"Your dog has cancer." What do you do?
My big sister, Tifanny was diagnosed two weeks after she was vaccinated at the age of seven. It was at her annual ophthalmologist's appointment when she was diagnosed—he looked at her red eyes, felt her swollen lymph glands and said, "I think Tifanny may have cancer." Tifanny had a condition known as uveitis. This unusual inflammation was an instant red flag to Dr. Brinkis (Eye Care for Animals) and after undergoing blood tests and additional testing that day, the diagnosis for Lymphoma was positive for cancer.
Mama here is going to take you through what you need to do when you hear these words. Those words, "Your dog has cancer," is such a horrible thing and trust me, I know, since my 7-year old Shih Tzu, Tifanny, WAS diagnosed with cancer, and I had no warning."
Based on a doggy mama's personal experiences, I will give you what I recommend. I hope that my suggestions will be helpful to you. I will remind you that I am not a doctor nor do I claim to be any expert. My suggestions are nothing more than what I found out during the time I spent living with a beloved pet who was found to have cancer. I share my information because I found that it helped others to get through difficult times when their beloved pets were also diagnosed. I also found that my hours of research paid off because Tifanny lived longer than expected, and I had eight wonderful months with her, before she crossed the Rainbow Bridge.
Okay, take a breath. Cry if you must, but get it OUT of your system NOW. You don't have time to waste because every minute is important and all that crying is wasting precious T-I-M-E. Your pet will feel your stress and this isn't good. Cancer feeds on stress and hey, it's already there, right? Why add to it? Get ahold of yourself and, when you are ready, read on.
Gather Your Support System
Most people are NOT going to understand how you feel about your dog so if you know what's best, don't start talking to non-dog people about punkin's cancer. Believe me, they will think you are crazy. Instead, go online and join a cancer support group. SERIOUSLY! There are a number of them that are FANTASTIC and if you simply have a Yahoo! account and look through various groups like Yahoo's Canine Cancer, Yahoo's Lymphoma Heart Dogs, or even Help Your Dog Fight Cancer. You are sure to find the one that will meet your needs. Dogster groups are also excellent. Dog people are THE ones to talk to; NOT family and definitely NOT people at work…Online groups are great because you can rant and rave to folks you don't SEE and if you join a cancer group, you can hash out similar experiences, both relating to what you and your pet are going through. Read pawsitive stories, such as those on the Morris Animal Foundation's Canine Cancer Campaign's website (Tifanny's story is one of them!) and donate to cancer research causes. There's a lot of information available at Canine Cancer. Another one that has good information is The National Canince Cancer Foundation. The greater your knowledge, the better for your furbaby. We were part of Canine Cancer Awareness…this helped mama tremendously.
Change your Pet's Diet
Believe it or not, diet is KEY in managing your pet's cancer. I didn't know this and was shocked to find that cancer feeds on carbs (simple carbs). Tifanny's diet changed completely when she was diagnosed. Eliminate or minimize grains. Grains of ALL sorts were eliminated and her favourite treats had to be changed. I began giving her ONLY organic foods (expensive? Sure, but worth it). Proteins in all forms, including RED beans (weird, right?) were added. Red kidney beans made for an excellent treat and are actually good for cancer patients as they help with your red blood cells (makes sense, huh). Organic, free-range chicken was one of THE staples of T's diet. Yeah, we ate regular ol' chicken but not Tifanny. Our little 4-legged baby ate better than us!
Veggies of all sorts but, in particular, bok-choy, broccoli, dark greens…even though carrots and yams contain carbs, she was able to have some of these in small amounts. Quinoa and brown rice were the ONLY grains I fed her, but again, in very small amounts.
Pick up organic (if possible) canned pumpkin. Don't get the stuff that has spices added. This is going to be a VERY important food if your pet begins chemo or radiation treatment. Canned pumpkin helps if your pet has diarrhea OR is constipated. Strangely, it will help stop the diarrhea and will help get things moving if your pet is constipated.
A variety of supplements need to be included in the diet. These supplements can be picked up at Target, Walmart, the grocery store, health food store, etc. but will be helpful in managing our pet's overall health and well-being. Flaxseed oil is helpful in reducing the inflammation and size of the cancer tumour. You can buy it in liquid or capsule form (I bought the liquid and mixed it in the food). Milk Thistle is needed for liver function. Cancer is very hard on the liver. The Milk Thistle will keep the liver in good shape. Open the capsule and mix the contents with the food. Essiac, an herbal mixture, can be mixed into food. This has been found to also be very good for cancer patients. Open the capsule and and mix it in (it comes in a variety of forms: capsules, powdered, etc.). SAM-E, another supplement, is also good to include in the food. This is found in capsule form and can be mixed in the food. It helps with the liver. Note that most of the supplements are intended for the liver. This is because if you are going the chemo-therapy route, the liver is the one that is processing the chemicals and so you need to make sure the health of this organ is also being monitored. Vitamin C powder can be increased and can be found specifically made for pets or you can buy the human form. I actually purchased all human supplements for Tifanny.
There are a few products made specifically for pets that I like and feel are excellent. Azmira, a natural, homeopathic product company, makes a number of supplements that I used for Tifanny (and currently use for Chelsea) offers many of the supplements. Check out Azmira Greatland for an assortment of fab supplements to keep your baby healthy.
Topical Flea Treatments
If at all possible, STOP using the topical flea treatments (Advantage, Advantix, Bio-Spot, etc.). These are poisons to your dog's system and will weaken his/her system further. Instead, use natural methods of flea prevention. For example, you can wipe dryer sheets along the edges of the windows and doors to keep fleas and ants from coming in. Use diatomaceous earth in the garden and in crevices to keep the bugs away. These natural remedies are much safer than having poisons around. They are also safer for your family.
Radiation and Chemotherapy
If your dog needs radiation and/or chemotherapy, you need to make the decision as to whether this is the right thing to do. You have to decide if 1) you can afford the treatment, 2) if the treatment will be too hard on your pet, and 3) if the treatment will make your pet's life better. Only YOU know your pet best so YOU have to be your pet's voice. If you don't like the recommendation from your veterinarian, go out and get another opinion. If your pet get chemotherapy, ask if other pets are also getting chemo. Why? Sometimes, if pet owners get together, you can get a reduced price on the chemo drug! Chemotherapy medications are quite expensive and they must be used within a short time so if several pets are using the same drug, it may be possible to share in the cost.
When dogs undergo chemotherapy, they will have similar reactions as humans to the drugs. Shih Tzus, because they have 'hair' and not fur, will lose their hair like humans. Tifanny began losing chunks of her hair (it was soooo sad! all that beautiful long hair just falling out in clumps…) so she became quite cold when the weather became cooler. Keep this in mind if the climate is cool or changes as you will need to make accommodations. This picture is Tifanny after three months of chemotherapy. Note the difference in amount of hair, particularly around the muzzle, from the picture above (this particular picture was included in the Firehouse Dog movie DVD montage).