A few years ago, our beloved dog of almost twelve years developed cancer. My husband and I were devastated because in our eyes our dogs are members of our family. Since we were told there was no hope of remission, we decided the only way to help her was to make her comfortable for the remainder of her life. I’m sharing my story and some tips on how to help your dog with cancer at home.
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Signs of Cancer and Diagnosis
I got an inkling something was wrong with our dog Kaiya when one day she suddenly didn’t want to eat a favorite chicken jerky treat. I remember thinking how odd that was because she always ate them heartily and with extreme joy. Her sudden loss of appetite continued to drop off. The next symptom she exhibited was incontinence and we knew it was time to take her to the vet. After several tests and an x-ray, the vet told us she had cancer. The vet could see a foreign mass in her abdomen on the x-ray.
Our beloved Kaiya had cancer. The vet’s words stunned me like paralyzing hot pokers. I knew she was going to die, but my denial was flagrant and enormous.
Potential Treatment Options for Dog Cancer
The next step was to determine the type of cancer to determine potential treatment options. There was the chemotherapy option. The vet told us the doses of chemotherapy administered usually to dogs wouldn’t put her in remission, it would only lengthen her life to the highest benefit of only ten more months of life. We didn’t want her to suffer the effects of chemotherapy drugs that wouldn’t even put her into a real remission, so we chose to make her comfortable for the remainder of her life. The vet told us we could do more tests to find out the type of cancer, but the type didn’t really matter to us, cancer was cancer and it meant she would die.
The part of the cancer diagnosis that was the scariest for us was her type of cancer was either probably tumors, like from a lymphoma of some sort or a worse type of cancer called Hemangiosarcoma. The possibility of hemangiosarcoma was the worst-case scenario because it is aggressive cancer with devastating potential catastrophes.
Essentially it is a cancer of the blood vessels where a blood ball forms and it could unexpectedly burst resulting in sudden internal hemorrhaging and pain followed by quick death. If the tumor was hemangiosarcoma, surgery to remove the large mass promised to be risky and wouldn’t even help much because commonly there are other blood tumors present. This type of cancer is hard to treat because it is often diagnosed late as symptoms don’t appear until the cancer is advanced.
It was hard to decide what to do with that diagnosis. I didn’t want to see my beloved dog suddenly fall in crippling pain to the floor from massive internal bleeding and then die. But we couldn’t see a sure fire reason why putting her down while she still seemed happy made any sense. There was a potential it was another type of cancer and so we rolled the dice and watched her closely, supported her, loved her, and fed her while we still had her with us.
Tips to Help Your Dog with Cancer
I’m not a vet, but I will share some tips on what I did to help our dog in her last four months of life. Always consult your vet for current personalized recommendations.
Here is what we did for our beautiful girl (still brings a lump to my throat and tears to my eyes to think about this time as I tried so diligently to help her).
- The vet prescribed some medications to help reduce her symptoms, make her comfortable, and increase her appetite. The medication to increase her appetite worked for some time until it wasn’t enough and I needed to encourage her desire to eat in other ways.
- I cooked for her. Food for her no longer consisted of dog food because she refused to eat any type of dog food. I gave her cooked ground beef with white rice. Often, I added some soft cooked vegetables or vegetable baby food to the ground beef and rice. She loved this for a few months and she ate it willingly when she turned her nose up at dog food.
- I gave her dog vitamins to make her as healthy as possible.
- I gave her some chicken and beef broth, but not too much because salty food is bad for dogs. I mainly gave her a bit to stimulate her appetite, then I would switch her to some other food. Broth often worked to prime her appetite.
- I mixed meat baby food and baby rice cereal for her and let her lap it up or I syringe fed it to her.
- I gave her water or Gatorade by syringe if she refused to drink (make sure it isn’t the kind without artificial sweeteners, never give dogs artificial sweeteners, they are toxic to dogs).
- I bought puppy pads for her to lay on at night when we couldn’t make it down the stairs in time for her to go potty outside. This way if she had an accident she wouldn’t soak herself and the carpet.
- I assisted her down the steps or even carried her down towards the end of her life.
- I would cook scrambled eggs for her or give her egg yolk by itself or mixed with water in a syringe.
- I cooked her favorite meats for her. She even stopped eating dog treats and in the end, only meat or egg yolks would entice her to eat until even that no longer worked; she lost weight.
Give Your Dog With Cancer Lots of Love and Attention While You Still Can
I sat with her and gave her lots of love. When she started to spend more time in her cage just resting, I would sit near her cage and talk to her. I would pet her. I still made time to include her in my day because she had always been a part of my day. She had always spent time with me following me everywhere I went around the house and the yard. But I knew it was a bad sign when she started spending most of her day voluntarily in her kennel; I knew her days were very limited. Remembering those days still brings tears to my eyes.
I won’t lie, it was heartbreaking to watch her deteriorate, but I had to be sure she had no quality of life left before I could make the move towards euthanasia. What brought me to the point of agreeing to put her down was when she was in obvious pain and her pain meds were no longer working (even then I still clung to the hope that she would get better, even up until the vet gave her the euthanasia drug, I was still debating).
I tried so desperately hard to help her. She was my baby girl and I didn’t want her to leave me. She was my girl, my little fur-baby love who had always followed me around everywhere I went. She was my companion and I took her impending death very hard.
Make a Memory Book to Honor Your Pet
After she was gone, the loss of her hit me so hard and I was a devastated wreck. To me, losing her was the same as losing a person in my life because, to me, dogs are people too. I made a scrapbook of pictures of her whole life with us. That was very therapeutic for me and something I now treasure. I never had any baby pictures of her because we adopted her from a rescue group when she was about one-year-old, but I had many other pictures, so many and I was so grateful to possess them (always take pictures of your pet so when they are gone you have pictures to remember them by).
Ask if Your Vet Can Make Paw Print Imprint
The emergency vet clinic made a paw print in a little clay patty imprinted on the day she died. I was so happy they did that because it was like I could keep a piece of her to touch. Her paw print lived on in the world. It is a precious little piece of clay I keep in a safe spot. I will always miss her, my precious fur baby Kaiya who looked like a gorgeous white wolf and walked around our house saying, “Woo woo woo”, always three times.
If your vet doesn’t do this, plan ahead and buy some clay at the craft store that will harden and make an imprint yourself (or ask vet staff to help with the imprint because this is a very hard and emotional thing to go through for pet lovers).
Adopt Another Dog
I’ve talked with many people who can’t bring themselves to get another dog after losing one because they can’t take the grief again. However, I’m the opposite, the dog leaves such a gaping hole that I can’t tolerate it being left open so I fill it up with another dog usually within a few weeks of the loss. That’s when we found our Frida. Our new dog Frida brought so much joy to our house and I was overjoyed to give another rescue dog a home. Frida came to us from a Mexican shelter. Her mother had been taken in by shelter staff when she was pregnant so Frida was born in the shelter. Frida, all her siblings, and her mom were adopted by a rescue group and flow to the United States. The rescue group placed the mom and puppies in foster homes pending screened adoptions.
My Thoughts On Dogs
Let dogs fill our lives with happiness and love, let us give dogs good loving homes, and we should always know that some treasures are treasured for a just short time but that doesn’t make them any less precious or brilliant. Love ‘em strong and fast no matter how long it lasts. Rescue a dog today. It brings joy to the world! I promise?
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