Some people receive a diagnosis and decide they just don’t want to treat dog cancer.
Wow. Do you have any feelings about this? I bet you do. Let’s look at this situation.
Is It Wrong If I Don’t Want to Treat Dog Cancer?
Is it wrong? Is it right? Well, as with most complex issues, the answer is not black or white, yes or no, one thing but not the other.
We humans are strange when confronted with bothersome subjects. Typically, we like to make things simple and create two choices in our mind … and then decide one is correct as quickly as we can.
But reality usually has nothing to do with two choices.
Reality does not really care about limiting options so things are easy.
Dog Lovers Are As Different as Their Dogs
Over the years I’ve worked with many kinds of dog guardians. Some of them live out of their car in beach parking lots. Some of them fly me out in one of their planes.
Whatever their life circumstances, all of my clients come to me because they need help with their loved pets. It’s my job to fix the problem. And when it comes to canine cancer, things can get tricky, because sometimes fixing is not in the cards.
Some Cancers Can’t Be “Fixed”
I’ve spent most of my career trying to find new solutions for hard-to-fix-pet-problems, yet I still don’t have “the cure” for cancer when it can’t be physically removed, for example, by surgery.
Sure, I’ve seen many surprising cases where what we have done has defied the odds in a good way.
But saying “I can cure your dog’s cancer” when it has metastasized is not the truth.
Sure, there have been miraculous cases with miraculous results, but can I assure any person of a miracle in their dog’s specific case?
What I CAN offer is a broad array of tools to help make things better.
Better than if we had done nothing, and sometimes a lot better. But not every single time.
Some Cancers Can Be Helped, for a While
We can look at diet, apoptogens, immune support, side effect strategies, drugs, surgery, homeopathy, homotoxicology, experimental tools, manual therapies, acupuncture, herbs, mind-body approaches, life quality enhancement, chronotherapy, and more. Much of this is discussed in my book The Dog Cancer Survival Guide.
Struggling to make a good decision? This book will really, really help.
But I still can’t promise the cure for systemic cancers (cancers that have spread).
Sometimes things are so advanced I can’t do much at all to help, except try to increase comfort.
Every Type of Medicine Has Limits
When you think about it, this is a strange situation.
A dog lover comes to me and finds out their pet has systemic cancer. They usually hope I can fix it and can resolve the problem. I’m the guy for the job, right? I’m the guy who literally wrote the book!
I did, and I’m glad I did because it’s helped hundreds of thousands of dogs over the years … but even so, it might turn out I can’t do that much to help this dog lover’s very specific dog.
Very quickly we confront the limitations of medicine. And I am not referring only to the limitations of Western (allopathic) medicine.
There Is No One Approach That “Works” for Cancer
For all of you out there who insist that “the cure” for all these dogs with systemic cancer is actually the “alternative” approach if only someone would just listen, I can tell you that you’re just wrong.
I’m not only open to these tools, but I use them daily in actual clinical pet care. And there is no substance on this planet that always cures cancers that have spread.
Similarly, if you are one of those who believes “the cure” for systemic cancer is chemotherapy, radiation, or other conventional approaches, you are wrong, too. Those don’t “work” any better or more consistently than any of the other tools in other systems of medicine.
Tools have specific uses. A hammer is good at being a hammer and stinks at being a nail.
The same is true for allopathic (conventional medicine) tools. They are good for what they are good for, and no more.
It’s also the same for holistic/complementary/alternative tools. They are good for what they are good for, and no more.
No tool is perfect, and no tool does everything.
Anyone out there fist-pumping about how people doing acupuncture are quacks, or about how only evil people give their dog antibiotics …
… well … put your fists down.
Some Things Are Unfixable
Unfixable happens sometimes.
I hate to write it as much as you hate to read it, but it’s necessary to understand why sometimes people don’t want to treat dog cancer.
Some people are so overpowered by grief they cannot understand any information I provide after they hear the word “cancer”.
The experience of acute stress messes up our ability to comprehend things.
That is why I devoted the first section of the Guide to guarding the guardian, even though I still get flak from some folks who think that touchy-feely stuff is beyond my scope of practice.
But without clear thinking on the part of the guardian, things turn out badly for our loved dogs. And getting clarity can take some time. More than a 30-minute consult in a vet’s office.
My Job: Provide Clear Info
It’s my job to provide clear and honest information. By honest, I mean really explaining what I DO know and what I DON’T know. Being sober in my assessment, and clear about what the numbers say and whether they are relevant or not.
I have to balance good quality research, personal experience, and the experience of others whose input is based on real-world, clinical experience of a large number of dogs.
I can’t rely on the internet rumor mill.
By the time I’m done, clients have what they need to decide. Usually, the person needs to take some time to digest things. Maybe they want to get more information too before they decide what to do. And what one person decides could be totally different than what another person would decide.
(I hear that many readers of my book rely on the private Facebook group to help make clear-eyed decisions, because members of that group are exceptionally kind and supportive, and do not judge each other.)
Your Job: Making a Decision That Is Right for YOU
When a dog lover makes their initial decision about treatment, they have usually done a lot of thinking.
They weigh many factors unique to their dog, cancer itself, and many other things affecting their guardianship.
The nice thing is, of course, that changes are usually possible in the future, at least for a while. As cancer progresses, choices might no longer be valid, and new choices might be necessary.
For example, surgery that might be possible now might not be possible later in the year, if the tumor has grown too much or invaded other structures.
That’s why it’s important to get all the information up front and weigh it all out.
But whatever the decision is, it’s none of my business thinking it is “correct” or “not correct.”
When You Don’t Want to Treat Dog Cancer
So maybe you are like some clients of mine, or readers of my book, and you want to do absolutely nothing at all to treat your dog’s cancer.
Are you a cruel, inhumane, terrible person who should be shot?
I’m certain you aren’t. But I’m also sure that you know some people who might think that about you, even if they don’t say it out loud. Or worse, they DO say it on social media comments. Ick!
So let me answer that question for you.
Wait, I won’t. That question, and the self-righteous, holier-than-thou indignation that some people receive, due to their well-considered choices, needs to be put where it belongs.
In the garbage.
It’s OK to Not Treat Your Dog with Cancer
Let’s assume that those who decide to not treat their dog have taken the time to absorb good information about the diagnosis, and, based on that, they have decided the right choice is no treatment.
You know what? That is okay. There’s no rule that says you MUST treat cancer, or you are not a good dog guardian if you refuse treatment.
Here’s some perspective: some people don’t bring their dog to the vet at all, for various reasons.
Some people don’t view animals as family members, especially in other places in the world.
Should I be shocked that a farmer did not treat his goat’s cancer, and should I gossip with my friends about what a bad person he is?
Are goats any more or less intrinsically valuable than dogs?
We Don’t Know!
I don’t know every detail about anyone’s life, probably not even my own.
Maybe there is something going on in a person’s life that makes treating their dog’s cancer a bad choice. Maybe they lost their house in a fire and they need to feed and clothe their children.
Maybe you or I would do the same thing in their shoes.
You Don’t Have to Tell People
People enduring hardship (and everyone endures hardship, even those you think of as more fortunate than you) often must put up with a lot of unsolicited advice. This is particularly common these days in social media.
I know some people have regretted offering up information about their dog’s cancer because we can’t unsay things we say.
Sometimes it’s better to keep things private, or at least communicate only with selected people.
Unless, of course, you appreciate the wide array of input you will be getting from everyone all over the world about what you should do for your dog.
Stop Giving Unsolicited Advice
I have often wanted to tell other people how to do things and what choices to make, even people who have not paid me for a consult.
I used to offer unsolicited advice all the time.
Maybe I’ve mellowed with age, or maybe managed to squeeze out a few drops of wisdom from experience, but now I see that I’m wrong when I try to convince someone of something, especially when they have not asked for my input.
Sure, a little information may be appreciated, but that is all.
For example, offer something strictly helpful, like “go talk to so-and-so, who knows more than I do about the subject.”
I’ve learned that I don’t know what I am talking about regarding most things.
And Take Advice Only from Those Who Know
I do know a lot about dog cancer in general, but, as I hope I’ve made clear, I never know how an individual case will definitely “work out.”
I do know about animal medicine in general, but like most people who are experts, the more I understand about animal medicine, the more I realize that what I don’t know is much more than what I DO know.
And I’ve devoted most of my 47 years to this field.
When it comes to my own and my family’s health, I have high standards for what “knowing what you are talking about” means.
People who know what they are talking about are not hobbyists, part-timers, or dilettantes. And its most definitely not Youtube watchers or Facebook learners who pick up a couple of things that may or may not be true.
I don’t want any advice from a dabbler or headline reader who has not actually worked in the field, and for a long time, when my loved ones are at stake.
The same is true, of course, for my pets.
Final Point: “Treatment” Is a Broad Term!
The final point worth mentioning is the word “treatment” when it comes to dog cancer does not have a clear meaning.
Is a low carbohydrate diet a “treatment”?
Is chemotherapy a “treatment” if it increases median life expectancy by 8-14 months but cancer returns?
Are supporting immunity or normal apoptosis levels treatments?
How about pain control?
Cancer is not a black-and-white subject, so we need to be careful about the words we use. We need to be careful about deciding what is right for other people as we don’t know or understand the issue at hand.
We need to recall that there is almost always more to the story than we know, even when we think we know a lot.
All my best,
Dr. Demian Dressler is internationally recognized as “the dog cancer vet” because of his innovations in the field of dog cancer management, and the popularity of his blog here at Dog Cancer Blog. The owner of South Shore Veterinary Care, a full-service veterinary hospital in Maui, Hawaii, Dr. Dressler studied Animal Physiology and received a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of California at Davis before earning his Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine from Cornell University. After practicing at Killewald Animal Hospital in Amherst, New York, he returned to his home state, Hawaii, to practice at the East Honolulu Pet Hospital before heading home to Maui to open his own hospital. Dr. Dressler consults both dog lovers and veterinary professionals, and is sought after as a speaker on topics ranging from the links between lifestyle choices and disease, nutrition and cancer, and animal ethics. His television appearances include “Ask the Vet” segments on local news programs. He is the author of The Dog Cancer Survival Guide: Full Spectrum Treatments to Optimize Your Dog’s Life Quality and Longevity. He is a member of the American Veterinary Medical Association, the Hawaii Veterinary Medical Association, the American Association of Avian Veterinarians, the National Animal Supplement Council and CORE (Comparative Orthopedic Research Evaluation). He is also an advisory board member for Pacific Primate Sanctuary.