Cancer in Pets: The Importance of Glutamine and Arginine in Nutrition

A number of various nutrients have been recommended as supplements in pet nutrition of theCancer in Pets: The Importance of Glutamine and Arginine in Nutrition 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 glutamine and arginine, which are 2 of the 20 types of amino acids that exist in nature.  Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins. Click here to learn about the importance of protein in pet nutrition in pets with cancer.

Dietary glutamine in pet nutrition of the cancer patient.

Glutamine is the most abundant amino acid in the body and plays an important role in several key metabolic pathways.  Glutamine is also very important at maintaining normal gut and immune system function.  It is not an essential amino acid, meaning that it can be produced in the body from other amino acids.  Marked decreases of this amino acid have been documented in critically ill people and animals.  This results in a mobilization of glutamine from skeletal muscle, which serves as a storage site for this amino acid leading to loss of muscle mass.  Studies have shown that a high intake of glutamine during illness helps prevent loss of muscle mass by promoting muscle protein production and decreasing muscle protein loss.  For this reason, glutamine is considered by many to be an essential required nutrient in sick people and animals as it is required in greater amounts than the body can produce.  Most commercial veterinary critical care pet nutrition products and those recommended for use in animals with cancer are routinely supplemented with glutamine.

Dietary arginine in pet nutrition of the cancer patient.

Arginine is an essential amino acid in cats and dogs, meaning that it cannot be produced in the body from other amino acids.  It has important roles in immune function, collagen production, urea production, hormone secretion (insulin, growth hormone, insulin-like growth factor-1) and promotes wound healing.  Lymphocytes, which are a type of immune system cell, have an absolute requirement for arginine, which appears to enhance anti-tumor activity of the immune system.  The true benefits of arginine supplementation are largely unknown.  However, one study showed that dogs with stage IIIa lymphoma had some improvement in disease-free and survival time when fed an experimental diet supplemented with arginine and omega-3 fatty acids.  Several commercial pet nutrition products designed for use in critically ill animals and animals with cancer are supplemented with arginine.  A diet produced by Hills Pet Nutrition Inc. called Hill’s n/d diet (n stands for neoplasia) is designed with these features in mind.

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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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