Dog Research

Therapeutic use of the keto diet on dogs

Therapeutic use of the keto diet on dogs

By Dr. Mark Roberts PhD

Introduction to the therapeutic benefits of the ketogenic diet

Diets with a significant contribution of energy from fat (such as First Light Pet Food), are commonly referred to as being ketogenic. The use of this term refers to a process whereby a dog switches from using primarily carbohydrates for energy to fats. This, in turn, facilitates several therapeutic benefits for them. The aim of this article is to provide a brief insight into some of the fundamental benefits a ketogenic diet has for a dog.


Diabetes is a chronic health condition that affects how a dog’s body turns food into energy (1). A dog on a typical carbohydrate-based diet breaks down a significant proportion of the diet into sugar (glucose) and release it into the bloodstream. Thereafter, as blood glucose goes up, it signals the pancreas to release insulin, acting as a key, allowing blood glucose into cells for use as energy. A consequence of this, is that fasted blood glucose levels increase from fasted values of between 80 – 120 mg/dL to 250 – 300 mg/dL after consuming a high carbohydrate meal (2).

This ongoing elevated blood glucose can lead to the development of type two diabetes , a result of a dog’s body not having enough insulin to deal with this constant increase. Unfortunately, if this continues, the cells responsible for producing insulin become incapable of producing sufficient amounts and stop functioning. A simple approach to stop this strain on these insulin producing cells, is to reduce the levels of blood glucose. Research has demonstrated that the blood glucose levels of dogs fed high fat, low carbohydrate diets, remained much lower than high carbohydrate fed dogs, both before and after a meal. Indeed, high fat fed dogs, showed very little, if any increase in blood glucose after consuming a meal. This, in turn, reduces the burden on the insulin producing cells, and the risk of diabetes developing.

Weight loss

As discussed, with a low dietary carbohydrate intake, insulin levels remain low and ketogenesis takes place. These conditions promote breakdown of excess fat stores, sparing of lean muscle, and improvement in insulin sensitivity. In addition to this beneficial weight loss process, another advantage of a ketogenic diet is that it promotes appetite-suppressant. The mechanism for this is not established, but evidence supports the direct action of ketone bodies together with modifications in levels of appetite hormones, such as ghrelin and leptin (3).


Despite appropriate antiepileptic drug treatment, approximately one-third of dogs with epilepsy continue experiencing seizures. During a seizure, nerve cells fire when they are not supposed to. This can happen because the brain cells are releasing lots of excitatory neurotransmitters (which act as chemical messengers), like glutamate or can’t inhibit them using gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA (4). The ketogenic diet reduces the amount of glutamate in the brain and enhances the synthesis of GABA, making it less likely for a seizure to occur.

A good example of this involved a six month randomised, double-blinded, placebo-controlled cross-over dietary trial using twenty-one dogs fed either a ketogenic or placebo diet in chronically antiepileptic drug-treated dogs with idiopathic epilepsy. Seizure frequency, clinical and laboratory data were collected and evaluated for dogs completing the study. The results showed that seizure frequency was significantly lower when dogs were fed the ketogenic diet in comparison with the placebo diet (5).


Most cancers share features such as significantly increased glucose uptake and reliance on glycolysis (which converts glucose into pyruvate, occurring in the fluid part of cells). This process, known as the Warburg Effect, has been studied comprehensively for many years (6). Consequently, by creating chronic metabolic stress due to low glucose supply provoked by a ketogenic diet, is likely to reduce the rate of initial cancer development, slowing down its progression, or even regress or stop cancer cells by targeting the glycolytic pathway (7).

Supporting this, studies have demonstrated that ketogenic diets in healthy dogs induces gut and serum metabolic changes suggestive of anti‐tumourigenic effects (8). Moreover, research has highlighted that the feeding of a ketogenic diet can result in the resolution of malignant canine mast cell tumors using ketogenic metabolic therapy alone. This study underlined that the identified tumor continued to grow until switched to carbohydrate free, ketogenic diet, disappearing over a period of several months (9).

Final thoughts

Although we have much more to learn about the ketogenic diet for dogs. The evident gained to date, suggests that a high fat, moderate protein, and low carbohydrate diet is beneficial for dogs in both reducing the likelihood of specific diseases developing, but also in treatment. This should be a consideration that all pet parents account for, when deciding the composition of the diet they decide to feed their dog.


1. Nelson, R. W., & Reusch, C. E. (2014). Animal models of disease: classification and etiology of diabetes in dogs and cats. Journal of endocrinology, 222(3), T1-T9.

2. Qadri, K., Ganguly, S., Praveen, P. K., & Wakchaure, R. (2015). Diabetes mellitus in dogs and its associated complications: A review. Int. J. Rec. Biotech, 3(4), 18-22.

3. Sumithran, P., Prendergast, L. A., Delbridge, E., Purcell, K., Shulkes, A., Kriketos, A., & Proietto, J. (2013). Ketosis and appetite-mediating nutrients and hormones after weight loss. European journal of clinical nutrition, 67(7), 759-764.

4. Larsen, J. A., Owens, T. J., & Fascetti, A. J. (2014). Nutritional management of idiopathic epilepsy in dogs. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 245(5), 504-508.

5. Law, T. H., Davies, E. S., Pan, Y., Zanghi, B., Want, E., & Volk, H. A. (2015). A randomised trial of a medium-chain TAG diet as treatment for dogs with idiopathic epilepsy. British Journal of Nutrition, 114(9), 1438-1447.

6. Lebelo, M. T., Joubert, A. M., & Visagie, M. H. (2019). Warburg effect and its role in tumourigenesis. Archives of pharmacal research, 42, 833-847.

7. Chen, Z., Lu, W., Garcia-Prieto, C., & Huang, P. (2007). The Warburg effect and its cancer therapeutic implications. Journal of bioenergetics and biomembranes, 39, 267-274.

8. Allenspach, K., Borcherding, D. C., Iennarella‐Servantez, C. A., Mosichuk, A. P., Atherly, T., Sahoo, D. K., … & Mochel, J. P. (2022). Ketogenic diets in healthy dogs induce gut and serum metabolome changes suggestive of anti‐tumourigenic effects: A model for human ketotherapy trials. Clinical and Translational Medicine, 12(9).

9. Seyfried, T. N., Mukherjee, P., Lee, D. C., Ta, L., & Nations, L. (2023). Case report: Resolution of malignant canine mast cell tumor using ketogenic metabolic therapy alone. Frontiers in Nutrition, 10, 1157517.