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

Is My Dog Too Old For Cancer Treatments?

Updated: February 18th, 2019


Age is not a disease. When your dog is diagnosed with cancer, it can be confusing to know how old is “too old” for treatment. Dr. Dressler explains…

too-old-for-cancer-treatmenWhen 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.

90Read Chapter 19 in The Dog Cancer Survival Guide

Age is an important topic, so there is an entire chapter on the subject in The Dog Cancer Survival Guide. Look at chapter 19 in Part IV: Making Confident Decisions, because it is dedicated to sorting out the issues surrounding your dog’s age. 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.

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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 webinars. (You get access to his webinars in The Dog Cancer Kit.)

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.

You will find the audiobook, plus the digital edition of The Dog Cancer Survival Guide, plus ALL of the webinars (going back to March of 2009) in the membership site where we keep your Dog Cancer Kit.

If you haven’t gotten the Kit yet, it’s truly packed with the best resources for you, in one place. Of course, we also send you the paperback edition of The Dog Cancer Survival Guide.

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Best Wishes & Doggy Kisses from Our Homes to Yours,

The Dog Cancer Vet Support Team

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Leave a Comment

  1. 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!

  2. 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 ?