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

On Blame

Updated: October 1st, 2018

For those coping with dog cancer, there is usually a very large amount of pain.

First is the shock of the diagnosis, which is common. After this comes a flood of emotions of various kinds. For some it is confusion, trying to make sense of what it actually means to have a dog with cancer. For many there is overwhelm, trying to decide the best approach in dealing with this disease. Some get angry. Others feel as the bottom has simply fallen out of their every day life.  And for all, an overbearing sadness.

At some point along the line, most guardians dealing with this will begin to feel a basic and profound sense of injustice. “What did my loved dog do to deserve this? How have these events lined up this way? This is not right.”

And at this point there is frequently an urge to find something to blame for the cancer.

There are many targets. Some look at the diet. Some point to vaccinations. Others pinpoint flea and tick medications. Occasionally guardians will start to research electrical fields or environmental carcinogens in water, soil and air. Sometimes the breeder gets the brunt of it, or perhaps the vet.

But the aim of this post is not to discuss these items, which have been addressed at length in The Dog Cancer Survival Guide. Rather, it is to clarify a very common situation that is rarely discussed, but often experienced.  Some guardians will blame themselves.

When self-blame is created, it is not usually spoken of, or even realized by the person doing it. Yes, sometimes the thoughts do form into clear concepts like, “I blame myself for this.” “I did not act quickly enough.” “I wish I had not made that choice.” But honestly this is not always the case.

The majority of the time, self-blame is subconscious or pre-conscious.  This means there is no actual clear thought in the mind. Rather, the thought is experienced as a feeling.  Some examples of this feeling are a dullness, a knot in the stomach, lack of energy, crying at unexpected times, a feeling of wanting to isolate the self, the sensation of being in a continued fog…and others.

Yes, often these are just the feelings of grief, stoppered up inside until they can be experienced away.  Yet we must be aware, be conscious of this added wrinkle of self-blame.  It can be buried deep within, locked away somewhere, radiating these emotions upwards and outwards like some kind of dark sun.

This dark sun can be dissolved, or at least made a little lighter,  in a variety of ways. The first is simply the realization that any choices made by you were the only choices you could have made…or you would have made a different choice.  The second is the understanding of cancer in that it is rarely the result of a single act, and often the result of generations of separate events piling up on the cancer scale until a tipping point is reached. The third is atonement, perhaps the most soothing balm there is for guilt.

Because we exist in a culture where there are deep seated beliefs about guilt that are now part and parcel of who we are, it can be difficult to shake buried guilt, or even guilt we are aware of. This is where atonement comes in.

Atonement is a magic spell to make guilt soften and slowly melt away.  It fixes the guilt by resetting some internal balance that we live with .

What is meant by atonement?  Well, it will differ between people. But atonement will always have action as a part of it, if it is to liberate guilt that comes from self-blame. Some will use the Joys of Life as framework for taking daily or weekly steps for their dog. Others will make their dog food. Some will do massage or other touch therapies.  Still others will bring their dog to beautiful places outside, or places that their dog loves that may not be so beautiful. Some will tell their dogs their life stories, play them music, or meditate with their dog. Some will gather the family around daily to clap and praise their loved family member for simple tasks accomplished. Others pray.

It does not matter what form you choose. Simply make a mental note that you are doing it for your dog each time, create a program, and do it on a regular basis. Even if you don’t feel self-blame, it is still a good idea to soften the injustice.


Dr D


Leave a Comment

  1. jim snell on February 27, 2013 at 4:48 am

    For anybody looking for an excellent data source; there is a website from Australia called that seems to have clear concise excellent data for additional reference.

    My thanks to Dr. Demian Dressler/partners for excellent survival guide and diets and help provided to us all.

  2. jim snell on February 24, 2013 at 2:29 pm

    I am having trouble getting my dog to eat much if at all and am forced to using other means to get some fine ground food down.

    Has cancer progressed too far or any recommendations?

    jim snell

    • Dr. Demian Dressler on March 6, 2013 at 4:48 pm

      Hi Jim
      I’d be first making sure we are doing what we can to address the underlying cause of decreased appetite. Is there something new or a deterioration? As to addressing appetite directly, I’d be thinking mirtazapine, an appetite stimulant. Some like cerenia, some even use prednisolone (not my choice), famotidine (antacid), metoclopramide (anti emetic), and the old timers used winstrol (anabolic steriod). Herbals include slippery elm, ginger, probiotics, marshmallow. that should give you enough to discuss with your vet to reach a good plan.
      Dr D

  3. jim snell on February 24, 2013 at 1:16 pm

    please subscribe me .

  4. Byron Barone on February 9, 2013 at 4:28 am

    What are your thoughts about tumexal for prostate cancer ? can it help with neoplasene?

  5. karla malcolm on January 21, 2013 at 7:02 pm

    Hi I am curious about Judith Clark’s mention and use of Tumexal- Judith can you tell me any more about it? I am having trouble finding out anything at all- the website seems so vague and Dr. Nice has not returned my phone call- my 14 year old Bullterrier has a mass in her lung and I am exploring every natural and alternative treatment at this time- her symptoms are mild still and I would like to find a treatment that will support her overall health…. Thanks Judith- karla

  6. JK on January 1, 2013 at 8:19 am

    Thank you for hosting your site and providing an outlet for research. I am a firm believer that conventional wisdom in medicine must be aligned with alternative therapies. I recently transitioned my beloved angels to an organic semi-raw, supplemented eating regime due to a liver issue; I witnessed great changes. With that being said it was meant to be because 12/31/12 one of my angles has a presumed dx of transitional cell carninoma/bladder. Totally devastating to our family, I cannot get over it, he is only 9 and physically fit. All lab work so far indicates wellness except for the bladder tumor. Of course I will visit the Vet Oncologist totally armed with information so that we together can make an educated decision on therapy. I work in health care and have personal experience with family and friends that have had cancer (none are with us today). I have to ask why go down such a toxic path? I am looking into adding in immune boosters and some other products and will definitely consider Tumexal before embarking on the conservative standard of care for TCC. Out comes for TCC and standard treatment are not great….I must weigh the pros and cons and make the decision. Thank you again for providing such great information.

  7. Kasey McMahon on December 29, 2012 at 11:25 am

    Dr Dreesler,
    Thank you for this article. I am still in shock and heartbroken. This morning my dog was diagnosed with a mass cell tumor. I was probably in denial since I ended up driving to my friend’s vet practice (which is much farther from my house) for a second opinion. I have a French Bulldog who is always prone to fatty tumors and most recently we had one removed from his back leg. Initially, the healing process went well but as soon as he was finished with his post op meds, we started noticing fluid build up again. Unfortunately we never sent the tumor out for testing after consulting with my vet at the time, and yes I feel partly to blame, but I’m also not a vet, so the decision sounded good at the time, so here we are. In the next couple of days I will know more about his cancer and what’s the best treatment approach. For now the only comfort I have is knowing that I’m not alone.

  8. Julie C on December 8, 2012 at 3:24 am

    I am so glad to find this site. Our precious golden retriever, Lucy was diagnosed last month with bone cancer in her ulna. We have been told there is nothing to do but wait and provide pain meds. We did not want to put her through amputation and chemo as she has alreard had two knee surgeries and a cancerous tumor in her shoulder removed last year. The report from that surgery was of success. I initially researched the bone cancer and did not see anything about the drug Tumexal until this morning. The doctor told us she would only have a couple of weeks to a couple of months and that by the time symptoms (limping) present themselves there is no hope for a cure. It is apparent the tumor in her leg has doubled in size in the last four weeks. Is there anyone that can tell me of success using the Tumexal, especially in more advanced stages. Lucy does not show any other signs of illness at this time. She is still happy and loving with a good appetite and only has difficulty as she limps. We have her on Tramadol for the pain. We are devastated to think of losing our precious little girl, she is not quite seven and thought we had many years left to share with her. We too are trying to spend every available moment with her and cherish our last days together, but if there is something with some success rates that could eradicate this awful disease without amputation we would try it.

  9. Paf on November 26, 2012 at 1:02 pm

    Hello, our 8yr old boy was just diagnosed with chondrosarcoma, and has all his ribs affected. Our vet told us his days are but few. No surgery or chemo available for this, we are desperate. We came across the caninecare web and found about the Tumexal. Since there’s not much info about this therapy, and we are not wealthy, we would like to know that this is not a hoax. Our whole family has agreed to chip in for our little guy to be treated, in order to spare him from pain. But I’m afraid this could be not serious. Does anyone have any info or experience on this. We are thankfull for any info you could provide. Thank you very much.

  10. Michelle on November 16, 2012 at 10:29 am

    Ms Charlie W we are going through an horrific time with the love of our lifes, our 4 year old Goldendoodle Cooper. He has a surgery for an SCC where they removed part of his jaw and 5 teeth. We were told by our oncologist that the margins were clean and that there was no need for radiation. We thought we were home free until we saw that he wasn’t recovering as quickly as he should have been doing based on what were told from our medical “team”. We are now watching him deteroriate from metastised bone cancer which is now in his lymph nodes and there is a nodule in his lung. It is devasting to watch. We have him on Tumexal (check out the website) in hopes of a last ditch miracle.

    Michelle, Guy

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