Cancer in Pets: The Importance of Protein in Nutrition

The preferred amount of protein intake in small animal cancer patients is unknown andCancer in Pets: The Importance of Protein in Nutrition controversial.   One estimate of protein requirement in the canine and feline cancer patient with normal liver and kidney function is 4-6 grams/kg per day and 6 grams/kg per day, respectively.  The protein content needs to be sufficient enough to maintain the increased breakdown of protein that has been observed in some animals with cancer.  This is particularly true in animals that are critically ill or hospitalized, in which protein requirements may increase to 30-50% of total daily calories as proteins.   This is a greater issue in cats than in dogs, as cats appear less capable of conserving lean body mass than dogs.  Cats also have a higher baseline protein requirement than dogs, which results in an increased demand for protein.

Glutamine and Arginine in pet nutrition products of the cancer patient

Amino acids are the building blocks of protein.  Two important amino acids are glutamine and arginine.  cancer cells are also thought to actively take up glutamine and arginine.  This uptake of glutamine and arginine by cancer cells results in a depletion of these amino acids in the body.   In response to this depletion, the body breaks down muscle protein to try and provide a source of these amino acids.  This results in a loss of body muscle mass.   Thus, a pet nutrition product with high quality protein that in particular provides these two amino acids is advised.   A benefit of glutamine supplementation and less so arginine supplementation has been well established in dogs and people with cancer.

Arginine is an essential amino acid in dogs and cats, meaning it must be provided in the diet because it can not be produced by the body from other sources.  Arginine is a key amino acid in the urea cycle, which is how the body gets rid of nitrogen waste products like ammonia.  Most protein sources provide adequate arginine, so most commercial foods are not supplemented with it.  Glutamine used to be considered a non-essential amino acid, meaning it can be produced by the body from other amino acids.  However, numerous studies have shown that the internal source of glutamine may not be adequate to meet the body’s need in certain situations such as critical illness and cancer.  As a result, Glutamine has been reclassified as a conditionally essential amino acid.  In commercial pet nutrition products, glutamine and arginine is best supplied by a high-quality, high-protein product.

Precautions of protein content in pet nutrition products in animals

High protein content is not appropriate for all dogs and cats with cancer.  Animals with renal (kidney) disease are best fed a protein and phosphorus restricted diet rather than one with a highCancer in Pets and Protein in Nutrition protein and phosphorus content.  Although typically less common, some animals may have allergic responses to a particular food protein, so type of protein in the pet nutrition product should be taken into consideration.  As with any diet, the source of the protein is important and can be determined by reading the pet food label’s name of ingredients and terms used on the label.  It is important to work with your veterinarian to try and establish the best diet for your pet.

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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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