Help My Dog Has Cancer! Tips for Coping with a New Diagnosis

March 22, 2005: 7:02 PM

I just found out today that our little Georgia, the love of our life has lymphatic cancer. She’s a 4 year old English Bulldog, and just an amazing little soul. She is the sweetest, most sensitive little person (furry or otherwise) that I have ever encountered, and the idea of living a life without her seems impossible – especially since she is so young. I’m just not prepared to deal with this. She’s in great shape…we’ve tried so hard to do everything right to make sure that she lives a long and healthy life. So, obviously, this news comes as a complete and devastating shock. Right now, we’re considering our options, which seems to point towards chemo, but wondering if anyone else has experience with lymphoma and bulldogs. Or just any advice at all on how to figure out what to do at this point.

That was my very first post on the Pet Cancer Support group, just hours after getting a call from the vet saying that Georgia had cancer. I can remember with complete clarity the overwhelming fear and confusion that filled me that day and how helpless I felt. This is where I started the journey and, as I’ve discovered over the past 7 years, it’s where most pet parents start.

No matter what the circumstances, a cancer diagnosis is scary and overwhelming, and sorting through all of the options can be really tough. We want to do the very best that we can for our furkids, and we want to keep them with us for as long as possible, but how can we do this? How do we know what information to trust? What if we make a wrong decision or don’t provide them with the right treatment, or supplement, or diet? What if we fail?

Does this sound like you? Then STOP HERE AND BREATHE.

Panic is never a good place to start from when it comes to making decisions and in most cases, you have at least a little time to weigh your choices and decide on a game plan to help your pup. Even after you do choose a path, most decisions are not set in stone. In fact, a good cancer treatment plan will be flexible enough to be fine-tuned as time goes by to maximize your dog’s comfort and to adapt to their changing needs. So, let that knowledge take at least some of the pressure off of you.

Once you’ve caught your breath and are ready to tackle the challenge of cancer, what then? Here are just a few tips to help get you started.

Gather information about your dog’s type of cancer. Hopefully your vet will be a good source of information about your dog’s diagnosis and what treatment options are most often used to combat it. Additional information can be found online about various types of cancer. A great place to get trusted information about specific types of cancer is on the websites of Veterinary Teaching Hospitals or Vet Schools. also has a lot of reliable information on animal cancers that you can use.  When doing your own research, try not to get too caught up in statistics. Your dog is an individual, not a statistic. This information can be helpful, but it only tells part of the story.

Find out where you can go for treatment and what that process will look like. Not every vet clinic can offer quality cancer care. You may need to work with an oncologist, a veterinary surgeon or a veterinary radiation facility in order to pursue the treatment option you want. Find out what your nearest options are, what their experience is in treating the type of cancer your dog has, and what you could expect in terms of time and cost, if you decide to pursue that treatment.

Provide good nutrition. A good diet is the foundation of health, and that’s true even after a cancer diagnosis. Focus on high-quality food that is rich in nutrients. That may mean changing to a different brand of food, creating a cancer diet for your dog, or doing more home cooking. Dr. Demien Dressler, author of “The Dog Cancer Survival Guide” has a great free download about diets for dogs with cancer that can be requested at: In general, a diet that is higher in protein and Omega 3 Fatty Acids and low in carbohydrates is better for dogs with cancer, and supporting the immune system via healthy veggies and things like medicinal mushrooms can help to rally the body’s natural healing ability. One thing to keep in mind though is that there is really no “perfect” diet for all dogs, and sometimes our best efforts won’t be appreciated by our pups. Aim to provide the best diet that you can, and one that your dog will still enjoy.

Be open to natural options. There are many complementary and alternative cancer approaches that can be very beneficial either as standalone treatments or when used with conventional cancer treatments such as chemotherapy or radiation. Some of the most commonly used include Acupunture, Herbal Supplements, Homeopathy, and Reiki. While all may provide some level of benefit, one or two may seem to suit you and your dog more than another. You may also have limited access to experts in all of these areas. So, instead of trying to incorporate all of these modalities, choose them based on what feels right to you and how easily you can access professionals who have experience using these methods with animals who have cancer. A great place to start to find a veterinarian who has experience using different holistic treatment options is at

Trust your instincts. Forget about being perfect – there’s no such thing. It’s also impossible to try EVERY option out there, even if you are one of the few lucky ones with unlimited financial resources and time. You WILL have to make difficult choices at every step of the way and you will have to pick and choose which treatments and support options to select. It’s okay though because there is no one right path for every dog, and, there are no guarantees no matter what you do. That may sound like a negative, but it can actually be a positive for you during your journey. It frees you from the worry about making a wrong decision. There simply aren’t any wrong decisions if you follow your heart and make the best decisions you can with the information and resources you have. Those choices will be different for every family, and every dog.

Sometimes those choices involve not pursuing any aggressive cancer treatments and focus on holistic supports and hospice care instead. Sometimes it’s about putting together a complex, integrative treatment plan for your pup that combines cutting edge conventional cancer treatments with complementary therapies and nutritional supports. But instead of agonizing over making a mistake or choosing the wrong supplement, food, etc., trust that you know your dog best and that your intuition will guide you to what is right for YOU. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do your due diligence in researching options and getting information along the way to help with the decision-making process, but don’t convince yourself that the future lies solely in your hands. It doesn’t. There are a lot of variables involved in how well a dog does after being diagnosed with cancer, so focus on today and just do the best you can.

Don’t try to do it all alone. Put together a good medical team that you trust and who respects your role as your pup’s advocate. Trust their expertise and guidance, while still listening to your making final decisions based on what feels right for you. When adding supplements or complementary therapies, keep everyone in the loop and avoid the temptation to create your own secret customized plan of care. While natural options are usually safer than conventional treatments, they are not without risk and some may be contraindicated for your dog.

This also means reaching out for the emotional support that you need, whether it’s from friends, family, or an online support group. Research has shown that grief is the same whether we are mourning the loss (or anticipated loss) of a loved human OR animal. Stress affects us the same way too no matter what the cause. You can be a better caregiver and advocate for your dog if you take care of yourself first. So, connect with others and spill your fears and worries, request time off from work if you need it, ask friends or family members to cut you some slack if you are less available to them than usual or if you need their help getting your dog to vet appointments, watching them while you’re away, or whatever it is that you need. Your dog will pick up on your stress and anxiety and it will eventually affect them if you aren’t managing it well, so don’t try to be a superhero – let others help take some of the weight off of your shoulders.

For more information, resources and links to support groups, visit Georgia’s Legacy at


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Love Adds Up

Wishcuit raises money to aid in the fight against canine cancer through sales of its Loved Adds Up stickers and magnets.

Over the years, I’ve had the privilege of meeting a lot of amazing people, many of whom have found creative ways to honor their beloved pets and to improve the lives of other animals in need. Sometimes the ideas start out very big, and sometimes they are seemingly small. But regardless, they all contribute to a real, positive difference, and they help make our world a better place.

One of my favorite examples of this kind of philanthropy and dedication to honoring the life of a special animal loved one is Wishcuit (rhymes with biscuit), founded by Kelly Kaliszewski.

Kelly’s beloved American Bulldog Cain is the inspiration behind “Love Adds Up for a Cure”.

It started out as a biscuit business meant to raise money for rescues. But after Kelly’s beloved dog Cain was diagnosed with cancer and subsequently lost his battle on November 12, 2009, Wishcuit took on a whole new direction – committed to the fight against canine cancer and helping dogs who have been diagnosed with this devastating disease.

The “Love Adds Up” campaign started out as barely more than a doodle drawn one random day while Cain was still battling cancer. Kelly didn’t think too much of it until her husband recognized what a simple, yet beautiful message her drawing conveyed. The seed was planted and from this small moment, a larger idea began to form.

Wishcuit now focuses primarily on selling stickers, magnets and other items featuring the Love Adds Up logo, which is a visual reminder of the precious human-animal bond, and the power that we have to save lives and change the world by working together. The “Love Adds Up for a Cure” campaign has become part of an international movement to raise awareness of canine cancer and to date, has raised thousands of dollars for non-profit organizations across the country. Kelly’s goal is to sell at least a million stickers and magnets in honor of Cain and all of the beloved dogs who have battled cancer.

Today marks the third anniversary of Cain’s passing, and I can’t help but think that he must be so proud of what has already been accomplished in his name and what has yet to happen as we all work together towards a world where canine cancer is no longer a threat, and all animals are loved and respected as family members and friends.

In honor of Cain and all of the other beloved furkids that have fought cancer, I encourage you to join the Wishcuit movement – to purchase a Love Adds Up sticker or magnet, share the link on your website or Facebook page, and be ‘one in a million’ in the fight against canine cancer.

For more information about Wishcuit or to make a purchase, visit

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How Do I Know When It’s Time to Say Goodbye to My Pet?

Only you and your pet can ultimately decide if and when euthanasia should be considered.

I remember when my precious Georgia was in the final stages of battling lymphoma, how often I wondered if I would know when it was time for us to say goodbye. I struggled with this question almost daily, worried that I would hold on too long out of my own cowardice or selfishness and make her suffer unnecessarily, or that I would give up on her too soon and force her to leave me before she was ready. It was something that created an indescribable ache inside of me and cast a shadow on each of our final days together.  People told me that “I would just know,” but I didn’t believe them. How could one ever know the right time to deliberately choose to end the life of someone that you loved with all of your heart and soul? How could one ever really feel ready to say goodbye? It seemed impossible.

In our case though, the friends who offered this advice were right. After two days of not being able to sleep or breath well, a final Hail Mary drug to kick the cancer back a couple of steps, and a rapid progression of jaundice, abdominal swelling and an inability to eat or stand made it clear to us that it was time. We had tried everything and our little girl was tired and the light in her eyes had gone. In the end, my desire to protect her from her obvious suffering became stronger than my intense desire to keep her with me for as long as possible. I could only protect her by helping her to transition from this life with the help of our veterinarian. It was a difficult realization, but one that I felt at peace with. I still do.

But what if the signs of suffering aren’t as obvious? What if your pet is dying from the natural aging process but is not in pain? What if you struggle with the concept of euthanasia in general or just don’t feel ready to make that choice yet? What do you do then? Here are some questions to ask yourself to help determine what is best for you and your beloved pet.

1. Is My Pet in Pain?

If the answer is yes, then can that pain be managed somehow? There are MANY pain management options available – everything from acupuncture, homeopathy and herbal medicine to conventional drugs that can be given orally, topically or via injection. It’s important to talk with your vet early about the warning signs of pain, which can often be overlooked in animals, who are inclined by nature to hide injury and illness. Knowing what to look for and how you can manage pain successfully is very important. If your pet is in significant pain and it cannot be adequately controlled with the help of your vet, then your pet is likely suffering and euthanasia should be considered.

One level of pain that is often overlooked is an inability to breathe. While shallow breathing can be a very normal part of the dying process, this is different than if your pet cannot breathe due to an obstruction or other complication associated with their condition.

2. Am I Able to Properly Care for My Pet as Their Condition Progresses?
Caring for a seriously ill animal can be very costly in terms of time, energy and money. It also generally requires the assistance and support of a veterinary team. Not all of us can go to the lengths we wish we could to provide the care that our animal needs when they are seriously ill or at an advanced age. They may need round the clock care, expensive medications or specialty treatments in order to ensure that they do not suffer and can remain safe and happy in their home environment. Providing this level of care may not always be possible for a wide variety of reasons. No matter what we want in our hearts, sometimes hard realities have to be faced. That’s okay. One of the most beautiful things about our pets is how they accept life exactly as it comes to them and they don’t expect or ask any more from us than what we give them. They love us for exactly who we are and have absolute faith that we always try our best for them.

As pet parents, we are not expected to be superheroes. Sometimes we have to accept that while it’s possible that our pet could continue their life for a while longer with the right supports, we just aren’t able to provide that for them at this time. In these cases, it is our obligation to recognize that harsh truth, and to make the choice to help them cross peacefully rather than provide them with inadequate care that may ultimately cause suffering or create new problems for them.

3. What Makes Up MY Pet’s Quality of Life?
There are several Quality of Life Scales which can be used to help you assess how close your pet may be to the end of their life, and they can be very valuable tools. One that I have found particularly useful over the years is the Quality of Life Scale designed by Dr. Alice Villalobos. While helpful, a Quality of Life Scale should not be used exclusively as a guide to your decision-making though as they can’t begin to quantify key aspects of your pet’s situation such as your ability to manage the symptoms associated with their condition, or most importantly, your pet’s will to live.

Think about people that you have loved who have been very sick or who have suffered a serious illness or reached an advanced age. They may have temporarily or permanently lost their ability to engage in activities that they used to enjoy. They may not have been able to eat and drink normally, or to move around on their own, or to control their bladder and bowels. They may have slept more than they did before or experienced some amount of physical discomfort, or even pain, all the time. They may have lost most of their physical abilities — but you may have found that they still retained that primal will to live. That they still seemed to enjoy spending time with those they love. To feel the sunlight on their face and the comforting touch of their family. That they had lost nearly everything physically, but still were not done living. Your pet may feel this way too. Just because they lose the ability to do some, or nearly all, of what they used to DOES NOT NECESSARILY MEAN THAT THEY ARE READY TO DIE.

You know your pet best, and you will see if that spark leaves their eyes. Use a Quality of Life Scale as a tool to guide you and provide some objectivity to the situation, but trust your instincts above all else and listen to your heart when it comes to judging when quality of life has suffered too much. No one else knows what this means for your pet.

4. What Will I Be Able to Live with Down the Road?
Too often I find that pet parents are encouraged to consider euthanasia before they are ready. And sometimes they are never ready and prefer to assist their pet in experiencing a natural death, which is often frowned upon by others and rarely supported by conventional veterinarians. This pressure to meet others’ expectations can result in tremendous feelings of guilt for the pet parent and can turn what should be a sacred part of their pet’s life into a nightmare that can last a very long time. Euthanasia is difficult even under the best of circumstances and it is human nature to feel as though you are somehow responsible for your pet’s death rather than the disease or simple aging process that prompted this choice. But for those who choose euthanasia when they are not ready, it is very hard to come to terms with this decision and to ever fully let go of the feeling that somehow they let their best friend down.

Despite what others might say, if your pet is not in unmanageable pain, they are being cared for well, you are working with a veterinary or hospice team to regularly assess their condition, and you believe that your pet still has a will to live despite their physical condition, then you have every right to wait and to continue to support your pet in their dying process. There is no rush to make a final decision. Aiming for a natural death, or postponing euthanasia for as long as possible is a perfectly reasonable decision. Don’t let anyone else talk you out of that if it’s what you feel is right in your heart.

On the flip side, if you are a pet parent who believes, “I would rather euthanize my pet one day too early than a minute too late” and worry about them having to suffer in any way, then you have the right to make the choice for euthanasia when you feel that your pet is about to take a turn for the worse. You may feel strongly that your pet would want to leave this earth with some of their physical abilities still intact. Or, you believe that you would not be able to forgive yourself if your pet did reach a point where they were genuinely suffering, and you felt that you could have prevented it. This too, is okay. I have always felt that we are lucky as pet parents to have the option of euthanasia at our disposal, to be able to give our pets a gentle passing when the time feels right and under circumstances that we can control.

Having the options of either euthanasia or a natural death gives us a full spectrum of choices so that we can honor our pets and help them to make their transition from this life in the way that we feel is best for them. In either case though, the choice has to be yours alone, and one that you and your family can feel comfortable with today and in the long run. No one else has the right to choose for you or to pressure you into a decision before you are ready.

When wrestling with end-of-life decisions for your pet, it’s important to recognize that there is never a perfect time to say goodbye to someone you love. No matter when it comes or how, it will always feel too soon. While we can’t control the grief that comes after the death of a beloved pet, we can control the amount of grief and anxiety that we put into the process of making a final decision about how or when they will make their transition. By asking yourself these four questions, being honest about your situation, and then listening to your heart, hopefully you will find the clarity that you need to make the decision that is right for you and your beloved animal companion.

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