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

Fight Dog Cancer and Depression with Self-Esteem

Updated: December 2nd, 2019


Learn how to fight dog cancer and depression using esteem-building exercises. They will benefit your dog’s mood AND help fight cancer!

I have previously written about stress, depression and dog cancer here and here.  In those articles, I made the point that depression and stress in dogs are real phenomena and that stress and depression must be addressed if your dog has cancer. So, how do you fight dog cancer and depression?

How to Fight Dog Cancer and Depression

One effective way is by building a healthy self-esteem.  This is a sure-fire way to combat depression.  When we feel down, accomplishing something concrete can often lift our spirits. It offers new evidence to our brains that we are good for something.

So, how do you do it in dogs?  It is actually really easy.  Just have them do something that is a tiny bit challenging — for them — and then praise them like crazy.

Manageable Challenges

Not all dogs are good at tricks, but most dogs can do something. It can be as simple as sitting, or coming when commanded.  Some dogs are clever or athletic, and can shake, stay, roll, play dead, speak, heel, fetch, commando-crawl, jump, and more. Even a dog who is incapacitated physically can be prompted to “speak”, roll to show the belly, or look up when spoken to.

If your dog has cancer, take the time to build his self-esteem as often as possible.

Every time you interact with your dog, encourage him or her to accomplish a task.  Try to do it before giving free praise.  Just like in humans, a feeling of accomplishment is key in building self-esteem and combatting depression.

And the thing that feels really good to your dog is the big, huge love shower you give them after they did something they can be proud of.  The love shower is so much more meaningful when they accomplish something. It’s even more meaningful than food treats!

For more helpful tools and information, get a copy of the Dog Cancer Survival Guide

Praise, Praise, Praise … For Something Concrete

Many times we will just give praise to our dogs when we want them to feel good, or when they come up to use for affection, or we missed them, or whenever.  In actuality, this does not accomplish much except to make us, the dog lovers, feel good.  The just-because-you’re-here praise we give our dogs does nothing to build self-confidence.

It is like those kids who have always gotten whatever they wanted, just for being kids.  They turn out lacking self esteem and can be moody, irritable, and later in life, depression-prone and even narcissistic.

Let Cancer Motivate Your Self-Esteem Building

By continually asking your dog to take on manageable challenges throughout the day — and then heaping praise on them — you are combating stress and depression in your dog.

And that’s important. Remember, depression stimulates the excessive release of chemicals in the body like epinephrine, norepinephrine, and cortisol.  The net effect of these signals is to literally stimulate cancer cell growth directly.  These hormones also suppress the activity of cancer-fighting white blood cells in dogs’ bodies like Natural Killer cells and cytotoxic T cells.

So cutting back on stress hormones is critical — even if you think your dog might not “be depressed.”

So, get started today!  Fight cancer with self-esteem!

Best to all,

Dr Dressler

Further Reading and References

Peter F. Cook, Ashley Prichard, Mark Spivak, Gregory S. Berns, Awake canine fMRI predicts dogs’ preference for praise vs food, Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, Volume 11, Issue 12, December 2016, Pages 1853–1862,

David KealyGeorge A. HadjipavlouJohn S. Ogrodniczuk

Leave a Comment

  1. Julie Kolaj on June 5, 2009 at 4:38 am

    Wow,what a refreshing website.A vet who actually opens his mind instead of handing out the same old advice and treatment.I own a canine hydrotherapy and swimming pool in England and we believe in keeping an open mind on natural treatment for the dogs we see.Swimming is a fantastic way of building your dogs self esteem.Often dogs we see have never swam before and we work slowly with them building their confidence and showering them with praise as they move through each stage of learning.The release of endorphins gives a natural anti-depressent effect and owners often report a transformation not just physically but emotionally too.
    Sadly more dogs these days seem to be diagnosed with cancer and as your research into dog foods have proved this may well be why.I have for many years given EPA capsules to my dog along with co-enzyme q10 ,vitamin c and e and large amounts of ester c for hip dysplasia he is now 13 years old and I hope will continue to do well.
    A few days ago a client of mine, who through personal reasons, had failed to bring her 6 year old labrador swimming for over a year phoned to tell me he had mouth cancer.She immediately wanted to make an appointment for him because he loved swimming so much .I will be passing the information i have gleened from your website with a recommendation that she purchase your book.Please keep up the great work-wish you were in England.. Julie.

    • Dr. Dressler on June 9, 2009 at 10:03 pm

      I think the work you do is fabulous. Good point on the swimming!
      Dr D

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