Cancer in Pets- the Importance of Pet Nutrition

Nutrition plays an important role in any animal with a particular disease condition.  That especiallyCancer in Pets- the Importance of Pet Nutrition holds true for animals with cancer.  Animals with cancer can have a unique form of protein-calorie malnutrition called cancer cachexia.  cancer cachexia is typically associated with decreased appetite and food intake, and weight loss.  cancer cachexia has been repeatedly shown to be a negative predictor of survival for dogs and cats with many types of cancer.  Therefore, it is particularly desirable to provide animals with cancer with good nutritional support to avoid cancer cachexia from occurring.

Causes of reduced pet nutrition intake and decreased appetite in animals with cancer resulting in cancer cachexia.

Decreased food intake is either the result of the effects of the tumor itself or side effects from the cancer treatment, and can result in cancer cachexia.  Tumors that result in decreased food intake are typically ones that involve the oral cavity or intestinal tract.  Large masses in the oral cavity may prevent normal pet nutrition intake, while diffuse cancer of the intestinal tract may impact normal digestion or absorption of nutrients.  Tumors of the intestinal tract may cause the animal to vomit, therefore preventing the intake of food.  cancer treatments themselves may cause nausea and vomiting resulting in decreased appetite and food intake.  Most chemotherapy dosages in animals are designed to avoid this side effect, as it is obviously detrimental to the pet and will make owners less inclined to treat their animal’s cancer.

Assessment of pet nutritional status and cancer cachexia in an animal with cancer.

Body condition in animals is mainly gauged by use of a standardized body condition scoringCancer in Pets and Pet Nutrition system.  Body condition scoring systems generally use a five or nine-point scoring system where each point corresponds to a particular body condition.  Cachectic would be at the low end of the scale (1/5 or 1/9) with no obvious body fat present.  Optimal weight would be at the middle portion of the scale (3/5 or 5/9) with the ribs easily palpable.  Obesity would be at the upper end of the scale (5/5 or 9/9) with large deposits of fat present.  These systems provide some form of assessment for comparing the lean body mass and fat stores of an animal such that comparisons can be made at various time intervals.

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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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