Canine Cancer Strikes: A Rough Wake Up Call

canine cancer

Those threatening statistics always nagged at the back of my mind. Canine cancer will affect 1 in 2 or 1 in 3 dogs (AKC Canine Health Foundation). I’ve owned dogs all my life, and I knew there was more that I could do for them to prevent cancer, I just didn’t know what. Moreover, WHY do so many dogs fall to cancer?

Franklin, flying

Franklin was my heart dog; a dog who knew my heart inside and out. Of course, he never said a word to me, but he always knew what was up, what was in my head and heart.

Franklin was my running buddy, and helped transform me from a shy, kinda chunky, and unsure woman to a strong and confident athlete. Franklin trained me for my first marathon. It was Franklin’s cancer at 8 years old that was such a rough wake up call for me.

 This dog had SO MUCH ENERGY, that he needed to play fetch just to go for a walk. He NEEDED to run. 

I would snuggle with Franklin on the sofa in the evenings, smelling his stinky head. The thought of ever having to say goodbye, sent goosebumps to my arms and a lump to my throat. Every time. I panicked about saying goodbye to Franklin, and shed unneeded tears well before he ever got sick. He was 8 when I finally did  have to say goodbye, far too young. It was because of an aggressive cancer that we never saw coming from a million miles away. 

Canine Cancer Happened to Me

My husband, Chris and I were walking Franklin and our Golden Retriever, Birdie down the street to the neighbor’s house to return something I’d borrowed.

I will never forget the sight of Franklin stiffening up in the middle of the street and just falling over. Like a load of lead. He just tipped right over. I’d never witnessed anything like it. Something was wrong. I felt my stomach drop to my feet.

We gently coaxed him back into the house and offered him a treat. He weakly wagged his tail, but would not take that treat. Chris and I always said that if this dog ever, ever refused food there was definitely something wrong with him! He was absolutely not eating that treat. 

We deliberated on the couch for about 5 minutes and came to the conclusion that he needed to go to the vet. Of course, it was the ER vet. On a Saturday. After the battery of tests, several hours of waiting, and giving our credit card over for god-knows-how much, we left  with some overpriced prescription wet food garbage, antibiotics that likely further hindered Frank’s immune system, and no answers.

The vet did tell us his spleen was enlarged and that it was probably just an illness. She gently glazed over the, “Well, there is this cancer that begins in the spleen called Hemangiosarcoma part, but we don’t really want to go there yet.” 

We Became a Statistic

We took Franklin to our own vet on Monday to have an ultrasound conducted after another one of those scary fainting episodes. The office was packed. The woman who took Franklin did not give us the time of day.

My own trusted vet returned with Franklin and told me in a rushed tone, “We really don’t have the resources to perform this kind of surgery. These cancers are so aggressive, and the prognosis is bleak, plus I am leaving for vacation tomorrow. You’re better off having the ER vet take care of him.” I was floored and devastated. 

Chris and I deliberated for about a week. There was another fainting episode where we were sure Franklin would die. His gums turned white, his paws and ears turned to ice, and he couldn’t move. We later learned that this type of cancer, Hemangiosarcoma is a canine cancer that (HSA) begins in the spleen and spreads through the blood vessels. There are tumors that burst in the dog’s abdomen, causing them to bleed out or bleed to death. That is what was happening to our poor Franklin. 

Perhaps one of the most unfortunate facts about HSA is that it is often detected once it has spread and it’s too late to do much about. Sadly, 90% of dogs who are diagnosed with HSA perish in less than a year, whether or not aggressive treatments are sought.

The morning after that scariest fainting episode, when he came back around, we decided to have the surgery that would remove his spleen, and hopefully, the offensive cancer tumors. A “splenectomy”. We were warned that many dogs who undergo this splenectomy surgery are full of tumors and euthanized on the spot, so we understood that was a possibility.

It was a tense night waiting to hear from the vet who operated on Frank. He called late; around 10 pm to tell us that Franklin had survived the operation, but there were tumors that had spread to his liver. Neither the experienced vet who saved Franklin or ourselves had any idea how much time that operation had bought him. 

Our Canine Cancer Protocol

Over the next 2 months, Franklin went to the holistic vet, received Reiki treatments, ate Chinese herbs with his meals, and started a homemade diet. All of this came at a financial cost, and I am the first to admit that I am privileged to have a cushion and live as a saver,  but I won’t say it didn’t sting. A lot. I am a public school teacher, so I most definitely don’t have bottomless pockets! 

Was There a Light at the End of the Tunnel?

Franklin lived two more months, as we diligently checked items off his bucket list and helped him live each day to the fullest; Doritos on the sofa, days taken off from work to romp on the beach, ice cream at the drive through, all the raw meat and steak he could eat, and poop-and-snoop walks till his little dog heart was content.

For awhile, it was as if the cancer really was gone. He was fully healed, and back to his normal, obnoxious self. 

It was a shock, but not totally out of left field when I came home from work and Franklin ran outside, dish-cloth in mouth to show me how happy he was to see me, and tipped over again on the front stoop. He tipped over!

The tumors had spread and one had burst.  These episodes went on over 2 more weeks. One or two of the episodes were bad. I wasn’t sleeping or eating and normal life seemed far away. We finally could not put him through this any more.

The worst part of this terrible canine cancer was that he would bounce back, and it was as if nothing was wrong with him! We knew he could be so close to having a bleed that took him from us for good, or worse, caused him to suffer great pain. Living with and watching my dog with hemangiosarcoma was one of the trials of my life.

Not the Only One

While I was grieving my loss, I’d talk to anyone I could about how this could have happened to my dog. I learned that so many people had lost their own dogs the same way! To this same rotten cancer! Some were not as “lucky” as me. I at least got a couple of months with him.

Some acquaintances had lost their dogs instantly, during or after just one of those bleeds! Several had opted to put their dogs to sleep before even knowing what the cancer was. The process to positively diagnose HSA involves removing the spleen, which is expensive and traumatic to the poor dog. Even one of the vets who worked with Franklin had lost her dog to Hemangiosarcoma.

Researchers don’t really know how this cancer starts, but according to the AKC Health Foundation, 1.5-2.5 million dogs will develop this exact canine cancer and die from it. 

What Can You Do to Lower Canine Cancer Risk for Your Dog?

On the flip side, dogs are extremely resilient. Many will develop cancers of all kinds, but with dedication and consistency from their owners; consistency with diet, elimination of environmental toxins, and with knowledge about proper nutrition for your dogs many  dogs who get cancer will, by some miracle recover. Many owners will prolong their best friend’s lives.  If you don’t believe this, visit Researchers here are working towards curing canine cancer through a ketogenic diet. It’s’ pretty amazing stuff! 

 I am not saying I have a cure for dog cancer or some magic bullet. I do not. I was not  successful in saving my Franklin. I was, however, successful in eradicating seasonal allergies that had plagued poor Franklin all his life, with diet only!

Franklin had seasonal allergies all his life. What began as itchy skin, became red, raw hot-spots and goopy, runny eyes for 2 months of the year. We treated Frank with OTC allergy medication for half of the year. I believe this was part of the perfect storm that allowed his immune system to fail him and let the cancer attack in the first place. 

What I learned over the course of the 2 months that he was sick shocked and saddened me, but it made me absolutely determined  not to let it happen to another dog.

What I have learned and worked toward since that fateful day in 2017 led to me learning everything I could about dog cancer and preventing it, about how to feed my dog properly and cut down on environmental toxins in my home that may be harmful to my beloved dogs. 

It’s been nearly 5 years since that horrible diagnosis, and in that time I have read nearly every book on dog nutrition, earned a couple of online pet nutrition certifications, and even researched, developed a healthy food recipe and secured all of the proper licensing to start a tiny dog food company in my hometown. 

It’s been quite a journey. I am the first to admit that I am not a dog nutritionist, I am not a veterinarian, nor do I work with dogs outside of my little dog food company. However, I can tell you that I have been an educator by profession, nearly 20 years!

With that said, I am comfortable conducting proper research and flushing out BS. Much of the information I learned during the exhaustive research regarding dog cancer has stuck with me. My reason for writing this blog is to impart that knowledge on others. I don’t want anyone to go through what I went through with my beloved Franklin!

The best way to prolong your dog’s life is to not let them get cancer AT ALL!  I am dedicated to educating you to make the best, healthiest, and most informed choices for your beloved pets. They deserve the world and more!

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