Guidelines for Managing Cancer in Dogs and Cats

Photo Credit: Flicker CC license, Jon_scally, Best budsGiven the ever-increasing incidence of cancer in our pets, it was a smart move for the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) to recruit a team of veterinary oncologists to draft the first ever “Oncology Guidelines for Dogs and Cats.” Written this year, the material covers multiple facets of small animal oncology (cancer diagnosis and treatment) and makes recommendations that are consistent with a high standard of care. And, people with pets have a right to know about this high standard of care. I’m a big believer in veterinarians presenting all options, regardless of cost.

I’ve previously referenced AAHA’s vaccination, anesthesia, and preventive care guidelines. Such guidelines are crafted by teams of veterinary experts and the AAHA topics range from “Judicious Therapeutic Use of Antimicrobials,” to “Diabetes Management.” As is true for all of the AAHA Guidelines, those pertaining to oncology do not represent rules that veterinarians must follow. Rather, they are suggested standards of care.

Now, being the savvy consumer of veterinary medicine that you are, I encourage you to take advantage of these published guidelines. They are yours for the taking, and will allow you to feel more confident that your pet’s medical care is in capable hands.

Oncology Guidelines

As I read through these guidelines I was delighted to see that a great deal of emphasis was placed on client communication and support. Cancer most commonly affects older pets, and those many years have allowed time for a particularly strong human-animal connection to mature and develop. Introduction of the “C” word into this relationship can generate some emotional havoc that benefits from truly exceptional client support. The new oncology guidelines emphasize the need for excellent listening skills, empathy, asking of open-ended questions, and offering options. This is fabulous, and I am proud that my beloved profession is making such forward progress on the client communication front.

In addition to client support, the oncology guidelines address the following components of cancer management:

  1. Diagnosis of the cancer
  2. Staging of the cancer: determination of the extent of the local disease and the presence or absence of spread (metastasis)
  3. Cancer treatment
  4. Safety of the personnel handling chemotherapy drugs
  5. Referral to a specialist in oncology when appropriate
  6. Patient support

The guidelines include specific recommendations in a table format pertaining to the most commonly diagnosed forms of cancer in small animals including: mammary (breast) cancer, lymphoma, hemangiosarcoma, osteosarcoma, anal sac carcinoma, mast cell tumor, oral melanoma, soft tissue sarcoma, and squamous cell carcinoma.

Dr. John Berg, chair of the AAHA oncology guidelines task force, stated,

The guidelines are not meant to be an oncology textbook but are more like a snapshot of what is currently being done by specialists for animals with cancer. There is a constant flow of new clinical research coming out in veterinary oncology. It can be difficult for busy practitioners to keep up with all the information coming out in all fields, not just oncology, and the guidelines are intended to give practitioners a broad overview of how oncology specialists- medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, and surgeons– currently approach cancer diagnosis and treatment.

If your dog or cat has recently been diagnosed with a cancerous condition, or this disease is suspected, I strongly encourage you to take a look at these oncology guidelines. Guaranteed you will become a better medical advocate for your pet.

Has one or more of your pets experienced cancer? If so, what type of cancer and what was the outcome?

Best wishes,

Nancy Kay, DVM

Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Author of Your Dog’s Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect From Your Vet
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Please visit to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health.   There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health are available at,, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.

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11 Comments on “Guidelines for Managing Cancer in Dogs and Cats

  1. Cancer is a very dangerous deseses for eveything included humen animal everything so be alert that we are secured in canser and also try to protect our own pets.

  2. I have been taking care of cancer dogs for over 30 years. I have experienced almost all forms, and all treatments. I have taken care of over 18 dogs, frankly I have lost count. I currently have a mast cell dog, my 5th I think. After seeing it all, doing it all, I have very specific views on treatment procedures. I will leave it at that.

  3. My beloved English Springer Spaniel, Murdock, developed a small lump under his jaw in mid October. He never acted or appeared ill, but I took him to the Vet the next month since he was getting older (10 yrs) & I was concerned. He was diagnosed with lymphoma in December. We started chemo and he went into remission, but in February the lumps returned and our oncologist suggested prednisone only. I did not want him to suffer and when I saw the sadness in his eyes at the end of April, I let him go peacefully in my arms. I will miss him forever as he was the best dog we ever had!

  4. Been there, done that, too many times. Cancer is #1 health issue for geriatric dogs.
    Many many clinical trials going on in the vet cancer world. not just at UC Davis , but all over the nation and beyond. and there’s an URL for finding trials, but I don’t have it right at hand. The book “Heal, the vital role of dogs in the search for cancer cures” by Arlene Weintraub gives a good picture of the clinical trial world, though with a bias towards optimism.
    Sometimes a real cure is possible (especially with early detection) but when cure is not possible, “buying time” (extending period of good quality life) often is possible. and it’s amazing how good a quality of life a dog can enjoy despite advancing cancer. Dogs are not self-cursed with the fears and worries people have. they are able to enjoy the present moment.

  5. My 11-year old Bearded Collie “Sir Bedivere” a wonderful, gentle and loving companion was diagnosed with a fast-growing bladder cancer while being examined for loss of housetraining habits. Surgery was attempted but the tissues involved were so friable that it did more harm than good.

    With a breaking heart I had to let him go to avoid pain and non-quality of life but I miss him to this day most of all my companions. I wish we knew as much then about canine cancer as we do today. He may have had a better chance or may have been diagnosed sooner – who knows.

    Thanks you for this report. There is no use telling you how much you help us all – you KNOW what an important information source and loving help you are.

  6. My 9 year old Golden Retriever, Sam, was diagnosed with an osteosarcoma in his mouth.
    We first discovered it when he started bleeding from the mouth. Took him to our local vet and a tumor about the size of a walnut was causing the bleeding. We then took him to UC Davis canine oncology department and were told nothing could be done to save Sam. We brought him home, made him as comfortable as possible and lost him 10 days later.
    Needless to say we will never get over the heartache of losing such a wonderful dog.

  7. My 10 year old Clumber Spaniel was diagnosed with lymphoma April of this year.
    One day he was his normal self and the next he would not get up to greet me. I was stroking him and felt the lymph nodes in his neck were huge. He was diagnosed the next day. He was put on doxycycline and prednisone and we made an appointment to see an oncologist at Upstate Speciality Vets in Greenville, SC. We also reached out to our breed vet who was very supportive about going forward with COPE protocol. We were to expect remission in 4 weeks if it was going to work. He did not do well with treatment, was sick most of the time, fluctuating cell counts and ultimately did not go into remission. He gave up his fight in July. I felt that despite the cost and the outcome, this was the correct course to take. The oncology team was wonderful. I have not had a day without tears. I bred Ruggles, raised him and showed him to his Championship. He earned his CGC at 18months without any training and he served as a Delta therapy partner. I only regret that we didn’t have more time.

  8. When making treatment deciions I suggest asking about timelines, and secondary effects of drugs, especially if you go to specialist after diagnosis. You may find that the specialist sees thing the radioligist at your vet didn’t and that can impact your decisions on treatment.

    Wishing anyone who has to make these decisions a good outcome.

  9. Here’s hoping that your Bearded Collie continues to do very well!

  10. Our 11 year old (at the time) bearded Collie was diagnosed with liver cancer thanks to a very thorough check up by our wonderful vet, Tami Shearer. We returned to Tampa and took Demmi to Blue Pearl. She had an ultrasound and needle aspiration that showed the cancer cells. The oncological surgeon removed as much of the tumor as she could and now Demmi is monitored quarterly with ultrasounds. The tumor has only grown 3 cm in the year. She is on a regimen of Chinese herbs, doxycycline and Agarics Bio, all recommended by Dr. Shearer. She seems to be feeling great!

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