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

Pain in Dog Cancer and Life Quality, Part 2

Updated: May 15th, 2024

Many times people talk about life quality in pets and pain.  “Is my dog in any pain?” is a common question I get at my hospital.  To be sure, pain is an important consideration in life quality. Of all the factors that contribute to a bad life, pain may be the most potent.  BUT…it is not the only thing that can rob your dog of a good life.  To be wise in our estimation of life quality, we must look at a bigger picture.

Assessing life quality is critical.  Since this is such a top priority item, I devoted years of my life to putting together Apocaps to help dogs maintain normal life quality, and wrote extensive sections about what you can do at home in The Dog Cancer Survival Guide.

Get a copy of the Dog Cancer Survival Guide for more helpful tools and information

Here’s more:

I have seen many dogs in no “pain” who are miserable.  One example is the feeling of being “sick”, “exhausted”, or “nauseated”.  Many know the feeling of having food poisoning.  Very few would describe it as being “in pain”, but boy can it ruin your waking hours.

How about depression?  Immobility? Dizziness?  All are negative life experiences.

We need to start looking at negative life experiences, encompassing but not limited to pain.  How do we do this?  In my upcoming book, I describe a Life Quality Assessment technique using the Joys of Life.  Joys of Life are, or course, taken from a dog’s perspective.  We must start with all the things that make life positive…the Joys in Life!  When these are compromised, life quality drops.  We begin with defining your dog’s Joys in Life.

By looking at all of the factors that bring your dog good life experience, you can begin to make an assessment of your dog’s life quality. Start taking some time to define what your dog likes in his or her life.  It can be as simple as eating a meal or drinking water.  What happens to life quality when dehydration results from a lack of drinking water (the joy of quenching thirst is compromised)? What happens to life quality when your dog loses weight due to loss of appetite (the joy of satisfying hunger is lost)?

Life quality is negatively affected in different ways by different cancers.  Pain is one (the joy of being pain-free or comfortable is lost). Osteosarcoma (bone cancer) affects the joy of running and athletics. Bladder cancer (transitional cell carcinoma) affects the joy of being able to eliminate urine comfortably. Lymphosarcoma (one form of white blood cell cancer) can affect any body system.  A mast cell tumor can affect the joy of proper digestion.

To assess life quality, define your dog’s Joys in Life.  Include everything, from social interactions to mental state to normal bodily functions.  In the next post, I will give you a Joy in Life outline that can make this job a little simpler, but start thinking about it now…


Best to All,

Dr Dressler

Leave a Comment

  1. Diane Little on July 9, 2019 at 3:59 am

    My 10yr old yellow lab Ailsa, was just diagnosed with bladder cancer and it seems to have travelled to the lymph nodes in the region, I am devastated and I am finding it hard to tell if she is in pain, obviously her quality of life has gone down hill.. But she is eating and drinking but is definitely struggling to pee and her mobility is slower, I just do not know when I should make the decision, one day she seems ok the next she is not doing good.. The vet says there is nothing that can be done but put her on pain meds and that it is up to us but to remember to keep in mind of her quality of life, I do not want her to suffer any more but I do not want to live with the fact that I made the decision too early??

  • Erica on December 28, 2018 at 7:54 pm

    My 7 yr old female boxer has a vulvar leiomyosarcoma. I can’t afford the thousands of dollars for treatment. How do I know when I should put her down?

    • Dog Cancer Vet Team on December 31, 2018 at 8:32 am

      Hello Erica,

      Thanks for writing, and we’re sorry to hear about your girl. We’re not veterinarians here in customer support, so we can’t offer you medical advice. However, we can provide you with information based off Dr. Dressler’s writing 🙂

      In Chapter 25 of the Dog Cancer Survival Guide, Dr. Dressler writes that the most common question he get’s asked is, how do I know when it’s time? He writes that in his experience, guardians know when the end of their dogs lives are near. Some see the pleading look in their dogs’ eyes, others take an honest look at their quality of life and cannot imagine their having to live this way for much longer. Many guardians feel a click inside– a sudden realisation that it’s time to let their dogs pass. How you handle this depends upon your own beliefs, personality and desires.

      If you’d like more information on Life Quality for Dogs with Cancer, you may find the articles in this category to be beneficial. Here’s the link:

      If it has come to that point where you are considering end of life care, you may find these articles to be helpful:

      In the Dog Cancer Survival Guide, Dr. D writes there are many things that you can do to help your dog, such as conventional treatments, diet, nutraceuticals, mind-body strategies and immune system boosters and anti-metastatics. Here’s a link to the Dog Cancer Diet PDF that readers of the blog can get for free :

      We hope this helps!

  • Sally on March 16, 2011 at 12:08 pm

    Our dear “Gracie” is a 9 1/2 year old Pug, and she has lymph gland cancer. I have known humans with this and there has been no cure for them. Instead of many different “testings” to put her through…with no cure in sight, we chose to bring her home and let her enjoy the rest of her life…peacefully, at home with us and her mate “George”, also a 9 1/2 year old Pug. When we feel it is “her time”, we will have her put to sleep…..but, this will really tare us up…they both have brought so much joy to our life’s. I pray we are doing right by her.
    Sally H. Florida

  • Dr. Dressler on August 9, 2008 at 8:52 pm

    Beta glucan containing products including K-9 immunity are a great addition for non-specific immune stimulation in dog cancer patients, among others. I sell this stuff in my hospital like crazy.

  • Dog Cancer Treatments on August 7, 2008 at 2:12 pm

    Although there’s no CURE, per se. I had success using K-9 Immunity with my retriever. He was so full of energy and lived 16 months past when the vet said he would.

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