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Caring for a pet with cancer: Nutrition

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Nutrition plays an important role in a cancer patient’s overall health and fitness. In general, we recommend a patient stay in optimal health, which means maintaining ideal body weight and not gaining or losing too much weight. It means exercising daily if possible, and eating a balanced, well rounded diet. Fortunately, most canine meals are well rounded; however, both human and canine data indicate that cancer patients may benefit from minor alterations from the daily diet.

Cancer cachexia is a condition of muscle wasting associated with advanced stage disease. It’s relatively uncommon in canine cancer patients. Because we strive to maintain life quality through treatment, most often we deal with weight gain. However, cats sometimes have a harder time with maintaining weight through treatment.

Data extrapolated from human and canine research show that the cancer patient’s diet should be based on the following principles:

  1. Simple sugars should be reduced, as tumors use these preferentially as an energy source.
  2. Preservative-free, high quality protein and fat sources (fish or meat) should be used. If fish is consumed, the pet owner should be savvy about the potential for elevated mercury levels.
  3. Supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids (fish oil) is recommended.
  4. Vitamins and supplements should be used in moderation and only as recommended. Commercial canine diets have been developed based on research into the nutritional needs of dogs and have been supplemented to meet canine needs. Recent human studies have shown that mega doses of vitamins can be detrimental. They feed the tumor, too.

A diet with more than 30% protein and less than 20% carbohydrates is optimal. In general, we recommend you stick with a commercial diet and can make recommendations. However, some owners want to home cook. If so, we can provide recipes for home diets. We DO NOT recommend using raw meat diets. These can make a patient ill with bacterial infections just as eating raw meat can make a human ill. As for vegetables, avoid onions. The darker the vegetable, usually the healthier it is. Finally, cats are obligate carnivores. They should never be fed vegetarian diets.

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