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Featuring Demian Dressler, DVM and Sue Ettinger, DVM, Dip. ACVIM (Oncology), authors of The Dog Cancer Survival Guide

What I Would Do for My Dog with Lymphoma

Updated: June 2nd, 2020


What would a veterinarian oncologist do for her dog with lymphoma? Dr. Susan Ettinger tells us how she would handle this dread disease.

When Guardians come in for a consultation with me after receiving a cancer diagnosis, they often ask “Doc, what would you do if this was your dog?”

I usually refuse to answer the question (with one important exception, which I will get to in a moment).

It’s very difficult for me to answer that question because there are way too many personal factors that go into the decision of what to do. In addition to the overall prognosis for that particular cancer, there could be other pre-existing conditions. It can become very complicated, and so much just depends upon the person who is asking.

So I can’t tell you what I would do, because really my answer is irrelevant at best and confusing at worst.

Everyone Is Different, No Answer Is the Same

Some Guardians want to be aggressive and take the treatment approach associated with longer survival times, even if it costs more, requires more visits to the oncologist, and has more side effects.  Others don’t.

For example, when I tell some Guardians the median survival time for their dog’s cancer is 18 months with treatment, they don’t feel that is long enough … while others will tell me that getting an extra three months is more than they hoped for.

What I would do for my dog likely not what you would do for your dog. I used to say I would have given Paige, my Labrador, a kidney if she needed it and it was medically an option. (She is no longer with me, but she did not need my kidney. And no, you cannot transplant your human kidney to your dog.)

I am pretty aggressive with medical options for my own pets. For example, I am not afraid of some side effects from diagnostics and treatment, especially when the “side effect” of not treating is worse (in my opinion).

I am more likely to go for surgery, radiation, and/or chemotherapy for my dog than choose a palliative approach such as pain management only.

But that is a pretty generalized statement.

And again, my choice may not be the choice of the Guardian sitting across from me in the exam room with their dog by their side. So, in order to keep from projecting my personal feelings onto Guardians, I usually just refuse to answer that question.

When it comes to lymphoma, I answer the question: CHOP.

Except when it comes to lymphoma. When it comes to lymphoma, I will share what I would do.

For me, that is an easy choice: I would treat my dog with a CHOP multi-agent protocol.

For much more of Dr. Sue’s insights into Lymphoma, get a copy of the Dog Cancer Survival Guide and read chapter 29, which starts on page 297.

Dogs with Lymphoma = CHOP Protocol

This protocol is a cyclic protocol usually lasting 5 to 6 months. In each cycle, the protocol includes vincristine, cyclophosphamide, and Adriamycin (doxorubicin). In the 1st cycle (usually the 1st treatment), the dog may also receive Elspar. Prednisone, a steroid, is also given orally daily for the 1st 4 weeks during the 1st 4-week cycle.

It’s typically a nineteen-week protocol, and it involves plenty of vet visits and some heavy-duty chemotherapy drugs. If it sounds like a lot, you’re right, it is.

So why do I universally recommend it?

For dogs with lymphoma, chemotherapy has a significant and positive effect on not only how long a dog lives but how well they live. Let’s look at some numbers.

Typically, a dog with lymphoma lives only one (1!) month without treatment.

The median survival time with a multi-agent chemotherapy protocol is 13 to 14 months.

So if your dog has lymphoma, and you don’t treat with chemo, you would expect to have one month more with your dog. But if you DO get the CHOP protocol, it would be reasonable to expect that your dog would live another 13 months.

Note: median survival time of 13 months means that of all dogs with lymphoma who undergo this protocol, half are still alive after 13 months. We don’t know, of course, which dogs will make be in the 50% who die earlier, and no one can guarantee your dog will be in the half that lives past 13 months. But it’s a REALLY long time compared to other cancers and other protocols!

Don’t Be Scared of Side Effects!

Dogs tolerate chemotherapy treatment so well that their life is considered good to great by most Guardians in my practice during the protocol and after the protocol (when they are in remission).

There is a LOT you can do at home to help with side effects. This webinar is a must-listen!

Dogs with lymphoma treated with chemotherapy live longer and live well.

So, yes I would treat my own dog for lymphoma with chemotherapy. No question for me.


Dr. Sue

Leave a Comment

  1. Bonnie Allen on September 16, 2021 at 12:38 pm

    My dog was diagnosed with Lymphoma 4/1 but was mis- diagnosed for 2 months. I’ve been working with Pet Wellbeing online for holist help. I just purchased Panax Korean Ginsing and wanted to know the correct dosage in drops. I went to 3 vets and all of them told me to put him down because I’m a senior on a fixed income and couldn’t afford Chemotherapy. He’s 22 pounds and 7 1/2 years old. Please help us both, his neck is so swollen and tight, he’s starting to have trouble breathing. Thank you so much Bonnie Allen (818) 746-6392 bonnieallen323@gmail. Com

    • Molly Jacobson on September 17, 2021 at 10:52 am

      Hello Bonnie, I’m so sorry to hear about your dog. Dr. Dressler doesn’t specifically recommend ginseng for dogs with cancer, so we have no idea on what the dosing might be. Lymphoma is a very aggressive illness, which is probably why the vets you have spoken to have so little options to offer you beyond chemo (which for lymphoma can be really helpful, quite quickly. It doesn’t necessarily cure it, but can buy you good quality of life for much longer than the illness typically gives.)

      I know how much you want to help your dog, and I understand how upsetting it is to be on a fixed income and feel like no one will help you. I would go back to the veterinarian you most liked and trusted and ask them if there is anything else you can do other than chemotherapy to help your boy breathe better.

      Having just had to let one of my dogs go last month, I know the abyss you’re facing. I am sending you strength and love.


  2. Shona Mardle on July 11, 2021 at 7:36 pm

    Our cocker spaniel, Ebony, has been diagnosed with lymphoma. We have chosen the Prednisone route as she is 13, partially blind and completely deaf. It’s a really hard decision when she is old. If she had been alot younger I would have opted for chemo. My other choices were do nothing, and we couldn’t do that to her, or the dreaded euthanasia. I guess that is the choice we will finally need to make. Anyway thanks for listening

  3. giorgio on July 9, 2021 at 9:37 am

    Chemotherapy, fine but my dog has a heart condition and pulmonary condition. Would chemotherapy will be fine still?

    • Molly Jacobson on July 9, 2021 at 9:52 am

      Hi Giorgio, you will definitely want to go over all of that with your veterinarian. Pre-existing health conditions will always affect treatments. There is no cut-and-dry answer that applies in every case. So please check with your veterinarian about this for your dog’s specific case.

  4. Nanci on July 6, 2021 at 2:22 pm

    What if you have a dog that refuses oral meds? I don’t have the money to do what Is
    is needed. She easily dehydrates.

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