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

How Was This Not Found Earlier?

Updated: October 1st, 2018

For Helen, Hunter, Guardians coping with dog cancer, and their dogs.

Cancer seems to sneak up on us often.

Many times, Guardians will wonder how it is possible that such a horrible disease could have been brewing while the dog was acting completely normal.  And, how is it possible that the vet missed it during it’s developing stage?

To understand this completely, it helps to go back in time a ways.

Dogs and people have been together for roughly 30,000-40,000 years. Way back then, dogs were pretty wild, like the dogs we see on the planes of Africa in nature shows.

In those days, dogs had to hide their illnesses.  The reason for this is when dogs in nature act sick, they become targets for predators, who zone in on the ill, young or elderly.

Another reason dogs learned to hide their sickness is it helps to act normally to keep pack position (social standing).   When dogs act sick, they might lose their position in the pack.

So it made a lot of sense for dogs to hide their health problems, even when these problems were major.

I believe this is one of the main reasons that to this day, dogs and other pets often will act quite normally in spite of the fact that they are sick, sometimes quite so.  I think there is a left-over, adaptive mechanism that made more sense in the wild than it does in modern times.

This mechanism can be called “compensation“.

So when a dog is ill with cancer, one of the reasons it may not act ill, or could even show signs on a physical exam indicating a normal dog, is because it is compensating, just like back in the wild.

For more information like this, you may enjoy The Dog Cancer Survival Guide.


Dr D

Leave a Comment

  1. Maciej on June 3, 2011 at 11:07 am


    Having all the answers is one thing. Not having any guidelines is another. I am a doctor myself and practice medicine according to current guidelines. The veterinary medicine is still about “How cute-pay $350”. Not performing rectal exam on a senior dog is a negligence, just as not performing rectal exam on a 50 years old man. The difference is that if it happened in medicine I would have ended up with malpractice. In veterinary medicine there seems to be no supervision/responsibility for a bad job. In addition to it, the path report had a major error. It was dated as 4/11 when the surgery was on 4/20. All that they had to say was that it was probably my dogs report, but they could not confirm it. This is from NYC Veterinary Specialists in Manhattan (avoid it !). Would you be satisfied with answer like that? I guess not. I transferred my care to Animal Medical Center and I am very satisfied. My dog completed 18 out of 20 radiation treatments and will get his chemo after radiation is finished. Please note that this treatment is based on questionable path report from the Colorado State University done on the behalf on NYC VS.. We expect our docs to be knowledgeable and not to harm us. The same should be implemented in veterinary medicine. I expect vets to know what they are doing, keep themselves up-to-date and be responsible for their actions. As long as they do not feel threatened by malpractice, they will be providing poor service and hurting our pets.

  2. Steve on May 30, 2011 at 3:14 am


    The most important point that you made in your post is the need for self-education not only with pets but ourselves as well. The web is a great source of information and there is no reason to not be informed. With my care and pet I do research and ask questions. We can expect animal or human medical care to have all the answers. As the medical system remains under pressure to trim costs we need to to our part to take better care of ourselves and our pets.

  3. Steve on May 30, 2011 at 3:11 am

    Nancy, I am glad to hear of your experience with alternative care medicine. My 5 year old Jack Russell (we had only 2 1/2 year) developed lymphoma. We noticed it early and thought we would have success at least toward remission. We worked closely with our holistic vet, we use H202, and a wide range of antioxidants and supplements. Unfortunately, our wonderful little dog was put to sleep only 9 weeks after diagnosis. The ugly truth about cancer in general is that with all the animal and human research and billions of dollars much of it is still a mystery to us. What works with one may not work with another and there are so many other factors. With 2 surviving dogs you have experienced a miracle. You should publish what you are doing.

  4. Maciej Domek on May 3, 2011 at 2:32 pm

    My 12 years old Daschund was just diagnosed with the anal sac adenocarcinoma. It was small and discreet, was resected, but unfortunately the margins were not clear. His other work-up did not show the metastases. His labs are normal. I was told by the vet/oncologist that he has an excellent chance with radiation. I have been taking him for semi-annual check-ups every 6 months. I was surprised to find out that Daschunds among other four breeds have a higher risk of developing this type of tumor, yet none of the vets at the practice I go to never performed rectal exam on him. Why isn’t it a standard practice for older dogs/gods with increased risk of a specific cancer to be checked/tested for this specific type of cancer? Had my vet performed a rectal exam on him every 6 months since he was 10, it would have been caught much earlier. This is why we take our pets for semi-annual check-ups to be completely examined, expecting our vets to know about specific breeds and risks for disease. The cancer can be caught and treated successfully. It can sneak on us, but can be dealt with early if only there were specific rules/guidelines in a veterinary practice.

  5. Nancy on May 3, 2011 at 7:17 am

    Hi, I just wanted to let you and your readers know, that if your dog developes cancer, all is not lost and you can do so much to help your best friend in his time of illness, My Fox Terrier, Lucy developed Lynphoma a couple years ago, she is older and the Vet told us not to expect to much from the treatments, however, I did a lot of research and along with the treatments I began to give Lucy human grade antioxidents and various other vitamin and mineral suppliments. I am very happy to say that Lucy;s cancer remains in remission and she is loving life! Our Vet says she is a walking marical, but along with all the prayer and wonderful Vet care, I feel it is the vitamin/mineral suppliments that made the difference for her.
    Also my husband and I took in a resue who had been abandon we feel because she had breast cancer, our Vet was able to remove it and we applied the same techniques with Macy as with Lucy, she is another happy healthy member of our family today!
    As with people, animals respond well to vitamins! Just thought there might be someone out there who might need to know this…Have a Blessed Day!

  6. andrea osborn on May 3, 2011 at 1:11 am

    My 7 year old yellow lab has stage 3 mast cell. Vet operated in Sept. 2010 but could not get clean margin. She had 3 rounds of chemo. and now on Palladia and doing well (never sick 1 time). Scans have showed nothing spead any where yet they can see.
    Do many dogs survive longer than 9-12 months (they estimate) after this?

  7. Dawn on May 3, 2011 at 1:11 am

    I just had to put my beloved girl, Starr, a 14 1/2 year old Border Collie to sleep. Six weeks ago, I noticed a growth on her lower jaw, and two weeks later, had it removed. It was osteosarcoma. Two weeks ago, another growth showed up, more viciously than the first one.By last night, it was necrotic smelling, ulcerated, bleeding, and Starr had trouble eating and drinking. I could have let her live another week or so for my sake, but it wouldnt have been fair to her.

  8. Sara Bartolinp on April 19, 2011 at 9:37 am

    I brought my shis tzu of 12 years old to the vet last thursday because she shows signs of stomach disconfort. She changes place every 10 minutes and she always looks behing her. So what happened is that after examination candie was diagnosed with thyroid carcinoma. I have decied not to make her go through the operation because of her age. he vetsaid that even if she`s 12 years old she has a very good health. But i still said no. The vet told me that there is no connection between the tumor and the stomach disconfort. She can live between 6 months to a year. I`d like to know if the stomach disconfort and the tumor there is really no connection and how long she can live with the tumor and what simptoms should i expect to know that candie is in pain because of this tumor. Thank you.

    • DemianDressler on April 20, 2011 at 5:36 pm

      Dear Sara,
      I am so sorry to hear about this with your Candie. Since we have some signs of pain it would be wise to try to localize it (find out where it is coming from). This can be done on a physical examination. You must have the vet differentiate between pancreas, spleen, kidney, back (vertebral column pain can mimic abdominal pain), bladder, or other areas. Then it needs to be addressed by dealing with the problem properly (diagnosis then treatment). Speak with your vet about your opinion. Hopefully these steps can be done to clarify the issue. If not you can always get a second opinion.
      Dr D

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