The Right Diet for Cats with Cancer

cat-eating

While cancer in cats is not as common as it in dogs, it is still one of the leading causes of death in older cats. According to the Animal Cancer Foundation, 6 million cats will be diagnosed with cancer in the United States along. And because cats are masters at masking illness, it is often harder to detect.

Cancer used to be a death sentence for cats, but recent advances in feline cancer research have made treatment possible in many cases. Just like with human cancers, early detection is key to successful treatment. Depending on the type of cancer, treatment options may include surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy.

Cancer changes the body’s metabolism

Cancer changes how the body metabolizes nutrients. Cancer cells metabolize glucose (from carbohydrates) and make lactate that the body then tries to convert back into glucose. This process diverts energy from the cat, feeding the cancer instead. Cancers also convert amino acids, the building blocks of protein, into energy, which causes muscle wasting, poor immune function, and slow healing. Additionally, tumor cells have difficulty utilizing fat as a source of energy. All of this results in what’s known as “cancer cachexia,” a progressive weight loss and depletion of muscle and connective tissues.

Good nutrition is critically important in cats with cancer

For all of these reasons, adequate species-appropriate nutrition is critically important in feline cancer patients. Unfortunately, cats will often lose their appetite when they’re not feeling well. It’s important to stay on top of how much your cat is eating. Refusal to eat can ultimately be a quality of life indicator in cats with cancer.

The optimal diet for a cat with cancer

The optimal diet for a cat with cancer is not all that different from the optimal diet for a healthy cat: a diet high in quality protein and low in carbohydrates, and that means meat. There is not much research available on diets for cats with cancer. Many veterinarians recommend feeding a high protein, high fat and low carb diet based on studies that were conducted with dogs. Omega-3 fatty acids are also recommended since they are a good source of fat and also have anti-inflammatory properties.

Many premium quality grain-free diets will meet these parameters.

Alternately, you may want to consider a home prepared diet for cats with cancer. A holistic veterinarian or veterinary nutritionist can help you design appropriate recipes.

Raw feeding is controversial for cats with cancer, and some veterinarians caution against it. “I recommend avoiding raw meat based diets for cats that are on immunosuppressive medications like chemotherapy drugs, or higher doses of cortisone-type drugs like prednisolone,” says Andrea Tasi, VMD, a holistic feline veterinarian and owner of Just Cats Naturally.

It’s more important that cats with cancer eat, than what they eat

Even though feeding an optimal ratio of protein, fat and carbs is ideal, this is not the time to force a diet change. While dry food may be the worst possible nutritional choice for a cat with cancer, it is an option if it’s the only thing your cat will eat.

Cats with cancer may become finicky about eating, and encouragement may be needed. Adding incentives such as freeze dried meat treats, tuna juice, small pieces of cooked meat, or nutritional yeast can all help encourage cats who have lost their appetite. For more information, read How to Get Finicky Cats to Eat.

New Dr. Goodpet banner

 

22 Comments on The Right Diet for Cats with Cancer

  1. Nancy L.
    August 13, 2017 at 4:12 am (6 days ago)

    Hi,
    Can you provide citations for the research you mention showing that dogs with cancer benefit from a lower-carb diet?
    Thanks!
    Nancy

    Reply
  2. Breeze
    July 14, 2017 at 9:35 am (1 month ago)

    Hello, My cat was just diagnosed with large cell lymphoma. His vet switched him to Hills a/d urgent care from Instinct Limited Ingredient because he’s loosing a half a pound a week and is down to 6 pounds now (from 12lbs). Before canned food, he was eating raw whole ground rabbit. I’m considering switching him back to raw food because I’m concerned that the quality just isn’t there with the canned food and he’s still dropping a half a pound a week. Why is it recommended for cats with cancer to not eat raw?

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      July 14, 2017 at 9:48 am (1 month ago)

      If your cat is going through chemo therapy and/or taking steroids, his immune system is suppressed. While the risk is probably relatively small, a healthy cat can handle any possible pathogens in raw food, a cat with a compromised immune system may not be able to. You could gently cook the raw food to eliminate that risk.

      Reply
      • Breeze
        July 14, 2017 at 9:54 am (1 month ago)

        Okay. Thanks Ingrid! We have an appointment with the oncologist on Monday to see if he will be able to start chemo. I will definitely cook it a bit first to be safe. If he’s not able to do the chemo, should I still cook it?

        Reply
  3. Vicky
    October 28, 2016 at 10:55 am (10 months ago)

    Hi, My cat is currently losing weight and has been in chemo since August. I used to feed my cat Innova but it was discontinued in the summer so I switched to Fancy Feast. It’s not the best brand and my cat has been losing weight. I want to switch to a higher quality, higher fat and less fake cat food. Do you have any brand suggestions? I was thinking of Evo. It’s funny because my cat is eating, but I’ve switched him to more wet food but the weight isn’t staying on. He was chunky to begin with, but the doctor is concerned. Another option is kitten food. Any suggestion would be appreciated.

    I love your blog by the way. i found it a few months ago when I had a breakdown over not being able to put my cat in a carrier. He has a eye tumor but I will do what I can to help him.

    Reply
  4. B
    July 11, 2016 at 7:33 am (1 year ago)

    Bone broth is one of the best things you can make for any pet with or without illness but it has worked wonders with my cat who was diagnosed with cancer. I give it to her in a 1 ml syringe most times to ensure she is getting enough – she doesn’t pull her head away at all and seems to relax with the warmth. Sometimes I will add a pinch or 2 of nutritional yeast which she likes – not necessary though as bone broth is a complete “food”.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lI-vo8td7ME

    Reply
    • Lou
      November 24, 2016 at 11:31 pm (9 months ago)

      How do you make bone broth. My 13 year old cat was just diagnosed with cancer and had to have his left rear leg tee removed. It’s been a struggle to get him to eat. And he’s on steroids twice a day now too.

      Reply
      • kim
        June 26, 2017 at 10:05 am (2 months ago)

        Hi! I have a 13 year old with all kinds of growths and inflammation in her stomach and small intestines, liver and gall bladder. Don’t know if it’s cancer without a biopsy BUT I started her on this. Bone broth is easy especially if you have a crock pot. Go to your local butcher(I’m a vegan so this was a ton of fun) and tell them you want to make bone marrow broth and they will cut you a few bones. Whole Foods and Wegmans or any higher end grocery should have this option)My last batch I did 2 lbs bones and enough water to cover bones. Add 2 tbls of apple cider vinegar(I use raw unfiltered)this pulls out the good stuff. Put slow cooker on high for 2 hours then about 18 hours on low. My girl loves the taste and I am happy she is getting something that is helping fight cancer.

        Google- Nate the Cat story, I also started her in CBD 1x a day(I give in a Syringe with 3 ml fresh wheat grass juice) in addition to what I found in this article. After about 10 days so far of this regimen she seems to be doing a little better

        Reply
  5. Tiffany
    May 1, 2016 at 6:40 pm (1 year ago)

    Can someone please give me a sample meal for a cat with cancer?
    I just learned my 13yr old cat has cancer yesterday(she has a fairly large lump on her right rib). The vet wants to put her to sleep, but I’m trying to desperately help prolong her life. I just changed her food. I used some canned salmon cat food and then I added some egg and a few bits of sweet potato. She ate some of it but she’s only eating if I bring her food.

    Please help!

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      May 2, 2016 at 5:32 am (1 year ago)

      I’m sorry about your cat’s diagnosis, Tiffany. The most important thing for a cat with cancer is that she eats, even if it may not be the kind of food we want her to eat. You may need to break out the “junk food” to tempt her appetite. If you want to have someone formulate a homemade diet for her, there are a couple of different resources that can help: petdiets.com and balanceit.com. Both have vets on staff.

      Reply
    • Leesa
      May 2, 2016 at 11:37 am (1 year ago)

      Hi Tiffany,

      I’m so sorry for your cat’s diagnosis. My 15 1/2 year old cat has a probable case of bone cancer (the chickpea sized VERY hard lump on his back rib is now a 3 inch mass with multiple larger lumps–took about 8 months to grow that large; the vet thinks it’s osteosarcoma & I decided against further tests since the vet said surgery would probably not prolong his life.) That said, although my cat’s mass hasn’t grown much in the past 2 months and he otherwise seems ok.

      I have no medical proof to back this up but I feed my cat these things:
      1) solely wet food that very very low in carbs and fairly high in fat. I’m currently mixing Wellness Complete Chicken with Fancy Feast Classic Salmon with Cats in the Kitchen Chicken Frick a Zee.
      2)in the morning squeeze an omega 3 cat tab on the food

      I feed put his food out four times a day. I try to get him to eat it when I put it out, but if he doesn’t I cajole him during the the hours between servings. My cat weighs about 11 pounds, I give him about 250 calories a day and on a good day he eats about 3/4 of it. On a bad day about 100-125 calories.

      While my cat sleeps a lot and a lot of the time and I have to hand-feed him sometimes (he’ll gobble up the food if I hand-feed him; yes, he’s gotten spoiled), he does eat and drink.

      I have no idea if this is prolonging his life or not. I hope it is. I do think it is crucial to give your cat a low carb diet (only because I read somewhere that cancer will not grow quickly on a high fat diet but will grow quicker with sugar carbs.) Again, I have no idea if this is true. I just know my cat, while he has a large mass is still ok and it’s now nearly 5 months since the vet noticed it and nearly 14 months since I first noticed his lump. I with you the best.

      PS There’s a great site, http://www.catinfo.org , that has charts with every single type of cat (wet) and lists the protein/carb/fat calories.

      Reply
  6. Leesa
    March 13, 2016 at 1:40 pm (1 year ago)

    Great article!

    My cat is 15 years old and has a probable malignancy. I say “probable” because he had a small very very very hard lump on his rib (first noticed it 1 year ago), 1st vet said it was nothing, 2nd vet, last Dec. thought it was something–bone cancer. On the rib (axial osteoarcoma.)

    I decided against a biopsy because vet told me surgery probably wouldn’t extend his life and because my cat is in diabetic remission (long story, but he went into remission 4 days after his diagnosis just by switching to high quality wet low carb food)he cannot take chemo (which I doubt I’d want to do in the first place.

    So I’m letting him live out the rest of his life being loved. His tumor has grown tremendously –it’s currently weird shaped (bumpy, about 3″ long) but aside from not being as active as he used to me, he seems fine. Eating well, drinking, going to the bathroom. He doesn’t seem to be in any distress. I’ve decided to switch his food so it’s still low carb but higher in fat (I also give him 1 omega 3 a day and he gets freeze-dried chicken crumbled on top of his food which he loves.)

    Any other suggestions to (hopefully) prolong his life? Thanks in advance!

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      March 13, 2016 at 3:37 pm (1 year ago)

      It sounds like your boy is doing really well, Leesa, all things considered. I probably wouldn’t change anything at this stage. All my best to both of you.

      Reply
      • Leesa
        March 13, 2016 at 3:57 pm (1 year ago)

        Thanks, Ingrid!

        Reply
  7. Liz Hardy
    August 10, 2015 at 3:59 am (2 years ago)

    Such a wonderful article, Ingrid, and really underlines the importance of not stressing out a cat with cancer further by making new diet rules. As always, kindness is key with our furry ones.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      August 10, 2015 at 6:09 am (2 years ago)

      Thank you, Liz, this means a log coming from you.

      Reply
  8. Conniev
    August 3, 2015 at 9:54 am (2 years ago)

    Hi Ingrid-

    I’ve mentioned here before that my Maddie has been dealing with small cell lymphoma for over a year now and I totally agree that while it would be good for her to be on a certain diet, I am just happy when I can get her to eat her fancy feast.

    ConnieV

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      August 3, 2015 at 2:14 pm (2 years ago)

      All my best to Maddie, Connie – as long as she’s eating, it’s all good!

      Reply
  9. Sue Brandes
    August 3, 2015 at 9:18 am (2 years ago)

    Thanks for the informative post. I did not know about diets for cancer kitties. Good to know.

    Reply
  10. Elizabeth
    August 3, 2015 at 9:05 am (2 years ago)

    Hi Ingrid. I lost a beloved kitty to cancer, and while I chose to take the vet’s advice in her case, and put her on chemo, it was the worst experience and made her last few weeks wretched. I regret putting her through that, because clearly it made her miserable. Back in those days, little of us had heard about a Species Appropriate Diet…diet is everything!! Now, my Wilford has cancer tumors throughout his body, along with CHF and HyperT. Wilford is a very picky man- you don’t get to dictate what Wilford eats, he is a man with his own agenda. To that end, he has scoffed at 99.9% of everything “healthy” I’ve tried to nudge him in to. That being said, after months and months of prodding, he is taking his CannaPet daily and it has done wonders at stimulating his appetite. Along with increased appetite from the CannaPet (now voracious, plus increased due to the HyperT stimulation) he amazes the vets with how well he is doing- overall. The CannaPet has been a God-send in getting my Wilford to eat. I encourage any kitty owner to get this hemp product, especially if they’re struggling with cancer, arthritis, IBD- especially cancer- it has made all the difference in whether my Will’s eats, or not.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      August 3, 2015 at 2:13 pm (2 years ago)

      I’m so sorry about your kitty, Elizabeth. Some cats do really well with chemo, others have a hard time with it, like yours. I’m glad CannaPet is working so well for Wilford!

      Reply

Leave a comment

First time visitors: please read our Comment Guidelines.