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

An Overview of What Else Can I Do?

Updated: October 12th, 2018

The most common question I receive is:

My dog has cancer.  What else can I do?

Well, this is a very short question that needs a very long answer. I will do my best to give the big categories here.

First, get the data you need.  A real guardian needs information to make aware decisions.  Without data, you have no way to make decisions that have very real ramifications.  You get data with a dog cancer diagnosis, grade and stage.  This is done with fine needle aspirates, biopsies, lab work, and imaging.

One you receive the info, time to get your Guide.  This is a top to bottom road map of the path you are now on.  You and your loved dog have been dealt certain cards and we must grab all the  longevity and life quality possible. This is the purpose of the Guide.

Many guardians are faced with difficult emotions, and you need a clear mind in this process.  For this reason, doing what you can to reduce the feelings of overwhelm can be very helpful. The Guide has some exercises that can be used for this.  Support of counselors, trusted friends, communication on this blog and other canine cancer communities, spiritual leaders and family talks are common ways to soften some of the feelings that can interfere with clear thinking.

Now, you must decide what kind of person you are. This is the first and most critical decision in being your dog’s advocate.  In the realm of conventional care, we often have to accept that the odds of life extension go up along with the odds of side effects.  Conventional care includes surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. To what degree are you averse to possible side effects in exchange for life extension?

Then you should get data on the odds of these side effects and what they will look and/or feel like to your dog (as much as we can infer anyway).   Use your vet or oncologist for this info.

Next do a conventional care treatment plan analysis.  This means you compare your dog’s average life expectancy with the one gained by the conventional care. How much time is gained relative to what a dog like yours would be living anyway?  You follow by blending what kind of person you are with this calculation, and you have a treatment plan analysis of conventional care.

Moving on. In my experience, I have seen a good number of patients go beyond their median life expectancy.  I do advocate using all the tools available to deal with canine cancer, regardless of source, as long as they have clinically justifiable rationale.

Here are the areas you should focus on:

  • Diet (there is a free download on the top of this blog)
  • Apoptogens
  • Immune stimulants
  • Other supplements
  • Pain control
  • Promoting anti-cancer brain chemistry
  • Increasing life quality by focusing on Joys of Life

These topics are addressed in detail in the Guide as well and in this blog.  Use the search bar on the right side of this page.

You should also mind costs related to each aspect of care. Use your vet or oncologist for the conventional care costs. Budget expenditures within what is manageable.  Here is some info on ways to help this area. Don’t forget trading services with your vet can be an additional way to minimize costs.


Dr D

Leave a Comment

  1. Lesley on March 15, 2013 at 9:31 pm

    My dog is an 11.5 year old Labrador cross. In October last year she had a tumour removed from her urethra. Since then she has been having chemo (two different types). She is OK but not as perky as she used to be. She paces a lot. she is uncomfortable urinating and defecating and is very protective of her rear end and always licking there. This week the vet has decided to change her to Palladia. We don’t start this for another week but I am worried about it. I am wondering what happens if I just carry on with the chemo and don’t bother with the additional drugs? She has a TCC – Transitional Cell Carcinoma. Thankfully the insurance is covering it but I am uncomfortable with all these drugs and realistically I would like to know if administering can potentially give her quite a bit of extra time. If it is merely months then is it worth it?

    • Dr. Demian Dressler on March 19, 2013 at 5:25 pm

      Dear Lesley
      I am sorry to hear about your Lab cross. I think the important thing is to get clear communication from your vet or oncologist.
      a. what else can be done for the discomfort? Tramadol? Elavil? Elmiron? Also be sure that there is no risk of urinary infection, a common overlapping cause of pain that can go away with antibiotics and support of the immune system. Also double check there are no anal sac issues (impaction, infection)
      b. what is the vet’s estimate of increased life expectancy in your particular dog?
      Here is a post that describes this process:
      I hope this helps
      Dr D

  2. Luke Moseley on March 8, 2013 at 2:49 pm

    Dr Dressler, thanks for responding. I’ve ordered the Guide, Apocaps, and will order the ImYunity if I can find it on line as well as the Dr Goodpet digestive enzyme. We have begun the Dog Cancer Diet. I will present your recommendations to the Internal Medicine Vet as soon as I can get in there. My main concern now is to remove the spleen or not. My regular vet says that a rupture of the spleen and internal bleed is a likely scenario in this type of cancer. My thoughts are if there is no spleen, that lessens the internal bleed. I’m trying to be as proactive as possible. I want the best outcome without killing Chloe trying. She looks and acts normal and has a great appetite. Suggestions? Thanks.

    • Dr. Demian Dressler on March 19, 2013 at 5:45 pm

      Dear Luke
      if we have a spenic hemangiosarc, better usually to get the spleen out, in general. I might have you conider some yunnan baiyao (or paiyao, different spelling of same stuff) started about 7-10 days before surgery, under veterinary supervision.
      Dr D

  3. Luke Moseley on March 6, 2013 at 7:09 am

    Dr Dressler
    My 11 year old mini Schnauzer Chloe was diagnosed with a tumor on her spleen. Before surgery our vet suggested a chest X-ray to see if the cancer was present there. It turns out it was. The scheduled spleenectomy was cancelled because of this finding. We were told to take her home and enjoy the time we had left with her. You’d never suspect there was anything wrong with her – except for a 4lb weight loss over several months. Is Tumexal worth trying? Any advise you might offer would be appreciated.

    • Dr. Demian Dressler on March 6, 2013 at 3:48 pm

      Dear Luke,
      Tumexal is a product that is recent, and to be frank I see my ideas in their promotion and advertisements, which of course leaves a rather bad flavor in my mouth. I have not yet had objective feedback from a trusted source.
      I lean towards the items I have a history with over the years that I trust for my patients. Here, I would be thinking of a VEGF-inhibitor (these are found in Apocaps), and beta-glucan product (ImYunity, K-9 immunity with transfer factor), low dose oral neoplasene with mirtazapine, low dose doxycycline, possibly metronomic chemotherapy (a judgement call as we do not have a biopsy result for cancer type but likely its hemangiosarcoma), and possibly high dose flax lignans. If you have not read the Guide, I would do so, and of course all these and other treatment steps should be run by your veterinarian first
      I hope this helps
      Dr D

  4. tammy on March 5, 2013 at 8:09 am

    my 3 year old has stage 3 lymphoma .. i order your book i have until this wed. to make a choice please help im paniac because im been reading so much !!! i dont know the best treatment in chemo???help help!!

  5. Delia on June 21, 2012 at 3:50 pm

    Dear Judith,

    I am so sorry for you and your family…such heartbreaking news. Our Golden just finished a 4 month round of chemotherapy and prednisone. We just received word from his bone marrow biopsy that there are still mast cells present. Albeit, they are “normal” in appearance but we are told having mast cells present in the marrow isn’t exactly what we hoped to see. Now the question is…do we start him on pallidia and retest in 2 mos or just sit on it and see what these cells do. We had hoped the 4 mos of chemo would do what it needed to do for him. It’s tough to turn your back on a “family member”. Good luck to you and whatever decisions you have made. God bless..Delia

  6. Judith Kiplinger on April 26, 2012 at 1:38 pm

    Dear Delia,

    My heart goes out to you and your husband. My family lost one Tibetan Terrier at 10 – who had lost sight in both eyes at the age of 5. Our current Tibetan Terrier (different line and breeder) is not quite 3 and has just been diagnosed with lymphoma and given weeks to live without treatment and maybe 1 year with expensive chemo. We too are shocked and devastated. I have ordered Dr. Dressler’s book and look forward to whatever advice and suggestions he offers. God bless you, Judith

  7. Delia on February 5, 2012 at 12:12 pm

    Dear Dr. Dressler,

    I stumbled upon your site following the recent diagnosis of our 2 yr 8mo old Golden Retreiver’s diagnosis of Grade 3 Mast Cell. We are awaiting referral to a Vet Oncologist but I am trying to get as much information as possible beforehand. Your articles have given me lots of insight and questions to ask. Thank You. My husband and I are just beside ourselves. Just 3 years ago, we put our Golden Retreiver down due to hemangiosarcoma of the spleen. He was 7.5 and we were in such disbelief. To think our guy at just under 3 won’t be with us for too much longer is heart wrenching!!! I have been given information from a vet (not our own) that we could be looking at a survival of 6 mos. Any advice or insight you might have for us to ask the oncologist would be greatly appreciated.


    A very sad Golden parent.

  8. Julie on January 7, 2011 at 9:22 am

    Hi Dr. Dressler,

    I have a 10 yr. old Italian greyhound who recently had a mast cell tumor removed behind his right ear. It came up very suddenly and I got him to the vet quickly. She did surgery; the pathology report came back that the tumor was malignant, but she managed to get all of it and surrounding tissue out. She believes that he will be fine, but plans to monitor him closely.

    She has put him on 1/2 Benadryl capsule per day. He also takes medication for hypothyroidism. I have read about the Science Diet ND…do you believe that this would be helpful for him? He is feeling fine; a couple of days after his surgery he was running around like nothing ever happened!

    Thanks in advance for any advice.

    • DemianDressler on January 13, 2011 at 10:31 am

      Dear Julie,
      What was the Grade of the mast cell tumor? This matters a lot. Grade 1 is benign, grade 2 intermediate, grade 3 life threatening across the board. Was a wide excision done (very large margins around the tumor of normal appearing skin). Are you using an H1 blocker (cimetidine due to anti cancer effects, or famotidine (no anti cancer effects but does block H1 well)? ND has shown benefit in dogs with lymphosarcoma and has a lot of omega 3 which has some benefit. Are you giving immune support? Apocaps (the apoptogen supplement I use in my patients)? There is a lot that can be addressed here, and it would be smart for you to get the Guide. It is an easy read and answers most questions.

  9. Tanya on December 17, 2010 at 12:16 am

    My 10 yr old German Shepherd has just been diagnosed with Grade 2 Haemangiosarcoma ( HSA ) after surgery to remove a bleeding 8cm mass from his liver. More nodules were found on his liver during surgery. His prognosis is poor – surgeon has given him 3-6 months. I am not doing chemo but am looking at other therapies and supplements which may provide him with quality and hopefully quantity time remaining. What supplements etc would you suggest for the best outcome?
    Pre-anaesthetic blood screen showed slightly elevated BUN 12.8 ( 2.5-9.6 ) and ALT 137 ( 10-100 ). Everything else within normal limits.

  10. Erin on December 16, 2010 at 5:17 pm

    Hello Dr. Dressler,

    Thank you for your insightful blog. We have a 12 1/2-year old Rhodesian Ridgeback who was diagnosed with two brain tumors in April. Incidentally, he was diagnosed with metastatic mast cell cancer 4 years ago and has been in remission after multiple surgeries and chemo. For the brain tumors, we took him to UC Davis and had the stereotactic radiosurgery performed. He has been doing quite well since then (and since the tumors seemed to “shrink”). He’s been on a low dose of dexamethasone and denamarin for his liver every day. In the last two days, he’s started showing signs of the tumors: his gait is off and he can’t get comfortable, pressing his head against the floor when he lies down. We know he’s living on borrowed time and we’ve all been so lucky, especially since Ridgebacks don’t live this long even without cancer. The question is whether it would be worth trying Lomustine now. Or even possible. I haven’t spoken to the vet at Davis yet, as we are in Oregon and have another internist here who’s been following his care. Thank you in advance for any advice.

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