Canine Cancer Diet

Why a special diet for dogs with cancer? There are many different therapies used to fight canine cancer, depending upon the patient and the type of cancer. But one thing all dog cancers have in common is the need for a specialized diet. Every process in the body is regulated and controlled by what goes in the mouth. If you want the best chance for a good outcome, you must give your dog the proper building blocks to use in fighting this disease, and keep out those things which will cause further harm. Diet is crucial for a dog with cancer.

"Dogs rarely die of cancer. They usually succumb to secondary liver or kidney failure. These are cancer side effects that can usually be avoided by controlling the diet"

When a dog is fighting cancer, the first concern is to get the immune function back to normal.  The next most important issue is diet. A dog with cancer is building a lot of new tissue, and adequate proteins and cell membrane compounds (omega 3, 6 and 9 fatty acids) are required to do this. When the adequate amounts of the correct proteins and fats are not present in the diet, the body will rob it from other places, leading at best to muscle wasting, but more likely complications with the functions of the kidneys and dog liver cancer. This can lead to kidney and liver failure, which is something your poor dog does not need on top of the cancer. Fortunately, these secondary liver and kidney complications can usually be avoided by watching the dog's diet.

"Diet is one thing that is easily controlled, and is often the only thing that makes the difference between a successful treatment outcome and a failure"

The first rule for feeding a dog with cancer is to STAY AWAY FROM GRAINS! Dogs did not evolve as grain eaters. Most of our commercial dog foods are based upon rice, wheat or corn. But if we look at dogs in nature, we find they never graze in the wheat field or rice paddies. Dogs have evolved for the past 10 million years as primarily meat eaters. They simply do not produce the enzymes necessary to digest grains. While rice and corn may be a good filler for the dog food companies, they don't make a good filler for the dog. Read your dog food label: make sure the first ingredient on the list is some type of meat. You will almost always find some grains listed, but they should be down the list a ways, not right at the top. Sorghum is a better filler than corn, which is better than rice or wheat. For a canine cancer patient, any commercial dry food should be supplemented with additional animal protein sources. Feel free to add canned sardines (best), cottage cheese, eggs and just about any kind of meat such as hamburger or ground turkey. High fat content is good. Some vets advocate a raw diet, while some say it should be cooked. More important than cooked or raw is the amount of animal-based protein and fats. Keep in mind, dogs are primarily carnivores. They do best on the diet they evolved to eat.

"Fish oil at 1000 mg per 20 lbs of dog each day is a recommended supplement for dogs with cancer" 

Certain fatty acids called Omega 3, 6 and 9 are required in fighting cancer. Fish oil is a good source of these specific fatty acids. We HIGHLY recommend fish oil be added to any cancer dogs diet. It is easy to get a dog to take their fish oil. If you open the softgel, you will find it is stinky and fishy. It's like candy for dogs. They love it. Just snip open the capsule and squeeze some out so the dog can smell it the first time, and after that you should have no problem with the dog taking the capsules. One 1000 mg softgel capsule per 20 lbs body weight per day is a good dose for dogs. (60 lbs dog gets 3 capsules per day). Some people like to use flax seed oil, and that is okay in theory, but often times dogs will not readily eat flax oil so it needs to be disguised in a carrier. This is a good indication it is not the best choice. It is better to stick with fish oil. 

Recommended Dog Food Brands

We are often asked what the best brand of dog food is for cancer patients. There are many good foods on the market and some that are not so good. It primarily has to do with the amounts and types of grain present.

High levels of proteins and fats combined with lower levels of carbohydrates are most beneficial to dog cancer patients. Going Grain Free is the best, but on any food you buy, READ THE INGREDIENT LABEL and make sure at least the first two ingredients are some type of meat. If the first ingredient is corn meal, or rice, or wheat, choose another brand. This is very important! 

You should also consult your veterinarian to make sure your dog is healthy enough for a high protein, high fat diet (especially for those suffering from pancreas, liver, kidney, spleen concerns).

"Don't assume just because the dog food is expensive, that it is necessarily good!"

The Canine Cancer Diet:

Most canine cancer patients will do best on a grain free commercial dog food supplemented with the addition of a partially cooked or raw food diet.  If you are concerned with how your dog will react with a raw diet, start off with rare cooked meat and slowly wean them to raw.

Due to the high acid in their stomach, dogs are not susceptible to the bacteria that humans are and a raw diet is a benefit to them. Their stomach acid also allows them to digest bone. 

The raw food diet (or BARF diet – Biologically Appropriate Raw Foods) should consist of 75% meat and 25% fruit/veggies

BARF Diet Ingredients:

Bones – they MUST be raw – cooked/smoked bones are never safe as they will splinter
Meat – chunked or ground (beef, lamb, chicken, pork, etc)
Offal (liver, kidneys, heart, unbleached green tripe (which can be purchased in a can at your local gourmet pet food store))
Vegetables – (broccoli, spinach, celery, bok choy, carrot, capsicum)
Fruit – (whole apple, whole pear, whole grapefruit, whole orange)
Other Goodies - Whole egg, flax seed, garlic, kelp, alfalfa, kefir
Yogurt and cottage cheese are good to mix with the fruit/veggies to entice the dog to eat them 

 (1 week of raw meat patties for a 50 pound active dog)

4 lbs ground meats – beef and/or lamb and/or chicken and/or turkey
2 cups raw goat milk or 1 cup yogurt or cottage cheese
3 raw eggs
1 apple
1 clove garlic
2 carrots
1.5 pound mixed veggies (such as sweet potato, broccoli, zucchini, kale, spinach)

Mix in food processor and make into patties to freeze

No two dogs are alike in the amount of food they require; dogs typically eat 2% of their body weight, but more active or dogs with a high metabolism may require 3-4%. 

It is a good idea to give the raw diet in the morning and some dry, grain-free kibble in the evening.

You can also be creative and give chunked meat along with a mix of fruit/veggies/yogurt.  Change is good to ensure a variety of nutrients. 

Other Dietary Supplements to Enhance Chemo-Therapy:
  • Vitamin E – 400 iu per day
  • Selenium – 100 mcg per day
  • Beta-carotene - or raw carrots, grated, if the dog likes them
  • Green tea extract (decaffeinated) 50 -100 mg/day
  • Grape seed extract
  • Quercetin
These ingredients are all antioxidants. While antioxidants enhance the effectiveness of some of the chemo drugs, they may interfere with other chemo drugs. If the dog is on chemotherapy, discuss with the oncologist whether the dog should be taken off these during the course of chemo. The information on this is changing daily. 

Membrane stabilizers such as omega-3-fatty acids, gamma-linolenic acid and coenzyme Q-10 are also important additions. Antioxidants can be good for preventing and treating canine cancer, but do not add additional Vitamin C to the dog's diet unless specifically recommended by your vet. Dog's make their own Vitamin C.

Many veterinarians feel that antioxidants should be stopped three days before, and resumed one week after the completion of the radiation or chemo treatment. This comes from earlier assumptions and is not necessarily the latest info. It is crucial you work with your oncologist to achieve maximum effectiveness in your dog's treatment!

Optional Immune stimulants that may be beneficial:
  • Echinacea: This plant is an immune-system booster. You can find Echinacea in health food stores in several forms:  tablets, tinctures, capsules, and extracts of dried or fresh roots. American doctors aren’t familiar with Echinacea but in other countries there as been a lot of research done. Follow adult dosing directions. 
  • Astragalus: This comes from the root of the plant, Astragalus membranaceus. It has been used in China to fight respiratory infections including colds and flu. Studies in the West have confirmed its immune-boosting and antiviral properties. Follow adult dosing directions.

Other purported Anti-Cancer herbs:
  • Cat's Claw: Uncaria tomentosa, comes from Peru and was used to treat arthritis and cancer. Studies have confirmed that it has antioxidants and immune-enhancing properties. For small dogs, use ¼ the adult dosage and for medium dogs use ½.
  • Pau D'Arco: This herb is extracted from the bark of the Tahebuia genus tree in South America. It contains lapachol and other phytochemicals which produce anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory results.  For small dogs, use ¼ the adult dosage and for medium dogs use ½. 

Other Dietary Supplements:
  • Milk Thistle: This helps prevent dog cancer liver damage. It can help treat hepatitis and prevent injury from other drugs. It can protect the liver from chemotherapy and anti-convulsants (phenobarbital). Suggested dosage is 250 mg for a dog under 25 lbs, and 500 mg for a dog over 25 lbs once daily. Milk thistle should be used in most cases of liver cancer, but always ask your veterinarian.
  • Shark Cartilage: This has anti-angiogenic properties which reduce blood vessels in tumors.  You can use 1000-2000 mg of shark cartilage if recommended by your vet or oncologist

  • Essiac tea, Wheatgrass extract, Soybean Concentrate or Chlorella. These are sometimes used, but are not proven treatments.
  • Spirulina and chlorella provide protein, vitamins and minerals. Miraculous claims made for these products have not been substantiated.

IMPORTANT: Cancer is a very serious disease. The information provided here is intended for educational use and is not intended to substitute for the advice of a professional. This page is not intended as an endorsement of any product. You should discuss all forms of treatment with your veterinarian.

Diet plays a very important part in the maintenance of a dog with cancer. The main rule of thumb for feeding your cancer dog, according to Dr. Ogilvie who worked alongside the Morris Animal Foundation, is to feed a diet which consists of limited quantities of simple sugars, moderate amounts of complex sugars, high quality digestible proteins (in moderate amounts), and specific amounts of certain types of fat. His research led to the manufacture of Hill's Science Diet n/d which is cancer specific.

Simple sugars consists of any processed sugar and fruit sugar. These would include rice syrup, molasses, honey, corn syrup, maple sugar or syrup, glucose, sucrose and dextrose. Almost anything ending in "ose" is considered a simple sugar. More examples of simple sugars would be milk, fruits and vegetables such as carrots, beets, squash, turnip and sweet potatoes.

Cancer cells feed on sugar. We are attempting to starve those cells.

Complex sugars, which are also called complex carbohydrates, supply muscle energy. Some examples of complex sugars include breads, cereals, grains, rice, potatoes, vegetables, fruits and pasta.

Digestible proteins include egg whites, chicken (white meat), lean beef, beans, skim milk and lamb.

Fat is an important part of the diet as it may provide more energy than carbohydrates or proteins. It provides a source of essential fatty acids for healthy skin and coat. It also transports the fat-soluble vitamins A,D,E and K.

If you are fortunate enough to have extra time to cook, homemade is also wonderful.


The following work was originally published by Veterinary Information
Network, Inc. (VIN) and is republished with VIN's permission:

A balanced homemade formula for dogs with cancer. The following recipe will make three days worth of food for a 25-30 pound dog.

(NOTE: This is the recipe that I use for Charlie, except I do not add rice and liver because of Charlie's high liver enzymes, and I add turmeric, I do not use salt or salt substitute and instead of vegetable oil, I use virgin olive oil.  Charlie eats twice a day and I also add 2 tablespoons of essiac tea).  For snacks, I give him apples.

Ingredients Amount:
Lean ground beef, fat drained 454 grams (1 pound)
Rice, cooked 227 grams (1 1/3 cups)
Liver, beef 138 grams (1/3 pound)
Vegetable oil 63 grams (4 ? Tbs) - I use virgin olive oil
Fish oil 9 grams (9 1000-mg fish oil capsules)* - I use salmon oil capsules
Calcium carbonate 3.3 grams**
Dicalcium phosphate*** 2.9 grams (3/4 tsp)
Salt substitute (potassium chloride) 1.9 grams (1/3 tsp)
BNBalanced vitamin/trace mineral supplement

* Note: The amount of fish oil that must be added to homemade foods to achieve the total n-3 fatty acid levels in Canine n/d is usually not practical or economical to use. Owners are encouraged to feed the highest fish oil dose tolerated by the dog. Cost is approximately $0.05 to 0.10 per capsule.

** Calcium carbonate is available as oyster shell calcium tablets or Tums tablets (0.5 g in regular Tums, 0.75 g in Tums Extra and 1.0 g in Tums Ultra).

*** Bone meal can be used in place of dicalcium phosphate.

Directions: Cook the rice with salt substitute added to the water. Cook the ground beef and drain the fat. Cook the liver and dice or finely chop into small pieces. Pulverize the calcium carbonate and vitamin/mineral tablets. Mix the vegetable oil, fish oil (break open capsules) and supplements with the rice and then add the cooked ground beef and liver. Mix well, cover and refrigerate. Feed approximately one-third of this mixture each day to a 25-30 pound dog. Palatability will be increased if the daily portion is heated to approximately body temperature (Caution: when using microwave, avoid "hot spots," which can burn the mouth).

Nutrient Profile (% dry matter basis):
Protein 35.3
Fat 41.6
Carbohydrate 17.8
Calcium 0.65
Phosphorus 0.54
Sodium 0.36
Potassium 0.68
Magnesium 0.05
Energy 1,989 kcal/kg as fed


Client Handouts:  by the VIN Community
Nutritional Alternatives for Cancer Patients
Susan G. Wynn, DVM, OVA

Home Cooking

With the exception of canine lymphoma, there is no accepted dietary recommendation for cancer patients.  Veterinarians and pet owners interested in alternatives or complements to conventional practice often shun commercial diets, and some cancer patients refuse them, as well. 

Rule number one is to KEEP YOUR DOG EATING. 

Below is another recipe that you can use:

50% fish or poultry
50% mixed frozen or fresh vegetables.
Olive oil as a source of fat calories – about 1 tsp. per 20lbs of
body weight.
A vitamin-mineral supplement according to label directions if a
veterinary product.
A calcium source – preferably from bonemeal or Tums – about 250mg
per 15 pounds of body weight.

Many people use a crock-pot to stew all ingredients together.  Some prefer to steam the vegetables and the cooked meat and throw everything into the food mill so that it looks like commercial canned food.  Raw meat is never recommended for animals undergoing chemotherapy or who are immunesuppressed in any way.  This recipe is NOT balanced – the patient and the recipe should be re-evaluated frequently in order to adjust the recipe according to the animal's weight, disease progression, and other changes in condition.

There are a number of spices shown to have anti-neoplastic activity that will also improve the flavor of this recipe, garlic may induce differentiation and apoptosis in some tumor cells (Li, 1998), (Thatte, 2000).  Turmeric, the yellow (and rather mild) spice that gives curry its yellow color, has recognized preventive activity, but of importance for cancer patients, turmeric is antioxidant and induces liver detoxification enzymes (Piper, 1998).  Try FRESH minced garlic – about 1 clove per 40 lbs. of body weight, and turmeric, about 1tsp per 50lbs of body weight.


None of the nutritional therapies discussed have proven effects, used alone, in specific cancers of canine patients.   If your dog seems okay with the diet change and supplements, this regimen of low carbohydrate home diet with therapeutic spices, antioxidants and fish oil can improve and maintain good physical condition.

It is also important to note that due to the various nutritional needs of a cancer dog, a good high-quality dog food (high protein/low carbohydrates/preferably grain-free dog food) should also be served when making homemade.