Veterinary Specialists: Oncologist

by Nancy Kay, DVM 

The job of the veterinary oncologist entails diagnosing, staging, grading, and treating cancer. 

Oncologist Dr. Susan Ettinger with her patient. Photo Animal Specialty Center

Staging and grading occur once the diagnosis has been made and involve testing to determine just how advanced/aggressive the cancer is. This is based on the microscopic appearance of the tumor as well as documentation of all the places within the body that the cancer has already managed to set up housekeeping. Perhaps the most important part of an  oncologist’s job description is counseling their clients to help them make good choices on behalf of their four-legged family members.

When should your dog be evaluated by a board certified veterinary oncologist? 

Here are my recommendations:
  • Your dog has a mass/growth that your family veterinarian believes may be cancerous. It may have been discovered during a physical examination (palpated externally or internally) or with an imaging study such as an X-ray or ultrasound.
  • Your dog has a mass/growth that has been determined to be cancerous. In this situation I encourage you to view a consultation with an oncologist to be an information gathering endeavor- part of due diligence as your dog’s medical advocate. In no way will such a consultation obligate you to proceed forward with therapy.
  • A mass/growth that your family vet treated in some fashion has recurred.
  • The biopsy report (microscopic description) for a mass/growth that your family vet surgically removed indicates that some cancer cells were inadvertently left behind.
  • You simply want a second opinion so as to be more certain about advice you’ve received from your family veterinarian.

To find a board certified veterinary oncologist in your neck of the woods or learn more about this specialty, visit the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine. Oncology is a subspecialty within this organization.

If there is not a board certified oncologist practicing within your community, the next best choice will be a specialist in internal medicine. Because there are relatively few oncologists to go around, by default, most internists have vast experience diagnosing and treating cancer.

Have you and your dog ever visited a veterinary oncologist? 

What was the reason and what was the outcome?

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. 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 is available at, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.

Did you get your copy of Speaking for Spot yet?

If not, go get the book. It's likely the most important dog book you'll ever read.

Articles by Dr. Kay:
Reasonable Expectations: The Ability to Discuss Your Internet Research With Your Vet
Finding Dr. Wonderful And Your Mutt's Mayo Clinic: Getting Started
Even The Best Veterinarian Can Make A Mistake
A Different Way to Spay
Making Tough Medical Decisions For Your Dog: Lily's Story
If You Don't Know What A Lick Granuloma Is, Count Your Blessings!
Anesthesia-Free Dental Cleaning 
Talking Teeth 
Urinary Accidents
I Can't Believe He Ate That! Foreign Body Ingestion 
What Caused Murphy's And Ruska'sPneumothorax?
The Whole Picture: When The Test Results Don't Match What's In Front Of You 
Stop that Scratching
Veterinarians And Vaccines: A Slow Learning Curve
What is a Veterinary Specialist?