Can Plant-Based Dog Food Prevent Cancer?
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Can Plant-Based Dog Food Prevent Cancer?

by Jeff Bloom

Written By: Tiffany Ruiz Dasilva, VMD, cVMA | Professional Services Veterinarian, Wild Earth

What we feed our dogs directly impacts their health. In fact, diet is a principal risk factor of chronic inflammation in both dogs and humans, and chronic inflammation can lead to inflammatory diseases such as cancer.

In humans, plant-based diets, particularly those that are high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes, have been associated with reduced risk of certain types of cancer, such as colorectal, breast, and prostate cancer. This is likely because plant-based diets are often lower in fat and higher in fiber, vitamins, and antioxidants, which could potentially reduce inflammation and oxidative stress in the body.

While research is limited in dogs, there is some evidence to suggest that plant-based diets may have potential benefits for cancer prevention in dogs. Studies have shown that dogs fed a diet rich in fruits and vegetables may have a reduced risk of certain types of cancer, such as lymphoma and bladder cancer.

What is Cancer and what causes it?

Cancer is a disease in which cells that have mutated and become abnormal divide uncontrollably.

Cancer is caused by multiple factors including genetic predisposition, environmental factors, obesity, diet and inflammation. Let’s dive into each one of these and evaluate how a plant-based diet addresses most, potentially reducing the risk of cancer.

  1. Genetic predisposition: Purebred dogs are at higher risk of developing cancer, and certain breeds are more predisposed to certain types of cancer. For example, German Shepherds are predisposed to developing hemangiosarcoma, and Scottish terriers are highly predisposed to transitional cell carcinoma of the bladder. As you may have guessed, plant-based feeding cannot affect the genetic makeup of an animal.
  2. Environmental factors: Factors in the environment such as pollutants and tobacco smoke can increase the risk of cancer. In pets, exposure to thirdhand tobacco smoke, for example, increases the risk of nasal tumors. Thirdhand smoke is even more carcinogenic than first and secondhand smoke as it is the result of the oxidation of smoke particles that have fallen down onto surfaces. Furthermore, as mentioned Scottish terriers are highly predisposed to transitional cell carcinoma; and herbicide exposure has been seen to increase their risk of developing it. Plant-based feeding cannot affect environmental factors directly, however a study found that consumption of vegetables (green leafy and yellow-orange) at least three times per week reduced the incidence of transitional cell carcinoma in Scottish Terriers (Raghavan et al., 2005).
  3. Obesity: In humans, more than 1 in 20 cancer cases are caused by being overweight or obese. The risk for developing cancer increases with the more weight you gain and the longer you are overweight for. There are several mechanisms of action proposed to contribute to this. First, growth hormones increase with body fat. Growth hormones stimulate cell growth, and this applies to cancer cells as well. Second, with increased body fat, comes increased inflammation as the body attempts to remove dead fat. Inflammation will be addressed further in this article. Lastly, the more cells one has, the increased risk of mutation. In dogs, between 20-60% of dogs are overweight or obese. Plant-based diets have long been correlated with a healthy body weight, and this has been further supported by several studies (Davies, 2022). Additionally, in a recent long-term study in which 15 dogs were fed plant-based diets for a year, the body weight of the dogs remained stable, while body condition scores trended downwards in overweight/obese dogs (Linde et al., 2023).
  4. Diet: In humans, dietary factors account for about 30% of human cancer cases in the US. Vegetarian diets have been seen to confer protection against cancer (Tantamango-Bartley et al., 2013), while meat, especially processed meat, has been associated with increased risk of cancer development (Farvid et al., 2021). Additionally, toxin bioaccumulation is another potential risk factor in cancer development. Meat inherently has more accumulated toxins and intensive farming increases this risk. In eating a plant-based diet, one is able to avoid both carcinogens and toxins associated with an increased risk of cancer.
  5. Chronic Inflammation: Chronic inflammation is a type of inflammation that occurs over an extended period and has been linked to a range of health problems, including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and some types of cancer. Diet can have a significant impact on chronic inflammation, and is a principal risk factor of chronic inflammation in both dogs and humans. Consuming diets containing a high amount of fiber and antioxidants, such as plant-based diets have been associated with a decrease in chronic inflammation. Fiber cannot be broken down by mammalian enzymes, and instead is broken down by microbial enzymes, providing a food source for the bacteria in the large intestine. Upon fermentation of the fiber, these bacteria produce short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) that nourish intestinal cells and prevent the overgrowth of harmful bacteria. Dysbiosis (an imbalance between the types of organisms present in an animal’s natural microflora) creates inflammation of the gut-associated lymphoid tissue (GALT), which allows for antigens to enter the bloodstream and results in chronic cellular inflammation. Chronic inflammation leads to the production of free radicals which can damage and destroy tissues and can lead to inflammatory diseases such as cancer, inflammatory bowel disease, and allergies (Arrazuria et al., 2017; Dodds, 2016; Li et al., 2016; Dodds & Callewaert, 2016). As mentioned, plant-based diets also tend to be much higher in antioxidants than meat-based diets. Antioxidants work to neutralize free radicals, which are highly reactive molecules that can damage cells and tissues in the body. By reducing oxidative stress and inflammation in the body, antioxidants can help to protect against chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, and neurodegenerative disorders.

All in all, plant-based diets may decrease the risk of our precious pups developing cancer by working in a variety of ways. As pet parents, we play a large role in disease prevention and health maintenance through the food we choose to feed our dogs. At Wild Earth we take the role that diet plays on health very seriously, and choose only clean, high quality, whole food ingredients. Our recipes contain fruits and vegetables high in antioxidants and fiber, and as an added bonus, we guarantee the amount of omega-3 fatty acids because of its role in decreasing inflammation. Our plant-based dog food will keep your dog happy and healthy for years to come!


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