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

But Cancer Treatment at My Dog’s Age?

Updated: May 15th, 2024

So many guardians post comments on this blog, asking questions that have to do with age and cancer treatment.

Let’s look at this topic today.

I have an old dog.  What is the right choice for cancer treatment?

This central question usually can boil down to whether the life quality negative of the treatment is outweighed by the increase in life quality afterwards, and the gained life expectancy .

You can see we have three main points here:

  1. Treatment causing negative life quality (side effects, stress, etc…., what we don’t want)
  2. Treatment yielding increase in life quality (what we want, part one)
  3. Gained life expectancy (increased cancer survival time from treatment, what we want, part two)

Of course there is more to it (your finances and treatment logistics typically) but let’s focus on these three, which have to do with your dog only, for now.

Okay, so how does one go about deciding whether a treatment is worth it, from the standpoint of your canine companion?

Well, TPA needs to happen.  Treatment Plan Analysis.  This is discussed in detail in The Dog Cancer Survival Guide. Let’s look at some big points to get you on the right track.

You should be weighing in on surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, diet, supplements like Apocaps, touch therapies, homeopathy, and acupuncture /other Chinese medicine approaches when using the Full Spectrum approach that I advise.  The other ways to increase life quality that essentially lack side effects in the Guide should be automatically implemented.

Here are some data points you need to get about each of these treatments, at least for what is known.  Get the best info you can, and some of it will be trusting your vet or oncologist’s estimation (and it is always only a guess) about your unique dog’s odds:

  • Gained life expectancy if treatment works (find out from your vet or oncologist)
  • Gained life quality if treatment works (use your vet or oncologist)
  • The odds the treatment does not work (use your vet or oncologist)
  • Treatment side effect odds (what are the chances? Use your oncologist or vet)
  • Treatment side effect severity (how bad are they? Use your oncologist or vet, get a picture of what this looks like for you and your dog…understand this)
  • Stress on dog during treatment? (Find out from vet or oncologist)
  • How trips to and from treatment influence life quality (easy for some, hard on will need to use your own judgment here)
  • Other (non-cancer) health issues affecting your dog’s life expectancy (use your vet)
  • Other health issues affecting your dog’s life quality (use your vet)

Okay, I hope that you will actually get answers to these and write them down.

Now you can answer the three questions, but you are not quite done.  You will then be able to get an idea of what gains your dog will get.  You will be able to look at your dog’s life normal life expectancy and find out if your dog has reached a full life already or not.  You will be informed as to odds involved.

Finally, you will have to decide what kind of person you are…

A, B, or C ?  These are groups of people described in The Dog Cancer Survival Guide in the treatment plan analysis section.  You must know what kind of person you are to operate successfully in caring for a dog with cancer.

A’s want life extension and are willing to tolerate side effects from the treatments.  B’s want some life extension and are willing to tolerate some milder side effects. C’s are only concerned with life quality and will accept very little life extension.  They want as few side effects as possible and only want comfort care.

What kind of person are you?

That is the fourth part of treatment plan analysis that affects your dog.  Define this, and use it as a platform to help guide your choices when you making  gray zone decisions.


Dr D

Leave a Comment

  1. Elaine on February 21, 2012 at 7:13 am

    I forgot to mention that my service dog was 6 at the time of his MCT diagnosis.

  2. Elaine on February 21, 2012 at 7:08 am

    When my service dog was diagnosed with MCT on 12/13/11 I was a bit in shock. A service dog is different than a regular dog but he is so loved for his companionship and the safety he brings to me in particular.

    So I had a million questions and because I was stressed to begin with I was also emotional – though I tried to reign that in for the sake of my pup.

    Many options were presented. I was told I could not be by my service dog’s side if I chose certain treatments. This would not have been good for him. He is very attached to me and being a golden retriever he is sensitive to what is going on with his ‘mom’.

    So I opted for Palladia after we decreased the Prednisone. Know that at this point my service dog had been through the surgical consult, the misdignosis at his regular vet, and lots of 3 am ‘walks’ and less access to the fun stuff he loved.

    It all began with a limp. They called him lame. It is a pejoritive term in the community of physically disabled persons. But in the Vet world it sticks. Lame is pretty permanent and I was not thinking his limp permanent at any stage.

    It was recommended early on that I amputate his right front leg. He is a service dog I replied. Did not register – not only the aspect of his helping me but also how the information so bluntly stated might affect a service dog owner with a debilitating neurological illness. I saw a need for education so I reigned in my temper as best I could.

    He was started on Palladia because the tumor is inoperable – sorry I forgot to mention that part – within the muscle and between two leg bones.

    One month on the Palladia and the Prednisone my guy’s MCTumor has shrunk 1.6 cm.
    So despite the GI side effects – he is doing well. The Vet – now we see the attending at the Vet School – has lowered the Palladia dose and he is on maintenance Prednisone for some of the effects of histimine release as well as to shrink the tumor.

    So good news. He is also on Cimetadine, Benadryl, Flagyl as needed, and Prilosec.

    Mast Cell tumors release histamine which causes tummy troubles and itchiness.

    Just wanted to share some good news!!! Good luck to you all in the coming days of caring for your pups!

  3. Jennifer on January 5, 2012 at 2:39 pm

    Dear Dr. Dressler,
    Thank for for taking the time to respond to me. Hemangiosarcoma was actually what the vet suggested he may have. I do have another appointment scheduled with her tomorrow so I will certainly discuss the possible dietary suggestions for him. Thank you so much for the information!

    • Dr. Demian Dressler on January 18, 2012 at 2:16 pm

      Good luck Jennifer and thanks
      Dr D

  4. Jennifer on January 2, 2012 at 4:33 pm

    Dear Dr. Dressler,
    First of all, thank you for this blog! It is very comforting to find this resource and information, especially with my yorkie’s recent events.
    After a recent ultrasound, my vet informed me that my yorkie has a mass near the base of his heart. She explained that based on her experience this type of cancer is aggressive and typically found in larger breeds of dogs – not so much in smaller breeds. She estimated that JoJo (my yorkie) had anywhere from days to weeks left, if it was in fact the aggressive type of cancer. He was put on treatment of prednisone at this point. I opted not to seek a biopsy since he is almost 14 years old. I did not feel that it would be a good idea to put him through any invasive procedures based on the prognosis.
    About three weeks after his diagnosis, a cyst formed just at the back of his neck under his jaw. The cyst was fluid filled (clear liquid and some blood) and grew to the size of a golf ball before it ruptured (from him scratching). I immediately took him back to the vet’s office and he was placed on a course of antibiotics (Clavamox) and a long term treatment of prednisone. She viewed a smear under the microscope and could see white blood cells and some infection but she determined that it was not a blocked salivary gland. She advised me that the cyst was part of the course of the cancer spreading and that he did not have much longer.
    Since his visit, he has been very vivacious and playing and does not appear sick in any way. He is back to his normal self! (Healthy, hearty appetite and energetic.) I am just perplexed of his behavior and am second guessing his diagnosis.
    Can you offer any insight to your experience with this type of cancer (and the relation to his cyst)? Do you think it would be beneficial to seek a second opinion? I just do not want to put JoJo through any “trauma” at his age. He has had epilepsy all of his life and is on a daily regimen of Phenobarbital. His quality of life is of the upmost importance to me.

    • Dr. Demian Dressler on January 4, 2012 at 5:00 pm

      Dear Jennifer,
      hard to say the cancer type. Most common is hemangiosarcoma. No link with cysts in the area of the jaw specifically, I am sorry.
      Have you changed his diet? Considered apocaps? neoplasene? artemisinin? beta glucans? yunnan baiyao? These would be some of the courses you would want to be discussing if you would like to take more steps (under veterinary superivision). These are discussed in the Guide. The diet is a free download on the top of this blog.
      I hope this helps
      Dr D

  5. Keefer irwin on January 17, 2011 at 3:20 am

    Dr.Dressler, My 11 yr old lab/shep gal was diagnosed w/ osteosarcoma last week. She is slated for r back leg amputation in a few days. I immediately bought your book and cannot stop reading through it. I have received so much info. I would like to put her on Artemix along w/ chemo. Going to follow fullspectrum care.
    I do have a question about diet. Would not red meat and liver have a lot of iron which is what cancer cells love? I know from what i have read about Artemix that you need to give after a diet w/iron. Should iron just be kept out of diet

    • DemianDressler on March 8, 2011 at 9:13 pm

      Dear Keefer,
      I would not withhold iron, as the body needs iron as well. At this stage we do not have evidence that this strategy is the right one (although it may change over time). However, mammary (breast) cancer does increase in frequency with red meat diet, although the thought is this may be more related to fat than iron.
      Hope this helps,
      Dr D

  6. Margaret Silver on September 10, 2010 at 5:08 pm

    My dog, a Doberman Malamute mix was diagnosed with lymphoma at age 15. I decided to try chemo with an oncology specialist. Within 3 days of the initial treatment, he was in clinical remission. He continued to receive alternating chemotherapy weekly, then bi-weekly, then monthly. After one year, we decided to monitor him. Unfortunately, while the lymphoma remained in remission and he had no real side effects from the drugs, his back legs became weaker and weaker, until he could no longer push himself up from a down position. 14 months after the initial diagnosis, he was helped across the Rainbow Bridge. We enjoyed that extra 14 months we had with him and felt we made the right decision. He mellowed and become a truly loving dog and inspiration.

  7. Linda Rusick on September 9, 2010 at 3:44 am

    Our 11 year old boxer was placed on metromonic therapy about 3 weeks ago. He developed dander (really bad), loss of appetite, some vomiting, lethargic, almost disoriented, and sleeping all the time. We took him off the therapy about 3 days ago, and he seems much better. My vet said he has 16 dogs on this MT and none of them have any side effects. Do you think the meds our dog was taking caused some of or all of these symptoms.

  8. Judith Conigliaro on September 9, 2010 at 3:01 am

    When my dog was diagnosed with bladder cancer at age 10, I opted for non-surgical treatment. I began research online, found tons of information on your site and with the help of my vet, my dog has survived three years with treatment and change in diet. She was given six months to live. At age 10, I could not see putting her through surgery and chemo. The tumor is growing at such a low rate that I am confident I chose the correct method of treatment for Abby. The attitude of my vet and her working WITH me in the care and treatment of my dog was the key to success. I do not have Abby on Apocaps at this time. I did however contribute to your research and my vet was given a free sample and we plan on discussing placing Abby on your capsule at her next appt. I am confident that with your website and people’s willingness to be proactive in the treatment of their animal can make all the difference.

    Thank you.
    J. Conigliaro
    Grand Rapids, MI

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