Pets with Cancer: Dietary Fat and Carbohydrate Recommendations

Optimal pet nutrition plays an important role in treatment of dogs and cats with cancer.  MostPets with Cancer: Dietary Fat and Carbohydrate Recommendations commercial dog and cat foods are complete and balanced diets necessary to meet the needs for all essential nutrients when an animal eats enough of the diet to meet its caloric requirements.  This is particularly true if the diet is certified by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO).  Additional supplements to provide nutrient deficiencies are necessary only in rare situations.  Low carbohydrate and high fat (up to 60% of caloric content) and quality protein (30% of caloric content) diets are thought to be best for animals with cancer.  Diets that fit this profile include prescription products formulated for use during performance or stress, “premium” dog and cat foods, and puppy or kitten foods.  Click here for a listing of prescriptions pet foods who meet these requirements.

Low carbohydrates and pet nutrition in the cancer patient.

The metabolic changes related to cancer cachexia have lead to some recommendations on pet nutrition for animals with cancer.  Because cancer cells require glucose, it has been theorized that diets of animals with cancer should focus on low carbohydrate (glucose) and high fat diets to try and starve the cancer.  Although this makes sense in theory, things probably do not work that simply.  Results of studies on this subject vary greatly and can be difficult to interpret.  Energy use appears to vary with tumor type and varies between individuals with the same type of cancer based on how advanced the cancer is in the pet.  However, avoiding simple sugars and providing diets with complex carbohydrates should be considered.  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.

High fat diet and pet nutrition in the cancer patient.

High fat diets are recommended for pet nutrition in the cancer patient for a number of reasons.   High fat diets take advantage of the metabolic differences between normal cells and cancer cells in the body, since cancer cells are thought not to have the ability to metabolize fats.  After 24 hours of anorexia, the body responds to lack of food intake by switching to fat as an energy source over protein and carbohydrate.  So feeding a high fat diet takes advantage of the body’s adaptation in times of anorexia.  The higher density of calories in fats allows more calories being delivered in a smaller volume.  This is particularly helpful in animals with decreased appetites or animals that are being supported with feeding tubes.  Lastly, high fat diets tend to be more palatable to pets, making them more likely to want to eat on their own.  However, high fat diets are not appropriate for all pets and should be avoid in pets with vomiting, diarrhea, pancreatitis, hyperlipidemia, or other conditions associated with fat intolerance.

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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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