With the exception of canine lymphoma which responds well to a high fat low carbohydrate diet (Hill’s N/D), there is no accepted dietary recommendation for cancer patients. Veterinarians and pet owners interested in alternatives or complements to conventional practice often shun commercial diets, and some cancer patients refuse them, as well. Below are some recipes and suggestions for nutritional support of cancer patients in Alta Loma, Rancho Cucamonga, Upland, Ontario, Claremont, Fontana and the Inland Empire of California.

Are there any good home-made diets for cancer patients?

Based on Dr. Ogilvie’s work using low carbohydrate, moderate fat and moderate protein diets for lymphoma patients, we have used homemade diets that reduce carbohydrates while providing quality protein, presumably appropriate fat and fatty acid profiles, and high levels of nutrient rich vegetables.

Rule number one is to KEEP THEM EATING, so we don’t stand on principle if our patients dislike our cooking. On the other hand, the majority of canine and feline patients appear to improve in general condition after becoming acclimated to the diet below, and we assume that their general improvement bodes well for the course of their disease, at least to optimize survival times.

Guidelines for cooking for canine cancer patients:

  • 50% fish or poultry (organic preferred but not necessary)
  • 50% mixed frozen or fresh vegetables
  • Flax or olive oil as a source of fat calories – about 1 teaspoon per 20 pounds of body weight
  • A HUMAN daily vitamin-mineral supplement (one dose for animals over 20 pounds, ½ dose for animals under 20 lbs)
  • A calcium carbonate source – (tums work well) about 250 mg per 15 pounds of body weight

(This recipe can be used for cats with the meat at 80% and vegetables 20%, and added taurine, 250-400mg daily)

Many people use a crock-pot to stew all ingredients together. Some prefer to steam the vegetables, add the cooked meat, and throw everything into a food mill so that it looks like commercial canned food. Raw meat is never recommended for animals undergoing chemotherapy or who are immune suppressed in any way. This recipe is NOT balanced – the patient and the recipe should be re-evaluated frequently in order to adjust the recipe according to the animal’s weight, disease progression, and other changes in condition.

Can I use spices to improve palatability?

There are a number of spices shown to have anti-neoplastic activity that will also improve the flavor of this recipe. Try the following:

FRESH minced garlic – about 1 clove per 40 pounds of body weight.

Garlic may oxidize red blood cells and at high doses can lead to clinically significant anemia, but the benefits, and the fact that the taste can sometimes stimulate appetite, make use of the herb worthwhile. The CBC can be monitored regularly to curtail potential problems before they become serious.

Turmeric, about 1 teaspoon per 50 pounds of body weight.

Turmeric, the yellow (and rather mild) spice that gives curry its yellow color, is a strong antioxidant. Curcumin itself is not well absorbed systemically, but is currently in favor for treatment of GI cancers.4-7 Turmeric is rather milder tasting than one would expect. Most dogs, and even some cats, accept it readily. The dose of turmeric is high, up to one tablespoon daily for large dogs.

Are there nutritional supplements that have antineoplastic or immunomodulatory properties?

Nutritional supplements are supportive and mild, but many do have anti-cancer effects in in-vitro and even in vivo studies. Because of their mechanisms of action, it has been suggested that they are best used in combinations of at least 10 to 15 elements.

Antioxidants are often recommended for cancer patients; they may slow proliferation of neoplastic cells and reduce adverse effects of chemotherapy. While many believe that antioxidants interfere with chemotherapy, others suggest that they actually enhance the effects of chemotherapy. Some trials suggest that antioxidants are effective in mitigating the side effects of chemotherapy and radiation, and improve quality of life. Human clinical trials addressing this subject have been published, but the evidence is still conflicting.

A critical review of 50 randomized controlled trials or observational studies reporting concomitant use of nutritional supplement and chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy was recently published. In 15 of those studies, 3738 patients took antioxidants and other nutrients, and were reported to have increased survival.

We use antioxidants in cancer patients who are old (where there is clear benefit for joint pain, mobility and cognitive dysfunction in these patients) and where patients are experiencing side effects from conventional treatment. Antioxidants such as Vitamin C, E, selenium and the antioxidant enzymes are mutually dependant on each other for their generation and activity. For this reason, antioxidants should be provided as a broad spectrum, rather than singly. The beneficial effects of fish oil may also be suppressed by high levels of added antioxidants, so I usually recommend low to moderate doses of a combination product.

Fish oil appears to have antiproliferative activity in some tumor cell lines, antimetastatic activity in laboratory animals, and anti-cachectic activity in human patients. The benefits for patients with cancer are linked with the ability to attenuate systemic inflammation. It is frequently recommended for canine and feline cancer patients at a rate of 1 extra strength capsule (500-600 mg of DHA and EPA) per 10-20 lbs of body weight.

Plant-derived flavonoids have been studied in the prevention of cancer. These include resveratrol from red grapes (and wine), green tea polyphenols, and phytoestrogens from soy and other plants. Other less well known flavonoids commonly found in medicinal herbs include curcumin (from turmeric), apigenin, anthocyanidins (from berries), quercetin, and many others (approximately 4000 flavonoids have been described). In addition to well-recognized antioxidant effects that may help in prevention of cancer, certain flavonoids have been found to have activity in reducing cancer cell invasion mechanisms and metastasis mechanisms, as well as enhancing immune function.

The green tea polyphenol, epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), has been shown to have anti-angiogenic and antiproliferative properties in addition to preventing cancers. In human clinical trials, 200mg daily of EGCG led to benefits, while up to 800mg daily was tolerated. I would suggest scaling the dose down by weight, and using the extract instead of dried green tea leaves, as the dose of the dried herb may affect patient appetite if provided in food.

What else can I do to support my patient?

Cancer patients are most often older, with the age-related diseases that accompany that process. Practitioners and caregivers must consider pain from arthritis, rheumatism (muscle spasms, trigger points) and the tumor itself. In addition, geriatric patients may experience cognitive decline or the cumulative effects of chronic disease and chronic medication administration (in some cases leading to bowel hyperpermeability). For these patients, various supportive measures, such as massage and acupuncture may literally be helpful. For those who have chronic allergies, or have been administered NSAIDs, steroids, antibiotics and other drugs that affect bowel bacterial balance or mucosal integrity, prebiotics and probiotics may be appropriate.

Do we know if they work?

None of the nutritional therapies discussed have proven effects, used alone, in specific cancers of canine or feline patients. However, they caused no harm and appeared to benefit the patient. If cancer patients feel good enough to tolerate the diet change and supplements, this regimen of low carbohydrate homemade diet with therapeutic spices, antioxidants and fish oil can improve and maintain good physical condition in a number of patients.