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The Use of Chemotherapy to Prolong the Life of Dogs Suffering from Cancer: The Ethical Dilemma

Haberfield Veterinary Hospital, Haberfield, NSW 2045, Australia
Animals 2019, 9(7), 441;
Received: 15 March 2019 / Revised: 2 July 2019 / Accepted: 8 July 2019 / Published: 14 July 2019
(This article belongs to the Section Animal Ethics)
PDF [190 KB, uploaded 14 July 2019]

Simple Summary

Cancer is common in dogs and chemotherapy has advanced significantly in recent years with Veterinary oncology becoming a specialty in many countries such as the UK, Australia and the USA. However there have been no large-scale studies of the potential side effects of chemotherapeutic drugs in companion animals and very little discussion on the ethics of using chemotherapy in these animals. The prognosis for animals suffering from malignant neoplasia (that may be amenable to chemotherapy) generally remains poor and the place of oncology in veterinary medicine can be questioned. Employing the most relevant ethical theories regarding the nature of our duties to animals, the Animal Rights View, the Utilitarian View and the Relational (Contextual) view, this paper examines the ethics of using chemotherapy in dogs with cancer.


Despite the emergence some years ago of oncology as a veterinary specialty, there has been very little in the way of ethical debate on the use of chemotherapy in dogs. The purpose of this article is to undertake an ethical analysis to critically examine the use of chemotherapy to prolong the life of dogs suffering from cancer. If dogs have no concept of the future and are likely to suffer at least some adverse effects with such treatments, consideration should be given as to whether it is ethical and in the animal’s best interests to use chemotherapy. Chemotherapeutic drugs are mutagenic, carcinogenic, teratogenic and may be irritant. Furthermore, chemotherapy may involve multiple trips to the veterinarian, multiple procedures and periods in isolation. Cancer-associated pain has been shown to be under-diagnosed and pet owners overestimate the effects of chemotherapy on treatment survival time. Of additional concern is the public health risks associated with chemotherapeutic drugs. As chemotherapy is not generally considered curative, it is in effect palliative care. However, palliative care may not be in the best interests of a terminally ill animal. As the specialty of veterinary oncology continues to grow and as the use of chemotherapy becomes more commonplace in the treatment of animals with cancer, it is imperative that there is an ongoing ethical debate on the use of chemotherapy in animals. View Full-Text
Keywords: chemotherapy; cancer; dogs; oncology; ethical theories; ethical analysis chemotherapy; cancer; dogs; oncology; ethical theories; ethical analysis
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited (CC BY 4.0).

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Stephens, T. The Use of Chemotherapy to Prolong the Life of Dogs Suffering from Cancer: The Ethical Dilemma. Animals 2019, 9, 441.

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