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

Taking Care of Your Dog’s Guardian

Updated: May 15th, 2024

The Olympics are a test in sports against the world’s most formidable athletes.

To win in the Olympics, an athlete must not only tend to diet, practice, and technique.  An Olympian must use every edge to win, including managing emotions and the mind under intense pressure.

Coping with a canine cancer diagnosis is an Olympian feat.

Every edge must be optimized to gain a measure of success.  This does not only include selecting among all the possible treatment options wisely (which is why The Dog Cancer Survival Guide and Apocaps were created).

Paying attention to you, your dog’s guardian, is also a critical in getting an edge in your dog’s cancer fight.

This goes against what we may feel when dealing with this disease.  We often want to focus only on our loved companion in this high pressure time.  Fixing the problem can seem like our main goal.

The harsh reality is that in many cases, this is not a fixable disease, at least not at this time.

So we are left with using every tool we have at our disposal to get an edge, to make things as good as they can be for as long as possible.

This is where you come in.  You are your dog’s guardian.  Truly, the word guardian is probably the best description of who you are during this time.  You are not an owner, since your dog is not a car or a television set.  Your dog is your family member, your friend, your life long loved companion.

A guardian is  “One that guards, watches over, or protects.”   There is a vigilance in being a guardian.  There is a certain fierceness in guardianship.  There is a responsibility.  There is a willingness to go the distance.

Who else but you is responsible?  It is not your veterinarian.  Your medical professional is one who is there as a team member, to aid you and assist you and to deliver specialized services and information.

In the end, the decisions are yours.

Since you are in the driver’s seat, and you are calling the shots, it is good wisdom to devote attention to you, not just your dog.

How can someone be vigilant over another living thing when overwhelmed with turmoil and confusion?  How can someone gather the facts needed to make sound decisions from the pit of despair and desperation?

These things need to be addressed to give your dog every chance, every edge possible.

For example, some may feel anger at the diagnosis, the veterinarian, the pet food companies, or vaccine manufacturers.  Anger has been shown in studies to increase risky decision making.  When a person is trying to make tough treatment choices for his or her dog, risky decisions spell poor outcomes.

People also make poor decisions when they are feeling very stressed.  This, too, has been shown in publications.  When we experience a stress spike, we tend to go back to our learned “rules of thumb”.  These are many times left over from when we were children.  A new situation like canine cancer is not the place for old ideas we picked up long ago.

The bottom line is that the guardian must be tended to.  The first section of The Dog Cancer Survival Guide is devoted to techniques that can be easily done in a few minutes.  This section deals with “putting your oxygen mask on first.”  I came up with this image on an airplane trip, when the flight attendant explained that adults should put their masks on before their childrens’.

If you are serious about really getting ahead, really squeezing out all the possible gains in your dog’s situation, you must also focus on you, your well-being, and what is happening to you inside.  This influences everything.


Dr. D

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