Number One Dog Cancer Tip

What's the number one mistake I see dog lovers make when their dog has cancer? Letting cancer get in between them and their dog.

number one dog cancer tip: don't let cancer win

Read Time: 5 minutes

Here’s my number one dog cancer tip: don’t let cancer get between you and your dog. What do I mean? Let’s talk about what happens to break the bond with our dog and why we want to stay focused on our dog, instead of dog cancer.

Quick note: I’m the editor-in-chief of DogCancer.com and the editor of the book The Dog Cancer Survival Guide by Dr. Demian Dressler and Dr. Sue Ettinger. I’m not a medical professional or a veterinarian, so I can’t offer medical or psychological advice.

But I have been listening to and helping dog lovers cope with dog cancer since 2007 … and over that time, I have developed a lot of non-medical dog cancer tips.

These are the things that, the sooner you understand, the easier this whole nightmare process is for you and your dog.

So here’s my most fundamental tip: don’t forget your dog just because he or she has cancer.

Or, put another way, don’t let dog cancer kill your beloved before it’s time.

First, let me say I know you don’t forget your dog. You LOVE your dog! I know that you know it, and your dog certainly knows it.

But I see it so often: people lose touch with their beloved as they start to treat cancer.

We Hear “Cancer” and Lose Our Minds

Long ago, I asked Dr. Dressler why he wanted to write about dog cancer. His answer was so sad, I’ve never forgotten it. What I remember him saying is roughly this:

“I hate giving the news about cancer because nine times out of ten, the person has no idea their dog is that sick. I know that once I open the door and go back into the exam room, they won’t hear anything I say after the word ‘cancer.’

“People get scared. Terrified. They look at their beloved dog, and for the first time, they think, “This dog is dying.” I can see their bond breaking with their dog right in front of me. When they entered the hospital, their dog was alive. Now it’s dead. Some can’t stop thinking that way.

“Many of them walk out of the hospital holding their dog, still very much alive, but already thinking of them as dead, or might as well be dead. It’s like that word cancer killed their dog, killed their bond. Meanwhile, the dog is still the same dog and has no idea why their human is so upset all of a sudden.

“I hate killing dogs with the word cancer. I want people to know there are a lot of things they can do to help their dog live well for as long as possible. Their dog isn’t dead just because they have cancer.”

Your dog has had cancer for a while already. The only thing that has changed is you know about it.

People used to whisper the word “cancer” decades ago. They thought saying it was shameful or would cause it to increase or spread.

I think they may have been onto something. That word makes us all lose our minds. We’re so scared of it!

But here’s the thing: your dog already had cancer before it was diagnosed. It may have started months or even years ago.

Has anything changed other than you attaching the word cancer to your dog?

No Expiration Dates

I’m not lecturing you, by the way. I have done this exact thing, and I’m sort of a layperson expert on dog cancer! When our dog, Kanga, was diagnosed with cancer, I fell apart.

For a couple of days, I was in such shock I couldn’t even think. Every time I looked at my little girl, I couldn’t help it. I thought, “She’s going to die of cancer.”

And she did, eventually … but it took three years! Remember: your dog does not have an expiration date, and you don’t know how long they will or won’t live.

You only know your dog is alive right now, and they are looking for you, always waiting for your attention and companionship.

So that’s what my most important, end-all-be-all dog cancer tip is for you: remember your dog.

At first, you may find it difficult to shake your shock and cope with your grief.

But please, as soon as you are able, remember your dog and stay connected.

Dogs Know When We’re Upset

Whenever you are going through an extreme emotion, guess what? Your dog is right there with you!

They pick up on our feelings. If you’re very upset out of the blue, your dog almost certainly doesn’t understand why. They just know something is very wrong.

Remember, your dog is just having another day … maybe a little slower, maybe there’s a little pain, maybe they don’t want to eat much … but it’s not the end of the world for them.

It’s the end of the world for US … but not for our dogs.

So, do what you need to do to manage your emotions so you can focus on being present. I have a tip on how to calm down quickly, for example, that I’ll write about in another post.

That’s what your dog wants most: to be with you in a relaxed, happy, loving, fun way. That’s their big dream! And you can give them that every day, no matter how much time you do or do not have together.

If You Can’t Treat, Stay Focused

Some people — many people — maybe most people — give up on their dog as soon as they find out he or she has cancer. They see their dog as dead already, weep, and take them home to spoil them for their last days — or if their dog is already very, very sick, they may decide to euthanize that day.

I’m not judging these decisions, by the way. Not everyone has the time, the money, or the emotional resources to take on dog cancer. If you are already having trouble paying the bills, or if you are having difficulty feeding your children, treating dog cancer might not be your priority. Or maybe your dog is already suffering from other illnesses or disabilities, and you know they just won’t be able to live well.

I believe life quality trumps life length every time. So, I don’t think any less of someone who chooses not to explore what can be done or declines treatment.

If You Can Treat, Stay Focused

I’m talking more about what happens when someone DOES choose to treat and get obsessed with what they’re learning and making decisions about — again, this is normal — and forget about the dog!

I’m talking about staying up all night “doing research” and ending up sleep-deprived and more confused than ever.

I’m talking about endless chats on social media with people throwing everything they can find at their dogs to try to help, spending tons of money on things that might, at best, do nothing and, at worst, harm their dog or interfere with other treatments.

I’m talking about endless worrying about whether I’m making the right treatment decisions and diet decisions and trying to figure out exactly how much time I have with my dog.

Some of these processes might be necessary, but none are required daily or long-term.

You’ve got to prioritize taking care of yourself, so you can give your dog what they really want: you.

Don’t let cancer win before it’s time!

Stay Healthy to Help Your Dog

The bottom line is this: make time to just be with your dog as much as possible, as often as possible.

Stay as healthy as possible in every dimension: mentally, emotionally, and physically. And try, try, try to give your dog a normal life, or at least a taste of it, every day.

Try to keep your dog’s regular schedule. It’s so important to their well-being that they have the life you’ve always had together. Don’t pull all-nighters and then not be able to function. That will make your dog worry about YOU!

Your real work is loving your dog. No one else can do it.

Stay strong — I have tips about this, too — and try to make treatment decisions efficiently. Think of treating cancer as a distraction from the real work of being a dog lover: loving your dog.

Your veterinarian and veterinary oncologist, their staff, and associated team members can help you with the big decisions. But only you can love your dog the way you love your dog. You’re it.

So show up.

Take the time to play, walk, run, throw balls, feed, and cuddle with your dog.

Don’t forget them just because they have cancer.

You’ll have time later to fall apart.

For now, stay connected, and don’t think of your dog as dead while they are still alive.

Don’t let cancer win before it’s time!

A photo of Molly Jacobson smiling

Molly Jacobson

Molly Jacobson is a writer and the editor of The Dog Cancer Survival Guide. She also hosts the podcast Dog Cancer Answers. A lifelong dog lover and self-professed dog health nerd, she is all too familiar with dog cancer. She has been supporting dog lovers coping with cancer since 2008. Molly earned a BA from Tufts University, and after a career in bookselling and book publishing attended The Swedish Institute to become a licensed massage therapist in New York State, licensed by the medical board. She loves explaining medical topics with care easy-going language.

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