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

The Shock of Dog Cancer

Updated: November 1st, 2019

I was recently helping an English Lab named Amber.  Amber was diagnosed with a mast cell tumor by fine needle aspirate.  Amber’s humans, Beau and Heather, were devastated upon hearing this news.

Like many dog lovers, they had heard that dogs could get cancer.  Sure.  Dogs can get the same diseases as people, right?  However, for the last 7 years of life with Amber, nobody had mentioned the single most important risk to health and well-being a dog can experience:  cancer.

Did Amber’s vet ever mention it?  Nope.  And Amber’s humans travel a lot, which forces them to have multiple vets in different locations.  Not once over 7 years.

I recently heard the head of one of the premier veterinary cancer centers in the world say that cancer is the leading cause of death “by disease” in dogs.

Well, sort of, but not really.  Cancer tops death due to disease as well as death caused by trauma, toxin, malformation, drug reactions,  malnutrition,  and more.

By some strange twist of the psyche,  neither dog lovers nor vets seem to know the facts surrounding this sleeping giant.

Based on data from the Morris Animal Foundation, it is estimated that one in four dogs succumb to cancer.  At this rate, I calculated the total number of dog cancer deaths in this country on a daily basis to be more than 4,200.  Every day.

I overheard a veterinary professional say that cancer is not an epidemic.  Really? Say we are conservative, and we estimate  50-60 dog cancer deaths per state daily.  If there were any other disease doing this, we would say it is an epidemic.

This makes bird or swine flu look like a silly distraction.

So it is no wonder that dog lovers are bowled over when they receive a dog cancer diagnosis.  It is no wonder that people feel like their world just turned inside out and upside down.

What is the solution?  Step one: education, education, education.  Dog lovers need to be brought up to speed on what the reality is, and it sure seems like vets do as well.

Truly, a number of years back, I didn’t know either.  But then it clicked: it was odd that so many dogs  (of all ages) with tumors were walking through my hospital doors.

I recall that I was reminded of a movie where there is some bizarre alien invasion inhabiting bodies or something.  Very creepy.  The really scary thing is that it is not a movie, it is reality.

So I spent countless months poring over data, getting a handle on what was going on.  This ended up being the first third of The Dog Cancer Survival Guide.  This was also the genesis of this blog, which is here to to help spread the word about this epidemic.


Dr. D

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  3. Bea on March 18, 2010 at 5:51 am

    Dear Dr. Dressler

    You mention in your book that ginger is good to give a dog with cancer, can that be given if they are on prednisone and cimetidine and how much daily to give?


  4. Charles Vance on March 7, 2010 at 8:10 am

    Dr. Dressler,
    We recently (this past Tuesday) found out our beloved 10 year old German Shepherd, Tascha, has hemangiolytic sarcoma. We took her in for an exam for a kidney infection with struvite crystals, which she has had several times through her life. The vet put her on Prednisone and antibiotics and prescribed food specifically for this infection. For a couple of days, she was becoming back to her old self, then suddenly became very listless and her belly became very swollen. We immediately took her back to the vet who did blood work and told us that she was extremely anemic, her platelet count was down and white count was high. She was on the verge of death. We took her to the vet E.R. where Xrays and ultrasound was done and were told that her spleen had a large tumor that had ruptured and was bleeding into her belly. We were given the option of surgery or euthanasia or just making her comfortable until she died. Dr. Dressler, this hit us like a brick in the head. We had the surgery done and they removed her spleen after 2 blood transfusions and a large amount of IV fluids to stabilize her. We were told that while the surgeon was inside, he checked her out and found that the cancer appears to have spread to her liver on all 3 lobes. After 3 days in the hospital, she is finally home and recovering. She is becoming more like her old self again, but I have noticed a very slight twitch (tilt of the head to the left) occasionally when she turns her head. Her vet said that may be an effect of the Tramadol they had her on for the pain, and had us discontinue it. Her vet gave us the prognosis of 2-6 months and told us to treat every day with her as a gift. My point is this: I found your site and find that maybe there is hope after all. I am 47 years old and didn’t cry when my father passed away several years ago, but I will admit, I cried like a baby when I realized how close to death our beloved dog was that night, and at the thought of losing her to this cruel, ravaging disease. This is the most hurtful thing I have ever had to deal with. It is unfair that a creature as loyal, smart, true and loving as a dog could be the victim of such a horrible disease. I have Curcumin on order and will be ordering your book this week in the hopes that we can slow the spread of this cancer or even put it into remission.

    • Dr. Dressler on March 8, 2010 at 2:10 pm

      Dear Charles,
      Know that you are not alone. It does not make it any better for Tascha, or really for you, but I will say that there are so many who are going through the same type of experience. It is part and parcel of living in the modern world these days.
      You are entering a world where the steps you take should be methodical. Get the information, be your dog’s advocate.
      You need to consider chemo (oncologist), diet, normalizing apoptosis levels with proper supplementation (obviously I am partial to the one I use), stress elimination, sun, and other aspects of care to gain all advantages you can.
      Get your data, contemplate, decide on your personal beliefs/ethics, formulate a plan and then do it. This can, in the end, be a good road, in spite of the horror show you have been a part of.
      Dr D

  5. Lilly on March 6, 2010 at 8:42 am


    I think I would have made different decisions had I had Dr. Dressler’s book during the time my dog battled Cutaneous T Cell Lymphoma. I know what all of you above feel like. It was the worst time in my life. I was educated and read a lot of things and consulted with a lot of professionals but I was pretty much on my own as nobody really has any hope or advice on this cancer. All the research I did was a double edge sword because it was almost “too much”. I put my dog through a couple surgeries and I shouldn’t have. I still have overwhelming guilt.

    • Dr. Dressler on March 8, 2010 at 2:20 pm

      Dear Lilly,
      nobody, and I mean nobody, has the imaginary device called the retrospectoscope. This is a tool that allows you to see things as if you were in the future looking backwards. Kind of like a crystal ball with a mirror. The point is that we just can’t say what the very best course of action is when we are making decisions of this kind every time. We do not have the data to choose a course we would end up preferring.
      Since this is the case, and it is a reality shared between you, other dog lovers, vets, oncologists, “full spectrum’ people like me, and whomever you can come up with, you should know that your guilt can be released when you are ready. This post may help in some ways….
      Dr D

  6. Stephanie on March 5, 2010 at 11:35 am

    My 12 year old schnauzer was diagnosed with hepatic and adrenal cancer in August of 2009 and given 3 months to live. It was if I had been hit by a truck. I felt responsible and tried desperately to read as much as I could to save him. I feel as though I let this happen to him. The vets in my area treat him like he’s already dead, but I am fighting as long as his quality of life is not one of pain and suffering. I apppreciate your blog and have ordered your book so that I can equip myself to be more informed if or when I adopt another dog. We switched to a holistic diet, added fish oil and milk thistle to his daily diet and I can proudly say he seems to be doing great. My boy is happy and has a great appetite so he’s still enjoying life. Thanks for continuing to give us information, hope and as a result, blessed added time with our precious babies.

    • Dr. Dressler on March 8, 2010 at 2:36 pm

      Dear Stephanie,
      I am glad that your Schnauzer is beating the odds!! Great work.
      FYI, the primary active ingredient in milk thistle is silymarin. This is also contained in the supplement that I use on my patients, along with a large number of other hand-picked agents that were designed very specifically to help.
      Keep it up and know that you are doing the right thing!!
      Dr D

  7. Heidi on March 5, 2010 at 11:01 am

    Hi Doc!

    What is your opinion regarding cancer prevention? I have heard several of several dietary options that drastically reduce a pet’s chances of getting several types of cancer (namely raw and unprocessed foods). What are your thoughts?


    • Dr. Dressler on March 8, 2010 at 2:42 pm

      Dear Heidi,
      that is a massive question!!! Wow. I think that is going to be the next book, and I am writing a chapter on it for the upcoming second edition of the Guide. As far as diet goes, my opinion is to increase the protein, add a small amount of cooked veggies, lessen the carbs, go as organic as you can, avoid preservatives, and the less processing the better. There are a bunch of plant agents that help with chemoprevention in the Guide like shitake, mung, ginger, garlic, berries, leafy herbs like basil and so on, but please, don’t go crazy adding all this stuff at once.
      Remember to make dietary changes like this over 10 days at least, very slowly introducing the changes and monitoring for diarrhea, vomiting, and other problems. Please remember to consult with your vet before any steps taken related to your dog’s well-being!
      Dr D

  8. Sandra Smith for "Cindy" on March 5, 2010 at 9:56 am

    Dr. Dressler,

    Thanks to you and your book my dog Cindy is doing very well on your regime to fight cancer. She does have a very pool appetite, though. What would be a good supplement for an appetite booster?


    • Dr. Dressler on March 8, 2010 at 4:29 pm

      Dear Sandra,
      I wonder if your dog has had any new supplements, meds, or diet changes? Loss of appetite means something is not right. I would get it checked out. Could be nausea or stomach acid too, which would benefit from mirtazapine, famotidine, cimetidine or other items. Best to figure it out with the help of your vet.
      Dr D

  9. Pamela Wheelock on March 5, 2010 at 8:32 am

    Dr Dressler,
    We recently lost our first dog to Hemangiosarcoma. We met and feel in love with her on the beaches of Mexico where she was abandoned and very sick. We brought her home, got rid of her many parasites including mange and fattened her up. We loved her like no other pet (or perhaps person) we have ever known. A few months before her DX we took her in because she was slowing down (8 years after she came to live with us,not sure of her true age) and sometimes limping. NO hint that cancer was a possibility just lots of talk about non steroid anti-inflammatories. We took her in for a dental last October and asked for x-rays to be clear about her limping. We were shocked to find out she had a tumor in her shoulder and significant mets in her lungs. Shocked– I was sleepless and unable to eat for days. It was as if we had been shot, straight thru our hearts.

    Being so shocked we were cognitively blunted during the first week and we might have made better decisions if we were less dazed. Original Dx was bone cancer, but when her tumor started bleeding a week later, a needle aspirate confirmed Hemangio. We tried many non traditional treatments: artemisinin, homecooked meals, chinese herbs, etc. (We bought your book) Our vets offered pain meds but held out no hope due to her lung mets. Rosa lived 7 more weeks and finally passed over with our help when she started struggling to breath and became very anemic.

    Being unprepared totally made this much worse for all of us. I still wonder if we did the right things for Rosa and… this experience stands out as the hardest and saddest time in our 30 year marriage. She left us in November and we are still devastated. Prior information on the reality of cancer in dogs would have helped us– especially Rosa who probably had symptoms for many weeks, if not months prior to her DX. We were just so clueless–and not because we didn’t care, because we just simply did not know. Knowledge is so empowering. It might not have saved Rosa’s life but the path would have been better lit. Thank you for your honesty. Pam

  10. Julie on March 3, 2010 at 9:43 am

    Dear Dr. Dressler – I have just had the shock you speak of this morning. My buoyant, superlatively healthy (I thought) 6-year-old Rhodesian ridgeback was just diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma. It showed up as a lesion on one of his pads, which I did not do anything about for many months because I thought it was “just” a sore that was in a bad spot for healing. My dogs get out and run vigorously every day, so how could a foot sore heal? I was looking for information on your website about this type of cancer, but didn’t find anything. Is there a source somewhere you could point me too? They are amputating his toe on Friday. I have been told bloodroot can be effective against this type of cancer – but there is so much misinformation out there and I’m not sure where to turn for reliable information. Anyway, thank you. I have just discovered and love your blog. Julie

    • Dr. Dressler on March 8, 2010 at 3:52 pm

      Dear Julie,
      Here’s the scoop:
      These cancers need to be removed with wide excision surgeries, which is what you have scheduled. A question, I have though is how this diagnosis was achieved. Did they do a biopsy? Are they sure this is not the type of cancer that could be found inside the dog after spreading, which might change things…? Do they know that the tumor has not invaded the bone above the digit, which would make an amputation unsuccessful…? These are my immediate thoughts. You should pay attention to diet, supplements (I of course am partial to the one I use for my patients), sunlight, sleep in darkness, elimination of stress, and so on. There is so much you can do in the Guide,and a little answer here does not do your question justice as the answer is just too long. First clarify these initial questions, get your data, get your supplements, and move forward. You are not alone…
      Dr D

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