There is a ton of conflicting information out there on diets for dogs, and what might be good or bad. From people panicking about the recent FDA update and heart disease, to increased carcinogenic ingredients in corn-based foods, it seems like no matter what you choose, someone will tell you,  your dog is at risk. Here’s what you need to know about carcinogenic ingredients that may be in your dog’s food, and what you can do to keep them as healthy as possible.


Is cancer common in dogs?

Cancer is the leading cause of death in dogs, and approximately half of dogs over 10 will develop cancer. While genetics plays an important role, considering how many dog breeds are predisposed to certain types of cancer, there are ways that you can help prevent cancer in your dog.


What causes cancer in dogs?

There are many types of cancer, which is the umbrella term for when cells begin to divide uncontrollably and spread into surrounding tissues. While we know that the rate of cancer increases exponentially as dog's age. Just like humans, your dog’s genetics, environment, diet, and activity level can all increase or decrease their chances of developing cancer. Things like prolonged sun exposure, second-hand smoke, and exposure to herbicides, pesticides, and insecticides can all increase your dog’s likelihood to develop cancer.


Your dog’s food is also very important, as more and more carcinogens are being found in kibble, as the production has become largely industrialized. When crops and meat byproducts are deemed not safe for human consumption, they are often added to dog food, even when there are known contaminants such as Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA) and Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT) that are known carcinogens. 


What causes a dog food to be carcinogenic?

Mold - Due to drought and extended storage, crops such as corn, wheat, and rice along with nuts and legumes have been contaminated with more mold than usual. Mold produces extremely potent carcinogens called aflatoxins, which are impervious to the high temperatures dog foods are processed at. Even grain-free food contains carbohydrates, which can be contaminated by mold in processing or improper storage in high-temperature environments.

Stripped of nutrients - Kibble is usually heavily processed, even if it is marketed as all-natural,  grain-free or organic. The cooking process used to create kibble is at an extremely high temperature that renders enzymes inactive, kills good bacteria, and denatures proteins. What it does not do is kill all of the mold spores that may have contaminated some of the ingredients.

Synthetic Nutrients - Because many of the nutrients in processed kibble are rendered unusable, dog food manufacturers add synthetic nutrients to comply with the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) nutritional standards in order to put “complete and balanced” on the label. The problem is that these synthetic nutrients can be sourced from unknown countries resulting in substandard quality, manufactured using a process that involves chemicals, and they can be harmful to pets. Dogs bodies are designed to process natural ingredients, not these manufactured synthetic ingredients. These can be difficult for their bodies to process and can cause liver and kidney damage.  


What are aflatoxins?

Aflatoxins are toxic compounds that are produced by certain molds found in agricultural crops such as corn, wheat, and rice. Aflatoxins bind with DNA, mutating cells, poisoning the liver and promote cancerous tumor growth. Aflatoxins are so toxic that consuming just a half to a single milligram of aflatoxin per kilogram of body weight can be fatal for dogs. Smaller amounts of aflatoxins have been identified in many brands of kibble and eating small amounts of the aflatoxins over an extended period of time can cause symptoms such as lethargy, anemia, liver damage, cancerous tumors, and even death.  Therefore, avoiding corn-based diets or wheat fillers will minimize the risk of aflatoxin exposure to your pets.


In addition to aflatoxins, there are more possible carcinogens that may be found in kibble such as Acrylamides and heterocyclic amines. These are due to over processing procedures, high temperature cooking, packing techniques, and subpar ingredients.

What can I feed to reduce the risk of carcinogens?

Prior to the introduction of kibble, dog’s ancestral diets consisted of fresh raw unadulterated meat. Their wolf ancestors were thriving off live prey, not processed kibble. Feeding dogs an unadulterated raw, a biologically appropriate diet is the best protection we can give our dogs against cancer. A biologically appropriate diet would generally consist of hormone and antibiotic free raw meat, organs, and bones along with some fruits and vegetables.


It can be very time consuming and overwhelming to prepare this at home. Additionally, many home prepared diets by well-meaning pet parents are unbalanced, therefore if you do prepare your dog’s meals, it’s important to follow a recipe formulated by Nutritionist to ensure your diet is not nutritionally imbalanced.

A great option to ensure you are providing a complete and balanced biologically appropriate raw diet is a commercially available raw food diet such as Answers Pet Food and Primal Pet Food. These provide fresh raw meat, organs, bones with fruits and vegetables in a complete and balanced diet that is tested, safe and free of pathogens and harmful bacteria.


For many people, feeding their dog a completely raw diet is not financially viable, particularly if you have a large dog. In that case, supplementing with raw is much better for them than a diet consisting exclusively of a corn based processed kibble. Even if you give your dog a little raw each day or supplement a meat-based diet free of corn and wheat fillers with fresh unpasteurized cow’s milk kefir, raw goat’s milk or bone broth, you will provide them with additional nutrients and lower their exposure to known carcinogenic ingredients.

Now, more than ever, pets are family. Pet parents all over are discovering the benefits of a raw diet, and the correlation between high-quality pet food and their pet’s health. If you have any questions on how to best feed your dog for his or her specific needs, reach out to us or stop in for a visit.