What to Feed a Dog With Cancer and No Appetite

It’s heartbreaking to see your dog lose its appetite and start losing weight. Dogs with cancer and other serious illnesses frequently stop eating and drinking, and this can cause dehydration and nutrient deficiencies that make them even weaker.

How can I stimulate my dog’s appetite?

It is natural for dogs suffering from cancer to lose appetite. Whether that is due to a loss of smell and taste or discomfort when eating, there are some things we can do to stimulate your dog’s appetite.

  • Moistures and smell are important, so increasing both will help. For dogs with oral or digestive inflammation, wet food will be much easier to eat. The stronger the smell, the more enticing the food will be.
  • Try feeding smaller and more frequent meals. If the dog is able to eat small amounts without vomiting or experiencing discomfort, they are likely to come back for more.
  • Avoid giving medication and food together as this may cause your dog to avoid eating. If medication needs to be given with food, try hiding it in a treat your dog enjoys such as a roll of ham or lump of cheese. When they have taken this, you can then offer their normal dog food to eat.
  • Try different techniques until you find the one that is best suited to your dog. Every dog is different and so too are their reactions to illness and medication.

What to feed a dog with cancer who won’t eat

Feeding your dog when he’s sick can be a challenge, but it’s important to get the right nutrients into him. If he has an upset stomach, food that is bland and easy to digest is the best option.

A chicken and rice diet is a good choice for a sick dog. It’s easy on the stomach and provides small, easily-digested pieces of protein to keep your pet going. Plain, unseasoned, boiled, shredded chicken is best paired with white rice. The white rice adds carbohydrate fuel to help a dog who isn’t eating maintain some energy levels.

Pumpkin and sweet potato soup is also a great choice for sick dogs. It’s not as high in protein as chicken and rice, but it is still very easy on the stomach. Replace some of the water with chicken broth for extra flavor and nutrients — this will make it more appealing to your pup while still keeping it low-key.

Baby food is another good option for ill dogs. It’s easy to swallow, and you can mix it with medication and feed it to your dog.

Appetite stimulant for dogs with cancer

We have listed some options that you could try if your dog has cancer or is receiving chemotherapy or radiation that has side effects that hinder their appetites:

1. Rotisserie chicken

This is where you take the rotisserie chicken from the supermarket and blend it up with some canned food. The canned food will give it an appealing texture while the rotisserie chicken will add flavor. You can cut the chicken into tiny pieces so they don’t choke on large chunks of meat.

2. Mirtazapine

Mirtazapine helps stimulate your dog’s appetite by directly increasing the number of neurotransmitter chemicals in the brain that are responsible for stimulating appetite. Mirtazapine is used in dogs with nausea or vomiting caused by cancer chemotherapy or radiation therapy treatment.

3. Meclizine

Meclizine is an antihistamine drug used to relieve nausea and vomiting. It has also been used off-label as an appetite stimulant for dogs with cancer. This drug should not be combined with certain other medications and it can also cause drowsiness in some animals.

4. CBD products

Most dogs with cancer develop anorexia or loss of appetite. This can lead to dehydration, malnutrition, and weight loss. CBD may help relieve nausea and calm the nervous system and digestive tract, making it easier for your dog to eat.

If you’re giving your pet CBD oil or another cannabis product, talk to your veterinarian about how to administer it safely. You should also keep an eye on your pet’s weight and overall health while they’re taking the medication. If you notice any changes, contact your vet right away.

What can dogs with cancer eat?

To ensure your dog is getting all the nutrients they need, there are several things you need to consider when choosing their food.

1. Fatty foods

Cancer cells prefer using carbohydrates as an energy source and are less likely to target fat cells. A dog’s healthy cells need fat to function normally, therefore, a diet high in fat (ideally 20-40%) is recommended for cancer patients. A high-fat content will also help your dog to gain a little weight.

2. High-calorie foods

Similarly, a diet with a high-calorie value will help the dog maintain weight as cancer often causes a reduction in the absorption of nutrients. A high-calorie food means they have more nutrients available and will be able to put on weight

3. Protein foods

Protein is an essential nutrient in the production and repair of muscle tissue. Since cancer patients suffer muscle loss as well as fat loss, a diet high in protein can help to repair some of this damage. For dry food, the recommended protein content is 30-45%.

4. Low carbohydrate foods

As previously discussed, cancer cells like to use carbohydrates as an energy source, so the dog’s diet should be low in carbohydrates to avoid giving the cancer cells more energy. You should be looking for a dog food with less than 20-25% carbohydrates.

You should also consider providing supplements for your dog while they are receiving treatment. Many dog foods are fortified with certain vitamins and minerals but there are added nutrients recommended for dogs with cancer.

5. High-Arginine foods

Arginine is an amino acid that benefits the immune system. It is also considered to have an effect on tumor growth. A value of 2% or more is recommended, but unfortunately, dog food companies do not label Arginine on their packaging. Your vet should be able to recommend the best brands or you can contact your preferred brand directly to check their Arginine level.

6. Omega-3-rich foods

Omega 3 fatty acids are essential for dogs in daily life and more so when they are receiving cancer treatment. In particular, EPA and DHA which are found in fish oils are believed to have significant benefits. These fatty acids are known to have a direct effect on cancer cachexia. Many dog foods are already fortified with omega 3 so also check before supplementing it.

Do dogs with cancer lose appetite?

Yes, there are many causes of appetite loss for dogs with cancer.

  • Nausea: Nausea is a common symptom of many types of cancer and has a direct impact on a dog’s urge to eat.
  • Location of tumors: Any tumors located in the mouth, throat or intestinal tract may make eating painful, which leads to the dog not wanting to eat.
  • Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy often causes nausea and vomiting. This reduces the dog’s interest in food, but they do not understand that the treatment is making them sick. They may associate their food with feeling ill and will therefore avoid eating.
  • Radiation: Although radiation therapy targets cancer cells, it also affects the healthy cells. A common side effect is the changes caused to saliva production, which makes eating and swallowing difficult, as well as causing inflammation of the mouth and throat.

The weight loss a dog experiences due to cancer is different from the weight loss a starved dog would suffer. Dogs with cancer suffer from “cancer cachexia” which is the loss of fat and muscle mass at an equal rate. Dogs suffering from starvation lose body fat first.

Cancer cachexia can occur even if the dog is eating an adequate amount of food. The connection is to do with malnutrition. The dog may be eating enough but not getting the nutrients they need for their body to function normally.

Often, the treatment itself is the biggest cause of weight loss. Chemotherapy alters the sense of smell and taste. Since dogs rely heavily on their sense of smell, they often go off their food while receiving chemotherapy treatment.

Similarly, radiation therapy causes changes to various parts of the body as mentioned earlier. Swelling or inflammation in the mouth, throat and stomach can make eating difficult, so many dogs lose appetite. Additionally, this inflammation reduces the absorption of essential nutrients, so the dog is not getting enough.

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Hannah Elizabeth is an English animal behavior author, having written for several online publications. With a degree in Animal Behaviour and over a decade of practical animal husbandry experience, Hannah's articles cover everything from pet care to wildlife conservation. When she isn't creating content for blog posts, Hannah enjoys long walks with her Rottweiler cross Senna, reading fantasy novels and breeding aquarium shrimp.

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