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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


Leave a Comment

  1. Lorain lim on May 26, 2013 at 3:10 am


    sorry to hijack this track, am looking for Shelly who uses Frankincense. My friend needs to contact you urgently for advice. Could you pls contact me at and I can linked up both of you?

    thanks much!

  2. Bijin Davis on May 10, 2013 at 5:12 am

    thank you so much , i really needed some kind of help and suggestion.
    thank you so so much!!
    -bijin davis

  3. Bijin Davis on May 3, 2013 at 9:09 am

    Hi Dr dressler,
    I’ve been waiting for your response and it’s sort of getting a little urgent , so i dug through all sorts of sites and finally found a number to contact you , they said you were busy and wouldn’t be able to take calls. sorry to bother you but i hope they left you a message and requested if you could please read and reply to my post or if a conversation is better i can call you again at a preferable time. thanks alot

  4. Bijin Davis on April 25, 2013 at 10:07 am

    Dr Dressler, i’ve been trying everything to find more information regarding cancer, i’ve been reading all i can, studies, blogs and even tried calling veterinary centers in us and uk but most of them were unhelpful and said that they have confidentialities so they can’t speak to me and advise me unless i am personally meeting them. I urgently need someone to trust and guide me through me decisions.
    I live in india and here the care for pets isn’t as developed as most places around the world.
    My 10 years old dog becky was diagnosed with a benign tumor/cancer on december 24th. doctor said it was a mammary tumor (fibroadenoma). He said to wait and see how rapid the growth was, but suddenly there was a water like discharge and the area just started to seem swelled up all of a sudden and so the doctors had decided that the best thing to do would be getting her tumor removed and giving it for biopsy testing. the result from the test went well, the doctors said its definitely benign so i would have nothing to worry.
    Eventually, exactly one month later, the same area starting growing the same kind of bumpy ,hard and uneven lump. and it just started growing rapidly. few weeks later there were discharges coming from her tumor but this time it was sort of like diluted blood and a yellow kind of discharge together.
    Doctor started saying this seems to look like a malignant tumor that is growing back. suddenly in a week or two after that i started feeling lots of small lumps
    (about 7 of them), which were small as 1cmX1cm in size . they just kept growing too rapidly. the doctor was leaving the decision to me whether i should do chemo or not, currently she still has a good apetite, she’s gotten a little slower and more lazier but she still excitedly goes for a walk with me.
    I just don’t want her to go through pain, i want her to live her life happily to the end, if letting her be the way she is now and not making her undergo treatment would atleast let her live her short life thats left happily, thats all i want for her even though it’s a hard to let her go.
    but if chemo is going to be a short term pain where eventually theres about 70 % chance for her to get better i rather have that.
    My aim isnt really to keep her with me as long as i can, i want her to have the best life she can ever have with no suffering.
    please please do help me make my decision. chemo or not ? i would really like some sort of advise or opinion from a doctor and a animal lover with experience and understanding of what they go through.
    Thank you so much

    • Dr. Demian Dressler on May 9, 2013 at 3:32 pm

      Hi Bijin
      I’m sorry your dog and you are experiencing this.
      My recommendation?
      Spay with mastectomy on both sides (remove all the glands) and wide excision of any growths. Follow the Guide as best you can with your vet beyond that, except shift the diet to no red meat and add flax lignans along with the other supplements advised in the Guide.
      The vast majority of mammary tumors are pretty resistant to long term benefits of chemo.
      I hope this helps
      Dr D

  5. Michelle Meyer on April 23, 2013 at 10:02 am

    Dr. Dressler

    My almost 2 year old lab/ retriever mix was recently diagnosed with osteosarcoma. He is 2 weeks post amputation and has had 1 round of chemo with carboplatin. I started him on k-9 immunity plus after the amputation but my vet wanted me to stop during chemo what are you thoughts regarding supplements and chemo. I would really like to build his immune system. Thanks, Michelle meyer

    • Dr. Demian Dressler on April 24, 2013 at 11:27 am

      Hi Michelle
      oh, your dog is so young! 🙁 sorry!
      If a vet is counting on maximizing the effects of the chemo, and is worried about antioxidant effects, I might avoid K-9 immunity as there is some antioxidant effect..but that vet would not be me, personally. I believe (subjectively) that the immune and other effects of the beta glucans and related compounds in that supplement are beneficial and outweigh any chemo interference. It comes down to personal preference since there are arguments for both sides in the literature.
      Here’s a good read:
      Not sure if I helped or not, but at least that’s some info.
      Best Dr D

  6. Linda on April 20, 2013 at 12:01 pm

    Dr. Dressler,
    My 12 y.o. cat was diagnosed this week with a lung carcinoma. They weren’t sure if it was primary, but thought perhaps mets because he has nodules in his spleen and liver. He was great Monday morning, and when I came home at noon was lethargic and didn’t want to ear. X-ray showed two lung masses (relatively small) and thus we were sent for ultrasound and needle biopsy with above redults
    The veterinary oncologist said that he would have a better chance of him lasting more than two months
    if we started him right on Palladia versus chemo. He is slightly lethargic today (started yesterday) but eating and drinking well, no V/D. My friend gave me her copy of The Dog Cancer Survival Guide, but noted there was not one for cats. Can you give me any advice based on your experience with results of Palladia in cats, and any other helpful advice on nutrition or ways to add to his health and quality of life? I understand that some info in your book will apply to cats as well as dogs. Dr. D, I am heartbroken. There simply doesn’t seem to be much out there for cats.
    With much gratitude.

    • Dr. Demian Dressler on April 24, 2013 at 12:44 pm

      Hi Linda
      sorry to hear about your kitty.
      i might consider mirtazapine if nausea or less appetite occur.
      Cats can take CAS options for immunity, a low dose of metacam along with doxycycline to help slow spread, high doses of fish or krill oil, and perhaps a food like feline j/d which has a nice fatty acid profile that I’ve used with cats and i think can help. I would also consider flax lignans as an additional supplement.
      Finally, oral neoplasene at modest doses (your vet would have to order it) along with ongoing mirtazipine so it does not make your kitty sick is another useful and often potent tool in cats.
      Discuss all options with your vet…
      Dr D

  7. Luke Moseley on March 8, 2013 at 6:39 am

    Dr Dressler. My 11 yr old mini schnauzer Chloe began losing weight over the past 2 months from 20 to 16 pounds. She was having loose stools and bad gas. Took her to the vet for a checkup 3/5/13. Vet felt a abdominal mass and also bacteria in the stool. Metronidazole 250mg appears to have fixed the bacteria problem. An X-ray revealed a mass on the spleen and nodules on the lung. I believe he called this tumor a hemangiosarcoma. No biopsy taken. The vet sent us home and told us to enjoy what time we had left with her. She thought surgery to remove the spleen would hurt more than help. I have asked our vet to set us up with a oncology vet for another opinion and will persue this. In the meantime I’ve ordered the Guide and have downloaded the Dog Cancer Diet which we are now using. I’m kind of overwhelmed at this point as to what supplements to use but plan on ordering the Apocaps today. Chloe looks and acts normal and has a great appetite. We want to do more than just spend time waiting for Chloe to get worse. Your recommendations on treatment options and dietary supplements would be appreciated.

  8. Shelly on March 5, 2013 at 5:37 am

    Hi Dr. Dressler and Dr. Ettinger –
    I’m one of those rare people who opted NOT for chemotherapy. My dog is 11 years old and she is a stunning white wolf/white shepherd who worked for many years in Children’s Cancer hospitals. She was losing weight, lost all appetite, hair was falling out in chunks. With ultrasound she was diagnosed with Lymphoma (alimentary) and also multiple lymphnodes (only one very large) and an abnormal spleen. They gave her 4-6 weeks or less especially if I opted not for prednisone. I believe that instituting steroids gives your dog a few weeks but then it comes back with a vengence and they’re gone. The oncologists wanted a biopsy/surgery in order to determine the grade of Lymphoma. Two separate aspirates were unreadable (which is rare because cancer cells happily go onto slides). Then a brand new test out of CA – TK/CRP said that my dog was fighting a major infection, but NOT cancer. After 3 ultrasounds, 2 aspirates and then finally a PCR at CSU confirmed B cell lymphoma. Yet another TK/CRP test said she didn’t have cancer. I elected NOT for biopsy/surgery as the cancer in the intestine was diffuse and not possible to remove with surgery and the chance of survival let alone remission with chemo for this type of lymphoma is very low. Also there is a very small chance that she had aggressive IBD which spread and it might look like lymphoma but isn’t?
    So here is the good part: I started my dog on massive doses of Essential Oils to fight the cancer and as an anti-inflammatory: Copaiba and Frankincense. Because her digestive system was compromised, my incredible alternative vet (also w 4 diplomas from CSU and a PhD who studies acupuncture and osteopath manipulation, etc) gave her many Standard Process products as well as Omega 3 and Bosweliia complex to rebuild intestine. My dog started eating, and gaining weight immediately. She runs around and plays like she is a puppy sometimes. Sometimes she has slower days, but she doesn’t have full diarrhea, mostly good stools. It was a complete reverse. I now have gone to a very famous Chinese Medicine practicing certified vet who has put her on a probiotic, maitake mushroom d faction and the two formulas Wei Qi and Max’s. She’s on so many things it’s a bit exhausting, especially for her. She eats however, and she’s maintaining. Every night she has cooked ground beef, lamb, chicken, turkey or she even gets piece of salmon 3x a week! I’ve spent almost as much money as Chemo now with PCR, ultrasounds and supplements and Dr. visits, but we are currently proof that alternative has some validity. And if we choose chemo later she wouldn’t have been compromised from use of steroids, etc.

    My questions: What do you think of this protocol? Have you ever heard of a dog surviving lymphoma for a long period of time without traditional western medicine? I’ve worked so hard, but am very nervous. I could have just tried the chemo but once I saw the incredible reaction to the oils I became determined to fight for “quality of life”. Today marks 6 weeks from diagnosis.
    The latest ultrasound showed that nothing had changed in size of lymphnode or the look of the spleen. And she thinks the intestinal lymphoma is larger, but that could be because of many other things such as necrosis of cells vs. apoptosis.
    Could you give me your honest opinion on all the things she is on as well as your prognosis or what you would include or not include?

    thank you very much

    • Dr. Demian Dressler on March 6, 2013 at 3:56 pm

      Dear Shelly,
      glad to hear your dog is doing well! As to the protocol, I am familiar with the items you mentioned by name. It is tough for me to answer the question of a long time because I am not sure what your definition of this is. I managed one of my lympho patients without chemo for about a year as I recall, but all lymphos are not the same nor are all dogs. I would get a definitive diagnosis with biopsy as this will guide your decisions in the event she declines at some point…you will want to know what you are dealing with to assess your choices. I would also read the Guide as there a a bunch of other things that you may want to take advantage of for your dog. I’d start here:
      Dr D

  9. Bob on February 23, 2013 at 5:48 pm

    6 year old rottie….ostiogenic..coming up on his 4th chemo…thoughts??? Amputation was 2weeks prior to Xmas LR leg…he is so up and wants to please….still has great attitude …bob

    • Dr. Demian Dressler on March 6, 2013 at 4:50 pm

      Bob, I am sorry, I am confused as to what the question is. Can you be more specific please?
      Dr D

  10. Jane on February 17, 2013 at 7:29 pm

    My 8 year old terrier mutt was diagnosed with Lymphoma on March 12, 2012. I took her in because she has a golfball sized lump under her arm which I thought was a cyst. We were told she had 2-4 weeks to live u less we got her chemotherapy. It was so expensive and we are trying to save money for our kids’ college o we decided to just love her and let God.
    Driven by sadness and despair, I went to a local pet store where the owner took me under her wing and told me what I needed to do to keep her healthy for as long as possible (and happy).
    ~Raw dog food called Bravo.
    ~ Cornucopia green veggie powder

    I also added:
    ` a handful each of raw oatmeal and non-grain dry dogfood (for bulk)
    `milk thistle capsule twice a day (for liver)
    ~ codfish gel cap twice a day (for immunity)
    ~ pre/probiotics for dogs (for intestines)

    The only chemical she takes is prednisone..which we use incrementally depending on how her nodes feel. We wean her off the higher dose.. weekly..until she is down to the lowest, to give her a break from her prednisone hunger. When her nodes enlarge, we put her back on te higher dose.

    We love her, walk her twice a day for miles, and I bake her chicken/egg/oatmeal meatballs for treats.
    She has now reached almost one year since her death sentence of one month.
    My story of our journey. She is still Stage Two, Asymptomatic as of today.

    If you need to reach me for advice :

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