Food and Nutrition for Dogs with Mast Cell Tumors - 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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Food and Nutrition for Dogs with Mast Cell Tumors

low-histamine-mast-cell-tumWe 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 Fermented Foods
All Processed Foods
All Leftovers
All Fish
All Berries
All Stone Fruits (ex: Apricots)
All Cheese
Citrus Fruits
Yeast products like Breads
Cottage Cheese
Walnuts and Pecans
Processed Oils with BHA/BHT
Anything Pickled
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.

Chicken Breasts
Lean Beef (trim off any fat)
Turkey Breasts
Chicken or Turkey Necks
Mung Beans
Organic, Rolled Oats (not instant)
Brown Rice (not instant)
Cooked Cabbage
Brussels Sprouts
Butternut Squash
Red and Yellow Bell Peppers
Pure Peanut Butter
Fresh Garlic Cloves
Fresh Ginger
Coconut Oil
Krill Oil/Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Flaxseed/Linseed Oil


Commercial Foods

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!

Happy Tails!


About the Author: Susan Harper, AHC, DAH, MHAO, Animal Health Consultant

I'm a member of the Dog Cancer Support Team & a Dog Cancer Survivor! Two of my beloved dogs have had cancer, and with the Dog Cancer Survival Guide, Apocaps, and full spectrum help given with boundless love, both our dogs far surpassed the odds we were given. I'm an Animal Health Consultant with a Diploma in Animal Healing, and Assistant Instructor with the Healing Animals Organization (MHAO). I'm passionate to help dogs and their people get through this journey. Early on I asked the Team how I could help, and here I am.

  • Marie Breska

    Hi I’m really don’t know much abuot Low histamine food but my dog Pug had MCT stage 1 and I’m cooking and freezing individual portions for each day but how do i serve the food ? if defrosting do release histamine as well ?

    • Susan Kazara Harper

      Hi Marie, Well done for taking this on. Cooking special meals is a lot of work, but I know you pour your love into each portion.
      Basically, if you have the time to defrost the food and let it warm to room temperature, you’ll negate any problem with heating to a higher temperature. But as Dr Dressler recommends, don’t make this food issue a big problem if your dog is not experiencing itching or other histamine symptoms. I hope the blog helps!

  • Kelly k

    You mention that cooking the poultry/meat increases the histamine, is it better to try a raw diet for a dog with MCT?

    • Susan Kazara Harper

      Hi Kelly,
      Well, not really, because while a raw diet would negate the problem with cooking temperatures, Dr Dressler doesn’t recommend a raw diet for dogs with cancer. In The Dog Cancer Survival Guide and the Dog Cancer Diet, he explains that dogs with cancer have a different body chemistry than healthy dogs, as well as compromised immune systems. Raw food we get to feed our dogs is a far cry from ‘wild caught’ raw, and the possibility of passing on surface microbes, salmonella, trichinella and other parasites isn’t worth the risk. Cooking meat at low temperatures is much preferable.

  • Susan Kazara Harper

    If we come across any recipes to help, I’ll make sure to post them.

  • Susan Kazara Harper

    Hi Deanna,
    We certainly do care, and maybe can offer some suggestions here for you.
    It sounds like you’re dealing with a very good vet, but possibly one that has not dealt with many cancer cases. Although vet oncologists are few and far between where you are, you can still get in touch with one’s office and put Buddy’s case to them. KSU could be a good place to start. And you do really need a specialist, even if it is one who is consulting remotely on Buddy’s case. I wonder, did you ask your vet for her opinion about whether to treat or not to treat and what you should do? If not, and you’re getting a lot of opinions and decisions of all sorts made for you, please remember that all our vets are highly qualified experts… who work for us. We pay them for their knowledge. Noone can be an expert in everything, but bottom line is that you are Buddy’s parent and guardian, and the decisions are yours Deanna. To assume that the mast cell has metastasized is taking a big leap without xrays or other tests showing that it has spread. If there is no evidence of spread, taking the toe could be a very good option. Your inquiry about Benadryl shows you’ve done some homework. Benadryl is traditionally used to control itching, but if Buddy isn’t itching from the MCT you may be able to keep it on hand to use if and when he does itch. You’re feeding good food, and if you can give more ‘real’ food, like real chicken meat etc. it will do him even more good. You can go to and enter your email for a free copy of the Dog Cancer Diet. Good nutrition is the foundation of a strong immune system. You say Buddy is overweight and yes, it would be nice if he were a healthier weight, but if he has cancer we’d rather have him a little heavier, than underweight. If you can, increase your Apocaps dosage – the full recommended amount for Buddy’s weight is 3 capsules 3 times a day, and you don’t seem to be giving him anything else that would indicate keeping him on a lower dose of Apocaps. Ask your vet about Mastinib, or Masivet. This launched in 2008 and was developed for dogs with MCT. It may be appropriate for Buddy. But again, you do need access to an oncologist who has the expertise that your vet may not. You are doing a wonderful job for Buddy, and he’s showing you this in his everyday joy. Take a deep breath and take charge. Your instincts are good Deanna. Keep going.

  • Susan Kazara Harper

    Oh Deanna, that’s great news. To have a vet you are happy with and who is willing to check things out is a real blessing. Keep taking care of yourself. The frights will come, and the tears, but share them with Buddy. He knows what you’re feeling, and it would be very special for you to share that with him .. talk it through. The chats will help you both. He is blessed to have you too! Hang in there.

  • Susan Kazara Harper

    Hi Kim,
    You’re staying on top of things, and there are warnings everywhere about garlic being toxic to dogs (along with other items like grapes, chocolate etc). And there is evidence that large amounts of garlic (like a 1/2 tsp per pound body weight(can you imagine?)) can cause problems in the red blood cells of dogs. But we don’t use anything like that amount in the Diet. The constituents in garlic have demonstrated anti-cancer benefits, which is why Dr. Dressler recommends it in the Dog Cancer Diet. He does differentiate though, between real, natural garlic, and garlic capsules which can become unstable and may not have any beneficial effects. Garlic also has some antioxidant effects, but it’s the anti-cancer effects that lock-in it’s place on the recommended list. Small amounts of natural garlic pose no threat to your dogs health, and also, your dog will probably love the taste. So the only caution is, if your dog is anemic, check with your vet before using garlic. You would want to get the anemia until control before reintroducing it into the diet. I hope this helps.

  • Susan Kazara Harper

    Hi Allyzabethe,
    Nutrition and supplementation is particularly confusing with MCT. We specifically wrote the blog because the Dog Cancer Diet, while ideal for most dogs fighting cancer, includes some ingredients which could potentially raise histamine levels in a dog with MCT who is experiencing itching. So if your dog has itching problems, you can take the Diet, and modify it against the recommendations in this blog post. As to the specifics you mention… First, be very careful about using too many antioxidants. The reasons to use antioxidants in a healthy dog is quite different in a dog with a cancer diagnosis. Dr. Dressler wrote a wonderful blog which helps explain this. Please take a moment to read it. Regarding calcium, please make sure, if you are giving a calcium supplement, that you get one which is not formulated with fluoride (a carcinogen). In the Dog Cancer Shop we have a very good brand recommended, The Krill oil is OK to continue.
    We really get to be experts in nutrition on this journey, once we plough through all the confusing information, and our dogs get the benefit. I hope this helps. Hang in there.

  • Susan Kazara Harper

    Hi Erika,
    Sorry for the delay responding. Dr. Dressler advises that if there is no itching or other symptoms of a histamine problem, it’s not necessary to restrict foods to low histamine foods. That makes it ever so much easier. Being aware of the restricted list gives you a great leeway to manage Gracie’s nutrition.
    I hope this helps. Give Gracie a big cuddle for me.

  • Susan Kazara Harper

    Feed that gorgeous girl everything she wants to eat. If she isn’t having itching symptoms you can always include a egg here and there if she likes them. Take them away if you see any histamine response. Feed her, feed her, feed her. We’d always rather have a little extra weight on a dog with a cancer diagnosis, than to be underweight. Extra cuddles too, and one from me please. Follow the diet, give her as much as she wants. You’re doing a wonderful job.

  • Susan Kazara Harper

    Hi Gina, The Dog Cancer Survival Guide does not have the detail of recipes for dogs with mast cell tumors, and as we’ve noted in this post, Dr Dressler points out that you only need to restrict histamine enhancing foods if there is an itching problem. So if you can use this blog, and the recommended food lists in it, and use the Dog Cancer Diet as in the book, you can select the best ingredients for your dog IF you find a need to reduce histamine foods. We all become mini-experts in the nutrition of our own dogs, and after all, isn’t that the absolute best way?

  • Susan Kazara Harper

    You are doing an absolutely amazing job, and you MUST remember this. I truly understand what you’re going through. So here are some thoughts I want you to grasp hold of.
    First, as Dr Dresslers says in the MCT nutrition blog, don’t worry overmuch about restrictnig the foods unless there is itching. Is Daisy itching? Second, Stage 2 MCT is a wide range, but still more hopeful than Stage 3, so you focus on that. It’s hard to find the way to still the voices of doom and gloom, but it’s the only way you both will face this fight. I strongly feel you’d be happier with another vet, or at least an opinion from another vet. I don’t know where you are located, but if you’re in the USA you can go to to see if there is someone nearby to consult. If not, phone other vets in your area and interview them. By that I mean, ask how much cancer they deal with, how many cases of MCT. Find your expert.

    Next, check out the blog to get some views on Neoplasene as a treatment option.

    Remember not to throw loads of supplementation at her. You can ‘overdose’ or over-do the supplements and pour money down her throat. Keep doing what you are, research. Use the Dog Cancer Survival Guide which has a wonderful chapter on what is considered the best treatments to put your money in to, and which sound great on the internet, but have no solid foundation of proof. Hang in there Renee. Daisy needs you and you know her better than anyone. We’re here to help you navigate. The best medicine of all is happy, quality days and that good food. Good luck!

  • Susan Kazara Harper

    Renee, you are doing a marvelous job. And I do truly understand, have had two dogs with cancer myself. So I’m glad I can help in some way. I asked about the itching simply because you needn’t be too strict in avoiding some of the foods (as mentioned in the Food and Nutrition for Dogs with Mast Cell Tumor blog) if itching is not a problem. You won’t make the cancer worse by feeding foods that an itchy dog should avoid. I hope that makes sense. So you can loosen up a bit. I know Krill oil is expensive. You’d likely be better off giving her loewr doses of the krill rather than full doses of a regular fish oil. There is just so much range of good-to-poor quality in the larger fish oils…. but just a thought. I love that Daisy has a wonderful appetite. Let her have what makes sense, we don’t want skinny dogs fighting cancer, a little extra weight is not a problem. They need to be a bit robust to get through this. Do you have a good quality kibble base for some of her meals? We have some excellent brands listed in the Dog Cancer Shop (, and this is also a handy treat option. Using the food you make is perfect, you just get to spend more time cooking! It sounds as though you have some good vets working with you in a positive way. Give Daisy a great big cuddle from me please. Keep doing what you’re doing. More isn’t always better. You may also explain to Daisy what’s going on with the different treatments etc. You probably do; we know our dogs understand more than some people believe. Let her know what’s coming and stay positive with her. All the best!

  • Susan Kazara Harper

    Hi Sarah, You make good points, and come back to the issue; a dog with cancer has a compromised immune system. Period. The body is under attack, and normal body systems do not respond as they would in a healthy animal. This is why the Drs recommend against a raw diet. Why take the chance ot introducing more challenges to the body? A human-fed raw diet is not the same as a wild raw diet, it can’t be. Having said that, no guidline is 100% definite for every individual dog. Some will thrive on a raw diet. The Drs present their professional opinion. It’s down to every human guardian to take the responsibiliity of weighing it up and making the choice. Thank you for your input.

  • Susan Kazara Harper

    What wonderful news. Well done, John! Prognosis are always based on the statistics at hand, and can’t possibly take into account the spirit of the dog or all the love, care and support from their best human friends. Give your girl a wonderful hug form us. !!!