How Long Will my Pet Live?

My dog Molly as been diagnosed with bone cancer and spinal cell sarcoma. We are coming to terms with it and having great support from...

Dr. Eric Barchas  |  Jul 27th 2011


My dog Molly as been diagnosed with bone cancer and spinal cell sarcoma. We are coming to terms with it and having great support from the vets. What worries me is the time line the vet gave us 1st it was 1-2 months we had left with Molly now its 3 months.

We know her cancer is advanced and she as got lung mets and chemo is not an option as it would make no difference and I appreciate the vets honesty.

How can you honestly know what the time line is or do you just go on stats?

Many thanks,

Rachel and Molly the Labrador

DAWLISH, United Kingdom

I am very sorry to learn of Molly’s diagnosis.

Stories abound of people who brag, five years after being diagnosed with an illness, that their doctors originally only “gave” them six months to live. Stories such as theirs and yours illustrate something definitive about medicine and veterinary medicine: it is absolutely impossible to know any individual’s natural life expectancy with any certainty whatsoever.

At birth, a human in the USA can be expected to live approximately 79 years. Yet plenty of people live well beyond that time. Life expectancies, whether at birth or after receiving a grave medical diagnosis, usually are statistical phenomena. The mean (average) life expectancy of a group leaves huge leeway for variations among individuals.

In Molly’s case, determining a life expectancy is especially hard. Spinal cell sarcomas aren’t very common, so there aren’t many statistics available to determine life expectancy. My hunch is that your vets were basically shooting from the hip when they guessed 1 – 2 months. In reality, there is no way to know definitively how long Molly, or any animal or person on earth, will live.

My recommendation is that you enjoy your remaining time with Molly, and let her live her life to the fullest. I’m sorry to learn of her diagnosis, and I sincerely hope she’s still going strong several months from now.

Photo: Shali7. Photo License: cc.