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

Do You Need an Oncologist on Your Dog Cancer Team?

Updated: October 10th, 2018

oncologist-for-dog-cancerDo you really need an oncologist on your dog cancer team?

Sigh. As always with dog cancer, the answer is not the same for everyone.

Dead Set Against Conventional Treatments? No Need.

If you already know that you would never, ever, ever use surgery, chemotherapy or radiation to treat your dog’s cancer, hiring a specialist is likely a waste of time and money. But that’s just not the case with the vast majority of us. Most of us are open to at least considering those treatments.

Conventional Treatments a Possibility? Consider an Oncologist.

If you are considering using chemotherapy or radiation, or even surgery, it might be a good idea to bring a specialist on early in the game. We often think of specialists as more expensive than general practitioners, but Dr. Susan Ettinger, co-author of The Dog Cancer Survival Guide, thinks they save you money in the long run. (More on that in a moment.)

The book’s primary author, Dr. Demian Dressler agrees that if you are going to use chemotherapy, radiation, and in some cases even surgery, you should consider bringing an oncologist onto your team. (Even if it’s just for a phone consult.)


Experience, Experience, Experience.

General practice vets spend all day giving vaccinations, doing emergency care, and routine check-ups, among many other things. Just like our primary care doctors, they know a lot about many different things, and they are the ones we should see for preventative care and many types of illnesses.

Oncologists, on the other hand, spend every day, all day, reviewing pathology reports and lab results and using chemotherapy, surgery, and chemotherapy to treat cancer. They might not know a lot about hookworm, but they know a lot about their specialty. And just like human oncologists, they have their sub-specialties: there are medical (chemotherapy) oncologists, radiation oncologists, and surgical oncologists.

Getting an expert opinion on your dog’s case is a really good idea. Here’s why.

You Can Save Money on Testing

Dr. Ettinger points out in her section of the book that hiring an oncologist to supervise testing can actually save you money in the long run. An oncologist can help you understand your dog’s prognosis and offer a more nuanced and comprehensive conventional treatment plan than one you might get from a general practice vet.

When she’s brought in early – even before the biopsy – she can look with her expert eye and tell you which cancer tests are a waste of time and money and which are necessary. She can tailor the tests and treatments to your budget, rather than have you spend a lot of money on diagnostics and then have nothing left over for treatment. She can also speak really knowledgeably about what your real options are from a conventional standpoint.

Oncologists Work with Your Vet

An oncologist never, ever replaces your family veterinarian. They work together, just like human oncologists work with human primary care providers.

Finding an Oncologist

With only 200+ oncologists who treat dogs practicing in North America (out of roughly 59,000 veterinarians!) you may be limited in your access. Most oncologists are in large urban centers or at veterinary schools. To see if there is an oncologist in your area, visit and use the “find a specialist” feature. You can also ask your veterinarian to consult with an oncologist by phone: many labs that run tests for veterinarians have oncologists on staff.

Don’t Sweat It

Most – the vast majority – of dog owners facing dog cancer — never speak with an oncologist at all. So, if you don’t think this is for you, don’t worry: there are many, many many things that you can do for your dog.

The Dog Cancer Kit has several resources that can help. In addition to The Dog Cancer Survival Guide, you get The Dog Cancer Coping Guide, which can help you to calm down and think clearly. There are also several Ask Dr. Dressler webinars that talk about the oncologist’s viewpoint on specific cancers.

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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)

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