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

Life Quality in Dog Cancer: Dr Dressler’s Joys of Life Scale

Updated: May 15th, 2024

When we are dealing with cancer in our loved dog, especially the bad cases, we immediately enter into a new way of thinking.  We start to have thoughts about life quality assessment.  We are put in a position where we are in control of  life and death (euthanasia) decisions.  Sometimes in a very sudden way, we step through a door into a totally new, and often alien realm.  This way of thinking is not comfortable, nor fun.

How many times do we have to make these choices in life? A few at most.

Because this is murky water, it can be really helpful to have some guidelines in decision making, a structure to make the thought process easier. The Dog Cancer Survival Guide covers this topic very thoroughly.

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

In my last post, we looked at Joys in Life.  These are all the things that make life good, from a dog’s perspective.  There are many, many Joys in Life for your dog.  To be honest, we probably cannot be aware of them all, not having their super-human abilities of scent, intuition, and more.

When a dog’s Joy in Life is taken, life quality goes down.

Life quality is so important.  When I realized this simple fact, I spent years putting together a supplement for my own patients that could help support normal life quality levels.

Because there are so many possibilities, I developed a list of categories in which most Joys in Life can be placed.  When most of these are taken from your dog, life quality dips to the negative.  The scale tips, and the bad starts to outweigh the good. Of course, this is a subjective area, so use this list to help clarify, not to dictate.

Joys of Life:

The joy of eating and drinking.   Having hunger satiated and thirst quenched are delightful and are joys.  Cancer cachexia (weight loss due to cancer) and dehydration are negatives.

The joy of social relationships with humans and other animals. The love and bonding experiences are joyful for your dog.  Depression, loneliness, and the loss of these social interactions are negatives.

They joy of athletic stimulation and movement. Most dogs enjoy the use of their body and physical movement.  Not all are athletes, but all enjoy choosing a destination and getting there. Many like walks and play, enjoying the stimulation these provide.  Immobility and a lack of desire or ability to move are negatives.

They joy of having normal bodily functions. The ability of the body to do what it is supposed to do is a joy in life.  Try taking away your ability to urinate if you don’t believe me.  The discomfort is excruciating. How about removing the ability to obtain oxygen? Breathing is a joy in life.  When normal biological functions are lost, life quality goes down.

The joy of having a healthy mental state.  Pain, having unmet needs, dementia, distress, depression, compulsivity, fatigue, and other unpleasant mental states take away this joy. Having a mental state that is normal is a joy in life that is underrated.

The joy of play.  This contributes to a healthy mental state.  In human research, laughter literally fights disease.

What other joys in life does your dog have that are not be included here? Have any suggestions?

Your feedback is welcome!

Best to All,

Dr Dressler


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  1. […] your dog still happy? Some dogs can cope with significant pain and still be happy. If your dog still seems happy, […]

  2. Colleen Scharneck on November 7, 2012 at 8:05 am

    Dr Dressler,
    My Giant Schnauzer who is 10 years old was just diagnosed with adenocarcinoma nasal cancer. The tumor has not impacted the cribiform plate. The Vet who diagnosed her is suggesting that we do an embolization. I haven’t been able to find any information on this procedure for this type of cancer and would appreciate your thoughts.

  3. Barbara on September 30, 2011 at 7:21 am

    We have ahd our beloved KC a shepard/husky mix for 16 years. He has been the Joy of our life and a big part of our family. He has had oral surgery one month ago for a tumor, we thought that was it and then two weeks ago it had come back along with four others..He is the best dog, he never complains, he is in some pain as I have checked his mouth from time to time and he pulls back, so I know he is in some pain…But he still loves his moning walks with me and his eating is very good..he still loves to play with my Skiperkey and my cat…
    My question is : if the tumor is growing at such a rapid speed. and his age, we are torn about putting him down at this long can he go if the tumors are growing so fast….My Vet took a biopsy two days ago and we are waiting for the results…should we prepare our selves for putting KC down?

    • Demian Dressler on October 12, 2011 at 8:42 pm

      Dear Barbara,
      it is a bit tough giving survival data without knowing the kind of cancer- can you send the pathologic diagnosis? Each kind of cancer has different stats and this would help a lot.

  4. Mia on July 21, 2011 at 2:08 am

    Please help with my dreadful decision – my beloved Padi has a dreadful bone cancer, she is booked in tomorrow for amputation of her rear left leg, but the vet tells me chemotherapy is not suitable for her and her cancer has virtually certainly spread (although not yet visible on the X-rays). 4 months ago she had a cruciate operation (the big one) on her other rear leg. She is on pain killers at present, and is obviously in pain as she is not moving the way she usually does, although is still eating, drinking, toileting etc and wagging her tail when she sees me. we don’t know how long she is likely to last with the cancer after the operation and also whether her other leg will hold out. Our position is further complicated as we are booked to go on holiday next Wednesday – I really don’t want to go, but it cost £4k and the insurers won’t pay cancellation due to a pet. My father has agreed to look after her, but that puts him under such a lot of pressure too. At the moment I don’t know whether to go ahead with the amputation, a horrid experience which would get her out of pain, but needing support to toilet, walk etc, at least for a while – and without us home, or put my darling to sleep, on Monday, giving her a weekend with us and avoiding another operation, follow up treatment – and for how long – just don’t know what to do and heart is breaking.

    • DemianDressler on July 28, 2011 at 6:11 pm

      Dear Mia,
      I have just seen your comment a week after it was posted…how are you and what is happening with Padi?
      Let us know

  5. Bekki on July 16, 2011 at 1:23 am

    My 9 year old intact male staffy is very unwell and we have no idea what to do with him. We took him to the vet who says he has a massive prostate and a number of cysts. Sid has always been a soppy dog, always happy and great with our little boys. But lately his stomach has caved in a bit and his spine bone is visible, even though his diet hasnt changed. All he does is lay around under the table or in the garden, he has never liked to be far from any of us and still tries to patrol the house but it causes him pain to walk, he limps from just moving from one room to another, and we wouldnt dare take him for a walk now. We dont want to let him go, my 3 year old son is especially attached to Sid. We dont have a lot of money at all and so cannot afford lots of extensive surgery, that I have heard he may die during anyway. Do you have any suggestions?

    • DemianDressler on July 20, 2011 at 2:54 pm

      Dear Bekki
      I am sorry to hear about your dog. If this is not a cancer, neutering might help. Also an inexpensive antibiotic, TMS, might help shrink his prostate if there is infection in it, but you would want to do the neuter if this were the case for best outcomes.
      I hope this helps,

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  8. Dr. Dressler on March 21, 2010 at 8:59 pm

    Dear Katie,
    I am sorry to hear this news about your Bobby. I feel it is very important that whatever you do though, you need to have a vet or oncologist on board. Every dog is different, and I cannot make recommendations for a unique dog. I would also lower the dose of the Apocaps with the prednisolone and monitor for digestive upset or just wait until Bobby is off the pred before starting. Please keep your vet involved in what you are doing, or find one that can speak your language! All my best,
    Dr D

  9. Katie Eldred on March 19, 2010 at 12:20 pm

    Bobby, my almost 12 y.o. Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, was a month ago diagnosed with “early cutaneous lymphosarcoma”. I have purchased and studied your book. Bobby is on prednisone (3 tabs daily for 1 month, 2 caps daily for one month then 1 cap daily for a month). Now your Apocaps have become available. The dose on the bottle, for Bobby’s size, says 2 caps two times daily. Would it be OK to give him 1 cap daily ? I live in British Columbia and my vet is President of the BCVMA so I suspect he may not be too open-minded about alternative treatments. Bobby has only been his patient for a short time – the vet who looked after all my animals for 30 years retired in 2008 & I have had trouble finding another with whom I can have the same relationship. I am preparing a dossier based on your recommendations and hope to talk to him about this soon, but I especially would like to start Apocaps quickly if you think it would be OK.

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