Many dog lovers arrive at The Dog Cancer Blog looking or information. There is a problem though, and I would like to begin to spread the word about the most important question in dog cancer care.
Here it is: What type of person are you?
To many, this may sound very bizarre, so give me a moment to explain myself. In the world of dog cancer care, there are very few “right” choices. The reason for this is that most of the real cancers are not curable.
When we navigate a course in disease management that focuses on balancing life quality, life expectancy, ethics, and the ability and resources of the dog lover, we find quickly that the waters are murky indeed.
The “retrospectoscope” (a made up tool that allows one to see future events as if they had passed) would provide 20-20 vision, but in reality we have no crystal ball to see the future. There are very few ways to know if our choices are the correct ones at the time we are making them.
For example, you have a dog that is 6 months shy of her average life expectancy based on breed or body weight (this data is in the Dog Cancer Survival Guide). She is afflicted with a cancer that has a median life expectancy of 10 months with chemotherapy (say, lymphosarcoma). This dog is close to her life expectancy, and there is no guarantee she will get the 10 months.
On the other hand, maybe she is one of the incredibly rare dogs that goes into a permanent remission (cure). Chemotherapy would have been a good choice.
She could though be one of the dogs that has a horrible drug reaction. Chemotherapy would have been a bad choice. (Incidentally, a test to help predict certain chemo drug sensitivities is the MDR 1 mutation test, very easy to do for your vet.)
So it is clear that we just don’t have the needed data to always know the best course for our dog’s care. What to rely on?
In conventional cancer care thus far, treatments with longer life expectancies yield increased side effect risks. This point is perhaps overlooked many times in decisions involving dog cancer care.
Now we get to that question: What type of person are you? Defining you, your canine companion’s number one health advocate, is the most important first step in a dog cancer treatment plan.
Since there is no “right way” (and by right way I imply that your personal ethics are incorporated in the plan), we need to establish some guidelines. First, is your priority life expectancy or life quality? What is your tolerance for risk? Can you live with some of the graphic realities of your choices?
What has been the way you have lived your life in the past? This is a very useful question. The answer can be illuminating when contemplating treatment decisions with your dog.
In the Dog Cancer Survival Guide, I outline three different types of people who range from accepting of aggressive procedures with the possibility of more serious side effects, to those who prefer to avoid side effects at any cost. This latter group will, out of necessity, often be forced to accept shorter life expectancies.
Pinpointing yourself somewhere in this spectrum will provide you with valuable insights in what to do for your dog. Remember, the right choices are usually determined with the “retrospectoscope”. Use what you know now about the type of person you are.
When you are tackling a tough decision about dog cancer care, first ask yourself, “What kind of person am I?”
Best to all,
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.