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

DogCancer.TV: Why Didn’t My Vet Catch My Dog’s Cancer Earlier

Are you feeling frustrated that your dog’s cancer wasn’t noticed sooner? Dr. Dressler and Dr. Ettinger, co-authors of The Dog Cancer Survival Guide, discuss the normal, human reactions of frustration and blame and how to move beyond and get empowered. Click play to learn more.

Transcript of: Why Didn’t My Vet Catch My Dog’s Cancer Earlier

James Jacobson: When you find out that your dog has cancer probably one of the first questions that people think is, “Why didn’t my vet catch this earlier? So, I’ll throw that out to you, Dr. Dressler, why didn’t a vet find out about cancer earlier?

Dr. Demian Dressler: This is an important question because this is something that has an emotional connection to the guardian. There can be a sense of frustration because we have the diagnosis of cancer and many times there’s a feeling, “Okay I have to blame somebody, there’s some anger some aggravation and its completely natural, however, just to soothe that feeling a little bit one has to look at biology and understand a couple of different things. The first thing is that a veterinary patient one of our loved pets does not do any self-exam, it can’t say I have a lump somewhere or something feels funny, they can’t actually communicate, the way they communicate is simply by how they act. Now, if we look back in nature many, many years ago, when dogs lived out in the wild primarily it was not good to act sick because you got gobbled out by predators or you lost your social position in the pact so they have a built-in mechanism to hide diseases called compensation because if they acted sick every single time, they actually were sick, they might something that might happen.

James Jacobson: So, sort of built-in into the dogs natural state of being is they sort of hide illnesses.

Dr. Demian Dressler: That’s exactly right!

James Jacobson: Dr. Ettinger, any thoughts? I’m sure you must hear this a lot when someone comes in and says, “Why didn’t my regular vet find this earlier?

Dr. Susan Ettinger: Yeah, and I think it’s really hard specially a lot of a cancers are internal and I don’t think there are any really good routine screening guidelines out there in veterinary medicine and as you can see they’re pretty controversial in human medicines as well with colonoscopies and mammography so I think it’s frustrating because no one knows how often we should be doing test X-rays and ultrasound and things like that, so sometimes we just find about this things and the masses can be quite big. So, can be really frustrating but I think it’s challenging to the vets they wanna find these tumors as soon as possible, it’s scary to the owners to think that it wasn’t found sooner, so everybody’s looking out for the dogs best interest it’s just its hard to find some of these tumors sometimes.

James Jacobson: Well, other related, so many Dr. Dressler in the book you talked about sort of doing exams of your dog, what are some things that people should examine on their dogs on a regular basis?

Dr. Demian Dressler: Well, there’s always a superficial exam which is simply a palpation of the skin. Looking for lumps and bumps, because honestly that’s going to be one of the easiest ways to find a cancer, because many of the cancers will occur in an area that you can actually feel with your fingertips. Whenever there was a lump or bumps because of the incidence of cancer, 1 in 3 dogs getting cancer give or take in potentially 1 in 2 dogs if there over 10, according to the National K-9 Cancer Foundation its very, very important to get it checked out. Then of course we always wanna look for general signs of illness for this internal cancer. These can be vomiting or diarrhea, even coughing, sneezing, weight loss, loss of energy level, loss of appetite that’s a good a general signs to look for overall health changes in thirst as well. So always tuning and paying attention to your dog and responding to a change by getting a veterinary check of this is always the best option.

James Jacobson: So, a little work on your part and a little understanding about the nature that dog just don’t like to show when they’re sick, helps answer the question, “how come my vet didn’t catch this earlier?” Dr. Dressler in Hawaii and Dr. Ettinger in New York, thank you so much today!

Dr. Demian Dressler & Dr. Susan Ettinger: Thank you!

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  1. TJ on May 1, 2023 at 7:14 am

    My 10.5 yr old male Staffy/chow mix was just dx with prostatic adenocarcinoma. The vet who dx him is not the vet that was originally treating him for blood in urine and low platelets. With prednisone, the blood in urine subsided and his platelets returned to normal for a time with original vet but no real physical exam was done. When the blood in his urine returned, the vet said not to do another blood draw for two more months. I called again the following week to report the blood in urine was worse than before the prednisone, which he was still on. They said they didn’t know what to tell me and I should go to the local university vet hospital.
    I then contacted my former vet which is the one who dx the prostate cancer. In the initial and first exam, that doctor discovered his prostate was enlarged. X-rays and ultrasound were done which was mentioned by initial vet one time during the two-plus months of appointments but no other mention was made, even when I brought up my concerns of cancer.

    A week after first visit with second vet, I got the word that my sweet boy had prostate cancer. I made the choice to spare him getting sicker and feeling more pain and he passed peacefully at home with the help of a great organization called MN PETS.

    Why is it the initial vet didn’t check his prostate early on? I may have been able to get my boy tx, or spared him those months of bs.

    • Nan on October 12, 2023 at 6:11 am

      We had very similar situation. Took our 9 year old cockapoo to regular vets in July as difficulties peeing but fine in himself. Vet confirmed blood in urine & could feel prostate enlarged but said probably nothing sinister as castrated young. Left with anti-biotics for urine infection. Returned to vets in August, still difficulty peeing, blood in urine & now lost 2 kilos in weight. Was told probably kidney stones, did xray – found no stones, so said probably a small stone undetectable by xray. Made no comment about the enlarged prostate. We had now paid substantial amount to vet & no further forward. Were given option of referral for CT scan to find the stone (very expensive) or stronger meds to try reduce inflammation down & dissolve the stone. We opted for the latter. By Sept no change so we requested CT scan referral. Before referral went through, doggy took ill so it became an emergency ultrasound referral. At first appointment with specialist vet he suspected prostate cancer as all the signs were there, enlarged prostate but castrated, urine difficulties, bloody urine, weight loss- all of which were present in August, but now he was also having difficulties with his legs. The ultrasound showed his prostate enlarged, abnormal shape, in wrong location & crushing urethra. Within another 4 days we had definite prostate cancer diagnosed & next day confirmation it was in his lungs & ribs. He lasted another 5 days and faded so fast we couldn’t see him suffer another day. Why did our regular vet not even consider cancer, how was absolutely nothing spotted on the xray , why were we only offered an xray to be subsequently told it doesn’t even spot small stones ? These are all answers I want from my vet.

  2. TRACY GENTRY on March 28, 2018 at 3:45 am

    I just had to put my dog down on saturday, i found out he had cancer on friday. i am completeley heartbroken. im pissed my vet did’nt see the warning signs, everything i told my vet he blew it off or associated it with allergies or his age or his weight. Little did we know he was gaining wait, water weight, from the cancer. i look back now and know he had cancer for awhile, undetected. My vet was’nt thorough enough and im so mad.

    • DogCancerBlog on March 28, 2018 at 10:34 am

      Oh, Tracy. We’re so sorry for your loss.

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