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

Treating Dogs with Cancer As If They’re My Own

Updated: October 11th, 2018


Can I treat a dog in my care as if he were my own?

Dr. Sue treated Chandler as if he were her own dog.

Dr. Sue treated Chandler as if he were her own dog.

Barely a month ago new clients asked me to not only guide them thru their dog’s treatment, but to treat Chandler like he was my own dog.

That is a hard thing to do because what I may choose for my pet may not be right for someone else.  I said in our book, The Dog Cancer Survival Guide that I would have given Paige, my Labrador, my kidney if she needed it and it was medically an option to donate your kidney to your dog.  I was pretty attached to Paige, to say the least. (She died 6 years ago, and she never needed my kidney, but I would have if I could have.)

But Chandler’s parents looked me right in the eye, and I knew we were on the same page (no pun intended), and I promised.

Chandler was referred to me for CyberKnife radiation of a tumor called transitional cell carcinoma (TCC) in the prostate and urethra – the tube that connects urine from the bladder to the outside world.

In order to be a candidate for CyberKnife these prostate tumors cannot extend in to bladder, because hollow organs like the bladder can rupture after radiation treatments, as the invasive tumor is killed.

At the original appointment, I determined the cancer had spread to the local lymph nodes under the lumbar spine, but not beyond. Ideally we would radiate the lymph nodes, in addition to the tumor itself, which added a significant cost to the already expensive CyberKnife protocol.

“Would you do it, Dr. Sue?”

Honestly I would, I replied, but I asked them to make sure that was the right choice – or at least the best choice for them and for Chandler.

But before we started the CyberKnife protocol, the radiation oncologist determined the tumor was also invading the colon … making the risks to the patient outweigh the benefits. So, we recommended against CyberKnife for Chandler.

Since the cancer was more advanced than we originally thought, I changed treatment recommendations and we went to plan B. That’s what I would do for Matilda (my current dog), I told Chandler’s Guardians. We started chemotherapy and pain medications, including an NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug) which can also have anti-cancer properties for TCC.

Chandler was scheduled for his 2nd chemo treatment when the family was out of the country, so they had friends bring him in for treatment. They reported to me that Chandler had been vomiting. It couldn’t be the first chemotherapy appointment that was causing it, I knew, because it had been a long enough time between appointments. Some cancers can cause vomiting, but TCC isn’t typically one of them. It had to be something else.

I ran blood work and determined Chandler was in severe kidney failure. That definitely causes nausea and vomiting.

On the ultrasound, I could see the tumor was even more advanced. Now the urine flow into the kidneys through the tubes called the ureters was being blocked by the tumor.

We admitted Chandler for aggressive fluid therapy and scheduled a surgery to stent the ureters – both of them – for the next day. Stenting is a sort of propping-open procedure used to open up arteries, or in this case, ureters, that have a blockage. It’s a surgical procedure that only some boarded surgeons do. Luckily my surgeon does the procedure, and has done many. The plan was to restart chemo treatments after Chandler recovered from the surgery.

The next day Chandler went to surgery to relieve the obstruction, which would improve urine flow and help with the kidney failure.

But, disappointingly, at surgery the surgeon saw that the cancer had spread all over his abdomen. It was much more advanced than we could tell on ultrasound.

Stents were not going to help Chandler.

At this point, even our plan C treatments for TCC was not a fair option for Chandler.

So, I told the family we should euthanize while the dog was still under anesthesia.

Remember, the family is still out of the country at this point. They couldn’t get home for days.

But yes, I told them, this is what I would do for my own dog.

So they consented, far away and unable to say their goodbyes.

And I hung up the phone and cried like it was my own dog. I literally sobbed. As promised, I went into the OR and kissed Chandler goodbye, like he was my own.

I work with the best internist, surgeon, nurses, and support staff. We have advanced treatment options like CyberKnife and ureteral stents.

All the money, the best health care, and it still didn’t matter.

It still shocks me – I cannot get over how aggressive and quickly cancer progresses.

I could not help this dog. It’s defeating, humbling, depressing. I mourn for the family and thank them for the trust. I am sorry we could not do more. All I could do was end his suffering.

I am always hesitant when someone asks me to treat their dog like it’s mine, because I would go pretty far for mine, perhaps farther than most people would. It’s hard to know when the time is right to stop treating.

I was trained to fix pets with cancer, but sometimes we need to let go. And when it’s time to do that, we need support to help us know it’s the right time.

I know we made the right decision for Chandler, and I vow to do the same for all my patients and their families.

But it is not easy.

In memory of this special dog,

Dr. Sue

Leave a Comment

  1. Erica on August 2, 2016 at 10:27 am

    Hi, my 10 years old baby girl Kisi (Christy) mix breed of Chin Tzu and Yorkie was diagnosed with lymphoma over 1 month ago on June 13th. We’ve had her since she was 3 weeks old and my whole family fell in love with her from day one.
    She is 16lb and always been in a good health, getting her vaccinations and
    annual wellness visits to the Vet. I’ve always cooked for her chicken and brown rice and giving half egg on weekends. She would refuse any dog foods that we’ve tried to offer. Occasionally she would eat Royal Canin but not too much.
    In the beginning of June my daughter had noticed that she had lumps in the both sides under her jaw and she was sneezing like a flue symptoms. At first we thought that she has a cold/infections and her lymph nodes are fighting it. After few days we decided to take her to the Vet. My family and I were devastated when the Dr. said that she has 7 enlarged lymph-notes and she has a lymphoma without a doubt.
    We have been treating my baby like a royalty, she is a sweetest and smartest dog in the world. She means so much to all of us! My heart stopped and I felt torn a part hearing about the diagnose. I got so sick that couldn’t go to work, went on a medical leave for multiple medical conditions. Of course like most pet owners at first I was in a denial with panic and feeling so helpless. Then I got my strengths and promised my baby that I would fight for her as long as she has a will to live and will help me to fight.
    We did the needle aspiration and the lymphoma was confirmed. My family and I declined chemo options considering her age and her fear of the dr’s office visits. She had always been terrified going to pet store, dr’s office, grooming. She was suffering so much when I would drop her off at the grooming salon so I started bringing the groomer home. We decided that we are going to keep her in a comfort and quality life as much as we can.
    So we went home with the antibiotic for 1 week then she started Prednisone 10mg 2x a day. The Dr. gave her 3-6 weeks because her liver results were also not good.
    On July 5th, 3 weeks after the first visit to the Vet we were almost saying good bye to my baby. She was suffocating all night, couldn’t get comfortable and almost fainted a few times. We’ve decided that we have to take her to ER to put her to sleep.
    While we were watching her closely that night I’ve been reading so much on Internet and getting any info possible to help her. I’ve come across the a blog where many people stated that Benadryl and Tagamet helped dramatically their dogs with cancer. I rushed to the store, got the mess and gave her the 1st dose. We couldn’t believe how effective it was and we saw a great improvement in her overall health (of course I never stopped the Prednisone and it was also doing its job).
    After giving her Benadryl and Tagamet for 3 days she was improving but still pretty weak but the lumps were not getting bigger, it’s been a size of a hazelnut from day 1. She would refuse to go out the the yard and for a walk. Her appetite has always been good and she uses her potty pods inside of the cover patio as usual.
    After reading so much information and getting more familiar with this deadly disease I came across to Dr. Demian Dressler blog and I watched all his videos. I was so impress with passion to animals and information given was simply a life saver. I orders the Apocaps and started giving her with the food. My dog has always been picky with the food but she loved Apocaps. I also stared to add Omega3 with the food. We saw a great improvement in my baby since I added Apocaps. It’s been 2 weeks that she started Apocaps. No one will say that she has such a evil diagnose. She is as normal as always been. She eats, plays, urinates as usual and stool is normal (once a day). She started to go on a walk around the block again and gets pretty exited.
    So, today is about 50 days after the diagnose. I give her:
    Prednisone 5gm 2 x per day
    Benadryl (half of 25mg) with Tagamet (1/4 of 200mg) 2 x per day after the meal
    Apocaps (1.5 capsules) with Omega3 (1 capsule) 2 x per day with food
    Liquid Milk Thissle (4-5 droops) 1 x per day before her dinner
    I also ordered the K-9 Immunity but haven’t given to her yet.
    Overall she is doing good. No signs of sickness from the look or her behavior. The only problem that she has is difficulty of breathing at nights and swollen belly. We took her to the Dr. yesterday on August 1st for the consultation because we don’t want her be in pain and discomfort. Our goal right now the keep her comfortable as much as we can. The Dr. said that she is doing ok considering the date of the initial diagnose. The Dr. could tell by the touch that all lymph nodes are still enlarged. Per Dr. the swelling of the abdomen is due to fluid around the organs and suggested to draw some fluid if we agree. We didn’t agree but instead we took her to a walk and didn’t give her any food after 6pm. So skipping the late night meal and a long walk kind of helped her and her belly is less bloated compare to few days ago.
    While we realize that there is no cure to this diagnose and without a chemo my baby’s life is gonna come to the end soon, we enjoy every day with her and she loves her life at this moment. After her diagnose everyday is like a gift to us from the God to see her around us. Without above mentioned treatments we were gonna loose her after 3 weeks from the diagnose. Thank you to Dr. Demian Dressler and everyone in this blog.

  2. raven song on April 1, 2014 at 9:40 am

    I am glad you were there for Chandler when his family abandoned him. I would NEVER leave my companion animals while they were ill, much less with cancer. This shows how flawed human love is compared to those given by our companion animals.

  3. Kate Wilson on April 1, 2014 at 1:41 am

    I shouldn’t have read this at the hairdresser. I am crying. Really moving and it is comforting because my dog recently died from an aggressive cancer and it reminds me that even the best care and help still sometimes fails to save the life. Thank you.

  4. Susan Labben on April 1, 2014 at 1:37 am

    Thank you Susan for sharing this story with us!
    Yes, a very sad story; shouldn´t have read it while still in the office…
    I can´t help wondering though about the reason for the out of country trip the parents of Chandler made… I hope the reason for the trip was EXTREMELY important … Otherwise how did they even WANT to go on a trip when their furry baby was undergoing chemo treatment…? I understand that NOBODY knew HOW advanced the cancer was, or how fast it spread, but would they have left a human baby in the care of friends to go on a trip when their baby was undergoing chemo treatment…?

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