Your dog has Cancer. Now what?
Your worst fear has come true. Your dog has cancer. That was me last year after Ty, our (then) 7-year-old Boxer, was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor.
I am not a vet, just a pet parent that wanted to do as much as I could for my fur baby. My goal was to learn about a meningioma, the treatments available, and find the best vets. I spent so much time researching, reading, calling different vets and it was worth it.
Eight months after he completed radiation, Ty got a checkup MRI. I was a complete stress ball waiting for the results. Did everything work? Is he ok? How long do we have? The neurologist walked into the exam room and smiled. “I never get to give people good news. His tumor shrank! I was hopeful the radiation would work but not as well as it did. Whatever you are doing at home keep doing it.”
Nothing I did was overly special. I changed his food and added supplements finding the right ones through trial and error. It was all based-on information available on the internet. I just happened to compulsively cross research everything to make sure it was legit.
We are also very fortunate to have an amazing veterinarian who I could talk to about what I found. She is also the one who introduced us to one of the best neurologist in the country.
What I Learned
In the past few months, friends have asked me for advice when their pets received a cancer diagnosis. From one pet parent to another, this is what I tell them:
Get Exact Details on the Diagnosis.
Your vet will talk about treatment recommendations and next steps. Make sure you ask for every detail you can on the diagnosis including type, where it is, and if a tumor, how big it is. This information will be useful when researching and when deciding on specialists.
Get Copies of Imaging and Diagnostic Results. ALWAYS!
You will probably go to a few different vets/specialists. NEVER leave without a copy of any imaging (x-rays, MRIs, ultrasound, etc.) nor the results of any diagnostics tests (blood work, biopsies). Sometimes the vet staff say they will snail mail you a CD of the imaging. If you can, go and pick it up yourself whenever it is ready. Having this with you will make it SO MUCH EASIER when going to different vets. Even going from specialists back to your regular vet. In the age of AI and reusable rockets, getting records from one vet to another is still through paper and faxing. Ridiculous. Doing this is a massive time saver and headache buster.
Interview the Veterinarian/Specialist
When you make an appointment with a specialist they will ask you for all the records on the diagnosis. You can have your vet send them — likely through fax or mail or you can send it since you have everything too :).
The specialist will talk to you about what is going on and their recommendation. Remember, you DON’T have to go with this vet. You want the best for your pet? Feel free to treat this like an interview.
“How many pets have you had with this diagnosis? What is the outcome? Will you be doing the procedure/treatment yourself or will you be only overseeing it? What are the risks? What are the side effects?” Ask anything you can think of to be comfortable.
Once we decided to try radiation, we made a specialist appointment with a vet that came highly recommended. Friends, people online, and even the vets at the ER where he was diagnosed raved about the practice.
I am sure they are super capable and am happy for everyone that they help. I still suggest them when people ask for good specialists in this area. I can’t explain why, it isn’t something tangible, but we came out wanting to meet with another specialist for a comparison.
People thought we were crazy and that’s fine. We ended up with another highly-recommended specialist. The downside was the distance from home but we were willing to do it.
Join Online Groups.
This one surprises people. The BEST thing hands down that I did was join Facebook groups for anything related to his diagnosis. The groups are full of people going through or with experience of what you are dealing with. It is also a major help for emotional support.
People recommended supplements or treatments daily. I researched them and would try it based on my findings. I also asked a lot of questions and received answers from other pet parents almost instantly.
Whenever there was a topic everyone was talking about, in my case the benefits of turmeric, I would search for a Facebook group and join up to learn more. I ended up in so many groups. After a few weeks, I realized which ones were most helpful and left the others. But I honestly learned so much from those groups and keep up with them. Even now when Ty has a random symptom the Canine Brain Cancer group is the first place I go.
Yes. There are tons of trolls on the internet but these groups and the love from these strangers reminded me there is always a ying to a yang.
Learn About Proper Nutrition and Holistic Options.
There are a lot of articles online about the best diet for dogs. I know there are dogs that have lived to be past their 20s eating canned food or table scraps. But we made the decision to do raw feeding and add in natural supplements. We saw the benefits immediately in Ty and our other boxer — better skin/coat, more energy, smaller poops. It is a pain in the ass but after a while you get the hang of it.
Some people swear by acupuncture and there are holistic vets that specialize in integrating different herbs. I added in herb based supplements based on my own research and trial/error. Whether you think its mumbo jumbo or not, I recommend at least reading about it. Worked for us.
Talk About the Money.
It’s hard to put a price on your best friend but you also should be realistic. We have pet insurance so we had less of a financial burden. If not — we would have spent almost $20,000. That doesn’t include the change in food/supplements, medicine, regular vet visits for checkup and any of the follow-up visits after radiation.
Going down the path of radiation, chemo, surgery followed by a possible lifetime of medications is a big commitment. Think about it from the beginning, get estimates, ask around. Better to be informed than surprised.
Make Every Day Count.
Dogs have this amazing quality of being excited about the little things. “You’re awake now! Yes! Let’s play!”. “OMG you are home!”. “MY RED BALL!”. After Ty got diagnosed, I stopped taking it for granted. Early on there were mornings we had to pick him up to get him out of bed and times where he didn’t want to play fetch (HUGE deal because he is obsessed with his red ball).
Don’t feel bad if you can’t do a cross country bucket list. You can still give him everything he wants. To your dog you are the world, just remind him he is yours.
There are a lot of great resources out there. Here are 3 to start with: