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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


Leave a Comment

  1. Paul Buehler on February 1, 2010 at 4:25 pm

    Hello, my 11 year old chihuahua, Sancho was diagnosed via ultrasound with TCC. He is on Piroxicam and several vitamin and herbal supplements including fish oil, astragalus, “Bladder Support” supplement and Baytril. He has been on this combination for about a month and just seems to be doing very well. I’m wondering how frequently I should follow up with another ultrasound or other test to see if things are getting better or worse. He seems to be doing very well, no urinary problems and very energetic, eating, drinking and very playful each morning. Any thoughts or suggestions would be appreciated.


    • Dr. Dressler on February 7, 2010 at 9:24 pm

      Dear Paul,
      In cases like these we must defer to the wisdom of your veterinarian or oncologist, since these professionals know you particular and unique dog’s case. As a general guideline, not knowing your dog, I would (at a minimum) get an ultrasound done every 6-8 weeks to assess progress.
      As to the second part of your question, this is quite open ended. Treatment of this cancer and cancer generally is a deep field. I assume you have considered mitoxantrone. Additionally I hope diet is being addressed, perhaps some of the other supplements like artemisinin and Neoplasene, life quality enrichment, decreasing stress hormone levels, sleep, pesticide avoidance, and avoidance of blue wavelength light to preserve melatonin levels and so on. You may want to check into the Dog Cancer Survival Guide, which is a complete answer to this quite expansive question.
      Dr D

  2. Beverly Harvey on June 13, 2009 at 8:19 am

    I just took in a sweet little 10 yr old, 5 lb foster Yorkie who had 10 mammary tumors and 1 other tumor removed from her abdomen. The 10 mammary tumors were benign, but the other one was apocrine gland adenocarcinoma. The oncology sept at MSU does not have much info about this particular cancer and its location.
    She is so small nd the surgery so extensive, that she is not a candidate for radiation, and may not be a candidate for chemo.
    Do you know about this kind of cancer and a possible treatment for it? If so, what amount of time can be gained from the treatment available?
    Thank you.

  3. Lori Michaelson on August 22, 2008 at 3:19 pm

    Thank you!

    After I finally was able to read other threads, etc. you have now probably read that she had successful surgery (the veterinarian said that he was able to get it all) but the prognosis was grave since mast cell cancers are infamously known for their rapid growth and she has Grade 3 — from the biopsy report on the tumor.

    From my other posts you’ll see that I have a lot to think about but she has not changed her behavior in any way so we enjoy her every day as much as possible!

    Lori Michaelson

  4. Dr. Dressler on August 20, 2008 at 5:28 pm

    Not to worry, I got ya! I believe your point was that she has a malignant cancer and she is in no pain, which is awesome. Indeed, many tumors cause no pain at all, for a long time. Only some do, and one dog may have pain with a given tumor type and another not so. Actually the majority of mast cell tumors do not produce discomfort that is noticeable from our viewpoint. I actually discuss this exact point in a product that should be out the end of this week called “The Dog Cancer Coping Guide,” which is designed for dog lovers dealing with a new cancer diagnosis in their dog. Also, pain is only one of the factors that we use to assess life quality:
    Also please read:
    about mast cell tumor surgery and pre-medicating them with Benadryl.
    As to your question about deleting entries, I can do that, so just let me know and I will delete it for you so you can repost.

  5. odinaz on August 20, 2008 at 12:30 pm

    Ouch! Having a severe disability, I use a voice recognition software program to write. I did not have time to proofread my previous comment and what a mistake! In any case, I hope one can weed through my mistakes seeing what it was MEANT to say! If there is a way to delete an entry to make a fresh one without errors… please let me know. 🙂

  6. odinaz on August 20, 2008 at 11:18 am

    Our Golden Retriever, Brandy, was just diagnosed two weeks ago with mast cell cancer grade 3. There were absolutely no signs so when we found a medium-sized, but flat, growth on her belly… we automatically took her to the vet. Upon examination as to what we found after you shaved her to get a better look — Mass celebrated three was the LAST thing he thought it could be. Anyway, she is acting no different and we are acting no different as dogs can pick up on that. She loves to act silly in front of us, playing with her stuffed animals, revolving her day around food and lighting us know about that!!! We don’t have any children and she is our only pet so she does not have to vy for attention. She has never liked to be any further away from us than 6 feet or so and that has remained the same. We are so happy that she is feeling so good! And acting if she does not have cancer at all!

  7. Rochelle Lesser on August 10, 2008 at 11:06 am

    This is what I believe needs to be included: The joy of playing or doing his/her favorite things.

    For my Ollie, who died from lymphoma, this was going in the car and anything to do with tennis balls. It was when he could not even be enticed by a tennis ball that I knew he was really unhappy.

    For my Darcy, it was when the fibrosarcoma that was pushing out her eye and growing larger in her mouth kept her from being able to play with her Teddy Bears which she always carried with her everywhere (after beating them up, of course). You can see her with these 3ft sized bears at .

    I just love acronyms and found much learning power in them when teaching graduate psychology and education courses. And, when such mnemonics are paired with sensible and helpful insights, it becomes a win-win for us all. You may like my Taking a Bite Out of Cancer at (folks can download a handy PDF of at

  8. Dr. Dressler on August 10, 2008 at 12:43 am

    He is wonderful!

  9. Dr. Dressler on August 10, 2008 at 12:43 am

    Check out July 1st, 2008 entry. It is a video.

  10. Rochelle Lesser on August 9, 2008 at 12:05 pm

    Dr. Dressler, I saw on a blog that you recently had to do a biopsy on a growth in Bjorn’s mouth. But, there was no information as to the results. How is he doing now? What is the prognosis? I sure hope you are spared of having a cancer diagnosis in your beloved boy.

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