Cooper’s Keto Journey

Our Fur-Baby Cooper

Cooper, our 12-year-old fur-baby, as my crew mate (he’s probably 5 or 6 years old here).

We adopted Cooper in 2007 as a 10-week old puppy from an adoption event at Petsmart (could have been Petco…) in Anchorage, AK. He’s followed us around on all our moves and adventures from Anchorage to Ithaca, NY to Houston, TX. He goes on almost every vacation with us and is a very important member of our family who we want not only to be around for as long as possible, but to have a very high quality of life.

Cooper turned twelve in February this year, so he’s no longer a young pup, but has only slowed down a touch. In March, we took Cooper to our local farmer’s market, which was probably a four mile walk. When we returned home and fed him that afternoon, he got really uncomfortable and his stomach bloated out. We’d seen this two times before when we were out camping and well over an hour to a vet’s office, so we would wait it out. He would eventually vomit and return to normal. This time, we waited about 18 hours and he wasn’t improving, so we went to the vet. Confirming what I had been afraid of every time this has happened, Cooper’s stomach had flipped. If you’ve never heard of a stomach flip, it tends to happen to dogs with big barrel chests (your Labradors, Rottweilers, etc.) where their stomach actually twists and cuts of airflow in and out of the stomach. The bacteria in the stomach release gas as they process food, so when you seal the stomach, it starts expanding and building up toxic gases. Cooper had emergency surgery to untwist his stomach that afternoon. While the vet had his abdomen opened up, she discovered a bunch of tumors. She took the largest one off his spleen and sent it to be biopsied.  It came back as cancerous.

On an already traumatic day, this news was devastating. The vet said he could have a couple weeks or a couple months and that was all. There was nothing that we could do according to our vet and the oncologist she consulted with. There are apparently no promising treatments for this particular type of cancer. The “bright” side was that she said he likely wouldn’t suffer as the tumor grew, but that he would likely die when one of them bursts and he would internally bleed out. So comforting.

As with my dad, this was not a satisfying answer. Given what I had read on the ketogenic diet and its affects on cancer tumors, I proposed to Tom that we switch Cooper to a keto diet. He agreed because, really, what do we have to lose.

Cancer & Keto

Cancerous tumors love sugar. They devour carbohydrates which makes the tumors grow. Yet very few doctors recommend cutting sugar when one is diagnosed with cancer. It’s mind-blowing. If you have a bit of time and are interested, watch the talk linked below. Dr. Thomas Seyfried discusses cancer as a metabolic disease and how it can be treated with diet. If you want to fast-forward to the part about dogs, go to 29:55 and watch for about 3 minutes.

His New Diet

We really don’t know much about putting a dog into ketosis. There’s not a lot out there on the topic, so we’ve been winging it, really. My first move was to research all his food and what is in it. Both dogs were already on nice high quality dog food that had limited ingredients due to Roxy’s allergy to chicken, but they were eating duck and potato food, so that wasn’t going to work for Cooper. Further, they get two large milkbones a day. One in the morning and one in the evening along with random little treats throughout the day, so all of that has to be overhauled.

Researching  dog food is quite difficult. The companies are required (I think since it appears on the label) to put the ingredients on the packaging, but they don’t have nutritional labels like people food does. They seem to be able to advertise with less oversight as to accuracy and source of foods. The bit of reading that I could find on dogs and ketosis is that they actually need a bit more protein to fat, so more like a 50:50 ratio and really don’t need any carbohydrates at all. This makes sense when you think about it. Wild dogs, aka wolves, coyotes, etc, primarily are carnivores, so all their nutrition is protein and fat based. They will also eat everything off an animal – organ meats, marrow, etc.

Cooper’s new dry kibble.

I found a couple companies that make ketogenic dog food. Most of them sold wet or raw food and it is quite expensive. We’ve found one company, KetoNatural, that makes a dry kibble. Our big debate has been whether to make all of Cooper’s food or simply rely on this dry kibble. Currently, we’re feed him dry kibble and it’s definitely the easy route.  I’d like to move more toward a raw diet, probably for both dogs, but I need some time to get organized and decide what we want to to. Not that Cooper has time to wait for me, so maybe there will be an update to what we’re feeding shortly.

What I home-making for Cooper are his treats. I read a bunch of recipes for various homemade dog treats, but all contained carbs, so I made up my own Frankenstein version of them to make “Cooper’s Cookies” ketogenic. They have coconut flour, coconut oil, peanut butter (no sugar), turmeric (anti-inflammatory), and egg in them (you can find the recipe on my recipe page). He seems to like them just fine, but, of course, he’d eat a Styrofoam peanut if I handed it him, so he doesn’t have the most discriminating taste. (He is the dog that swallowed a whole avocado pit 0.2 microseconds after it hit the floor just to keep Roxy from getting to it – swallow first, ask questions about it later. Six weeks later he finally threw it up!)

Most of our random little treats come from Bark Box. Their treats are fantastic! They are clearly labeled so we can separate the ones that Roxy can’t have (no chicken) and the ones that Cooper can have (no carbs). Even if we stop getting the subscription boxes from them, I think we’ll like stock treats from them.

How He’s Doing

This is a hard one. Cooper has recovered from his surgery, but it took him quite a long time. I still question whether we should have done the surgery or tried the tube method first. I let the vet decide and she said surgery was more likely to succeed. However, if he hadn’t had the surgery, we wouldn’t know about the cancer. Anyway, his recovery was very slow and sometimes we wonder if it hasn’t set him back a bit permanently. He doesn’t seem to be in any pain nor has his personality and enthusiasm for life changed. He’s super slow on walks, but it’s summertime in Houston and he hates walking in the heat, so I don’t know if that’s the cancer or just old age. Other than that, he seems perfectly healthy and happy.

Cooper, today, showing off his smile (really).

Thanks for reading!

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