by Dr Nicole Rous, Integrative Vet

Most of us are familiar with the concept of ketogenic diets for humans and their associated health benefits, but do you truly understand what they entail and why they're believed to be beneficial? Let's explore this topic further, especially since ketogenic diets are garnering attention in veterinary literature as well and could be significant for addressing various health issues in our pets.

Let’s first discuss what happens when our pets eat high carbohydrate, ultra-processed and starchy foods. Many people don’t realise that carbohydrates are broken down into sugar - aka glucose. Simple carbohydrates like sugar and juice carbohydrates break down quickly into glucose. These are the worst kind as they cause sudden spikes in blood glucose. Complex carbohydrates like quinoa or starchy vegetables such as sweet potato are the ‘good’ carbs as they are fibres and starches. Fibres are generally not able to be broken down by the body but in moderation their bulk is very useful for digestion whereas starches are broken down into glucose.

Let's delve deeper into the process. When we consume carbohydrates, leading to an increase in blood glucose levels, the pancreas springs into action. It releases amylase, an enzyme that breaks down the carbohydrates into glucose. Simultaneously, it releases insulin, a hormone tasked with transporting the glucose out of the bloodstream for storage, akin to a reserve battery for later energy use. While this mechanism seems efficient, insulin also hampers our body's fat burning pathways and instructs fat cells to retain fat. Unfortunately, one of the favoured fat storage sites is the liver, potentially leading to fatty liver disease. The constant bombardment of carbohydrates taxes both the pancreas and the liver. Moreover, this process places additional strain on the immune system, promoting inflammation and elevating the risk of cancer throughout the body.

In a more natural diet, when the body receives protein and fat as its primary energy source and a small amount of carbohydrates, mostly through starchy vegetables, the pancreas can calmly bumble along with its processes and a gentle control of blood glucose takes place where fat can be utilised as an energy source as opposed to storing it in the liver. A lean liver is a happy liver. Most fresh food diets are moderate protein, moderate fat and low levels of carbohydrates. Ketogenic diets take this philosophy a step further and emphasise high fat, moderate protein, and low carbohydrate ratios in the diet. This unique composition prompts the body to transition from utilising glucose as its primary energy source to metabolising fats and producing ketones for energy. Ketones are only made from the breakdown of fats when there is not enough glucose to supply the body’s energy needs.

Inducing ketosis through carbohydrate restriction and increased fat intake unleashes a fascinating array of metabolic advantages for pets. By accessing fat reserves for energy, ketogenic diets facilitate effective weight management, lower insulin levels, and improve metabolic adaptability. Additionally, ketones emerge as a powerful alternative energy source, with research demonstrating their potential benefits for various health conditions in both humans and now in pets, including epilepsy, metabolic disorders, and potentially cancer.

With all the apparent benefits, why aren't all pets on a ketogenic diet? Well, it's not the simplest diet to digest or transition to, especially considering that their natural diet typically consists of high protein, moderate fat, and low carbohydrates. Unless there's a specific reason to utilise a ketogenic diet, integrative veterinarians may opt against it. Therefore, before making the switch, consulting with a veterinarian to evaluate your pet's suitability and formulate a customised dietary plan is crucial. If a local veterinarian who is comfortable with ketogenic diets isn't available, telehealth consultations are often an option. Veterinary guidance is essential for ensuring nutritional adequacy, monitoring metabolic parameters, and addressing any underlying health issues.

The primary challenge usually arises during the transition from a kibble diet to a ketogenic one, as it requires significant adaptation of gut function. Gradual transition periods allow pets to adjust to the new metabolic demands. For instance, incorporating small amounts of ketogenic food alongside their existing diet initially, and gradually increasing the proportion over several weeks, can be beneficial. Typically, pets begin with a moderately high-fat diet (around 70%) for a couple of weeks before progressing to a higher-fat diet (around 80-83%), as a sudden shift to the higher level can be overwhelming for the body. Regular monitoring of your pet's weight, body condition, blood ketone levels, and overall well-being is vital during and after the transition phase. Adjustments to the diet may be necessary based on individual response, metabolic status, and health objectives.

Due to the increased demand for fat metabolism, pets transitioning to a ketogenic diet may experience transient side effects such as gastrointestinal upset, lethargy, or electrolyte imbalances.

Unfortunately, in Australia, there currently isn't a commercial option available for pet parents interested in exploring ketogenic diets for their pets. When selecting ketogenic pet food or preparing homemade meals, it's crucial to prioritise high-quality, species-appropriate ingredients. Emphasising fresh, whole foods abundant in healthy fats, lean proteins, and essential nutrients is essential. Portion control plays a vital role in maintaining a healthy weight and optimising nutrient absorption.

For those not aiming for a permanent shift to ketosis to support conditions like cancer or seizures, an alternative strategy involves adopting a moderate protein and fat diet with minimal carbohydrates and incorporating periods of fasting to stimulate intermittent ketosis. Emerging research on intermittent fasting in humans and laboratory animals shows promising results. Realistically, this approach may be more practical for many pet parents in the long term who aren't utilising ketogenic diets specifically for cancer treatment.


As pet owners increasingly seek alternative approaches to optimise pet health and vitality, ketogenic diets have emerged as a promising option. By harnessing the metabolic benefits of ketosis and prioritising nutrient-dense, species-appropriate nutrition, ketogenic diets offer a unique pathway towards improved metabolic health, weight management, and overall well-being for pets. However, successful implementation requires careful consideration, veterinary guidance, and ongoing monitoring to ensure safety, efficacy, and long-term success. With a thoughtful and informed approach, pet owners can unlock the transformative potential of ketogenic diets, empowering their pets to thrive on a foundation of metabolic wellness and nutritional excellence.

About the Author - Dr. Nicole Rous

Dr. Nicole Rous completed her degree with Honours from the University of Sydney in 2008. She initially worked in the UK before returning to small animal practice in Melbourne, Australia. Dr. Nicole has a keen interest in animal reproduction and has been granted Membership with the Australian and New Zealand College of Veterinary Scientists in this specialty. She is also passionate about complementary therapies such as massage and enjoys discussing ways to enhance pets' overall well-being and quality of life.

In August 2021, Dr. Nicole joined the Mont Albert Veterinary Surgery team as a director and continues to provide exceptional care to her patients. She is dedicated to utilising her knowledge and experience to assist pets in living longer, healthier, and happier lives.

Dr. Nicole's commitment to providing natural and holistic health practices for pets inspired her to establish Shy Tiger, a company that offers natural pet products made from premium ingredients sourced primarily from Australian farms and producers. Her expertise in natural health practices and dedication to providing excellent care to her patients make her a reliable partner for pet owners in Melbourne and beyond.

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Sá, S.I., Pereira, D.M., Santos, L. et al. Nutritional strategies to modulate inflammation and oxidative stress pathways via activation of the master antioxidant switch Nrf2 in obesity induced by western diet. Mol Biol Rep 48, 4215–4228 (2021).

Volek, J.S., Fernandez, M.L., Feinman, R.D., et al. Dietary carbohydrate restriction induces a unique metabolic state positively affecting atherogenic dyslipidemia, fatty acid partitioning, and metabolic syndrome. Prog Lipid Res. 2008;47(5):307-318. doi:10.1016/j.plipres.2008.02.003