7 Cancer-Fighting Foods for Dogs, According to Vets
Keep your furry best friend by your side for as long as possible by including these healthy, cancer-fighting foods for dogs into their diet
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Just as it is for humans, cancer is one of the leading causes of death for canines. Similarly, the exact causes of cancer in dogs remain elusive. What we do know is that taking steps toward a healthier lifestyle can help curb some of the most common forms. And just as certain foods have cancer-curbing benefits for people, you can seek out cancer-fighting foods for dogs—and that includes dog treats, too!
Additional supplements may also be protective. Here’s what our vets recommend.
Omega-3 fatty acids, which can be found in fish oil, are key to your health, and the same good-for-you ingredients are also great for your pup. “Fish oil has many positive health benefits for a dog’s skin and coat, and it supports the overall function of many vital organs,” says Shelly Zacharias, DVM, a veterinarian and the vice president of medical affairs at Gallant. “Further, omega-3 fatty acids have been found to slow the growth of tumors and reduce inflammation, which is an important aspect of controlling many types of cancer.”
For dogs, it’s important to supply their omega-3 fatty acids as DHA and EPA as they cannot easily convert the alpha linoleic acid found in flax and other seeds into the essential DHA and EPA. “Fish oil is still the best source,” Dr. Kass says. “Animal Essentials’ Fish Oil Supplement is a clean, unflavored, liquid form to make dosing easier.” These viral salmon bites can also benefit your pup in between dosing.
Omega-3 fatty acids
An extract of the spice turmeric, curcumin is a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory ingredient, says Dr. Downing, and as such, it boasts the potential of being a cancer-fighting food for dogs. Though you may think that sprinkling turmeric over your dog’s food is the way to go, this isn’t ideal. The primary reason is that it won’t be absorbed well by your pup. “[Curcumin] requires extensive processing to reach an effective level in the diet,” she says.
One very important note: Curcumin is safe for dogs only in small and controlled quantities. There are a number of dog treats and supplements that carefully incorporate this ingredient, and experts recommend going this route. The veterinarians we spoke to recommend Zesty Paws Turmeric Curcumin Bites and Terry Naturally Curacel Curcumin.
Certain mushrooms—including reishi, turkey tail, shiitake and maitake—contain lectins, beta-glucans and PSK (polysaccharide K), all of which have been linked to cancer protection. “Lectin can help stop the growth of cancer cells and may aid in killing them and beta-glucans stimulate the immune cells and have an anti-inflammatory effect,” says Wailani Sung, DVM, veterinary behaviorist for Chewy. “PSK has been used in human cancer trials and it has been found to increase survival, decrease recurrence and stimulate the immune system.”
Mushrooms are a recommended dietary ingredient for humans, too, and even boast anti-aging properties. Like curcumin, it’s best to incorporate these cancer-fighting foods for dogs via a premade product, such as NaturVet Mushroom Max Advanced Immune Support or Zesty Paws Select Essentials Mushroom Bites.
Blueberries and blackberries
Antioxidant-rich blueberries and blackberries are on the list of human foods that dogs can eat, too. They contain anthocyanins, which have anti-inflammatory properties. “Some lab tests have shown that blueberries may improve or prevent some types of cancer, and the USDA has ranked blackberries as a top antioxidant food,” says Dr. Zacharias.
According to the American Kennel Club (AKC), fresh and frozen blueberries are OK to give in moderation. For a nice summer treat, you can even freeze them and serve to your pup. In general, treats (of any kind) should only make up 10 percent of your dog’s diet. Of course, some human foods are a big no-no, including another bite-sized fruit, grapes, which are toxic to dogs.
If you have a picky eater who won’t touch the whole fruit, you can get some of the benefits from an antioxidant-infused treat like Finley’s Barkery Antioxidant Boost Bars, made with blueberries.
Studies have found that those with lower levels of vitamin D had a higher risk of developing different types of cancer, says Dr. Sung. “Calcitriol, a derivative of vitamin D, has anti-tumor properties that slow or stop the growth of cancer cells,” she says.
Foods such as salmon, mushrooms and eggs are naturally rich in vitamin D, but if yours doesn’t eat those, you may wonder if a supplement is warranted. But you should be careful when giving vitamin D to your dog without vet guidance, says Angie Krause, DVM, a holistic veterinarian at Boulder Holistic Vet and ambassador for dog food brand I And Love And You. Because this vitamin is fat-soluble, it’s possible for your dog to consume too much, which can make them sick.
Speak with your veterinarian about whether vitamin D is a good supplement to add to your dog’s diet, and only give them carefully measured quantities. Many dog multi-vitamins contain small, safe amounts of vitamin D, such as NaturVet Calcium-Phosphorus Plus Vitamin D Powder.
Raw or cooked broccoli
Broccoli is a yummy vegetable that’s known for being a healthy, cancer-fighting food for dogs. This cruciferous vegetable is rich in glucosinolates, which break down into anti-cancer compounds, says Dr. Zacharias. “These compounds are involved in apoptosis (cell death) of harmful cells and help prevent angiogenesis (blood vessel formation),” she says. “This is important because we want to prevent blood vessels from growing in tumors, which then ‘feeds’ tumor growth.”
To make it easy for your pup to consume, either cut raw broccoli into small pieces or steam it before serving. As with other ingredients we’ve listed here, careful moderation is important. Though it’s a tasty snack in small quantities, too much of this cancer-fighting food for dogs can cause some gastro upset in pups, according to the AKC. Sprinkle it on top of your pet’s meal as a yummy topper or offer small pieces as a treat. Or look for a dog food, like The Honest Kitchen Tender Turkey Stew, which includes broccoli in the recipe.
Supplementing a dog’s diet with an antioxidant combination of vitamin C, vitamin E, taurine, lutein, lycopene and beta-carotene may result in decreased DNA damage and improved immune response, according to one study by Waltham Petcare Science Institute, a nutrition-focused organization funded by Mars Petcare. “In other words, the levels of antioxidants produced by the ingredients had a protective effect against DNA damage,” says Dr. Sung. “It is not clear if supplementation with only one of these ingredients would have similar effects on the dogs’ health. However, use of these ingredients together may provide a preventative measure against the development of cancer.”
The best way to incorporate these ingredients is via fortified food, such as Victor Hi-Pro Plus Formula Dry Dog Food, or by adding a supplement, like VetriScience Immune Plus. That said, the same holds true about checking with your vet and reading labels carefully before supplementing your dog’s diet.
Understanding cancer in dogs
While some cancers are genetic, certain lifestyle circumstances can increase dogs’ risks. But as our pups don’t make (most) of their own calls, it’s up to us to be responsible owners to keep pets as healthy as possible.
“For instance, secondhand smoke, sun exposure and hormone production are respectively associated with lymphoma, skin cancer and breast (mammary) cancer in dogs,” says Sue Downing, DVM, a veterinarian and oncologist for the VCA Animal Specialty and Emergency Center in Los Angeles. “Therefore, cancer risk can be lowered by avoiding secondhand smoke, limiting midday sun exposure, and spaying female dogs at an early age.”
Additionally, maintaining an ideal body weight reduces a dog’s risk of developing cancer, according to Dr. Downing. That means it’s incredibly important to feed your pup high-quality dog food and sparingly offer healthy dog treats.
That said, while no specific dog food will outright prevent cancer from developing, making some smarter choices can help your dog have a happy, healthy life and even lower your dog’s chances of developing this disease.
Dog nutrition basics
Like humans, dogs are omnivores and require a similar balance of protein, carbohydrates and fats in their diets. A good rule of thumb when feeding your pet: Stick with high-quality foods that list whole foods in their ingredient panels. “The ideal canine diet should be made by a well-established manufacturer using common protein sources such as chicken or beef and containing grains including wheat, corn, and rice,” says Dr. Downing.
This can generally be achieved with any commercially available dog food that meets AAFCO standards for your dog’s life stage and breed size. However, you may choose to supplement their diet with whole foods from your own kitchen.
“If you feed kibble, you can improve the diet by adding a little lean [unseasoned] meat to it,” says veterinarian Evelyn Kass, DVM, who specializes in pet nutrition. Just be cautious about chicken, she warns, since it is one of the top allergenic foods for dogs and can make dogs feel ill. If your dog has allergies or a sensitive stomach, stick to beef instead, and make sure to remove any bones with either.
Feeding your dog a whole, rounded diet complete with cancer-fighting dog foods is one way you can ensure that they live a long and healthy life. Make sure to also spoil them with lots of affection, plenty of play time and words of praise.
- Sue Downing, DVM, veterinarian and oncologist for VCA Animal Specialty and Emergency Center in Los Angeles
- Evelyn Kass, DVM, veterinarian at Pet Nutrition Doctor
- Shelly Zacharias, DVM, veterinarian and vice president of medical affairs at Gallant
- Angie Krause, DVM, holistic veterinarian at Boulder Holistic Vet
- American Kennel Club
- Waltham Petcare Science Institute
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