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Does a Low Carb Pet Cancer Diet Make a Difference?

The rules to fight pet cancer with nutrition are constantly evolving. For example, it’s always been commonly thought that a low carb pet cancer diet was the best way to fight pet cancer through nutrition. But now most conventional veterinarians agree there’s no evidence there a low-carb pet cancer diet actually works. Here’s what we now know about this popular way to feed pets with cancer.

The Best Pet Cancer Diet is Not One-Size-Fits-All

low carb pet cancer diet

It’s tempting to follow the low-carb, high protein pet cancer diets of Tripawd heroes like Logan, Sheba and Clyde. When Tripawds Founder Spirit Jerry fought osteosarcoma. we also looked to other pet cancer survivor diets for guidance and fed him the same way.

But in the latest American Animal Hospital Association Oncology Guidelines for Dogs and Cats, we learn that there is no one-size-fits all approach to eating healthy while fighting pet cancer. 

Diets should be tailored to each individual taking into account their cancer diagnosis, any other disease processes (e.g., pancreatitis or renal disease), and nutritional needs, as well as environmental factors including other pets in the household and an owner’s ability or willingness to feed the diet.

Do Low Carb Pet Cancer Diets Work?

The low carb high protein pet diet theory began years ago because of one single study about dogs with lymphoma. Through the years this theory took on a life of its own and today most pet parents take it as gospel that getting rid of carbs means getting rid of cancer.

But in fact, the low carb pet cancer diet theory is hotly debated between conventional and holistic veterinarians alike. You’ll get different answers depending on who you ask. For example, if you asked Mercola’s holistic veterinarian Dr. Karen Becker about carbs, she will tell you to avoid them.

Cancer cells need the glucose in carbohydrates to grow and proliferate. If you limit or eliminate that energy source, you do the same with the cancer’s growth. That’s one of the reasons I always discourage feeding diets high in carbohydrates. Carbs are pro-inflammatory nutrients that also feed cancer cells. READ MORE: “Cancer and Your Pet: Two Things to Avoid.”

But if you mention carbs to any of the ACVN Board Certified Veterinary Nutritionists from the “Ask the Veterinary Nutritionist” panel at PetDiets.com, a resource providing independent nutrition consultations for pets with medical conditions, they’ll tell you that eliminating carbs is an unscientific way to feed a dog with cancer:

The low carbohydrate diet for cancer is grossly over rated and without valid supportive data. The original research was done in Labradors with lymphoma and those that ate the high fat diet lived ~50 days longer. The design was problematic because the diets have many different features, not just fat to carb ratio. This study has never been repeated in the last 10 yrs although others have tried.

One veterinary oncologist takes a middle stance about carbs and pet cancer diets. Dr. Sue Ettinger, DVM, Dip. ACVIM (Oncology), co-author of The Dog Cancer Survival Guide, says that when it comes to carbs and pet cancer:

While there is little scientific data specifically showing feeding such a diet helps treat the dog cancer, as long as the diet is balanced, I think there is no harm, in my opinion.

Remember: carbs are not all inherently bad, and some sources contain many valuable vitamins and minerals. Instead of generalizing “all carbs are bad,” I think we should be more critical of the carbs source such as GMO (see above).

For me, the grain-free diets are less important than the source of the grains.

But I don’t think you need to eliminate all carbs. READ MORE: “Diet and Dogs with Cancer”

Ultimately she says that even healthy snacks like carrots have carbs. And our opinion is that if your dog likes munching on carrots, then why not let her enjoy a carrot snack? Not only will you make your dog happy, but even that carb stick can give her a way to fight cancer. “Epidemiologic studies in people show protective effects of diets rich in fruits and vegetables,” explains Dr. Ettinger.

More Tips for a Better Pet Cancer Diet

Before you decide on what to feed your pet, check out these tips about how to feed a dog or cat with cancer:

Feed Smaller Meals More Frequently

Dr. Korinn E. Saker, MS, DVM, PhD, Diplomate ACVN from the American College of Veterinary Nutrition suggests feeding in smaller quantities throughout the day.

Feeding Frequency: Providing the daily food allotment in smaller, frequent meals can be beneficial by:

  • Enhancing overall nutrient uptake via the GI tract
  • Minimizing intolerance due to meal volume
  • Providing a sustained energy source throughout the day
  • Decreasing stress associated with large meal feeding.

READ MORE: “Practical Approaches to Feeding the Cancer Patient.”

Change Up the Feeding Routine

If your pet gets picky and doesn’t want to eat the meal plan you’ve prepared, try the strategies in this excellent white paper “Feeding a Pet During Chemotherapy” (originally shared by Bart the Tripawd Vizsla’s Veterinary Nutritionist Dr. Susan G. Wynn, DVM, CVA, CVCH, AHG)

Change your pet’s diet. Work with your veterinarian to determine appropriate foods and diets for your pet. If your pet refuses one food, offer a different one. Vary the stimulus properties of the food. This includes things like:

a. Feed your pet in a different dish – use a paper plate or a different bowl. Handfeeding or having your pet lick items off of a spoon might work as well.

b. Feed your pet in a different room.

c. Change the texture of your pet’s food. Puree their food (even if it is already canned) to a very smooth texture…or go the opposite route and give tabletextured foods or hard biscuits.

d. Change the temperature of your pet’s food. Sometimes the smell of warm food will entice your pet. However, if your pet is nauseated, he may prefer cold food.

e. Have someone else feed your pet…or, if desperate, take your pet to a friend’s house to have dinner

Fighting pet cancer is not all-or-nothing choice. Even among holistic and conventional vets, theories about cancer nutrition for pets is always evolving. As you make your own choices about the best pet cancer diet for your Tripawd, remember two things if you want to help your pet live healthy:

  1. Your veterinarian must be involved in your pet nutrition choices.
  2. Your pet is unique in every way. What worked for one may not work for yours. Focus on what your pet likes to eat or you may be reducing their quality of life instead of enhancing it.

Pet Cancer Diet Nutrition Resources

The American Academy of Veterinary Nutrition lists the following pet cancer diet resources for pet parents who want to explore pet cancer diets with a veterinary nutritionist.

 

7 Responses to “Does a Low Carb Pet Cancer Diet Make a Difference?”

  1. Sarge will be post amputation 3 YEARS soon. Besides continuing maintenance carboplatin quarterly, we have kept him on a strict grain free (not carb free) diet. He seems to be doing better now than before the osteosarcoma diagnosis.

    Here is to healthy, hoppy additional years to our tripawd osteosarcoma survivors!

  2. Bonnie Capwell March 23, 2017 at 9:10 am

    I’m saddened to see no real reference in this article to any of the work being done, including current research, as to the benefit of a whole food diet for dogs dealing with cancer. For example, the work being done by Ketopet is showing promise using diet as a key component in the battle with canine cancer. And they will work with pet parents to help them design a dietary protocol specific to their pet that is focused on protein, fat, limited carbs via vegetables. Hope moving forward you are able to provide a more balanced, inclusive report.

  3. Hi Bonnie. Thanks for bringing this company to our attention. The reason I didn’t include any mention of the Epigenix Foundation (aka “Ketopet) is that I just didn’t come across them in my research. Their work is not cited in any veterinary studies that I’ve come across, nor cited by the American College of Veterinary Nutrition (ACVN). I also didn’t hear any mention about them during nutrition sessions I attended at this years Western Veterinary Conference. If you can point me to studies about their work I’d appreciate it, since a quick internet search doesn’t reveal any. In a few weeks we will have a vet nutritionist from the ACVN on our Tripawd Talk Radio show on and I will definitely ask her about it ahead of time so we can discuss. Thanks again.

  4. OMG congratulations Sarge! I love that you found a diet that works for you and helps you kick cancer’s butt! Here’s to YOU my friend (and you too Nicole!).

  5. Nicole, you said maintenance carboplatin quarterly, I’m curious is this injected chemotherapy? Our dog did injected carboplatin in the beginning and now is in an oral chemo but I have been curious lately about doing another round of injected or like you said maintenance. Any feedback would be great!

  6. Great info and articles here on Tripawds!! Ralfie Boy, my 14 1/2 year old border collie has just been diagnosed with leukemia. He is a quadpaw, but I came to your site because there were alot if good posts about cancer and diet. Ralfie and I both say “Thanks so much!!!!”

  7. Yay Ralfie Boy! FOURTEEN and a HALF? WOW! You are rockin, dude, and we know you have what it takes to kick leukemia’s butt! Quadpawd or not you are more than welcome to ask any questions OK? Keep on rockin and best wishes from all of us.

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