Cancer in Pets: Importance of Folate, Cobalamin, and Anti-Oxidants in Pet Nutrition

A number of various nutrients have been recommended as supplements in pet nutrition of theIMG 5215 200x300 cancer patient.  The most commonly recommended nutrients include glutamine, arginine, omega-3 fatty acids, and antioxidants.  However, there are few if any controlled studies showing evidence of benefit from the addition of these nutrients, which are advised largely on the basis of theory.  This article discusses folate (B9), cobalamin (B12), and anti-oxidants, which are thought to provide a protective effect against the development of cancer.

Dietary folate (B9) and pet nutrition for the pet with cancer.

Folate (B9) is a water-soluble vitamin that occurs naturally in foods.  It is found largely in leafy green vegetables, fruits, and beans and peas.  Its name comes from the Latin word for leaf, folium.  Folate helps produce and maintain new cells, important particularly during periods of rapid cell division and growth.  It is needed to make DNA and RNA.  It also helps prevent changes to DNA that may lead to cancer by 2 methods.  The first is suspected to occur through a process called methylation of DNA.  Folate participates in the methylation of DNA.  When folate is deficient, DNA hypomethylation occurs.  This can result in the expression of various genes called oncogenes that can lead to uncontrolled cellular division and growth resulting in cancer development.  The second method is folate action on uracil.  Folate helps convert uracil to thymine, which is needed for repair and synthesis of DNA.  When folate is deficient, uracil is incorporated into DNA in place of thymine, which can lead to permanent DNA breaks and damage to genes that can result in cancer developing.  For more detailed information on folate click here.  Most commercial veterinary critical care pet nutrition products and those recommended for use in animals contain adequate amounts of folate.

Dietary cobalamin (B12) and pet nutrition for the pet with cancer.

Cobalamin (B12) is a water-soluble vitamin that contains the mineral cobalt, and therefore called cobalamin.  It is linked very closely with folate metabolism.  It is present in some foods (fish, meat, poultry, eggs, milk) or available as a dietary supplement, but is not present in plant food.  It is required for red blood cell production, neurologic function, and DNA synthesis and is necessary for fat and protein metabolism.  For more detailed information on cobalamin click here. Most commercial veterinary critical care pet nutrition products and those recommended for use in pets with cancer contain adequate amounts of cobalamin.  The usual cause of cobalamin deficiency is not dietary deficiency, but inability of the body to absorb it in the ileum (part of the small intestine) due to a lack of intrinsic factor that is produced by cells in the stomach, which is essential for absorption of cobalamin, or any disease condition of the ileum that prevents its normal absorptive function.

Dietary antioxidants in pet nutrition for the pet with cancer.

A number of anti-oxidants exist that are commonly added to pet nutrition products, including vitamins A, C, and E, beta-carotene and lutein.  It is thought that oxygen can undergo a transformation to a more reactive state called free-radicals, which can cause damage to DNA resulting in transformation of a cell to a malignant state, resulting in tumor development.  Anti-oxidants act to prevent the development of free-radicals from oxygen, resulting in a potential anti-tumor effect.  However, while it appears that low dietary anti-oxidants results in an increase risk of developing cancer, it has not been shown that supplementation with anti-oxidants reduces the risk of cancer developing.  Thus, it appears that high dose vitamin supplementation is not indicated in pets with cancer, but rather basic levels of vitamin E and other anti-oxidants should be present in a diet based daily requirements and on the level of polyunsaturated fatty acids, trace minerals and oxidants in the food.

Click here to read about specific diets that are recommended for pets with cancer.

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Dr Stephen Atwater

Stephen W. Atwater, DVM, MS, Diplomate ACVIM (oncology) is a board-certified veterinary oncology specialist. His professional interests include utilizing emerging therapies for difficult to treat cancers.

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