Mar Vista Animal Medical Center

3850 Grand View Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90066



Obviously it is important for a cancer patient to maintain appetite. A good appetite and enjoyment of food is one of the four criteria of life quality that are considered when deciding on euthanasia.  Beyond maintaining body condition and getting proper nutrients, however, there are actual nutrients and nutritional strategies that have anti-cancer properties.



Cancer is particularly efficient at using carbohydrates. The “Low Carb” diet theory is that a diet restricted in carbohydrates will be inhibitory to tumor growth. This theory plus work with omega 3 fatty acids has led to the production of Hills N/D diet (N/D stands for “neoplasia diet,” with “neoplasia” being the scientific term for cancer). See the next section for details regarding omega 3 fatty acids in the treatment of cancer.




Biochemically, a fatty acid is what we colloquially “fat.” When we talk about different types of fatty acids we are talking about different types of fat. A fatty acid consists of a long carbon chain  (say 20 or so carbons in length) with a biochemical acid group at one end.


a saturated fat



Each carbon atom has four binding sites. In the carbon chain, two sites will be taken up by other carbons (ie the two adjacent carbons on the chain). In a saturated fat, the other two sites are taken up by hydrogen atoms. Saturated fats are typcially sold at room temperature (like lard and butter) and are generally of animal origin. Saturated fats are generally burned as fuel by our bodies.

Unsaturated fats have two adjacent carbons held together by a biochemical “double bond.” These fats are generally liquid at room temperature and are of plant origin (olive oil, corn oil etc.).

Unsaturated fats can be classified as “omega three” fatty acids or “omega six” fatty acids, depending on the location of the double bond relative to the acid group at the end of the chain.  These types of fatty acids are Essential, meaning that our bodies cannot make them; instead, in order to get them we must eat them in our diet.  These fats are not burned for fuel. Instead they are used as structural components. The Omega six fatty acids are used as the main structural components in our cells. Omega three’s are used in the structure of the retina and central nervous system.

For healthy skin and coat, the diet must contain adequate
omega six fatty acids as these make up the very surface of the skin.

Examples of Omega Six Fatty Acids (also called “n-6” fatty acids): Linoleic acid, gamma linolenic acid, and Arachadonic acid.


An excellent source would be Evening Primrose oil.


This is Linolenic Acid. Note the double bond between carbons 6 & 7 from the left.
An Omega 3 fatty acid would have a double bond at carbons 3 & 4. 


Examples of Omega Three Fatty Acids (also called “n-3” fatty acids): Alpha linolenic acid, Eicosopentanoic acid, docosahexanoic acid.


An excellent source would be Cold Water Fish oils.


Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to inhibit the growth and spread of cancer plus they have anti-inflammatory properties.  In the study that launched Hills N/d diet, 32 dogs with lymphoma were divided randomly into two groups: one that received a diet heavy in menhaden fish oil and one that received a diet heavy in soy bean oil. Both groups also received chemotherapy with doxorubicin.  The dogs that received this omega 3 fatty acid diet went into remission sooner and stayed in remission longer than dogs that received the soy bean oil diet.

Both the “Low Carb” and Omega three fatty acid therapies have incorporated into Hills N/D diet which is available as a canned food and is available for dogs only.



This diet may be of tremendous benefit to a dog with lymphoma but there are a few caveats:

  • This diet was tested on dogs who received BOTH dietary therapy AND chemotherapy. If you are planning to use this diet INSTEAD of chemotherapy, keep in mind that the effectiveness of this strategy remains untested.
  • This diet is very expensive as food goes but, of course, very inexpensive as cancer therapy goes.
  • This diet is frequently found unpalatable by dogs. Remember that enjoyment of food is an important life quality parameter. If a dog eats N/d diet poorly and loses body condition due to poor appetite, it is probably best to use a different diet which is more palatable.



The ingredient that is said to be beneficial here is linoleic acid. There are two major brands of safflower oil on the market: Hain and Hollywood. Apparently Hollywood is the brand with the most linoleic acid and is the brand of choice in this somewhat controversial treatment. In one study using eight dogs with Mycosis fungoides (the skin T-cell form of lymphoma), six dogs achieved remission with no other therapy.

In 1999, at the annual American College of Veterinary Dermatology meeting, two case reports were presented: one dog out of remission for Mycosis fungoides after chemotherapy and the other having had no other therapy for Mycosis fungoides. The first dog had a partial response to the Safflower oil and the other achieved prolonged remission.

Minimal adverse effects come with the use of this oil (if too much oil is used there is a possibility of pancreatitis but, in general, obesity from the fat is the only problem). Safflower oil is inexpensive and readily available.

So what is the catch? Should all lymphoma patients be on this oil? Safflower oil is an Omega 6 fatty acid.  Omega 6 fatty acids have been shown in other studies to have properties that actually support cancer growth.  At this point, Safflower oil seems to be a reasonable option only for Mycosis fungoides and not other forms of lymphoma.



Effect of fish oil, arginine, and doxorubicin chemotherapy on remission and survival time for dogs with lymphoma: a double-blind, randomized placebo-controlled study.
Cancer 88[8]:1916-28 2000 Apr 15
Ogilvie GK, Fettman MJ, Mallinckrodt CH, Walton JA, Hansen RA, Davenport DJ, Gross KL, Richardson KL, Rogers Q, Hand MS

Cancer Lett 1992 May 30;64(1):17-22
Linoleate produces remission in canine mycosis fungoides.
Iwamoto KS, Bennett LR, Norman A, Villalobos AE, Hutson CA
Department of Radiological Sciences, University of California, Los Angeles 90024.

The Use of Safflower Oil for the Treatment of Mycosis Fungoides in Two Dogs.
Peterson, A., Wood, S., and Rosser, E. Dept of Small Animal Clinical Sciences, D208 Veterinary Medical Center, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI. 

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