
So with Dr. Dressler’s expert input and my own background with animal nutrition, I’m going to give you a list and some suggestions, as long as you promise to note the following:
- Please be sure to follow the recommended proportions/amounts in Dr. Dressler’s diet. Don’t go overboard on any ingredient — five pounds of brussels sprouts at a time is not good … even though they are on the “ok” list.
- These tips were compiled by researching several human-food resources for histamine-restricted diets, and screening it against the highest recommended foods for dogs with cancer. Keep in mind that dogs and humans share many similarities physiologically, and dogs are the preferred test subjects for human cancer research. Some of these sources are The Histamine and Tyramine Restricted Diet , and The Histamine Restricted Diet.
- No list will ever be perfect. There may be foods recommended here that your dog either just doesn’t like, or doesn’t digest well. Every dog is different, and what works for most may not work for your dog, and vice versa. Also, you may research and find a list that recommends against one or more of the items below, and lists that disagree on one item. You can find anything on the internet if you try hard enough.
- Remember that it’s nearly impossible to eliminate everything that may trigger histamine, but that reducing the histamine load by not aggravating it is surely better than ignoring the problem.
The Definite ‘No’ List
The following foods or ingredients should be completely avoided whenever possible:
All Processed Foods
All Stone Fruits (ex: Apricots)
Walnuts and Pecans
Processed Oils with BHA/BHT
Anything with Vinegar
The Recommended ‘Yes’ List
I hope you’ll be pleasantly surprised with this. As always, the better quality, organic meats are always better to serve, if possible. And please check out the cooking guidelines below as well.
Lean Beef (trim off any fat)
Chicken or Turkey Necks
Brown Rice (not instant)
Red and Yellow Bell Peppers
Pure Peanut Butter
Fresh Garlic Cloves
Krill Oil/Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Unfortunately, even among the best-quality commercial dog foods we have yet to find one that matches these recommendations. So if your dog is showing symptoms of histamine overload, cooking for him or her is your best bet.
However, there are some really great foods available these days, many we have listed in the Dog Cancer Shop and Dog Cancer Shop UK, which will help if your dog is not showing the symptoms listed above.
If a commercial food ever does come on the market that is of high quality and would be appropriate for dogs with histamine overload, we’ll update this article.
Special Cooking Considerations
Histamine rises as meat cooks, and it continues to rise after removed from the heat. So, always cook your meat at low temperatures and don’t overcook.
For example, I’ve found the best way to cook chicken and turkey is to simmer the breasts in a large pot of water. You get more meat for your money and you have a great broth too.
You can also reduce heat-induced histamine by immediately freezing your meat in meal-sized portions. (Even refrigerating the cooked meat has proven to raise histamine levels — so freezing is the best option.)
Don’t throw out that broth — it can be frozen in ice cube trays for treats, or in any small containers that give you up to a cup-size frozen broth-cicle which can be melted down at any time for your dog’s enjoyment.
Are Fish Oil Supplements Safe?
Is there cause for concern if you give your dog a fish oil supplement? Possibly …. although the processing of the fish to get its oil alters the original material, and likely removes any problematic metabolites that cause histamine reactions, fish flesh itself is on the ‘no’ list. So to be very safe, if your dog is showing signs of histamine overload and you have him or her on a low-histamine diet, avoiding fish oil is a conservative choice.
What about krill oil? Dr. Dressler in general recommends krill oil over other fish oil supplements for many reasons which he explains in the book. We have found that Mercola Krill Oil and Jarrow Formula Krill Oil report that any histamine is “below detectable levels” which is about as good as it can get.
So the benefits of giving a high quality krill oil outweigh the infinitesimal amount of histamine which may be present. Both of these oils are available through the Dog Cancer Shop.
A Labor of Love
All of this sounds like a lot of work, I know. But once you’re in the swing you can actually make your doggie food preparation a lot of fun. When you have your ingredients, a little organization and an hour of time is all you need to prepare a week of food for your dog.
While your meat is cooking you can prepare a pot of organic, rolled oats or brown rice, and lightly cook the vegetables.
Store the meat portions in one container, oat/rice in another, and the various vegetables in a third.
Freeze the meat, refrigerate the others.
When food time nears you can select from each to make a delicious meal. Either thaw to room temperature if you have the time, or warm in a microwave. Remember not to overheat.
I’ll bet your dog will be gazing wide-eyed until you put that bowl down.
I hope this helps those of you out there who were shaking your head in frustration. Take a deep breath, sit down with your dog and make that shopping list. You’re doing great!