Treating Cancer May Be A Mouthful Away

By Shawn Messonnier, DVM

Sadie's bag lunch may not fill the bill for a healthy diet. Proper diet and nutritional supplementation are an important part of cancer therapy.

At this year's meeting of the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association, there were a number of exciting presentations. As always, taking the holistic view towards common problems sheds new light on many treatments that we don't always think of when taking the conventional approach. While there are many natural treatments that can be used in the treatment of pets with cancer, feeding the correct diet with the proper nutritional supplements is the foundation of any cancer treatment program.

There is no doubt that cancer is a feared disease and one that is all too often diagnosed. Many owners fear the treatment more than the disease itself. As a result, many holistic veterinarians are called upon by the pet-owning public to offer something different from chemotherapy or radiation therapy.

Dr. Greg Ogilvie, a renowned oncologist, presented data on incorporating nutrition into the prevention and treatment of cancer. In my opinion, nutrition is often overlooked when treating most conditions. However, feeding the proper diet and nutritional supplements is the one "treatment" where owners can make a difference! Because of the devastating metabolic consequences of neoplasia, we must always incorporate sound nutrition when treating the cancer patient.

Blackie naps after a convenient but inferior dry food dinner. While there are often many treatment options for cancer, we often overlook the simple aspect of nutrition.

Studies demonstrate that both people and pets with inadequate nutrition cannot metabolize chemotherapy drugs adequately, which predisposes them to toxicity and poor therapeutic response. This makes proper diet and nutritional supplementation an important part of cancer therapy.

There are several metabolic abnormalities that occur in the cancer patient. First, cancer patients often have too much lactic acid in their bodies. Since metabolism of simple carbohydrates produces lactate, a diet with a minimum of these carbohydrates might be preferred. (As a side note, pets with cancer that need IV fluids do better when given fluids that do not contain extra lactate.)

Regarding dietary protein, Dr. Ogilvie notes a pronounced decrease in certain amino acids in the plasma of cancer patients. If left untreated, these amino acid deficiencies could result in serious health risks to the patient. Supplementation with the deficient amino acids might improve immune function and positively affect treatment and survival rates.

Most of the weight loss seen in cancer patients occurs as a result of depleted body fat. Tumor cells, unlike normal healthy cells, have difficulty utilizing lipids for energy. Dogs with lymphoma fed diets high in fat had longer remission periods than dogs fed high carbohydrate diets.

The use of omega-3 fatty acids can promote weight gain, may have anti-cancer effects, and warrants special mention. In people, the use of omega-3 fatty acids improves the immune status, metabolic status, and clinical outcomes of cancer patients. These supplements also decrease the duration of hospitalization and complication rates in people with gastrointestinal cancer. In animal models, the omega-3 fatty acids inhibit metastasis and the formation of tumors. Finally, the omega-3 fatty acids can reduce radiation damage to skin in those pets undergoing radiation treatments.

While there are often many treatment options for the various malignancies experienced by our patients, we often overlook the simple aspect of nutrition. In the next decade, prevention and treatment will most likely include a focus on nutrition in veterinary medicine, just as our human counterparts are now doing in the human medical field. The research is out there - there is no doubt that cancer patients have deranged nutrient metabolism that can negatively affect the outcome of conventional therapies. Additions of omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidant vitamins and minerals, and possibly shark cartilage to the diet of cancer patients may help improve survival and possibly decrease the chances of pets contracting cancer in those who are currently cancer -free.


Ogilvie, G.; Nutrition and Cancer: Frontiers for Cure! Proceedings of Am Hol Vet Med Assoc, 1998, 69-73.

Dr. Shawn Messonnier is the holistic columnist for Dog Fancy and Cat Fancy magazine. To learn more about the holistic treatment of cancer and other diseases and nutritional supplementation for your pet, or to obtain a free Pet Care Naturally Resource Guide, visit his new website (end of May) at .