Q&A with Canine Biologics Founder, President and CEO, Jeff Sutherland & Claudia Bensimoun

September 08, 2020 • Health & Wellness • by Claudia Bensimoun
A reprint of an article originally published in FidoFriendly Magazine

Denver-based Canine Biologics has just launched a first-of-its-kind integrated nutrition system to support dogs fighting cancer.

It all began when Jeff Sutherland's dog became quite ill in 2011. Shadow had been experiencing severe gastroenteritis despite trying five different "premium" brands of kibble over several years. He persevered and tried preparing a homemade diet and discovered it was her previous food that had been making her so ill. Soon after transitioning to the new food, Shadow's problems disappeared and she began to thrive. Sutherland saw firsthand the power that good nutrition could unleash. That year, he founded Deserving Dog and began offering his fresh, human-grade food for dogs to other pet parents through boutique pet stores in Colorado.

In the third year of Deserving Dog, Sutherland met Dr. Scott Hafeman, an oncology veterinarian with a PhD in tumor immunology. The two struck up a conversation and started brainstorming about how they could create a nutritional product to help support dogs with cancer. 

Sutherland continued his research and later founded Canine Biologics to develop a specialized nutrition system to support canine cancer patients. He worked with Dr. Hafeman who formulated the supplement component of the company’s nutrition system. Dr. Hafeman is also developing additional supplement blends to assist canine cancer patients. The food portion of the three-part system was developed by Dr. Korinn Saker a PhD veterinarian and Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Nutrition and Associate Professor of Clinical Nutrition at North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine. Dr. Saker's research emphasis is critical care nutrition including nutritional support interventions for cancer and obesity.

Walter the dog and his owner Scott play in the park.
Walter, Canine Biologics' first dog customer, and his owner Scott play in the park.

FIDO Friendly: How did you come up with the company’s name?

Jeff Sutherland: Some of the components used in Canine Biologics products are derived from living organisms and therefore meet the definition of a biologic. But more importantly it is about what we do not use like chemical or inorganic ingredients. The name also plays off of the biology and physiology of dogs and the interaction of our products with a dog’s biological system. The name was intentionally broad in scope as the company may add more specific biologics-based products in the future.

FF: Tell us about your unique nutrition system and how it helps dogs with cancer.

JS: The Canine Biologics Integrated Nutrition System is comprised of three separate components: human-grade food, a proprietary, evidence-based supplement mix and purified, wild-caught Alaskan salmon oil. When combined at mealtime, these deliver a high-fat, moderate-protein and low-carbohydrate diet ideal for canine cancer patients or those who are in remission and still need enhanced nutritional support.

The three components are cross engineered to provide precise amounts of supplements, amino acids and omega-3 fatty acids which have been shown in studies to be beneficial for cancer patients. The nutrition system’s formulation is based on numerous studies and clinical trials that can be found in the Research Library on the Canine Biologics website.

Another unique aspect of the product is the way in which it is packaged and provided to clients. Most traditional commercial pet foods are processed using extremely high heat and pressure that chemically alters the ingredients at the molecular level. The five simple ingredients in the food component of the Canine Biologics nutrition system are each cooked separately to their lowest safe temperatures and then freeze dried to lock in the nutrients.

We package the food, supplement mix and salmon oil in smaller quantities so that pet parents are opening new packages frequently. Other commercial pet foods combine all of the ingredients ahead of time and the resulting food suffers substantial nutrient degradation and oxidative damage from air, heat and light before it ever gets to a dog’s bowl. Canine Biologics has gone to great expense to minimally process and uniquely package its components to keep the ingredients in the freshest state possible until mealtime. This approach is so unique, the company is applying for multiple patents.

The first food recipe, one of the three components of our integrated system, is a simple, five-ingredient diet that contains natural chicken, brown rice, green beans, sweet potatoes and flax seed meal. The three-part system, when combined, is 48 percent protein, 36 percent fat and 16 percent complex carbohydrates of which 5 percent is fiber.

FF: Which dogs would benefit from this type of nutrition?

JS: The Canine Biologics Integrated Nutrition System was specifically developed with the needs of canine cancer patients in mind. For instance, the supplement mix has ingredients that help decrease inflammation, improve immune function, protect the GI tract and liver, and studies have shown may help shrink some types of tumors.

As an example, cordyceps mushrooms may help decrease bone marrow suppression caused by chemotherapy. We also use beta glucans which has a synergistic effect when combined with chemotherapy for some forms of cancer. Beta glucans has also been shown to decrease T regulatory cells in some cancer patients. These cells are vital for limiting chronic inflammation and controlling autoimmune responses. Genistein has been shown to sensitize lymphoma to the widely-used CHOP chemotherapy protocol, increasing its effect. Arginine is used to help strengthen the immune system and reduce inflammation and has shown in some studies to reduce cancer growth.

FF: Is this nutrition system suitable for all life stages?

JS: The Canine Biologics nutrition system provides a complete and balanced meal for an adult dog when fed as directed. While it certainly would not harm healthy dogs without cancer to use the nutrition system, this type of nutrition is likely not needed by healthy dogs. Dogs with cancer have specific needs that differ from those of healthy dogs. The Canine Biologics nutrition system would not be suitable for dogs with kidney cancer, some forms of kidney disease or pancreatitis, unless recommended by a veterinarian, as these dogs are usually advised to avoid high levels of protein and fat.

While the Canine Biologics Integrated Nutrition System does not diagnose, cure, mitigate, treat or prevent any disease, it was formulated based on numerous scientific studies and clinical trials.

FF: Your website says, “An integrated and evidence-based approach to nutrition is the key to supporting dogs fighting cancer and with other critical care diagnoses.” Why is this so important today?

JS: With more than half of all dogs over the age of 10 developing some form of cancer, a different approach was needed to support these dogs. Many plant extracts and amino acids are known to help support cancer patients, but hours or days of research on the internet will not garner adequate information about which things are needed and at what levels. Canine Biologics’ development team has done the research and formulation work so pet parents finally have a product that can deliver specific nutritional support for canine cancer patients.

The veterinarians who formulated the nutrition system know canine cancer. The Canine Biologics nutrition system components are cross-balanced and cross-engineered to work together. This nutrition system is unlike any other product on the market.

FF: Your company calls this “a unique approach to feeding.” With so many dogs being diagnosed with cancer today, how does using proprietary algorithms to determine the proportions of each component for daily feeding help? Does this apply to dogs that have been diagnosed with cancer already, and can dogs use this while undergoing treatment?

JS: The Canine Biologics Integrated Nutrition System may be extremely beneficial for dogs who are undergoing chemotherapy, radiation or who have had cancer surgeries. As an example, several ingredients in the nutrition system are known to have synergistic effects when used with chemotherapy treatments. The nutrition system is also ideal for dogs whose parents have decided not to pursue cancer interventions but still want to do all they can to ensure their dog feels his or her best as the disease progresses.

Regarding the proportions we use, and the algorithms to calculate a meal plan for each dog, our nutrition plan builder evaluates a dog’s age, weight, body mass score, activity level and other factors. There are nearly 350 different nutrition plan combinations our system can create for a dog depending on questions the pet parent answers. Once the company adds additional protein sources and supplement blends, the possible meal plan options will reach into the thousands. This is not just another dog food. This nutrition is scientifically formulated to help dogs fighting cancer to enjoy their best quality of life.

FF: For all of us who have lost a pet to cancer, what advice do you have for earlier diagnosis, nutrition, supplements, pet insurance and cancer treatments?

JS: The vast majority of commercial pet food products are often made from highly-undesirable ingredients some of which have been classified unsuitable for human consumption. These ingredients are then mixed with cheap fillers and treated to a heaping dose of synthetic vitamins, minerals, preservatives and chemicals. The substance is then exposed to extreme heat and pressure during processing that can rob much of its original nutritional value.

Some commercial dog foods may contain aflatoxins, known carcinogens that can bind with dogs’ DNA and cause cell mutations that can lead to cancer.

Because human-grade food ingredients are fit for human consumption, they do not need to go through such substance-altering treatments. Canine Biologics believes that all dogs should have the benefit of eating human-grade food made from quality ingredients. Fresh, healthy food is critical to the health and wellness of all dogs from puppyhood on.

Keeping inflammation down is also important to overall health and usually means avoiding wheat, corn and a long list of fillers commonly found in pet foods that are known to frequently cause systemic inflammation.

Wild-caught salmon oil is beneficial for most healthy adult dogs, although pet parents should discuss its use with their veterinarian. If using salmon oil, insist the oil has undergone molecular distillation to remove any heavy metals, toxins or impurities. Wild-caught salmon oil is extremely effective at reducing inflammation and boosting the immune system.

Whether a healthy dog needs specific supplements depends a lot on what they are eating and whether the diet is complete and balanced. Just as with human nutrition, there are many plant extracts, such as turmeric and certain mushrooms, which may be beneficial for many dogs.

Last, but certainly not least, we always encourage pet parents to schedule well check appointments with their family veterinarian regularly, especially for senior pets. It is also a good idea to do a thorough nose to tail examination of your dog every month to ensure any lumps, bumps or other problems can be discovered as early as possible. Early detection leads to better outcomes.

With one in two dogs over the age of 10 developing cancer in their lifetime, pet insurance should be an important consideration. Many breeds with a high prevalence of cancer are excluded from many insurance plans so be sure to check for exclusions when shopping for insurance. Whether or not you should purchase insurance for your dog depends a lot on your financial situation. Pet parents should be aware that cancer treatment can cost $5,000 to $10,000 or more. A policy that would cover their dog for cancer treatment is certainly worth considering. And, some plans do help pay for specialized food. Cancer is the leading cause of death in dogs over the age of two, so pet parents should have a plan for this and other expensive to diagnose and treat conditions.

FF: What is on the horizon for Canine Biologics? Feline and Equine Biologics?

JS: Canine Biologics currently has a handful of exciting products in development. Our team is formulating additional supplement mixes with some of the most common forms of canine cancer in mind. These will provide added benefits to support dogs fighting these forms of cancer.

In the food department, we plan to offer a beef formula in the coming months with a third protein option, likely fish, to follow. Plans also call for a line of high fat, low carb treats for dogs with cancer in the near future.

These products will allow us to offer increasingly improved solutions to support canine cancer patients. Pet parents will be able to customize their nutrition plan to incorporate the best food and supplement options for their dog.

Lastly, we are exploring some critical care products such as liquid diets for dogs fighting cancer who cannot consume a ‘normal’ diet.

Canine Biologics was founded to create optimal nutrition to support dogs fighting cancer. This is what we are dedicated to and our future offerings will all focus on this premise.

FF: Can you provide any tips for preventing or treating cancer, as well as more info about the benefits of Canine Biologics in terms of overall health, energy and weight maintenance.

JS: The integrated nutrition system’s proprietary supplement mix contains 26 ingredients including mushrooms, plant extracts, amino acids and natural vitamins and minerals. These ingredients have been shown in studies to reduce inflammation and boost the immune system, protect the liver and GI system, and improve neuromuscular function. Additionally, our nutrition system includes components that can potentially enhance the effect of cancer therapies and may help canine cancer patients gain or maintain weight even in the face of cachexia. These ingredients and amounts, down to the milligram, were specifically chosen to match the quantities used in successful studies and clinical trials.

FF: To help us better understand the importance of your company’s nutrition system, what is the incidence of cancer in dogs today?

JS: Cancer is the leading cause of death in dogs over the age of two. Approximately 500,000 canine cancer cases are diagnosed each month in the U.S. alone. With nearly 10 million dogs in the U.S. living with cancer at any given time, and no good nutrition options, we founded Canine Biologics to create optimal nutrition to support these canine companions.