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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

Updated: December 13th, 2018

Many have concerns their dog may be in pain.  And rightfully so, since pain is a definite negative.  Pain control is a massive topic all by itself, and it is by no means strait forward.

There are different kinds of pain. Sometimes  dull, throbbing pain happens in cancers like osteosarcoma (bone cancer).  Severe pain in the abdomen can occur with bleeding hemangiosarcomas (spleen tumors). Mast cell tumors likely produce burning pain in the skin or in other locations. Pressure-associated pain can happen with nasal tumors like fibrosarcomas.  Bladder tumors like transitional cell carcinomas cause burning and irritation leading to urgency to urinate.

There are different kinds of pain, and they respond to different treatments.  We have tablets, capsules, liquids, injections, infusions, transdermal patches, cold, heat, acupuncture, physical therapy, mental techniques, and more.

The best approaches to pain management are always multimodal, which means we attack the problem from different angles to achieve a better result. This is true for the drugs your veterinarian prescribes too.  Many times lower doses of multiple drugs are a lot better than higher doses of single drugs.

The perception of pain not only involves the tumor or cancer itself, but also what the brain and spinal cord do with those signals.  In some cases, pain can actually be amplified above and beyond what is expected by what is happening in the central nervous system (previous pain, anxiety, fear, depression, and others). These areas can be focused on too as part of a total pain control plan.

By combining approaches from different angles, you get a better result.  Less pain, better life quality! Ask you vet about combining different approaches.

Let’s look at more life quality topics in the next post.

Best to all,

Dr Dressler


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  1. Catherine brown on March 11, 2014 at 2:42 am

    Hello, I have a very old terrier who has a tumour behind her eye. Her eye is red, bulging and cloudy. I have taken her to an eye specialist last year and he said that she may need to have it out in the future but she wasn’t in any pain. She must be in pain because she squeals when the other dogs bump into her. Is my dog in pain? the vet says not but she looks and sounds in pain! anyone had experience of this?

  2. Nancy on December 18, 2013 at 6:19 am

    My 10 year old Cane Corso Nico was diagnosed with bone cancer in his lower jaw. They say removing it would just make it grow back, so how do I manage his pain and his diet as this progresses? As of now he is on Tramadol but with this breed they are very pain tolerant so it’s hard to tell if he is in pain. Today he is still eating normally but sleeping more. Any advice would be helpful since my vet refereed us to NC State Vet School Oncology. They wouldn’t even talk to me they wanted me to bring him up there which is a 3 hour drive one way. All I wanted was a medicinal plan for him. They said they’d call my vet, that was yesterday nothing yet. I’m so frustrated because they are one of the top rated Vet Schools in the US and they are not help!

  3. v on May 22, 2013 at 7:53 pm

    Dear Dr Dressler,
    My 12 year old Westie lost use of his hind legs in October. Vet said it’s most likely spinal cancer though he recommended not doing biopsy. He has since lots alot of weight. Lately has has some spasms across his back when he is resting. He had this before he started on Gapabentin but now it’s more.

    I know he is probably in pain when we touch a certain area, and when he gets up at night to adjust to another position. But other than that, can’t tell. He’s still interested in food, people, other dogs.

    He is currently on anti-inflammation medication, meloxicam and Gabapentin. However a doctor friend of mine said for human patients Gabapentin is usually not enough. How do I know if he needs opioids or something else? In your experience, what kind of pain medication is best for spinal cancer dogs?

    And is there anything I can do to alleviate side-effects of all these?

    I’d like to do some research before going back to the vet.

    Thanks so much for caring for cancer dogs,

  4. Jolene on April 9, 2011 at 12:21 pm

    My dog Tyler too, has been diagnoised with bone cancer. I have her on tramodol and galvapentin three times daily. I also was given an option to have a nerve block done on her to help relieve the pain. I like everyone else I’ve read about, can’t bear the thought of losing my bestfriend. She is 15 year old lab/mix that was thrown from a car, my mom stopped to show her to me before she took her to the pound they had for stray animals around here, I just lost my other dog to kidney failure and wasn’t really ready for a new one yet. She won my husband and I over quickly. thanks for listening

    • DemianDressler on April 13, 2011 at 10:50 pm

      Dear Jolene
      thinking of you during this hard time.
      Dr D

  5. R on April 22, 2009 at 12:04 am

    My heart too has recently been tested. My 11 yr old Yellow Lab, just finished 15 weeks of chemo for Multifocal Lymphoma. I was breathing a sign of releif when he was finished a week ago, & in remission – & doing GREAT! Except for sepsis after 1 round of chemo in Feb, he never suffered nor had any pain.

    Fast forward to this week. His 1/2 brother, my 9 yr old other Yellow Lab, starting having what appeared to be a stroke, or maybe seizures. HORRIBLE episodes (4 in 6 days …. 2 really severe ones, 2 minor ones) of screaming in pain, being sort all contracted, crunched up – it looks like almost some sort of nerve compression in his neck & back … or something like that. Its pathetic to witness & Im terrified that he is in horrible pain. Im afaid as well, the leave him alone & have something happen with out me there for him. Upon vet examination, they found a bunch of small masses around his anus. The 1st thought was this was where the pain was coming from (as he also cannot sit down when he has an episode). 3 days later, my own vet saw him, & he found his back popliteal lymph node was the size of a football. Aspirate showed MAST cell 🙁 Sana already HAD MAST cell, 3X, 3 yrs ago, & all tumors were removed with all clean margins. He has been VERY healthy & active since. No one can beleive he is almost 10.

    The HUGE fear is that the cancer has either spread to his brain, causing these neuro type symtoms/episodes, or there is an internal mass or something, pressing on a nerve, his spinal cord, or somewhere, causing all this pain when the episode happens. Pathology came back today on the MAST cell in the leg, we are still awaiting pathology on the small anal masses. My vet said hopefully those are benign – or they too could be MAST cell … or God forbid, another kind of cancer as well.

    We dont know if its all related, or if the neuro/pain stuff is a totally seperate issue. I dont EVER want him to be in any pain – but I cant just decide this isnt treatable right now. If it IS a tumor causing the neuro issues, then chemo may help reduce the tumor, & the pressure on a nerve or WHATEVER it is thats causing it, then I need to try.

    This is all new b/c my Lymphoma dog really never suffered. This IS suffering when he has the painful neuro-type epidoses … but as I said, its only been 2 bad ones (10-15 min) in 6 days now. But Im terrified it will increase. A steroid shot seems to have helped & he is on Tramadol Q 8 hours.

    If anyone has any words of advice, Id be grateful. Thank you

  6. Sharon Richardson on April 13, 2009 at 5:39 am

    We have an 11 1/2 year old pug and he has been vomiting (now stopped)watery diarea,not eating,very tired but tail up most of the time.has has xrays,bllood work ,meds but seems now to have bright yellow urine and dark watery stool.Will not eat.We’re taking him to vet today again .How much should we continuie to do since the vet hasn’t found any thing with all the test.Have’nt done an ultasound but we feel if it is cancer at his age we would not want him to go thru that.What should we do?We love him so much and we can’t bear for him to be in pain.

    • Dr. Dressler on April 15, 2009 at 10:39 pm

      I must say that there may be other things causing the problem excluding cancer that could be found with the ultrasound.
      I will address your question in more detail in the webinar:
      Short story: go for the ultrasound and then reassess if you can..

  7. Donna on April 11, 2009 at 12:11 am

    Well the vet was realy pleased yesterday, the wound has finally closed over and is healing…which is about the best news we could’ve got. She is saying a few months of quality life is left in her as she is going too the toilet normally again.
    No medication to given as yet, as she has no symptons of escess hisatime but i have them here at home for when the time comes.

    We are crossing everything she see’s a final summer with us but with these types of tumours everything can change in a matter of days.

    thank you so much for having posted on this site, as in the hundreds of web pages i have found, no one that was in the same position.

  8. Chris on April 10, 2009 at 3:17 pm

    Thank you so much Donna – it is a relief to be able to talk to someone who knows and understands what we’re going through. I stayed with our little man right to the end – call me stupid but I didn’t want him to be scared – both me and his “grandma” were there – my poor husband had to leave the room.

    I wish your family all the best. I sincerely hope that your little buddy is able to carry on for a long time to come.

    I don’t know if the vet has suggested this but try 3 tablets of 25mg. benadryl three times each day (8 hours apart if you can manage it – our little man weighed 75 ibs so that is what I’ve based the amount on guessing that your little buddy is close to the same). The mass cells release huge amounts of histamine into the body and cause an enormous amount of discomfort.

    Once again – I appreciate the contact and your tears – between us we’ll soon have a river.

  9. Donna on April 10, 2009 at 3:11 am

    i’m so very sorry to read that you’ve said goodbye to your buddy. I know that i have that decision to make and i’m crying for you and me at the same time.
    We have the vet today, they have mentioned steriods to us but there is no way my dog can have them when they wound isn;t healing.

    I realy feel for you and you husband.

  10. Chris on April 9, 2009 at 7:26 pm

    Donna – I found out that the type of cancer our little man had was indeed causing him pain, he was still eating an drinking but that was the only way in which he remained normal. He was having trouble breathing because of the prednizone he was taking and the other drugs were making him tired, and unwell and so we made the decision. We said goodbye to our little man today at 9:30 a.m. My heart is bleeding.

    We made this decision based on just how much we loved him. I didn’t want him to go through liver or kidney failure or wait until it moved into his lungs and suffer an agonizing death.

    I am so very sorry to hear of your friend – I’m crying for us both right now.

    Your buddy’s wound may not heal – Mast Cell has that effect. If he’s not going to the washroom then please call your vet – I was told that once it got into the lymph nodes it traveled extremely fast – once again I am so very, very sorry – if I could spare anyone the agonizing pain that my husband and I are experiencing I would.

    My husband and I will never attempt to replace our little boy as he was so very unique that it would just not be possible – I’ve been “looking” for him all day – and it has ripped out my heart everytime I realize I’ll never see him again.

    • Maria Neal on February 2, 2011 at 6:21 pm

      I have a wonderful son named Hydro who’s given me so much unconditional Love, he’s 6 yrs old. But he’s my baby. I ordered the Apococaps and began giving them to him on Saturday. He was diagnosed with lymphoma cancer just alittle bit after Christmas I ordered the Dog Cancer Guide, which I really would recommend to all of my friends, it such a GREAT book written with unconditional Love for all those in need of this information. It is one of the best decisions I ever made was to purchase this book. It has alot of wonderful knowledge and has helped me tremendously care for my Hydro. When I feel depressed about the things that are going on with Hydro I turn to the book to remind me and keep me on track emotionally so I can focus on his quality of LIFE. Hydro has his up and down days, I started feeding him raw food it has helped, He’s on prednisone 20 mg twice a day and I reduced the Apococaps to 6 a day I am giving him the meds 12 hours apart, Hydro is doing much better everyday. We are doing Reiki and it has been a blessing. We are also doing crystal healing in his water and this has help tremendously. With a combination of therapies and apococaps and the prednisone his tumors on his neck are decreasing in size. He is more active and now wants to start taking walks agian. My intention is to heal my dog with the various treatments. God is a good God and I know that he will heal. Thank you Dr. Dressler for being such a kind and caring individual and helping us dog Lovers with your knowledge and unconditional LOVE. You truly are a very special person and I want to personally THANK YOU for all you do. With kindness and unconditional love Maria Neal

      • DemianDressler on March 8, 2011 at 9:36 pm

        Dear Maria
        thank you so much for your kind words. I truly appreciate them.
        I hope Hydro is doing okay
        Dr D

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