Feeding Your Dog with Cancer

nutrition
Feeding Your Dog with Cancer

When cancer hits, it’s often accompanied by weight loss, loss of muscle, and depression. All of these can significantly impact your dog’s quality of life. Consuming a good diet can improve your dog’s life tremendously. Food can actually prove to be ‘good medicine,’ in a sense.

A high-quality diet will help your dog’s healthy cells remain strong. Your dog will be more likely to maintain muscle and the immune system will get a good boost to help fight the cancer.

What’s in Kibble?

Before we tell you, “just move to this diet,” it’s important to explain why. There may be some exceptions to this, but most kibble contains animal and plant matter that was meant for the garbage. It’s food that was not fit for human consumption. If it’s not fit for humans, is it really fit for our dogs?

When an animal is slaughtered for human consumption, there is a series of rigorous standards that must be followed to keep disease out of our food. We won’t go into too much depth there, but we’ll tell you, the growth hormones in our food aren’t necessarily good for us either. In any case, when evaluations are completed by meat inspectors, there is often a large amount of material that gets rejected. Something has to be done with this material, so it’s put into our pet food. It might seem like a somewhat efficient method, and it’s not going to waste, but is it actually good for our dogs?

Not really. The rejected material isn’t how you’d imagine it. It’s not fresh, high-quality meat like our dogs would find in the wilderness. The rejected meat generally contains abscesses, tumor growths, cancer, infections, and/or parasites. Inspectors don’t have much time to review meat, so the examinations are done quickly, which means if the meat was rejected, there was a visually unappealing touch to it in most cases.

The portion of the meat with the tumor, if that’s the case, isn’t entirely rejected either. Instead, the tumor is cut out and the remaining meat is sent for human consumption. What part does our dog get? The tumor part. Other meat is added to the pet food pile including the animals who were dead upon arrival along with fetuses of pregnant animals and their uterus.

Obviously, a lot of this meat contains tons of bacteria. “But it’s cooked” is what the pet food professionals would say. That’s true, but some bacteria still remains: the endotoxins. Endotoxins are substances the bacteria create while in the meat (the meat that remains unrefrigerated).

Now, once the meat has reached the factory, the processing portion of the kibble begins. The meat is cooked at around 220 degrees Fahrenheit for anywhere from twenty minutes to an hour. The cooked material is sent to a centrifuge to separate the grease from the meat. The material is ground up and transferred to the meat meal, a sort of by-product. By-products can include poultry feather meal, leather meal, fecal waste, and hair. You’ll notice ‘by-products’ if you dive into the kibble you’re purchasing.

What Should My Dog Eat?

Now that you’ve learned all that information, you’re probably scattering trying to figure out what to feed your dog. There was a lot we didn’t get into there, and we highly encourage you to take the initiative to learn more about kibble yourself. Dr. Rodney Habib has an excellent series, The Dog Cancer Series, that discusses the pet food industry in-depth. It’s definitely worth a listen.

Unfortunately, and fortunately, kibble does often meet the basic nutritional needs of our dogs. If you think of how we feel as humans, though, eating processed foods on a regular basis is not so good for our bodies and we tend not to feel as healthy. Every once in a while, eating at a fast-food restaurant is okay, but if we do it every day, we don’t feel so hot.

Water

Let’s start here with water. It sounds simple, but fresh water is critical to your dog’s well-being. Access to fresh, clean water will help your dog get through the day, every day. Consider a circulating fountain for your dog to help maintain freshness. They aren’t that expensive and it can help tremendously. Having your water tested is also important. Once you obtain the results of the test, your water should be adjusted accordingly through a recommended filtration system.

Protein

By-products are clearly not the way to go. Protein in your dog’s diet should be from actual meat sources. Food that contains gluten, soy, or grain-based products do not provide optimal nutrition. Pet food manufacturers use by-products because they are less expensive than real whole foods. Be the pet parent that invests that little extra to implement a good diet (and this goes for yourself, too).

Fats

Essential fatty acids are critical to your dog’s diet. Our bodies cannot make essential fatty acids, so the only way to get them into our bodies is through the consumption of plants (omega-6) and other animals like fish (omega-3). Ensuring you’re feeding the correct amount of fat is critical as well. Too much fat can lead to gastrointestinal problems and/or obesity.

Carbs

Believe it or not, carbohydrates also play a key role in your dog’s diet. “Good” carbs can be found in plants, fruits, and grains. Digestible carbs help with energy, whereas fiber helps the digestive process. Carb levels should be kept low, though.

Proper nutrition is tricky. Finding a canine nutritionist or veterinarian with nutrition experience can prove extremely beneficial.

In the Wild

In the wild, a dog’s diet consists of protein, fat, and vegetables. Dogs and their relatives (fox, coyotes, etc.) eat animals that are freshly killed and haven’t had a chance to rot yet. They don’t go searching for processed kibble diets. Prey, like deer, provides dogs and their wild canine relatives with a mixture of meat and plant material (the deer eats grass, for example). Their first targets are the internal organs full of nutrients. The bones are eaten afterward, often a while later, which provides them with additional nutrients (vitamins and minerals).

Obviously, your dog isn’t likely to run up on a deer. But, feeding her a diet similar to the one she’d have in the wild may not be a bad idea.

Some dog lovers feel this translates into a raw diet. That’s not necessarily true, but it is an option. Raw meat, raw bones, and raw vegetables compose a raw food diet. Feeding a raw diet does often reduce carcinogens (cancer-causing agents), but it can be a risky choice for dogs with a compromised immune system. Raw food can contain bacteria, resulting in additional illness for your dog. This must be done carefully if this method is chosen.

Boiled Foods

If you cook food at high temperatures, like in the oven, that’s when the cancer-causing agents are created. We can minimize the carcinogenic properties of food by boiling instead of baking it. When food is boiled, there are almost no carcinogens created. Food can be simmered to ensure the temperature doesn’t get too high during the process.

Vegetables

Some dogs love veggies; other dogs despise them. You’ll have to find out which ones your dog is okay with and which ones aren’t. In the wild, vegetables have already been broken down by their prey animal into a form that can be easily absorbed by the dog’s (or relative’s) body. If you feed your dog straight raw veggies, you’ll likely see they are still fully intact in their stool. That’s because the dog’s digestive system cannot digest vegetables well without a little help.

Boiling or steaming the vegetables can help. By cooking them at least a little bit, it ‘tricks’ the body into thinking they are pre-digested. Veggies should be cooked until they are very soft and then put into a food processor or cut into small pieces to be placed into the food bowl.

Cut Out the Sugars

Cancer goes into a feeding frenzy with any kind of sugar. It’s like cancer’s fuel. PET scans have revealed cancer’s preference for carbs or sugar of any kind. There are sugar hot spots within the body. Keep in mind, that carbohydrates are transferred to sugars in the body. Feeding a dog a diet high in carbs will feed the cancer, but starve the dog.

Consult a Professional

Your veterinarian and/or canine nutritionist can help you choose a diet, formulate it accordingly to ensure all nutritional requirements are met, and help in the implementation over time. You don’t want to move too quickly or your dog’s body may reject the diet. Instead, introduce foods slowly and see how your dog's body reacts. 

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