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

Are You a Dog Lover, or a Dog Guardian?

Updated: March 24th, 2021


Who’s in charge of your decisions when it comes to your dog’s cancer? You are.

Your role as a Guardian is the first thing Dr. Demian Dressler, author of The Dog Cancer Survival Guide, talks about in his book, and for good reason.

When we’re facing cancer, we need to be fierce warriors and protectors. This is sometimes a stretch for those of us new to the diagnosis. As Dr. D says:

“Disbelief is a normal reaction; as a fellow dog lover, I truly sympathize. But disbelief doesn’t help your dog. Changing your thoughts from ‘I can’t believe this’ into ‘I can deal with this’ is your first priority.”

Your first step takes you from being a Dog Lover to becoming a Dog Guardian.

We’re all dog lovers, of course. We adore our dogs – and many of us think of them as our family members. But we must, when it comes to cancer, become Guardians first and foremost.

What’s a Guardian?

A Guardian protects. A Guardian stays calm in a crisis and makes choices based on logic and reality, not wishful thinking.

And a Guardian is in charge. You know your dog better than any veterinarian, oncologist, healer, friend, or your dog itself. And so you must take the leadership role in your dog’s care.

Think of it this way: whoever gets paid to take care of your dog is your employee.

You can look at their opinions and expert advice as just that: expert advice.

But ultimately, you are the expert on your own dog, on your relationship to your dog, and on your life.

So: You’re in charge.

You’re the Guardian.

The role of Veterinarians and Oncologists

Your veterinarian employees – or team members, if you prefer — have great expertise that you probably don’t have.

For some guardians, that means those experts make the decisions about cancer treatments. And if that’s what you want to do, that’s fine – as long as you, the Guardian, have decided it is what is right for you.

If it’s not, however, you get to call the shots. Dr. Susan Ettinger, the coauthor of The Dog Cancer Survival Guide, is a veterinary oncologist, and she assures us that she does not think of herself as “in charge” of any of her clients.

“The owner is in charge, and I help them with my expertise. My responsibility is to use everything I know and everything I’ve experienced to bring clear, calm, reasoned protocols to the table. I have to take everything into consideration, including budget, preference, tolerance to the therapy, and of course, any other health issues the dog may have. I have to work closely with the primary care vet. I have to explain my thinking and recommendations in detail, and be honest about what I think my suggestions will offer to clients. But ultimately, all decisions are made by the owners.”

Emotional Management

Whether we like it or not (and many of us here at Dog Cancer Vet have not liked making the transition from dog lover to dog guardian) we Guardians are in charge.

And so we have to deal with our emotions, so we can think clearly and make good choices on behalf of our dogs.

When you get your copy of The Dog Cancer Survival Guide, you might be surprised to see how many pages are dedicated right up front to managing emotions. But Dr. Dressler included the exercises and explanations for a good reason: we humans get dumb when we’re emotional.

Make sure you don’t skip over chapters 1, 2, and 3. And definitely read chapter 4, which reminds us of the dog’s super abilities.

Once your emotions are managed, you’ll be able to tackle the details in the rest of the book.

Because it has soooo many resources, we highly recommend The Dog Cancer Survival Guide for anyone dealing with dog cancer. It’s available everywhere books are sold, including, and also, of course, on our store.

Best Wishes & Doggy Kisses from Our Homes to Yours,

Dog Cancer Vet Team

(The Team of Dog Lovers Who Understand What It Means to Have a Dog with Cancer)

Leave a Comment

  1. Janet Warrick on November 14, 2017 at 5:45 am

    We lost our beautiful Hunter last week to lymphoma. The extremely frustrating problem we had was getting a diagnosis. The vet we had been taking him to for seven years initially diagnosed him with Lyme disease. No tests were done. While I am aware that some vets treat for Lyme on symptoms alone because of the sometimes inaccuracy of the test, I was uncomfortable that he didn’t test for anything. So I took Hunter to another vet. He did blood work that came back negative for all tick-born illnesses but showed that our dog had a slight anemia. Over the course of the next four and a half months we brought Hunter back numerous times, told the vet everything that was happening but still could not get a diagnosis. Even when a technician found that Hunter had swollen lymph nodes (plus the anemia), still the vet said nothing. The possibility of cancer was never mentioned. Finally, when Hunter began collapsing the vet did a hurried ultrasound that showed an abnormal spleen. He wanted to take the spleen out, but I was uncomfortable putting Hunter through major surgery without first knowing what was going on. So we took him to the University of Madison Veterinary Clinic where he was diagnosed with stage four lymphoma. We could not afford chemo and so he was put on prednisone. Eighteen days later we had to euthanize our dear boy. In the mean time I had come across and purchased The Dog Cancer Survival Guide and was glad to get answers to so many questions. I also purchased Apocaps and modified citrus pectin along with changing Hunters diet, but it was already too late. My extreme frustration is in the fact that we had been taking Hunter back and forth to the vet for nearly eight months and could not get a diagnosis until we took him to the University of Madison. Once I found out that Hunter had lymphoma it only took a minute to fine out that swollen lymph nodes is the number one indication that a dog has lymphoma. You would think that that plus the fact that he also had anemia would have told the vet that Hunter had cancer. But he never said anything. He just had us keep coming back and coming back with no results, for which we ended up spending quite a lot of money in the end. What I had hoped for was that the vet would say, “This is what I think is going on and this is what we need to do.” But no, we got nothing. How very disappointing. I now have no idea how to find a good veterinarian. Apparently credentials mean nothing, because the vet we had been taking Hunter to had them.

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