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Nutrition Team Blog

Canine Cancer

Published: Wednesday, October 19, 2011

My beautiful 8 year old collie x retriever Spencer has cancer; a large tumour (carcinoma) blocking one third of his throat. It cannot be surgically removed and I have decided against chemotherapy. It is progressing quite quickly and I have no idea how long he has left with me. It’s awful and I sympathise with anyone having to go through the same thing with their pet.

However, at the moment Spencer is blissfully unaware of his situation and full of beans. He is still chasing wild rabbits, still fetching a ball and still just as greedy as ever, he even competed at agility on the weekend (although got us eliminated for spending too much time sniffing the ground instead of jumping) so for the moment we will carry on as normal.

Unfortunately cancer appears to be on the increase in dogs. Some sources say as many as 1 in 4 of our dogs will succumb to some sort of cancer so being aware of the possible symptoms is important (even if your dog appears otherwise very healthy). The only initial symptom Spencer had was a little trouble swallowing:

Unusual lumps or bumps/swellings or swollen lymph nodes
Unexplained bleeding or discharge
Loss of appetite
Bad breath
Drooling or difficulty eating or swallowing
Changes in exercise or stamina level
A sore that does not healChronic weight loss
Change in bowel or bladder habits

Like most diseases certain breeds seem to be more prone to cancer. Golden Retrievers seem to have a particularly high incidence rate but there are different types of cancer, found in different breeds and they all respond to treatment differently. For example lymphomas (most common in breeds such as Boxers, Bulldogs and Bullmastiffs) respond to chemotherapy very well. There are also many different chemotherapy drugs available and the side-effects not only vary from dog to dog but can be much less severe in dogs than in humans.

Diet for cancer
Many sources suggest feeding a diet low in carbohydrates and high in protein but these recommendations do not take into consideration the difference between simple and complex carbohydrates*. Those researchers that have been more specific suggest the following diet for dogs with cancer:

1) Moderate levels of a high quality protein

2) High levels of unsaturated fats (e.g. fish oil, olive oil)

3) Low levels of simple carbohydrates (sugars – e.g. sucrose, fructose, lactose)

4) Moderate levels of complex carbohydrates (e.g. whole grains such as rice or oats,

Some take an even more extreme view. The late vet John Carter (who formulated the cancer medication CV247) used to recommend a low calorie, home cooked diet (organic where possible) which included high levels of whole grains and vegetables but with very little (high quality) protein.

As Spencer has trouble swallowing anything big or too dry a moist food was necessary. The next best thing to home cooked food is the Burns Penlan moist diet so I have chosen the high complex carbohydrate diet option. I am also adding high strength Salmon oil and anti-oxidants for his immune system.

Whatever, you decide to feed your pet or what treatment option you go for remember that there is no right or wrong course of action. Each dog will respond differently – as an owner all you can do is ensure quality of life is kept as high as possible.

There are simple carbohydrates and complex carbohydrates which are classified depending on their chemical structure and how easily they are processed by the body.  Simple sugars include fructose, lactose and sucrose. Studies on cancer suggest that tumours feed off sugars and therefore simple carbohydrates should be avoided. However, complex carbohydrates which are found in whole grains like brown rice and legumes such as beans are digested much more slowly and do not produce a rapid rise in blood sugar like simple carbs do.

Head Pet Nutritionist

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