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

Innovations in Dog Cancer Care

Updated: May 15th, 2024

dog cancer innovationCancer may be the toughest adversary in medicine today.

When a dog lover is faced with a dog cancer diagnosis, one of the most common questions is, “Are there any other options?”  Many guardians are urgently looking for options beyond what seems to exist in conventional medical care today.

For this reason, The Dog Cancer Survival Guide was written.

We must not forget that many cancers are treatable, and in some cases can be removed completely with surgery.  In other cases, such as lymphosarcoma or other cancers that cannot be completely removed with surgery, the conventional steps remaining are chemotherapy and radiation.

To be sure, we need to use these tools in an intelligent way that benefits our dogs.  Chemotherapy, radiation and surgery are the mainstays of veterinary oncology, and this is the heritage and standard of care.  Thoughtful use of these therapies is central to conventional cancer care success.

However, there are additional methods that also deserve attention which benefit dogs with cancer.  These new ideas should be built into our approach in dealing with dog cancer, and one day will become part of the standard of care.

In modern veterinary care, attention is now placed on diet for kidney, liver, heart, orthopedic, and pancreatic disease.  However, less attention has been placed on diet in veterinary cancer care.

Similarly, the use of nutraceuticals (high potency clinical supplements) is also standard of care for these other diseases.  It is now time to build this area of medicine into how we care for dogs with cancer.  We need to pay attention to apoptogens in particular to help these dogs.

Human medicine is often ahead of veterinary medicine.  In human cancer treatment centers like the Mayo Clinic, they build treatments like touch therapies (for example massage) and acupuncture into their cancer treatment plans as standard options to consider.  Why not use the same ideas for dogs?

What about the effects of brain chemistry on the immune system and life quality?  The Mayo Clinic and others use methods to help mood, alleviate depression, and improve life quality deliberately for human cancer patients. We should be doing the same for our pets with chronic disease.

It takes time to weave new ideas into what is accepted as standard of care by doctors, whether physicians or veterinarians.  There is often resistance, since doctors are (and should be) skeptical. However, there can be a darker side of skepticism, and that is a kind of prejudice that condemns without consideration.

If we go back in time to Vienna, in the mid 1800’s, 18% of mothers died with puerperal fever.  A very smart physician, Ignaz Semmelweis, deduced there must some some contagious substance that traveled from deceased patients remains and living mothers, was invisible, and could be found on the hands of doctors.  So, he required his doctors to wash their hands with disinfectant between autopsies and patient care.

The death rate dropped to about 1- 2% after this practice started.  In spite of this, his ideas were met with furious resistance from other doctors, and he was later committed to an insane asylum.

Later, Luis Pasteur was credited with developing and confirming germ theory.  And now, it is standard of care to wash hands between patient visits.

Hopefully, we can start to build new ideas into conventional veterinary cancer care.


Dr D

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  1. John in PA on August 1, 2014 at 4:11 am

    My Rottweiler “Winston” was just diagnosed with MH as well. I just discovered a few small bumps on his skin and a grape sized tumor on the side of his neck. I was told that I’m lucky that I found it early.
    Has anybody out there been able to acquire any of the TALL-104 therapy drug? From what I’ve read as well it seems to be the miracle drug a lot of us need. I heard that it was originally designed to be a therapy drug for humans, children to be exact. But was removed from the market due to some issues that are not known to me. If anybody out there knows where this “Wonder Drug” can be obtained, PLEASE let me know. I am only 2 hours north of Philadelphia.
    This is my third Rottweiler to be diagnosed with some form of cancer. My first wonderful boy was “Damien”. He died almost 8 years ago from Lymphosarcoma. We tried Every chemo protocol, every rescue protocol, and every drug, including high dose intravenous Vitamin-C. I even remember calling the Cancer Treatment Centers of America, in tears, begging them, to treat the most important thing in my life. They apologized that they couldn’t and let me know that I wasn’t the only animal lover to have called them.
    My second one was Max, Damien’s buddy that he left behind. Poor Max was always in pain, he had hip Displaysia at a young age.
    She ignored my many requests for a consult at U Penn. WHY??? All she had to do was write a 1 line sentence and copy his records. She kept saying it was his bone plates and he’ll grow out of them. I even made her x ray his hips, she said they were fine. Later I had an Orthopedic look at the x ray, he even showed me the severe arthritis the poor boy had in his sockets. That B*tch can’t even read her own x rays. That’s what you get from a Hick Doctor out in the sticks that was referred to me. She even doctored his medical records. The State of PA investigated her, Too bad they wouldn’t take her license.
    Anyhow I treated him with the best joint supplements and he did ok, but the highlight of his life was when I brough Winston home. Max treated him as if it was his own puppy. Max raised him and taught him well until he died last year from liver and kidney cancer that was unknown to until it was too late. He was a real HERO. He never showed his pain because he had to keep up with his young protégé. He would give up his food or his bone to his buddy Winston, he would groom him every morning. I miss Damien and Max so much !!! I CAN’T LOOSE MY WINSTON NOW.

  2. Fran on September 21, 2011 at 3:36 pm

    Dear Dr. Dressler,
    Thank you for such a wonderful guide to cancer care for our dogs. Our Ernie was recently diagnosed with sarcoma of the spleen and mediastinum. Aspirates could not confirm type, but suggest hemangiosarcoma. Despite getting his first chemo treatment (adriamycin) almost two weeks ago, the splenic tumor has gotten noticeably larger and ultrasound confirmed this. Therefore, oncologists feel it best to stop treatments and just continue with supportive care. This seems so difficult, being Ernie appears to be giving it his all and is behaving fairly normally. Do you think it is too soon to tell after only one treatment? Would apocaps be the best alternative supplement, and if so is there a vet in our Philadelphia area that is familiar with these and could help us with monitoring them. Looking forward to your response.
    Fran in PA

  3. Melinda Hill on August 11, 2011 at 12:46 am

    Hi Dr Dressler

    I’m avidly reading your book on behalf of my pet dog, Meg. I wonder if you’d be able to ask Dr. Hrushesky whether he has yet any chronotherapy results for Palladia? I suspect not as Palladia has been manufactured for dogs and I believe his research stems from human research, but perhaps there might be other research out there that could give me an indication? My Meg has started a course of Palladia chemotherapy, and I’m keen to give it the best chance I can.

    Many thanks for your work

  4. Melinda Hill on August 9, 2011 at 4:03 am

    Dear Dr Dressler

    My lovely dog, Meg, has just been diagnosed with inoperable liver cancer and has started chemotherapy with Palladia. I’ve read your book, which has been a huge help, and I’m keen to try Meg on the apocaps. However, I’m a bit confused as it says in your book that apocaps should not be given to dogs with liver disease – and I guess that cancer is a form of liver disease? Can I give Meg apocaps or should I simply try to give her the single supplements added to her food? She used to love her food but has been pretty picky since her diagnosis, so I may well be limited as to how many supplements I can get her to eat..

    Any advice welcome!


    • DemianDressler on August 17, 2011 at 5:51 pm

      Dear Melinda,
      usually with these I have the vet make the call (they should be supervising these things anyway). If liver function is adequate and the liver markers are not particularly elevated, I use half dose with a full meal in my patients. Tell your vet that the Apocaps has some effects like NSAIDS. Ask your vet about using appetite stimulants like cerenia or mirtazipine. There are natural tummy steps like ginger and glutamine in the Guide you can read about too.
      I hope this helps,

  5. Gilles and Judy on August 1, 2011 at 12:25 pm

    Dr. Dressler,
    Although not directly cancer-related question, we were hoping you may provide some guidance and information regarding how to boost our dog’s immune system. We have a young male dog with generalized demodectic mange which we have been treating for nearly a year now, both with conventional and non-conventional treatments. Basically we have tried just about anything and everything to help him overcome the mange. Unfortunately, progress has been slow at best, although he does finally have some hair growing back, he still sleeps the majority of the day, rarely shows interest in anything, and remains skinny (very difficult to put any weight on him although he eats at least one good meal in the middle of the day and we try to get in a meal at night, he just does not gain weight). He is currently being given ivermectin at 0.1ml per pound of body weight (about 0.4ml in his case) and mainly on a grain-free diet. We have tried various immune supplements, vitamins as well as a herbal “detox” for dogs, and have not seen much improvement if at all with the choices we have made to boost his immune system.
    As you have researched the immune system, we were hoping you may have some suggestions for our dog’s situation. In addition, if you or any of your readers/bloggers/followers have any suggestions regarding treatment for generalized demodectic mange and/or the immune system, we would greatly appreciate the input.
    Thank you,
    Gilles, Judy and Gomer

    • DemianDressler on August 3, 2011 at 11:23 pm

      Dear Gilles and Judy,
      this is tough. Most of the dogs with generalized demodectic mange have an immune deficiency specific for the mite, although they sometimes have internal organ issues which lower their immune system. Step one (if not done) is getting complete lab work to screen the internal organs. I have tried immune supplements of various kinds (beta glucans (medicinal mushrooms), transfer factor, modified citrus pectin, echinacea, etc) to little avail. You can search for these on the blog using the search bar or read the Guide. There is little harm in trying. I haven’t tried Beres drops, aloe (acemannan), glutamine, astralagus, zinc, active hexose correlated compound, or melatonin at night for demodex. There’s another fermented fiber one I can’t recall at the moment, expensive…
      That should get you started if you are looking for new venues…don’t forget to have veterinary supervision.
      Dr D

  6. Mary on July 31, 2011 at 6:04 am

    Dear Dr. Dressler,

    Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge about canine cancer and treatments. I was beyond devastated when my beloved Brittany was diagnosed with hemangiosarcoma in March. I found some hope in reading your book–I can’t tell you how comforting it’s been to me to know that I can do something proactive to help my dog live a fuller, happier life, even if it is on borrowed time.

    I’d like to ask you a question about Apocaps and some other supplements if you don’t mind: I noticed that it’s not recommended to give these to dogs with liver disease. My dog’s hemangio started on her liver. She had emergency surgery to remove the tumor, the blood that had burst into her abdomen, and a portion of her liver. I’m assuming, then, that she is definitely considered to be a dog with liver disease. May I ask why it’s not good to give these supplements to these dogs? (She has recently completed 6 rounds of chemo with epirubicin and been described as “in remission”.)

    Again, thank you for writing your book and especially for keeping it on a language level that non-medical folks like me can understand!

    Wishing you well,

    Mary in Pittsburgh

    • DemianDressler on August 3, 2011 at 11:33 pm

      Dear Mary,
      I am sorry to hear about your Brittany. In my patients, if liver function tests are okay, I am comfortable using apocaps at one quarter to half the labeled dose on the bottle in cases like this. However, always have your vet supervise treatments…
      Dr D

  7. JEsse Brown on July 26, 2011 at 10:35 am

    Dr. Dressler,

    I have been reading as much as I can about a novel cancer therapy called Tall-104 that showed in clinical trials in the late 90s that it was very effective in treating several different kinds of cancer in dogs and possibly humans. This was developed at the Wistar Institute in Philidelphia by Dr. Daniela Santoli, Ph.D who has since passed away. One of the cancers it showed particular effectiveness against was MH – malignant histiocytosis which is what my Golden Clancy has. 4 out of 4 dogs with MH showed complete remission with no side effects. Clancy has had 3 surgeries to remove skin tumors, his tumorous spleen and tumors on his spine. He is now on CCNU (Lomustine) and seems to be responding but we were warned that this does not usually last.

    Why wasn’t something like this, that showed such promise, developed further? I have contacted Wistar and gotten no answers -yet. There is a company in Va that markets the cell line and apparently human trials for breast cancer are going on in Italy. I am baffled. Any insight?


    Jesse in Virginia

  8. B. Emmett on July 12, 2011 at 2:06 am

    Love this article, Dr. D. I have a difficult time understanding why ideas like these are so hard for veterinarians and pet parents to consider. I own a dog lover’s specialty business and I myself continue to learn and have practiced alternative care when my goldens have been diagnosed with cancer that is neither operable or deemed treatable with chemo or radiation. Your book helped immensely and I know that I needed to feel that I had the ability to affect my golden’s quality of life and perhaps keep him here on earth with me longer. I have often struggled with answering the question “What can I do to help make all of this more standard thinking for people?” People need to know this good stuff so I will continue to try to educate and offer products that can help. It’s palliative care for canines.

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