My dog has cancer . . . Now what should I do?

If your dog has just been diagnosed with cancer - we totally understand how you are feeling.  We too had that diagnosis for Miranda, our incredible 4 legged "daughter."  We are so sorry that you and your precious dog have to go through this and we really want to help.  So today, let's get to work and make you the best medical advocate you can be for your dog.  Your dog really needs you . . . so use that despair, fear or sadness you are feeling right now to fuel your mission to help your best friend.  This journey could lead you to many more years with your best friend - - - or depending upon your dog's prognosis, you may decide it is time to let them move on to their new life.  Whatever the decision, you will know you have done as much as you can to make the best possible choices for your wonderful dog.

At the bottom of this page, you will find links to other sites  that will give you information and advice on how to proceed, but below is an overview to help you get started.

      Knowledge is Power 

The more you know about your dog’s situation, the more effective you will be in making choices for your dog.  The first thing you need to do is educate yourself about the:

 (1)  Kind of cancer your dog has

 (2)  Prognosis [likelihood of recovery]

 (3)  Possible treatments

 (4)  Cost of treatments & aftercare

We know this may sound overwhelming, but keep going!  You may be able to help your dog live many more happy years!   If you just got the diagnosis today you probably didn’t ask questions because you were shell-shocked when you heard that a very special member of your family has cancer - - - AND - - - depending on your Vet - - - they might have delivered the news to you like it was a death sentence.  It is possible your dog may have a very advanced stage of cancer, is in poor health and is elderly - - - BUT maybe they are not and you may be able to get the proper treatment for your dog and still enjoy many more wonderful years with them.  You won’t know this until you do some research - - - so let’s start!

What Kind of Cancer does your dog have?

If you don’t remember or can’t spell it [most of us can’t!] then call your Vet and ask.  In fact, if x-rays and/or blood work were done - - - ask for a copy of the x-ray and lab reports.  Once you have the name of the cancer go to Canine Cancers and scroll down until you find the cancer.  Our page is a starting point so once you have this information, you may want to do a bit more research.  Just “google” the type of cancer and you will find many websites that will give you information.  You don’t need to be an expert - - - you just need to know enough to understand what the Vet or the Oncologist is telling you so that you can ask the right questions - - - and also question what you are being told when things don’t make sense to you. 

What Treatments are available?

You need to know how they are going to treat the cancer? Surgery? Radiation? Chemotherapy?  
Ask your Vet or Veterinary Oncologist:

(1)   How long will my dog live if given the treatment versus without treatment?

(2)   What will the quality of my dog’s life be after the treatments?

(3)   What are the immediate and long term side effects of the treatments?

(4)   How are the treatments administered?

(5)   What is the aftercare?

(6)   What is the cost of all of this?

(7)   What would the Vet do if this were her dog? [I always like to ask this question]

You need to determine all of these things because if you work or do not drive, you may need to adjust your work schedule or ask a friend for help because - - - as an example—if your dog has radiation therapy - - - it is typically about 4 or 5 weeks and it is every day—[Monday through Friday].  Miranda, our golden retriever, was 6˝ when she was first diagnosed with cancer [Hemangiosarcoma] in her hind leg.  She underwent 5 weeks of radiation treatment and my husband and I, who both work, had to arrive at a schedule so we could accommodate a 50 mile roundtrip drive every day.  Was it worth it - - - No question.   We had 2 more wonderful years with Miranda before she had another bout with cancer.   So—for us - - - it was definitely worth it!!!  But now, the last - - - and maybe most important question - - - “What is the cost?”

Do you have the Financial Resources to do this?

Can you afford to do this?  These treatments and even the follow-up care can be very expensive.  Chemotherapy can range between approximately $500-$800 or more per treatment and there are multiple treatments. Ultimately, Miranda had to have her leg amputated and undergo chemotherapy.  The cost of the surgery alone [with 2 nights in the specialty hospital] was $4,000.   Of course, these costs will vary greatly from patient to patient and animal hospital to animal hospital, but we just want to give you an idea of what the costs could be so that you can do your research.  We don’t want to discourage you, we just want to prepare you so you can check out the websites of organizations that offer financial assistance should you need it.   If you have pet insurance perhaps some of the costs will be covered.  Make sure you get this information before you embark on a course of treatment as you don’t want to find out after you have started treatment that you can’t afford it.  We have a list of financial resources to get you started.  Some of them even have suggestions on ways for you to do your own fundraising.     

Keep in mind, in addition to the immediate medical costs - - - there will be Vet follow-up visits, medications and perhaps the need for Special equipment/Useful products to assist your pet during recovery [i.e. An E-Collar to prevent them from scratching a wound or a sling to assist them in walking or climbing stairs] or long term [i.e. doggie wheel chair if leg/legs are permanently debilitated].  In many cases, in order to qualify for financial assistance, you may have to prove financial hardship [annual income below a certain amount] and/or that you have already exhausted your resources [i.e. sought loans and been turned down]. 

Perhaps a Clinical Trial?

If you cannot afford to pay for treatment - - - don’t give up!  Look for Clinical Trials for dogs who have the type of cancer your dog has.  Check to see if your dog meets the criteria - - - and if they do - - - talk with your Vet and then quickly apply.   This option may not be entirely without cost - - - but it will certainly be far less expensive.  Be sure you understand exactly how the clinical trial will be conducted so that you will know if it is a good option for you and your dog.

What about Cancer Centers?

In all likelihood, it was your “family” Vet that told you that your dog has cancer.  Depending upon where you live, you may not have access to a Veterinary Oncologist [cancer doctor].  If that is the case, then your vet probably has given you some direction on how to handle the situation with your dog.  Perhaps your Vet will manage the treatment.  Another option may be to get a referral to an animal specialty hospital where a cancer specialist [a Veterinary Oncologist], will manage your dog’s care.  There, depending upon the type of cancer your dog has and the required treatment, your dog will either see a Radiation Oncologist who will supervise radiation therapy or a Medical Oncologist who will supervise chemotherapy treatments and in some cases, your dog may need to see both.

       Your ultimate decision on how to care for your Dog

There is no place for guilt.  No matter what you decide to do, your sweet dog will love you.  They live in the moment - - - and so the time you take to “baby talk” to them, to pamper them with their favorite treats, entice them with their treasured toy, or just sit quietly with them and stroke their fur - - - that is what is truly important to them.  They are not worried that they have cancer.  They only worry that they are not pleasing you - - - so if you continue to love them with all your heart and show them that love - - - there is no way you can let them down - - - even if in the final analysis you cannot afford  the treatment or believe treatment is not in their best interests.  Conversely, if you do proceed with treatment, don’t despair if your dog has some tough days.  Radiation therapy can be difficult in its final stages.  Your dog may need pain medication and you may need to sit with them to help them get through the night, BUT when those few days pass - - - and your dog recovers - - - the joy of having them well and happy will make those few difficult days a distant memory. 

There is no question, if you are reading this right now - - - you came to this website because you are one of those remarkable people we affectionately call “A Dog Person” and that means two things: (1) your Dog is one of the luckiest dogs in the world because you love them with your whole heart; and (2) You are one of the luckiest people in the world because you have experienced that incredible unconditional love that your adorable Dog gives you every day.   So there is no time to waste . . . let’s start your research today so you can determine the best course of action for your very special family member ♥  


More information and advice on how to proceed:

VCAHospitals.com - Cancer Education

OncoLink.org - Veterinary Oncology


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PO Box 351 Sierra Madre CA 91025
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Content is not intended to replace Veterinary advice.
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updated: November 2023