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

Is My Dog Too Old For Cancer Treatments?

Updated: September 2nd, 2019


Age is not a disease, but when your dog is diagnosed with cancer, it can be confusing to know if your dog too old for cancer treatments. Dr. Dressler explains…

dog too old for cancer treatmentsWhen you’re facing dog cancer, it’s only natural to ask, “Is my dog too old for cancer treatments?” Or in some cases, “too young.” Some people wonder “why put my dog through treatment, if the cancer could just come back later anyway?”

But is age really a factor in treating dog cancer?

Well, no.

And … yes.

Let us explain.

Age Is Not a Disease

In his book The Dog Cancer Survival Guide, author Dr. Demian Dressler reminds us that age is not automatically a factor when treating cancer, because being old is not a disease.

It’s not a pre-existing health condition, like diabetes is, or heart disease.

It’s simply a fact about your dog.

With few exceptions, your dog’s age is no more important to the cancer diagnosis than the fact that she has brown eyes, or he has white fur on his paws.

Advanced age does not mean that your dog’s cancer or prognosis (expected outcome) is automatically worse.

It just means he or she is older.

On the other hand, if your dog is very young, it can, sometimes, indicate that the cancer is more likely to be very aggressive. This is not always true, but it is sometimes, and that’s something you should ask your vet about your own dog’s case.

And that brings us to how age can be a factor in treating dog cancer.

Taking Age into Account When Making Treatment Decisions

Age may not be a disease, but taking your dog’s age into account is really helpful when making treatment decisions, like what options to choose, or how assertive to be in your treatments.

For example, an older dog might not be able to handle surgery as well as a younger dog. A senior dog might need more recovery time, or have a harder time healing after surgery. They are also more likely to have a pre-existing condition in their liver, kidney, or elsewhere that makes using certain medications or chemo drugs impossible. Seniors also may have lower mobility, which makes amputation more problematic.

On the other hand, if your dog is very young, you might feel that aggressive surgeries and protocols are well worth it, because he or she has the strength and vitality of a youthful body, and will likely bounce back quickly. Younger dogs are also much less likely to have complications from other health conditions.

There Is Always Something You Can Do!

Whether you decide to treat with conventional treatments (chemotherapy, radiation, and chemotherapy), keep in mind that there are many things you can do to help your dog with cancer that DON’T involve thousands of dollars in vet bills and trips to the hospital. The groundbreaking work Dr. Dressler has done over the last several years is to bring to all of us the incredible news that — contrary to what you might hear from some veterinarians — cancer is not an automatic death sentence.

Most dogs (of any age) can be helped by making dietary changes, using specific nutritional supplements, lifestyle adjustments, and brain chemistry modifications (increasing their happiness).

Cancer is a tough enemy, and there is a lot to deal with. But we have personally experienced here — and have heard from tens of thousands of people over the last five years — that doing SOMETHING to help your dog is possible. We are so grateful to Dr. Dressler for leading the way in giving all of us hope, and empowering us to take action, instead of just giving up on our dogs, as so many of us have been advised to do.

Age is important, which is why there is an entire chapter dedicated to it. Chapter 19 in the book helps you sort out whether to take your dog’s age into consideration or not. There’s even a list of the average life span of purebred dogs, from Afghans to Yorkies, and another list that contains approximate life expectancy for mixed breeds, which is based on weight.

Why Is Typical Life Expectancy an Important Factor?

Why did Dr. Dressler include breed- and weight-specific life span information in his book?

Because knowing your dog’s expected life span can give you a wider perspective on your dog’s unique case – and that can really help you when it comes to making treatment decisions.

Just as one year in a human’s life is different from one year in a dog’s life, one year in the life of one dog is not the same as one year in the life of another dog.

  • If you have a dog that would probably naturally live to be ten years old, and he stands to gain one year from a course of treatment, that extra year represents ten percent of his natural life span.
  • On the other hand, if your dog’s breed usually lives fourteen years, that extra year gained is equal to seven percent of his natural life span.

So: Chapter 19, Average Life Expectancy, is an important chapter to consult at some point in your research, even though the “bare facts” and lifespan tables can look miserable and awful to Guardians treating dog cancer.

Isn’t It Cold Hearted to Factor in Age?

We all want our dogs to live forever, and it is unthinkable for most of us that they “have to” die someday. And dying of cancer? That can feel crazy, awful, stupid wrong.

It can feel cold-hearted to calculate your dog’s age and compare it to lifespan statistics.

And yet, as Dr. Dressler and his coauthor, oncologist Dr. Susan Ettinger, remind us in their book, we Guardians need to use all of the information at our fingertips to help our dogs.

The reason to look at our dog’s age, and compare it to her expected lifespan, is because it shows us what we’re really fighting for.

Some Guardians will look at any time above the original prognosis as a “gift.”

Others will feel cheated, no matter what.

But all of us are fighting for our dogs. And knowing how their age factors into treatment decisions is an important part of being a responsible Guardian.

More to Consider

In addition to Chapter 19, you will find information about how age factors into specific diagnoses by reading the individual chapter about your dog’s cancer. (The most common cancers are all covered in detail in The Dog Cancer Survival Guide.)

Also, Dr. Dressler has dedicated an entire webinar (and sometimes more than one) to each of the most of the common cancers found in dogs. If age is an important factor, he mentions that in his seminars.

You should also read the sections in the book about conventional treatments, which can be modified – or possibly avoided – if your dog’s age requires that.

And finally, don’t forget to listen to the audiobook The Dog Cancer Coping Guide, which was Dr. Dressler’s very first act of authorship. In it, he goes over, with great compassion, many of the emotional management techniques that you will also find in his book. These emotional management techniques can help you calmly and bravely face this diagnosis, and that will help you to make confident decisions.

Listen as Dr. D leads you through important emotional management exercises. It’s his first book, and some readers listened to it over and over every day for years to help themselves help their dog!

We know how overwhelmed you feel right now, and hope that you realize that even if your dog is older, there are still lots of OPTIONS for you. You can rest with an easy heart, as long as you do your research, think things through, and make the best decisions at every moment you can. When you look back, you won’t have regrets if you follow this simple formula:

  • Breathe deeply.
  • Read and research your options.
  • Consult with your veterinarian about your specific dog.
  • Make your best choice given all the factors.

Best Wishes & Doggy Kisses from Our Homes to Yours,

The Dog Cancer Vet Support Team

Leave a Comment

  1. lilly on November 28, 2022 at 6:33 am

    My daughter have a dog that was treated for lymphoma cancer with oral medication and had the initial treatment set, she is 12 years old. However my daughter keep going to vet every 5 weeks for maintenance and pay for vet visit, blood work and more of those lower dosage pills, but her visits cost is almost identical to her initial set of treatment. Do we need second opinion or is this normal and expected?

    • Kate Basedow, LVT on November 30, 2022 at 11:52 am

      The cost of bloodwork and exams will generally stay the same. Some veterinary facilities have different fees for different exams (for example, a follow-up or recheck might be cheaper than the initial exam to figure out what is going on). Maintenance care is certainly important, but if the costs are becoming a burden, your daughter should talk to her vet to see if they can come up with a plan that works a little better for her. For example, they might be able to decrease the frequency of doctor exams, and have blood drawn as a quick appointment with a technician. Or it may be cheaper to send blood out to a lab to be evaluated instead of running it in-house (or vice-versa). Most vets are very willing to figure out ways to both make sure that the dog is getting the care she needs and that the owners are able to sustain that care. I hope this helps!

      • lilly on December 5, 2022 at 11:28 am

        Thank you for the tips. I’ll have her bring that up. He stated some bring their dogs every 6 months for check up but don’t do the 5 weeks interval visits, or bring dog if they start showing symptoms again. is all those frequent visits she is on now, beneficial for 12 year old large dog? We were told it will come back.

  2. Dennis Ravenscroft on September 21, 2022 at 3:22 am

    I have the second edition of the Cancer Guide. Is there a more recent updated edition?
    Are the dog cancer articles compiled and bundled in hard copy for purchase?
    Are there articles dealing specifically with the use of Stelfonta, the recently approved drug used for Mast Cell carcinomas?
    Thank you

  3. Nancy on September 17, 2022 at 4:22 am

    My dogs vet told me that my 10 yr old dog has a large mass in her right lung what can I do as she is dry coughing

  4. Shirley d stevens on April 18, 2021 at 8:30 am

    I plan to buy or find digitally the books mentioned above…my 12 yr old cotons diagnosed with low blood levels, immune mediated neutropenia, rare suggests splenectomy to see if mass on spleen is causing the anemia…surgery involves many risks, ie anesthesia deaths huge increase in 12 yrs or older, infection, trauma, etc….dog is otherwise healthy, normal activity, eating…between yearly regular vet tests appeared ok. Please share advice re the above …I do not want to put my dog through the trauma if he can be maintained in case of pain, etc. with vet…at this time on meds prednisone and clavacillin.

  5. Niae on February 18, 2020 at 1:11 am

    My 16 year old golden retriever has malignant Cancer in the mouth. We found out today when he started bleeding from his mouth. He is already suffering from arthritis and on treatment for that. He sometimes cant get up and in the past few moths had few poo accidents where he went in the house an one occasion was sleeping on it. He have had 4 surgeries for various things in his 16 years of life.I dont know if he can handle another surgery. I dont know what to do anymore for him. Saying goodbye is not easy to contemplate either. Do you think a 16 years old could survive the surgery

    • Dog Cancer Vet Team on February 19, 2020 at 8:52 am


      Thanks for writing and we’re sorry to hear about your boy. As we’re not vets, we can’t offer you medical advice. However, we can point you towards some of Dr. D’s writing 🙂

      When deciding on a treatment plan for our dogs, there are a number of factors that we have to take into consideration– age, cancer type, your dog’s personality, your personality, and so many others. It’s why Dr. D recommends knowing your personality type and how that plays a role when making treatment plan decisions for your dog Here’s the link if you’d like to find out your personality type: Why Your Personality Is So Important to Your Dog with Cancer

      You may also find these articles on life quality to be helpful, as well. Here’s the link: and if you’ve read chapter 15 of the Dog Cancer Survival Guide, you may find some of the mobility aids Dr. D recommends to be helpful. There is a whole category of mobility aid products on the Dog Cancer Shop 🙂

      Once you know your personality type and what matters the most to both you and your boy, you will be able to make more informed and knowledgable treatment plan decisions 🙂

    • Molly Jacobson on February 25, 2020 at 12:07 pm

      Hi Niae, it’s so hard, isn’t it? There is no one answer to your question, unfortunately. Age is not the only factor to consider — but also so many other things. You should talk to your veterinarian about all the risk factors for your specific dog and see what they advise. Then go with your gut. It’s OK to make the right choice for YOU and YOUR dog, as there is no one right way!

  6. Donald on September 3, 2019 at 10:13 am

    This is a great article. My healthy but slowing-down male golden retriever will soon turn 14 y/o, which is almost 4 years past average lifespan (for male, female lifespan is about 12 years). As he slows down, I sometimes wonder what is the best choice if he were to get cancer, particularly hemangiosarcoma, which only has about a 6 month median survival time if treated with chemo, or 3 months without chemo.

  7. fgh on May 7, 2018 at 10:59 am

    I don’t know, but maybe I would propose going to other vets? (That you know are good vets) Like this you have other advises, if you are worried?Please tell me how it turns out!

  8. Sandy on April 20, 2018 at 7:43 pm

    I am having this problem right now with the are of my dog…She is a 10 year old great Dane and neopaliton mastiff. She has a large busted open mass on her abdomen. Which the way she acts and other factors I don’t think is cancerous… The vet wouldn’t remove it. The meds the vet gave me did nothing. The absess opened more,still bleeds and smells real bad.. don’t know what to do. Any advice ?

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