Your Dog Doesn’t Know He Has Cancer

Usually the more experience you have with something, the less scary you find it. That’s not true with cancer.

I’ve worked for a head and neck cancer surgeon, had several family members stricken, nursed two dogs with it, and married a childhood cancer survivor. And it still freaks me out.

Approximately 60% of golden retrievers get cancer. So chances are good that I’ll nurse a dog with cancer in the future.

Honey the golden retriever gives cancer the paw by sticking out her tongue.

I’m too much of a lady to give cancer the paw. But I’ll stick my tongue out at it.

I need to deal with my fear of this insidious disease. After all, dogs don’t know they have cancer.

The Dog Cancer That Didn’t Do What It Was Supposed To

I’ll never forget coming back from a business trip and listening to Mike tell me about Shadow’s (she was my last dog and she decorates the header of this blog) visit to the vet to have her teeth cleaned.

We had just adopted Shadow from the SPCA a few weeks earlier. Although she was probably about 8 or 9 years old, she didn’t seem geriatric. The only health issue we could see was excessive tartar build up on her teeth. It seemed like a good idea to get her teeth cleaned under anesthesia, giving our new dog a fresh start with us.

Shadow the mixed breed dog has a pretty smile.

Shadow always had a pretty smile.

During the cleaning, our vet spotted something strange on Shadow’s jaw and set it off to be biopsied. It was bone cancer.
If you’ve had sick animals, you know what I did next. I scoured the internet and read everything I could find on canine osteosarcoma.

I’ve known dogs to get bone cancer on their legs. Amputation is a common treatment, allowing the dog many more months or years of a high quality life with a relatively quick recovery.

Removing Shadow’s jaw was also a possibility. She’d have to relearn how to eat. Recovery would be slow. Oh, and even with follow-up radiation, her life expectancy was maybe an extra month or two.

Given how reactive Shadow was to other dogs, just sitting in the hospital waiting room was torture for her. We couldn’t put her through the pain and all those visits to the vet just to gain a few weeks. So we decided to let the disease take its course and we’d have fun with her as long as she was with us.

I couldn’t stop thinking of Shadow’s increasing pain. I imagined her wasting away from the disease. And I went out and bought her a bicycle cart so that even when she was too weak to walk, she could still enjoy recreation time with us.

Shadow the mixed breed dog poses in her bike cart.

Shadow had no problem hopping in. But the instant we started pedaling, she started barking.

Shadow never knew she had cancer.

And the cancer didn’t know it was supposed to ruin Shadow’s life and cause her a slow and lingering death.

Yes, the tumor in her mouth got huge. But Shadow didn’t mind. She hated the bike cart as much as Honey and would bark when we took her for a ride along the Erie Canal. She ate her food voraciously, even when mealtime ended with blood from the tumor coating her bowl.

Worry that the tumor’s copious bleeding would cause Shadow to choke while we were out of the house led us to one last vet visit. But she was a happy girl until the very end. Why not? She didn’t know she had cancer.

Oh, and the couple of month prognosis we got from several vets? It stretched into two years. Two precious years.

Don’t Let Cancer Take Your Dog’s Life

While research into cancer prevention and treatment continues, we’ll continue to lose pets to cancer.

But even though people and their pets will continue to die from cancer, we don’t have to let it take their lives. What do I mean?

When I was finally able to stop sobbing into Shadow’s fur after her diagnosis, we packed lots of fun into our time together. Every day we took long sniffy walk. We went hiking. And canoeing. And camping.

Shadow the mixed breed dog enjoys a canoe ride.

What a fun day!

She even made a few dog friends.

In other words, cancer didn’t ruin the quality of Shadow’s life. After all, she didn’t know she had cancer. And sometimes, for brief happy moments, we were able to forget.

Give Cancer the Finger Paw

Our friends Peggy of Peggy’s Pet Place and Jackie of Pooch Smooches know the pain of canine cancer. So they’ve created the Give Cancer the Paw blog hop as a way to share information and support.

But even more, they’re partnering with Zukes treats to raise money for the Dog and Cat Cancer Fund. During Monday’s contest giveaway, every entry will cause Zuke’s to donate $5 (isn’t that much more generous than most promotions of this type?). The Dog and Cat Cancer Fund uses its money to pay for research into cancer prevention and treatment as well as pay for treatments of dogs and cats with cancer.

So please visit Peggy and Jackie on Monday (afraid you’ll forget? Subscribe to Something Wagging so you see my reminder in Monday’s post) and enter the giveaway for a chance to win yummy Zukes treats while supporting the fight against dog and cat cancer.
Your Turn: Have you learned anything from your pet about how to handle illness? What was it?

Give Cancer the Paw

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  1. You are very correct. I have heard so many stories about Trine and her cancer, but once she was diagnosed, fun was the program. Mom learned Trine had cancer, packed up Trine and Katie and drove to their then vacation home on the North Sea – Trine’s favorite place in the world and also where Mom’s girlfriend Anke,that is a vet was. Anke did lots of tests that night and they decided to give Trine some medication to take away the pain so they could have a fun long weekend together doing all the things Trine loved to do. On the last morning they walked to Trine’s favorite spot, Mom held her, talked to her about everything and then they went to the vet. The plan was to do surgery if possible and if not that would be it. Sadly, that was it, but Trine had a wonderful time. It was one week from the diagnosis to her passing but it was a good week. She was in the end stages of pancreatic cancer which is very hard to detect early. Sad, but the best for everyone if you just enjoy what you can of the time you have.

  2. I can’t even imagine how it must have felt, to adopt a new dog and discover she had a very serious disease — even before you had time to get to know her very well. To me, that’s the amazing part of this story, that you both rushed in headlong, without question, to give your new friend a great life. I know, good people who make a commitment to care for a pet don’t have a moral choice but to honor it. But, oh, how that must have hurt you — though not her.

  3. So many of us have experience with this insidious disease, but you are absolutely right – they don’t know they have cancer. The other night I was watching old videos of our Becca (for my Hop post). I came upon one after her osteosarcoma diagnosis and after her radiation treatment, so she was pretty weak. She was hobbling around trying to find the right spot to lie down, but then caught a glimpse of something or someone out the front window and made her usual beeline for the door, barking her greeting…with no apparent limp at all. She didn’t let the pain and discomfort slow her down on bit. Lesson learned.

  4. Wow, getting 2 extra years with her is amazing! We got 15 months extra with our bone cancer girl. (We had only had her 11 mo. when we got the diagnosis, and it was almost a year to the day after losing our previous dog to cancer.) But, that is exactly what our oncologist told us “She doesn’t know she has cancer.” If there’s a “good” thing about bone cancer it’s that it usually doesn’t cause a “slow and lingering” death. The dogs usually feel good and, as you said, don’t even know they are sick until right near the end.

    Thanks for joining our hop! (Just to clarify, only Peggy’s blog will have the Zuke’s giveaway on Monday. As for me, I have pledged to donate 10% of the profits on the sale of my new book to Morris Animal Foundation – they do a lot of great research into canine cancer, including a first of it’s kind study on cancer in Goldens. I hope Honey is in the 40%!)

  5. Thank you for sharing the story about Shadow. Shadow was sure lucky to have you too! What an inspiration.
    Also, I’ve heard the statistic about golden retrievers and there are some wonderful studies being conducted to help find out why. I sure would like to know why goldens more than most other dogs.
    We gave Brooks a wonderful last day, even though we didn’t know it was to be his last. I still remember every moment of that day.

  6. I never get tired of looking at Shadow’s beautiful face. Her story is a touching one. I think what you did for her was just right. She was very lucky to go home with you that day. I am not a believer in fate but it’s hard not to attribute a bit of kismet in your coming together.

    I feel so fortunate that most of my loved ones who have been diagnosed with cancer were able to recover. But I know this won’t last. Many more people and animals will die and it’s a thought I have difficulty handling as well. But you are right in that this fear cannot prevent us from living a good life as long as we can.

  7. I never knew Shadow’s story, thank you so much for adopting her and giving her those two precious years. I can only imagine what would have been her fate if the shelter had discovered the tumor before her adoption. Lucky dog!

  8. That is a really great story. Thanks for sharing!

  9. What a sweet story. Deciding what to do when you find your best friend has cancer can be such a tough decision.

  10. Having, at age 17, been one of a few exchange students who did not join a group of our fellow students on a trip to Machu Picchu that ended in their tragic deaths, I learned long ago to enjoy life and be grateful for every day I’m given. Nine years later, Mom lost her fight with breast cancer; and in 2005, Dad succumbed to lung cancer. My brother and I both seem to have gotten our healthy genes from our two grandmothers who both lived to within 2 weeks of their 92nd birthdays. So, if God forbid any of my current or future dogs are ever diagnosed with canine cancer, I will do all I can to make their remaining time as happy as possible.

  11. This is a really wonderful post and perfectly describes just about every dog I know with cancer. My training mentor’s dog had cancer that’s now in remission. When I met her, her cancer was full blown and she didn’t know it. I didn’t know it until my mentor told me. Now her cancer is in remission and she’s the same tough old gal. Still feisty, still herself. Thanks for sharing Shadow’s story!

  12. How wonderful that you got the two years with Shadow, and that you made those years the best they could be. We only got 3 months with our Shelby when she had lymphoma (and that was with a mild treatment), but we made the best of the time. We went on lots of hikes and she felt good for those months. When the end came she did not suffer for long. We never regretted the choices we made for her.

  13. You struck such a chord with me with your beautiful story of Shadow. My dog, K, died from osteosarcoma after a 7 month battle, last year. I learned so much from her during those months. She simply wanted to live, with joy, love and grace. She taught me that every day, week, and month is a chance for joy – and, when I thought about it, I realized that 7 months was a large fraction of a dog’s life. I’m so glad that K led the way, teaching me that she wanted to *live* every day that she was given. Although I rarely forgot that she had cancer, she lived as if she didn’t have any illness.

    I’m so sorry about your Shadow, but I’m glad that she taught you like K taught me.

  14. Great story about Shadow!! I have a 13 year old chihuahua, mu fur baby! Diagnosed with TCC bladder/ prostate cancer today is 4 1/2 weeks got diagnosed! He is on piroxicam, can’t afford treatments, and he’s a little older so I am giving him to a good life! Any comments of anyone having the same cancer will be appreciated!!

  15. good post :)

  16. Another brilliant post. And I think part of what you are saying is true – they don’t know. I am no expert, so please forgive me if I am completely in the wrong but I don’t know if sometimes the worry of something is worse than the situation?!

    Please don’t think my comments are meant to under mind the seriousness or pain caused by cancer. It is a horrible disease, claims far too many lives.

    • I entirely agree. Cancer is crappy. But it’s not made better by worrying about it. And it can certainly be made worse.

      Wise words, Lauranne. :)