Are Obese Dogs at a Higher Risk for Cancer? - Dog Cancer Blog

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

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Are Obese Dogs at a Higher Risk for Cancer?

When a dog is overweight, they’re usually thought of as being cute and cuddly. The thought of the dog being less healthy is not a common thought in our minds. The wonder of if there’s a higher risk of the dog developing conditions, like cancer or diabetes, aren’t generally an immediate concern that pops into our minds.

Think about it- when we walk into a home and see a chubby Corgi waddling her body adorably around the house, our first reaction is… what? “Oh my goodness, look how adorable she is!”

We don’t think about how being overweight is damaging her health. But, scientists have uncovered a potential link between obesity and dogs with cancer. And, I would like to tell you about it here.

Keep in mind, I am simply sharing this information. I’m not a veterinarian, but Dr. Dressler wrote about this in Chapter 14 of The Dog Cancer Survival Guide.

With that said, let’s move on and find out what the cancer researchers have found. But, first and foremost, let’s find out if our dogs are overweight or not.

Is My Dog Obese?

Your veterinarian should be consulted if you’re unsure what your dog’s body should look like. Depending on the breed of your dog, it could be hard to tell. But, to give you an idea, you can take a look at a body condition score chart.

The body condition score chart will tell you if your dog is underweight, just right, or overweight. Most of the time, you can tell by taking a look at the following information:

  • Underweight: You’re able to see your dog’s ribs, vertebrae, pelvic bones and/or other bones from a distance. You don’t see much muscle or fat.
  • Just right: You can feel the ribs, but there is some fat covering them. You’re able to see your dog’s waist from above. And, their abdomen is tucked up when you view your dog from the side.
  • Overweight: There are different stages, but if your dog is significantly overweight, there will be too much fat covering the ribs to feel them. There will be a lot of fat near the base of their tail. You won’t be able to see your dog’s waist from above. And, their abdomen won’t be tucked when you view your dog from the side.

AVMA Study: Potential Link Between Obesity and Dog Cancer

There are many studies about cancer and obesity. But, I chose this one to share with you because it’s published with the AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association). A group of veterinarians were curious to find out if there was any link between dogs who were overweight and the development of cancer. The researchers found 1,777 dogs with cancer, and 12,893 dogs without cancer, for the study.

The researcher’s goal in the study was to find out if there were a larger percentage of dogs with cancer who were obese… or if the dogs with normal weight had the same risk of developing cancer as the overweight dogs.

Their findings were what they expected. The study found obesity could potentially be linked to a few different cancer types in dogs– urinary cancer and mammary cancer.

Why Obesity is Connected to Dog Cancer

Dr. Dressler covers obesity in Chapter 14 of The Dog Cancer Survival Guide. Dr. D isn’t quite sure of why obesity might cause cancer. But, new research has shown that fat cells secrete a substance called adiponectin.

Adiponectin blocks the development of cancer cells. This may lead you to believe that fat should block cancer cells. But, studies on rodents and humans show less adiponectin is secreted when there is too much fat stored in the body. More adiponectin is secreted when fat is being used to fuel the body (in dogs with lean bodies).

This means that dogs who are more fit could be less likely to develop cancer than dogs who are holding on to too much fat.

How Much Do I Feed My Dog?

This is a hard question to answer- because when it comes to diet- it’s not ‘one size fits all.’

The reason there aren’t more specific guidelines is that there truly aren’t any other guidelines that are applicable to all dogs.

How much to feed a dog is dependent on way too many variables to make anything other than the most general guidelines. As Dr. Dressler writes in The Dog Cancer Survival Guide, the same amount of food that could feed a 50 pound dog who is very active and energetic might only last two days — but a 50 pound dog who is a couch potato might be able to make the food last four days.

If you think about this in human terms it will help. Extreme athletes — marathoners, Ironman competitors, gymnasts — may take in as many as 12,000 calories in a day in order to stay fueled. And some have to consume more. But, most of us expend much, much less energy — and need only 2-2,500 calories.

Also, women typically need fewer calories per day than men do (in general) because they have a higher percentage of body fat and a lower percentage of muscle. Muscle burns more calories than fat — so a more muscular person needs more fuel.

Fluctuations in hormones in both sexes, environmental factors (heat, cold, etc.) and many other variables also come into play. There’s no authority who can say “everyone should eat X amount of food, in Y weight” for humans, and there isn’t such a rule for dogs, either.

The Dog Cancer Diet: How Much to Feed

As for the dog cancer diet, the recipe is a guideline, so it’s difficult to predict volume. For example, some meats are denser than others, so a pound of one protein might take up less volume than a pound of another. Same with veggies. Depending upon what you are using, you might get more or less food by volume.

So. What to do when we radically re-formulate our dog’s diet as suggested by Dr. Dressler? Generally, we experiment and see what works for OUR own unique dog. For example, at first, your dog may only want/need a cup of food per meal (we don’t know how large your dog is, so this is all hypothetical). If he starts to feel better, perhaps he moves more, and wants and needs more — and suddenly, you realize a cup and a half is the right amount. That’s OK — because there is NO one rule.

Most dogs start to feel a lot better on this diet, and we know of readers who couldn’t afford ANY supplements or treatments at all, but just made the dietary changes and saw huge increases in health and quality of life.

For your dog, we suggest starting by asking yourself how much energy he/she is expending, likely. On a scale of couch potato to athlete, where does he or she fall? If she’s all the way over on athlete, give half of the amount of food that recipe makes one day, and the other half the next.

If she’s a complete couch potato, give 1/4 the recipe over four days.

If she’s in between, maybe give 1/3 of the recipe over three days.

Then, proceed from there.

If You’re Concerned About Your Dog’s Weight

If you really want cups and ounces to guide you, your veterinarian may be able to help you determine for your dog’s case what condition he or she is in, and therefore a rough guideline about how much to feed.

However, in our experience over the years, many vets are well aware of the limits of their education as regards nutrition (in vet school this subject is often taught by pet food industry professionals who visit to give those lectures), and will refer out to a nutritionist in order to get you the kind of answers you’re asking for. 

If you’re interested in consulting with a veterinary nutritionist, you can find the directory on AVCN here.

If you have a copy of The Dog Cancer Survival Guide, you can find the information about the Dog Cancer Diet in Chapter 14. Or, you can grab a copy of the Dog Cancer Diet in our store (Dog Cancer Diet is free to readers of the Dog Cancer Blog).

About the Author: Amber L. Drake

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.