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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

Discover the Full Spectrum Approach to Dog Cancer

Leave a Comment

  1. Jerrod Harris on January 18, 2021 at 5:56 pm

    My dog Luna, an 8-year-old Golden Retriever, just finished CHOP today. She got, for graduation, a lei, a certificate, some beads, and a wonderful bandana from, Arizona Veterinary Oncology, that says she licked cancer. While I know she is likely still on borrowed time considering it is B lymphoma, I am so happy we went through with the CHOP protocol with your encouragement.

    Going through this treatment has been so rewarding for not only my dog but for my wife and me as well. She is more active than she has ever been! She is feisty and super loving more than she ever has been before. In the weeks leading up to her lymph nodes swelling in her neck to the point I could notice them, she was very down and almost reclusive. She has lost a bunch of fur and all her whiskers since we have begun treatment, but she is as soft as a puppy right now and I’m told this is rare with Goldens. I kinda like having a puppy without the super-sharp teeth 🙂

    I am so glad I found your blog DR SUE! It gave me hope in the darkest days from when she was first diagnosed. Not knowing if she had B or T was heartwrenching. As she was diagnosed with B, I kept watching your blogs and it really gave me hope. She was diagnosed in July 2020 and she is happy and healthy today. Yes, she had a few minor setbacks with nausea and reluctance to eat but those were all minor. It has definitely been expensive but every day I have with her is worth it all. No question whatsoever. The best part about all this is she is happy, healthy, and VERY active. She puts up a great play fight with our other male golden every night! Just as she has done with cancer.

    One of the most interesting things I’ve learned about this whole experience is how these drugs in CHOP were discovered and how they even help humans. If you have time and are new to the protocols look them up. Truly fascinating. Every day with Luna is a gift and DR SUE I sincerely thank you for promoting the CHOP therapy for dogs with lymphoma. I know this may not be forever, but every day I am thankful for another day I get to spend with Luna.

    Thank you so much!!!

  2. Suzie B on January 11, 2021 at 8:47 am

    I have a beautiful labrador with a number of medical issues due to a road accident after which he lost a leg.
    Hes a fighter and came through the operation to save him having arrested twice on the operating table. He went through months of uncertainty and rehabilitation, but finally came out the other side a happy healthy dog again.

    So it broke my heart when at only 6 years old, last month he was diagnosed with lymphoma.

    The first sign was a raised lump on his tummy that was put down to a heat spot last summer.
    It didnt go away, despite creams and baths.
    In the autumn it suddenly grew to three times the size and was bright red and weepy.
    Straight to the vet, after removal the biopsy showed aggresive cancer. Two weeks later his leg swelled up to three times the size and he could hardly walk. It floored me. The deaded news was lymphoma.

    I made the descision to have chemo on the advice of my vet (vinblastin) and hes responding extremely well! After only three weeks (three injections) and daily steroids hes like a pup again.
    Its almost lulled me into a false sense of security because i know its only for 12 to 18 months but hes almost good as new………. there are virtually no side effects and i cant believe it. Its wonderful.

    To anyone out there whos making that descision , if affordable, please do it. Its worth every penny to see him skip and play again and share precious time together.

  3. CyndeeSims on September 28, 2020 at 8:41 am

    We have a three year old Scottie who has been diagnosed with lymphoma. He unfortunately has T cell. He has been getting the CHOP treatment for about two weeks it is not working. Do we go ahead with another regimen or give up? I would like to give him as much time as possible because he is wonderful boy and so young. I don’t know if there is a holistic approach that might help if the new chemo dies not. I don’t think the oncologist has a lot of hope for the change to work.

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