What Is The Best Diet For A Dog With Cancer?

Unfortunately, there is no one perfect diet for dogs or people with cancer.  Each patient needs to have a diet formulated to meet their individual needs based upon the type of cancer, treatment protocol being utilized, body condition (overweight, underweight or healthy weight), other medical conditions, environmental factors and individual preference.  

In 1930, scientists discovered that cancer cells metabolize large amounts of glucose into lactate for energy(1).  As the tumor grows and the lactate builds up, a metabolic condition similar to Type II diabetes ensues.  Theoretically, a low carbohydrate diet should slow tumor growth and that’s what Dr. Greg Olgivie proved in a study of dogs with lymphoma.  Dogs on a high fat, low carbohydrate diet responded better to chemotherapy and stayed in remission longer than those on a standard diet(2).  A study of men with prostate cancer conducted by Stephen Freeland and William Aronson, had similar results(3).  The scientists concluded that “tumor biology can be altered by either a vegan low-fat diet or eliminating simple carbohydrates accompanied by weight loss.”  

Based upon these studies and others, low carbohydrates diets are generally recommended for dogs with cancer.  High quality protein is combined with fat (Omega 3 fatty acids, not omega 6) to meet the patient’s nutritional needs.  There are commercially available diets such as Hill’s Prescription n/d or recipes for homemade diets.  A word of caution about raw diets.  I do not recommend feeding raw diets to immunosuppressed patients.  The weakened immune system is no match for the large bacterial load found in raw foods and may lead to life-threatening infection.  Always cook food for immunosuppressed patients of any species.

Before placing your dog on a low carbohydrate, high fat diet for cancer, please talk to your veterinarian.  This type of diet may worsen other conditions including pancreatitis, kidney disease and obesity.  Each patient’s diet needs to be customized to their breed, other health problems, etc.  For example, miniature schnauzers are prone to lipidemia and pancreatitis.  I would be extremely nervous about putting a schnauzer on a high fat diet for any reason.  So again, please work with your veterinarian to formulate a proper diet.     


1)  Warburg O. (1930). The Metabolism of Tumors, Arnold Constable, London.
2)  Olgilvie GK, Walters LM, Salman MD, et al. Treatment of dogs with lymphoma with adriamycin and a diet high in carbohydrate or high in fat. Am J Vet Res, cited in: Ogilvie G., Care Beyond a Cur: Nutrition and Cancer–Exciting Advances for 2003, Atlantic Coast Veterinary Conference Proceedings, 2003.
3)  Freeland, SJ and Aronson, WJ.  Dietary intervention strategies to modulate prostate cancer risk and prognosis, Curr Opm Urol. May 2009;19(3):263-7.

Published by kristennelsondvm

Dr. Kristen Nelson grew up on a farm in Watertown, Minn., where she developed a deep love for animals of all kinds. She received a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from the University of Minnesota, College of Veterinary Medicine. Kris then completed a small-animal internship at the prestigious Animal Medical Center in New York City. In addition to writing and speaking, she cares for small and exotic animals in Scottsdale, Az. Dr. Nelson is widely quoted in the media. Her credits include Ladies’ Home Journal, USA TODAY, the Los Angeles Times and numerous radio and television interviews. Dr. Nelson has written two books, Coated With Fur: A Vet’s Life and Coated With Fur: A Blind Cat’s Love. Kris and her husband Steve share their home with rescued cats, birds and a dog.