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Dog Cancer Treatment Options

Updated on January 26, 2009
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Whitney has over 10 years of experience in dog training, rescuing, and healthcare.

Dog Cancer Treatment

After you've been given the terrible news that you dog has cancer, you want to consider all of the posisble options that you have. The one thing that you want to hope is that you have caught the signs of cancer in your dog early on, because the earlier that you have caught the cancer symptoms, the better your dog's prognosis will be in the end.

And, depending on the type of cancer that your dog has, you will want to make sure that you talk to your vet about the different types of treatment options that you have. Some cancer treatments work better on specific types of cancer.

Antiangiogenic Therapy

Typically, when cancer in dogs forms, it creates new blood vessels that supply the actual tumor with oxygen and nutrients, which allows them to spread and grow throughout the body. Well, the antiangiogenic therapy treatment cuts off the new blood vessels, which essentially starve the tumors and prevent further growth. The cancer can then be controlled with effective doses of antiangiogenic drugs, which are designed to attack the tumors by depriving the cells of blood. Sometimes antiangiogenic inhibitor medications are combined so that they can attack multiple targets at once in order to improve the effectiveness.

Antiangiogenic therapy offers many advantages over traditional cancer treatment because:

  • Tumor cells often mutate and become resistant to other treatments, such as chemotherapy, and with the antiangiogenic medications, they only target the normal endothelial cells causing less risk of drug resistance.
  • Antiangiogenic medications are effective against a broad range of cancer
  • All tumors rely upon host vessels. Antiangiogenic agents are therefore effective against a broad range of cancers.
  • Conventional chemotherapy and radiotherapy indiscriminately attacks all dividing cells in the body, leading to side effects such as diarrhea, mouth ulcers, hair loss, and weakened immunity. Antiangiogenic drugs selectively target dividing blood vessels and cause fewer side effects.
  • Antiangiogenic drugs are relatively nontoxic and work at levels well below the maximum tolerated dose, so may be given in lower doses over longer periods of time, which can take weeks or months to be effective, but at the same time it allows for a continuous control of the cancer.


Chemotherapy is a cancer treatment that destroys the cancer cells with various "anti-cancer" drugs. Basically, the chemo destroys the cancer cells by stopping them from growing and multiplying, but the problem is that in the process, you can harm normal, health cells, which can cause several side effects, which do repair after chemotherapy.

In some cases, the vet may use a combination chemotherapy treatment in order to destroy all of the cancer cells because in some cases, two or more drugs will work better than one alone. The chemotherapy treatments are mean to cure the cancer, which is when the dog becomes free of all cancer cells. The treatments will help control the cancer from spreading to other parts of the body. Chemotherapy will also help relieve various symptoms such as pain that is caused by the cancer.

But, where chemotherapy can help "cure" the cancer in your dog, you will notice that there are a number of potential side effects such as weakness, nausea, and hair loss, as the more common side effects of chemotherapy.


Although, cryosurgery isn't one of the more common cancer treatments, it is a Treatment option that you may have, depending on what type of cancer your dog has. Typically, the treatment works better for cancer in and around the eyelids, skin, mouth, and the anus.

The process basically involves the use of liquid nitrogen or other nitrous oxides to freeze the cancer cells. The process of freezing and thawing the cells, in turn causes them to die.

Sometimes the procedure is used to not necessarily kill the cells but to at least reduce the size of the tumor, so that another treatment method would be more beneficial.

Cryosurgery is not recommended for mast cell tumors, osteosarcomas, nasal tumors, or tumors that go all the way around the anus.

Not all veterinarian practices have the equipment for this treatment option, as special equipment is needed, but if the option is available, you shouldn't see many side effects. There may be slight discomfort, but the pulses are so fast that your really don't even massive bleeding to worry about.  

Clinical Trials

Where there are a number of treatments to find cancer in your dog that are nothing more than an arsenal of treatment, you can consider clinical trials, which can consist of a number of methods of treating cancer. Although, clinical trials are experimental, they have been proven effective with lab animals. Although there is no guarantee that your dog will benefit from clinical trials, there is some potential for it.

If you want to try the experimental treatment for your dog's cancer, you may find that it benefits your dog better than other cancer treatments, but then again you may find that it is less effective. In general, the clinical trials are on the cutting edge of treatment, so there is potential to provide a better outcome for your dog's cancer prognosis.

Alternative Therapies

Holistic Cancer Treatment

Holistic medicines has become very popular, and there are many homeopathic means of treatment for cancer. If you are interested in one of the more holistic cancer treatments for your dog, you will want to consult a specialist

There are actually many cases where acupuncture, massage therapy, and various herbal treatments have been able to cure dog cancer and various other illnesses.

The main problem with holistic cancer treatment is that not all vets practice this form of medicine, so it can be hard to find a true holistic vet that has proper experience in dealing with cancer the holistic way.

Types of holistic medicine that has been used for dog cancer can include acupuncture, aromatherapy, Bach Flower remedies, biochemical salts, chiropractic, cold laser therapy, herbal therapies, homeopathic, light/color therapy, magnetic therapy, massage, nosodes, and basic nutrition changes. 


The opposite of cryosurgery is hyperthermia, where heat is used to damage the cancer cells. Typically, this treatment option is performed in combination with chemotherapy or radiation.

Your dog will be treated with a radio-frequency device or a microwave (not the one you cook food in). Basically, because tumors have abnormal blood vessles, they are more susceptible to heat, and the hyperthermia treatment makes the cancer more sensitive to radiation or the effects of chemotherapy.

This treatment option is not common, and there aren't many vets who offer the treatment.

Growths that are less than one centimeter and is in the soft tissues are more susceptible to the treatment. 


Photodynamic treatment is a pretty new cancer treatment that uses light-sensitve substances combined with a laser in order to damage and kill the cancer cells. Your dog will be injected with one of the substances, depending on the type of tissues that are infected. Once the substances is in the tissues, light via a laser with infrared wavelengths is shone through the area, which creates a toxic form of oxygen that will kill the cells wherever the substance is.

The photodynamic therapy won't work for tumors that are deeper than two centimeters. The treatment has proven to be successful for basal and squamous cell sarcomas, as well as transitional cell carcinomas of the bladder.

Although, the photodynamic treatment is not a definite course of treatment, it can at least keep your dog comfortable a little longer. The problem arises when you are looking for a veterinarian who has the proper equipement and experience, as the treatment is not a common one. 

The main problem with photodynamic treatment for dog cancer is that it can cause a great deal of damage to the normal cells around the substance. 

Radiation Guides  Flickr Image by cathro
Radiation Guides Flickr Image by cathro

Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy is also known as radiotherapy, x-ray therapy, or irradiation. Basically, with this form of cancer treatment, beams of high energy waves of particles, called radiation, are penetrated into the tumor.

The radiation therapy equipment sends specific amounts of radiation into the areas of the body where the cancer is. The good thing about radiation therapy is that some tumors that are thought to be untreatable have been responsive to radiation therapy. The radiation will kill the cancer cells, or at least keep them from growing. The radiation treatments are very successful at treating various types of cancer, and the more the cells multiply, the more sensitive they are to the treatments.

Like chemotherapy, radiation therapy, also, affects normal, health cells, but luckily, the healthy cells can recover after the treatment is complete. Some vets will try to protect the healthy cells by limiting the doses of radiation and shielding as much of the normal tissues as they can by aiming the radiation at the exact spot of the cancer.

There are actually two different approaches of radiation therapy in dogs- 1) curative and 2) palliative. Curative radiation typically requires outpatient radiation treatments for 16 to 20 days, whereas palliative radition typically is less intense and is more or less meant to just provide relief from the cancer symptoms, such as pain, bleeding, and loss of function.

Radiation therapy is a very effective treatment for many different types of cancers in dogs in almost any area of the body. It can be used in conjunction with chemotherapy and even surgery. Some vets will recommend radiation therapy to shrink a tumor so that it is easier to remove with cancer.

Radiation therapy is commonly used to treat lymphosarcoma, mast cell tumors, skin cancer, and sarcomas (cancer of the bone, muscle, and connective tissues). Radiation is also helpful for other low-grade cancers that are typically localized and metastasize late in the game, such as cancer in the mouth, face, and chest.

If the cancer is spread into the internal organs, chemotherapy should be added as a combination therapy with the radiation.

Radiation therapy does have various potential side effects such as sunburn-type skin reactions, hair loss, inflamed mucus membranes, and diarrhea, but these will typically subside within 2 to 3 weeks. The good thing is that the cancer treatment is not painful.

Flickr Image by zoomar
Flickr Image by zoomar


Before your vet considers surgery as a treatment option for your dog's cancer, he will run several tests to make sure that your dog can tolerate the surgery. The vet will run blood tests and even take x-rays of the lungs and other parts of the body in order to fully determine the dog's overall health status and to see whether or not the cancer has spread.

There are many cases where the vet may recommend chemotherapy or radiation therapy to shrink the tumor before surgery is actually performed.

For the most part, the first surgical attempt is the most important because it is the one that has the most opportunity to cure the cancer. When the vet needs to perform a second or even third surgery, they will have to deal with the scar tissue and irritated cancer cells from the first surgery attempt.

So for the most part, the vet will try to remove a little more so that he can clean the margins and any nearby lymph nodes because the lymph nodes can carry cancer cells to other parts of the body.

Sometimes surgery is a good option to totally remove the cancer, but in other cases surgery is performed to just relieve the discomfort of the cancer. In many cases the palliative surgery is performed in dogs with bone cancer by amputating a limb or in dogs with hemangiosarcoma by removing the spleen.

In some cases, surgery is used to reduce a large tumor to a much smaller size so that chemotherapy or radiation therapy has a better chance of working. Typically, in this case, you have to wait about 7 to 12 days after surgery before administering chemo or radiation.


Disclaimer: Please be aware that the advice in this article should in no way replace that of a licensed veterinarian. The methods outlined above may or may not work for your pet. If you have any concerns, you should consult a veterinarian.


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