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

To Chemo or Not To Chemo?

Updated: December 7th, 2018

One of the little known facts about veterinary medicine is that chemotherapy does not cure cancer in dogs, with few exceptions (except transmissible venereal tumor or the very rare lympho or something).

I believe that many people are unaware of this fact.

So we are left with a treatment  modality that has a goal of improving two things:

In order to make the choice about chemo, a life quality analysis has to be done (the technique to do this is in The Dog Cancer Survival Guide).   Step one is for you to answer the question, “What kind of person am I?”

To learn more about your role as your dog’s guardian, get a copy of the Dog Cancer Survival Guide

This boils down to risk aversion.  How important are avoiding any side effects for you?

Most people also don’t know that in conventional chemotherapy, often the more longevity one gets, the higher the risks of side effects.  Usually these go hand in hand.

Speaking of side effects, there are some natural compounds (also discussed in the Guide) that can be used to help with these, like indole 3 carbinol.

At any rate, are you willing to accept some side effects for added life expectancy or is your number one goal life quality, for the remainder of the time your canine companion is with you?

Usually there is some risk of less life quality during treatment in exchange for added life expectancy.

By defining what kind of person you are, you create a platform that informs your decision making and gives you a clear idea of where you are headed.

Of course, you need to be aware of data, as step two.  Get an oncologist on board if you want chemo, if at all possible.  These folks live and breathe chemo and they are the ones you want.  If you are able to get an oncologist who is integrative (familiar with diet, supplements, acupuncture etc) that is a bonus.

In getting data, simply ask questions like these:

“How many dogs respond to this treatment?” (This tells Doc that you are aware that not all dogs respond to chemo.)

Get a copy of this informative seminar to learn more on Chemotherapy Side Effects in Dogs

“What is your guess (and I won’t hold you to this), on the added life expectancy for my dog with this treatment, assuming we get a response to chemo?” (note this is different from median survival time…this question says, okay Doc, since you know my dog, give me a little info on what added time I am getting here.)

“In your experience, what are the side effects of this treatment? What are the severe side effects of this treatment that are less common?  How often do they each occur?  What would they look like if I were seeing my dog having them? What does my dog go through? How long will my dog be in the hospital during treatment?  What happens during this time?  How often will my dog be at the hospital??”

Questions like these allow you to get the data.  Then you can take this info and see how it fits with the type of person you hare, and the priorities of this person given your dog’s age and circumstances.

Using a template like this, you can answer the question, “To Chemo or Not To Chemo.”


Dr D


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  1. Miss Mo on March 18, 2014 at 8:30 am

    Our 12 year old golden retreiver started limping – right rear leg – vet indicates bone cancer and had radiologist confirm. Only SURE way to know is painful biopsy, and if positive they would push for amputation. I lean towards wanting to give her the best quality of life (including all the people food she wantS!) over extending her life a few months. At this point, I am hesitant to even put her through the biopsy – is that short sighted? Her hips are not strong anymore and I think balancing on 1 rear leg is going to be impossible for her…but I don’t want to give up on her! Spend the $1500 to learn the only path is amuptation? I will not amputate, I cannot take her leg at this age UNLESS they guarantee 2 more years of quality life!

    • Susan Kazara Harper on March 24, 2014 at 5:35 am

      Hello, I know this is a difficult time and hard decisions must be made. Unfortunately, no one can make them for you, and no one can guarantee any results, or guarantee any length of time. Amputation can seem like a really extreme action to take, and there is a lot to consider. If your dog is already favoring that rear leg and not weight bearing with it, she is already giving herself the physical therapy she’d go through after such a surgery. And remember, they have 4 legs to our 2. But the condition of her other legs and hips is a big factor as well. A couple things to keep in mind: Until you have a biopsy, you don’t have a definite diagnosis, so it’s harder to make a decision. If it is osteosarcoma, and if it hasn’t spread to other parts of her body, amputation is the best way to arrest it’s spread. You might want to check out Tripawds to get a fuller view of amputation. No one wants to amputate, but it is a valid, effective treatment. You know your girl better than anyone. Please get her on really great, natural nutrition, you can download most of The Dog Cancer Diet at Do talk to her through all of this and share your thoughts. She knows how much you love her and that you’ll do everything you can to help. Good luck.

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