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The Big "C" Doesn't Always Mean a Death Sentence

Cancer is by far the biggest killer of dogs. Just over 50% of all dogs die from cancer. But getting cancer doesn't necessarily mean a death sentence. There has been a dramatic improvement in veterinary medical treatment for many kinds of canine cancer in recent years.  A number of cancers can be treated resulting in cures and remission. Much of what is available today in terms of treatment has been derived from cancer treatment for humans. The key to successful cancer treatment is early detection. 

Warning Signs

Regardless of the age of your Eskie, be forever watchful for signs that things may not be as they should be. Bottomline is if you notice something unusual that is ongoing, go to the vet and get it checked out. Different cancers will have different symptoms. Some cancers are easy to detect such as the appearance of a lump. Yet with some cancers, symptoms don't show up until the cancer has developed significantly and metastisized or spread to different parts of the body. Typical symptoms listed in medical literature include excessive thirst, lack of appetite, lethargy or lack of energy, lameness in one of the legs, excessive urination or lack of urination, straining to defecate, constant diarrhea or loose stools, thinning of the stools, repeated licking of an area of the body, display of pain, warts, swelling of an area of the body and lumps. It's good to run your hands through your Eskies hair and feel the skin throughout their body looking for lumps. Also look for signs of tender areas. If you find an area that has a lump or is tender, or you notice your Eskie is displaying some kind of unusual symptom that is ongoing, take him to the vet and get it checked out.  

Getting It Checked Out

Many cancers come in the form of lumps or tumours, unless it is some type of blood cancer like lymphoma. Some tumours are near the surface of the body and can be felt externally and others are inside internal organs. Do not rely on bloodwork to confirm the presence of cancer. Cancer does not necessarily show up in bloodwork. If you suspect something is wrong in a certain area of your Eskie's body, ask your vet for a physical exam and ask for the appropriate imaging test. This might be an  x-ray, ultrasound or even a CT scan. The CT scan is the most accurate available imaging technique. Once the tumour has been located either through a physical exam or by some imaging test, typically the procedure is to get a needle aspirate of the tumour. A needle is injected into the area and the contents are sent off to the lab for histology analysis.    

Get It "Gone"

If the histology report confirms the presence of cancer, ask your vet about surgery to get the tumour removed as soon as possible. Time is of the essence. Your vet may recommend more imaging to see if the cancer has spread before surgical removal. Even if the cancer has spread, getting the main tumour out may buy you some time and whatever has spread may be treated with radiation or chemotherapy. Be strong and don't give up. In the case of surgery for tumour removal, your vet will try to remove as much of the tumour as possible and get a wide clear margin around the tumour location. The tumour can then be sent off to the pathologist to determine the exact pathology of the cancer such as what stage the cancer is and how aggressive it may or may not be.  If removing a wide clear margin around the tumour was not possible through surgery, then you will need to follow-up with either radiation or chemotherapy to remove any remnants of cancer.  Ask your vet to refer you for a consultation with a veterinary oncologist.


Oncology is the specialty in veterinary medicine dealing with cancer. There are Oncologists who specialize in chemotherapy and there are Radiation Oncologists who specialize in radiation treatment.  Once you have a diagnosis of cancer from your vet, your vet will typically refer you to an Oncologist. If not, you should schedule a consultation with an Oncologist to find out what your options are for treating your Eskie. Oncology is a rapidly developing field.  Don't presume that your vet has kept  up-to-date with all of the new and developing cancer treatments. We have heard from lots of people during the course of cancer treatments that their regular vet thought their dog's cancer was terminal when in fact the Oncologist's verdict was different. Each type of cancer has its own treatment protocol. For some cancers, for example for those that are spread throughout the body like lymphoma,  chemotherapy is the preferred treatment modality. For others, where is there a localized tumour, surgery and possibly  radiation are recommended.  Some advanced cancers require treatment with surgery, radiation and chemotherapy.


Chemotherapy treatments for dogs is constantly evolving. Perhaps what is unknown to most people is that cancer research for humans is often first tried out on dogs. Approximately 94 percent of a dog's physiology is the same as a humans. This implies that in some cases, some cancer treatments may be available for dogs before they are available to humans. For example, a melanoma (skin cancer) vaccine is available for dogs.

Dog cancer research is often conducted at universities that offer education in veterinary medicine and have veterinary teaching hospitals and animal medical treatment hospitals. This is where you will find the latest available treatment protocols for cancer and other diseases. It's a good idea to consult with an oncology specialist at a veterinary teaching hospital at a university and compare the chemotherapy treatment protocol they advise before implementing the chemotherapy protocol recommended by your local oncology specialist. Don't be surprized if the recommended chemotherapy treatments are different from each other. You don't need a referral from your vet to setup an appointment with an oncologist at a veterinary teaching hospital. You can call and setup the appointment yourself. Just make sure you have all of the diagnostic reports from your vet or specialist sent to the veterinary teaching hospital. Often these institutions get public funding so treatment fees for cancer and other diseases will cost less than what you'd pay at a private practice or private specialty hospital. Also drug costs are usually less.

Veterinary teaching hospitals and university veterinary medicine hospitals sometimes conduct trials on newly developed medicines and treatment protocols. If your Eskie has a terminal case of cancer or some other disease, you may check with these veterinary institutions to see if any clinical trials are available that could help.


Veterinary researchers have been conducting research on developing gene therapies, immune therapies and immunophenotyping for dogs for many years. Some of this research has been used to develop human immune therapies. Immune therapy involves taking a sample of genetic material from the cancer tumour, identifying the genes causing the cancer and creating a collection of good genes and bacteria that when introduced into the body will identify the bad cancer cells and kill them. Immune therapies are available to treat some types of dog cancer and the science is constantly evolving. You can check with veterinary medical faculties, specialists at veterinary teaching hospitals and university veterinary medical centers to see if there is an available immune therapy to treat your Eskies cancer. So far, such advanced types of cancer treatments are not available at your local vet or specialty hospital.


Radiation may sound awful but it is the most aggressive form of treatment and can actually get the job done. Radiation zaps those cancer cells dead. Although it is the most aggressive way of killing off cancer, it tends to have less side effects than many of the chemotherapy treatments. Radiation is targeted to a very specific area of the body.  Only a small area is actually radiated.  The typical radiation field may be around 3 cm or larger if required. Whereas chemotherapy affects the entire body. Radiation treatments happen over a course of 3 to 4 weeks and then you're done. Your Eskie will have a "sunburn" on the treated area and some pain for a couple of weeks and then the side effects are gone. Hair will not grow back on the spot that was radiated. If the area radiated was on the face, there may be some long term side effects like the development of cataracts. If your Eskie had a tumour that was removed surgically, radiation can be used to kill remaining cancer cells that may have spread out from the cancerous area.  Radiation can also be used to shrink or kill off very large tumours that were too large to remove surgically. 

Radiation is administered by a machine, the latest in technology is called a linear accelerator.  These machines cost a couple of million dollars and so there are few facilities in North America that offer radiation treatments for animals.  Currently there are 3 facilities in Canada and 30 plus in the USA. The closest facility to Vancouver is at Washington State University, College of Veterinary Medicine in Pullman, Washington. It is a 10 hour drive from Vancouver located about 90 miles south of Spokane. The cost at WSU is significantly less than at the Animal Cancer Centre in Calgary, Saskatoon or Guelph.

Washington State University, College of Veterinary Medicine, Pullman, Washington

Western Veterinary Animal Cancer Centre, Calgary, Alberta

Animal Cancer Centre, Ontario Veterinary College, Guelph, Ontario

Univeristy of Saskatechewan Veterinary Medical Center, Saskatoon, Saskatechewan

For a list of all of the treatment facilities offering radiation oncology therapy for dog cancer, please click here.

For a good detailed explanation of radiation therapy, please visit The Pet Cancer Centre.


The Pet Cancer Center

The Natural Vet's Guide to Preventing and Treating Cancer in Dogs

The Dog Cancer Survival Guide: Full Spectrum Treatments to Optimize Your Dog's Life Quality and Longevity

Withrow and MacEwen's Small Animal Clinical Oncology

Canine Internal Medicine Secrets

Dr. Pitcairn's New Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs and Cats

Cancer Management in Small Animal Practice

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