article image

The Benefits of the Ketogenic Diet for Dogs

Going “keto” has become very popular the past few years. Current research indicates that a low-glycemic fresh food diet, especially combined with caloric restriction, time-restricted eating/intermittent fasting, and a lifestyle that supports ketosis can be used to address many common health issues in humans, dogs, and cats.

Ketosis is a metabolic state where the body metabolizes fat for energy, instead of sugar/carbohydrates. 

A ketogenic protocol can be used to promote health and prevent many diseases. Ketosis can benefit healthy individuals, but it is especially useful for the following health concerns:

• Fast growing aggressive cancers (up to 80 percent of the common cancers respond to the body being in state of ketosis)

• Brain function, seizures, and almost all neurological conditions

• Diabetes and obesity (by improving glucose and insulin levels)

• Inflammation throughout the body

Becoming “keto-adapted” can have a profound impact on overall well-being, including improved hair/coat condition, normalized immune function/reduced autoimmune reactions, balanced hormones and cortisol levels (related to stress), improved mobility, energy, cognition, and mood.

The ketogenic ratio is defined as the ratio of grams of fat to grams of carbohydrate plus protein. Higher ratios result in greater degrees of ketosis. Fat to protein ratios in the ketogenic diet will range from 4:1 (therapeutic for humans, some animals may require this level, but it’s uncommon) to 2:1 (easy starting point and long-term choice for most dogs/cats). 

We recommend starting with a 2:1 ratio. The KetoPet Sanctuary, a nonprofit advocate for ketogenic diets in dogs, uses a 2:1 ratio to effectively manage their population of end-stage, advanced cancer animals under the organization’s program or care.

When it comes to calories, start with feeding a diet that provides a total of 15 calories per pound of your pet’s target lean body weight per day. Adjust calories up or down, based on body composition and weight (not appetite), in response to the meal program.

Net carbohydrate present in the ingredients must remain very low. Small amounts of properly prepared fiber can benefit the gut microbiome (as a prebiotic) and may be included, but avoid every high-glycemic food/ingredient.

Always consider your pet’s current health status before switching to a new diet. Ketogenic diets can be problematic for pets with certain health issues, including diabetic pets and animals with a risk for developing pancreatitis. And, because the keto diet reduces levels of insulin-like growth factors, a keto protocol isn’t recommended for healthy growing puppies and kittens.

Start With Sourcing

Don’t underestimate the value of quality ingredients. It’s a key aspect of a successful long-term outcome. Feed ingredients in raw form and source your ingredients with care. Seek out proteins and fats that are wild, pasture-raised, grass-finished, hormone/antibiotic-free (organic is good, but is not always better) because the nutrient qualities and contaminant levels are better for your animal’s health. 

Keto meals are easy to prepare when you make it yourself. For a recipe to prepare a balanced, nutrient-dense ketogenic meal check out the SFRAW blog at SFRAW.wordpress.com. Alternatively, you may choose to purchase prepared ketogenic or keto-friendly diets from a few specialty resources, which are also included on the SFRAW blog. 

Free information and resources including an online diet calculator and “The Pet Parent’s Handbook to a Ketogenic Diet & Canine Cancer” with sample balanced recipes can be found at the KetoPet Sanctuary website (www.KetoPetSanctuary.com). The Perfectly Rawsome website provides information, a simple recipe, and links for additional online support (PerfectlyRawsome.com/raw-feeding-knowledgebase/ketogenic-keto-raw-diet).

Test to Verify

To determine if your animal is in a state of ketosis, your animal’s ketone levels must be verified by using a blood ketone monitor. This is easy to do at home, or your veterinarian can do it during quick weekly visits. To learn how, ask your veterinarian, or watch YouTube videos on testing blood glucose levels; the process is the same. 

Your pet’s blood ketone measurements need to be maintained at or above 0.3mMol to 1.4mMol (ideally, over 0.8mMol for cancer and other therapeutic effects to occur). Use glucose test strips with the same device to monitor blood glucose at the same time. Blood glucose should be between 50mg/dL and 90mg/dL. For reference, blood levels of 0.1mMol ketones and 110mg/dL glucose means your pet is not in nutritional ketosis. 

While the nutritional aspect is the foundation for achieving nutritional ketosis to address specific health concerns, there is more involved with putting your animal into a state of ketosis than diet alone. The most successful ketogenic protocols combine ketogenic foods with caloric restriction, fasting and exercise/lifestyle. 

Caloric Restriction

Your animal will need to be fed at a caloric deficit at first to get into ketosis. After verified though blood testing to be producing sufficient ketones, your pet should be fed just enough calories for the animal to maintain a lean body condition. According to longevity research, slightly underweight pets live longer, too. It is impossible to enter into a metabolic ketogenic state when overfed or eating the wrong foods.

Fast & Feast

A key aspect of a successful ketogenic protocol is to fast your animal every day for an 18- to 20- hour period (no food or treats; just water). Meals may be offered as a single meal per day, or provided within a four- to six-hour “feasting” window. During this window, the pets can enjoy multiple meals and treats (for example, using keto-friendly training treats or at times when they can enjoy keto-friendly snacks). 

Exercise

Body movement has a direct influence on your animal’s ability to get into and maintain a state of ketosis. Visit natural settings for daily exercise — exposure to natural flora, direct contact with the earth, and direct exposure to unfiltered sunlight and rain will benefit your animals. Circulating blood ketone and glucose levels are influenced by the amount of exercise a pet gets. Increase exercise (within your pet’s ability, safety, and comfort level) and continue to measure blood ketones, accordingly.

Your individual animal’s well-being is the ultimate determining factor in whether a keto diet is right for your pet. Your pet should be feeling good most days and responding well to this protocol. If your pet is not responding well, make adjustments, as needed.  

Perhaps the benefits of your pet’s ketogenic protocol will inspire you to try it for yourself and you can share this journey with them into improved health and feeling great. 

Kasie Maxwell has been feeding home-prepared raw diets to her animals since 1989 and founded San Francisco Raw Feeders (SFRAW) in 2003. SFRAW produces raw foods for pets and offers a highly curated selection of exceptional ingredients for making DIY fresh food diets. SFRAW is open to the public seven days a week. Learn more SFRAW.net.

Main article photo by: Photo courtesy of San Francisco Raw Feeders