Diets and Nutrition for Disease Care

May 7, 2020   Tracey   Diet and Nutrition

A pet's cancer diagnosis can be shocking and life-altering but thankfully now more than ever there are treatments that can improve a pet's chances of beating this dreaded disease. Chemotherapy, radiation and surgery are a few of the firsts that come to mind, but one of the most often overlooked factors in a pet's chances for a favorable prognosis is nutrition!

Why is nutrition so important? Whether a pet is sick from the illness or the effects of the treatment, their immune systems are weak and the more therapy given to fight the disease, the weaker the immune system will become. While the treatments are doing their job, a weakened immune system makes it harder for a pet to recover.

In addition to a weakened immune system, many cancer treatments can lead to muscle atrophy, affect the liver and kidneys as well as the body's ability to form new, healthy cells.  A healthy, easily digestible diet with proteins, fruits, vegetables, and supplements can help a pet's body rebuild what treatment is removing.

Most veterinarians and pet nutritionists agree that most grains should be avoided as grains are hard to digest, can lead to bowel inflammation and are mostly only used as filler. Tumor cells love carbohydrates. Ryan Llera,, DVM, pet nutritionist,” tumors use carbohydrates to promote cancer cell growth, so high levels of carbohydrates in a dog's food will actually feed the tumor and starve the patient! Research suggests that dogs with cancer should eat a nutrient profile with no more than 25% carbohydrate on a dry matter (DM) basis. Unfortunately, the majority of canine adult maintenance formulations are far higher than that in carbohydrate content.”  To understand the labeling and how much carbs and sugar is in your pet food, this video by Rodney Habib explains in detail.

According to Canine Nutrigenomics: The New Science of Feeding Your Dog for Optimum Health by W. Jean Dodds, DVM ideal diets should include “Superfoods” such as  berries , coconut oil; curcumin; medicinal mushrooms; milk thistle; omega-3 fatty acids ( DHA); pomegranates; probiotics; raw honey products.

In addition to superfoods, she also recommends MILK THISTLE AND SAMe.  Milk thistle helps with removing toxins from the body and supports kidney and liver health. In addition, it works as an antioxidant protecting organs from treatment damage.  SamE improves membrane fluidity, increases dopamine production, and reduces depression and fatigue.

A well rounded diet should include fresh, high quality organic meats, fresh fruit (no grapes, raisins) and vegetables, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins D and E and digestive enzymes.

The 2 most popular raw food diets are the BARF (Biologically Appropriate Raw Foods) diet and the prey model diet. The BARF diet should consist of 75% meat and 25% fruit and/or vegetables. They prey diet consists of 80% muscle meat, 10% bone and 10% organ meat. Whether BARF or prey model, you should be feeding 1.5 to 2 % of your pet's ideal body weight.

RAW diet ingredients can include Meat, such as chunked or ground beef, lamb, chicken, pork, duck, quail, venison, goat, bison, unbleached green tripe, heart, liver, kidney, spleen, brain, trachea, lung and testicles, thyroid is not recommended. Vegetables such as broccoli, spinach, celery, bok choy, carrot, capsicum Fruit – such as: whole apple (remove seeds), pear, blueberries, grapefruit, orange and eggs, flax seeds and kelp.  For both the BARF and Prey Model diets, calcium must be supplemented with uncooked bones, goats milk or yogurt. Milk and yogurt should be given per the pet's body weight, as too much can cause intestinal issues for pets.

If you can't feed a raw diet, a home cooked diet is second best. Remember is you are cooking a meal for your pet to never cook bones! Cooked bones can splinter and lead to choking issues. 

If neither raw nor home-cooked is an option, choose a high quality kibble or wet food but make sure you are reading the labels for ingredients, ratios and nutritional values.

There are also many herbs that enhance immune function, such as Cordyceps sinensis, Echinacea Astragalus, Withania, Siberian ginseng, Essiac, Cats claw and Shitake and Reishi mushrooms.

If you pet is experiencing digestive issues from treatment such as chemotherapy, before putting them on an appetite stimulant try feeding them bone broth, pumpkin, and yogurt, as all can calm an upset stomach. Bone broth also contains nutritional value and will allow your pet to get some nutrients.

Slippery elm bark also sooths the stomach and intestines. It is a nutritive herb that can provide nutrients to a pet as well as address digestive issues.

If your pet doesn't have an appetite, try feeding them whatever they will eat. You can try baby food, boiled chicken or beef or even just the broth.  If they are at the point of not wanting to eat, getting any nutrients into them at all will be helpful. Realize, what works one day, may not work the next and you may have to try many different things and get creative. If you feel you need some help, an animal nutritionist may be able to help you set up a high quality diet for you with the proper dosages.

A lot of medications that treat cancer and chronic illness can be harsh and can an upset stomach and nausea, so always give medications with food. If your pet is refusing to eat sometimes it can do more harm than good to keep feeding medication on top of medication without food.  If your pet does not want to eat, talk to your vet about adjusting, lowering or discontinuing certain medications to get your pet to eat. While fighting cancer it's extremely important for pets to get the nutrients to keep the energy needed to fight the cancer or chronic disease.

When our pets are fighting for their lives, we want to give them every possible chance we can. Including changes to diet with their treatment plan gives their body the ability to fight the side effects of the needed treatment and allows their body to heal and rebuild healthy cells and tissues. 

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