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This year, I had to say goodbye to my 11-year-old beloved rescue dog, Huxley.
Huxley, a pit bull-boxer mix, weighing in at 95 pounds, was literally the biggest bundle of love.
After giving him a CCL (cranial cruciate ligament) surgery to repair his completely torn ligament, we were devastated to learn that he had a rapidly growing mast cell tumor that forced us to help him cross the rainbow bridge.
After his cancer diagnosis from the vet, it was too late to try and remove the tumor, and I spent endless hours researching how I could best help him heal or be more comfortable.
Losing a beloved pet is one of the most painful circumstances we will face and I was going to do everything I could to help fight for my boy.
Unfortunately, we are losing our pets quicker than ever these days: “1 in 2 dogs will die from cancer and they will pass about 7 years sooner than they would have 20 years ago,” states Rodney Habib in his TedX discussion “How to Build the Forever Dog.”
Dogs are affected by more forms of cancer than other companion animals—so, it’s no wonder they are living shorter lives. Habib, an internet celebrity and ketogenic diet supporter who is known for his blogging, videos, and animal activism asks the question, “So what can we do to give our dogs back the life they deserve to be living?”
Habib discovered the ketogenic (or “keto” for short) diet for his dog after she acquired spine cancer from a CCL treatment that went wrong, which was similar to my situation, so I immediately connected with his story and listened to everything I could find from him on the internet.
He explained how the keto diet has become a health hit with humans and dog owners alike. Both human and dog cancer survivors give thanks to a simple change. Not surgery, nor chemo, nor radiation but diet.
The keto diet is the consumption of a low-carb and high-fat foods. Science shows that ketogenic diets have benefits for those diagnosed with diabetes, cancer, epilepsy, and Alzheimer’s disease. Reducing carbohydrate intake and replacing it with fat allows this reduction in carbs to put your body into a metabolic state called ketosis. When this happens, your body becomes incredibly efficient at burning fat for energy.
So why is the keto diet so good for dogs?
Just like humans, plants, and other living animals, dogs need the proper nutrients to ward off dangerous diseases—like cancer. The keto diet, high in protein and healthy fats and low in carbs, is the perfect combination for our canine friends. Randy Kidd, DVM, PhD tells us in his article, “The Canine Digestion Process,” from Whole Dog Journal: “Commercially prepared, highly processed food hinders normal digestion, since it does not resemble the diet the dog’s digestive system has, over eons, been adapted to use.”
Although there has been a movement toward grain-free foods for pets, new grain-free dry and wet foods often contain loads of inorganic peas, potatoes, and beans. These make for high-carb foods that are filled with pesticides and are hard to digest.
If that isn’t bad enough, Habib tells us in his article “Cancer Causing Carrageenan in Pet Food,” that “A new report issued by The Cornucopia Institute, a non-profit food/farm policy research group, found that more than 70 percent of canned pet foods contain carrageenan, a non-nutritive food stabilizer extracted from red seaweed. Peer-reviewed, published research indicates that food-grade carrageenan is known to cause intestinal inflammation and serious related diseases, with the potential to lead to cancer, even in small doses.”
Yikes! We know canned food is bad for us, so why do we give it to our pets?
Convenience is the answer, but aren’t our pets worth more than that? Many pet owners would say yes!
When someone has a sick dog, most people suggest feeding them rice and chicken. While this may be a tasty and easy meal for them to digest, it does not hold the proper nutrients to keep your dog at optimal health. The rice has little to no nutritional value for the dog, and the chicken is lacking in protein content and fat.
“Consider that the canine’s intestinal tract has evolved to eat meats, fats, and rotting and decaying matter.” Dr. Kidd concludes, “The dog’s GI system is not prepared to process the refined carbohydrates most people feed their dogs, and it is certainly not functionally capable of utilizing or detoxifying the many synthetic substances it is exposed to today.”
Pet owners are learning to use the keto diet to move toward feeding their beloved companions fresh, organic, and raw foods from the earth, much closer to what these animals would be eating in the wild. Think raw, locally sourced eggs, grass-fed butter, local and ethically raised organic meats, and fresh greens and root veggies. Dogs need mostly protein and fat, however vegetables are important too, as they offer vitamins, fiber, and important microbes. Habib feeds his dog once a day, and claims that “caloric restriction is also important for optimal health.”
It can seem overwhelming at the beginning, switching from something that everyone else uses and that you are told has the proper nutrients for your pet.
Just like normal MDs, a vet will want to discuss the steps you can take with nutrition and supplements to help heal your furry companions. Simple changes and starting slowly can increase your best friends’ well-being and longevity, not to mention help with other problems like allergies and obesity, leaving both animals and pet owners happier and healthier.
Even though the keto diet couldn’t save my dog, as soon as I took him off his dry food, I noticed that he was far less bothered by the tumor than before, and he lived comfortably for longer than expected from this fast-acting cancer. He walked down the street with us until his very last day.
We have a new pit bull rescue in our lives now, Gator, who was saved from the Everglades. At the young age of 1.5 he is eating a raw diet (probably similar to what he was surviving off of in the wild) and thriving.