Nissa is the one of our three sheps that most people walking down the street are the most afraid of. But that’s only because she’s mostly black and a big girl (the absolute definition of “I’m not fat I’m fluffy!”) and who has this intimidating way of head-low side-looking people that says “I’m watching you so don’t even think about it.” Reality is that she’s our gentle, shy, beautiful princess who we don’t believe would hurt a fly unless her family was threatened whereby she’d likely pull out all the stops. For her to have cancer is just flat out hands-down wrong but she’s not the only dog out there with cancer, families who love them and who are experiencing similar journeys.
Unfortunately, cancer in dogs is not not a rare occurrence and happens all too often especially if your dog is among the breeds most afflicted with it which includes German Shepherds. I found sheps listed as #5 or a 14.8% chance on several websites depicting breeds likely to get cancer and the types of cancer is wide spread. If you have a shep in your family one of your key mental notes should be to hope for the best but expect the worst when it comes to their health. Absolutely, dogs of any age, breed and size get sick but sheps … well, they really drew a short straw when it comes to serious illnesses.
I strongly urge you once again that if you have a German Shepherd(s) or any pet for that matter because they all get sick, that you don’t use any excuse whatsoever to not have pet insurance. I don’t even want to think of where we’d be financially if it weren’t for our Healthy Paws pet insurance. Our $135.00 per month premiums (total for 3 dogs) has reimbursed to us in multi-thousands of dollars. We can take our furkids to any vet with the confidence that no matter what’s found to be wrong with them we will never have to put our babies down as tooooooo many people often do simply because we don’t have the money to pay for their health care.
I recommend that you get your furkid insured just as soon as you get them home to live with you. The sooner you get them insured the more that will be covered and not considered a pre-existing condition. We missed out on coverage for Riley’s hip surgeries because I waited too long to get coverage. Had I just done it instead of procrastinating, I would have saved us about $3,500.00 and I won’t make this mistake again.
At our house having health insurance for our furkids is not an option, it’s mandatory for us. We feel that if we can’t afford to pay for their health care from A to Z we have no business having pets. We cannot and will not put a price on their lives and so we are simply never going to put ourselves in the position of telling a vet to put our baby down because our wallet is empty. An extra plus for having pet insurance? We can have more than one dog!
For those of you who may face cancer with your dog I’ll share an originally disturbing-to-me fact about chemo capsules. The oncologist never mentioned this (grrrrr!) so I wasn’t expecting it but between the time her meds were scripted over to Pet Apothacary in Milwaukee for filling and the time we received them in the mail I learned that we had to wear surgical gloves to give her one of the medications. The first thought that came to my mind and got stuck there was that “We have to wear gloves but it’s ok for these to go in her mouth????” This made no sense to me whatsoever, all I could think of was that her mouth is skin and it’s ok for the caps to touch her skin and not ours?
In order to get a no-doubts answer (everyone else I asked gave me their opinions which included the common sense reason it turned out to be but that didn’t make it fact in my mind) we stopped to our local Walgreens and spoke with the pharmacist. He assured me it was only because they didn’t want us absorbing chemo drugs because we’re not being treated for cancer. Once I heard that from a person who knew for sure, I was ok with it.
With that said, let’s get on with this update. It’s now Friday and currently our lives are peaceful and uneventful … but getting from last Saturday to today is a whole ‘nudder story.
Just like the oncologist mentioned day 3 hit and so did the vomiting. It was 8 -10 hours after her Sunday night meal and there were still complete pieces of her dinner the night before in it. I felt really bad for her but since I was aware this could happen I fully expected it, cleaned it up and hoped that would be the end of it. Ahhhhh …. no. She lost her Monday breakfast and her Monday dinner. After each toss of a meal I’d give her tummy a couple hours to settle down, attempt to feed her again and each time she then kept her meal down. The oncologist had told me the vomiting would likely last 24-48 hours and that should be the end of it.
Tuesday morning was a bit of a panic. She ate breakfast and just about 3 minutes later promptly left her breakfast in three piles in the back yard. The problem here is that she had two high powered chemo capsules in her that I knew were somewhere in her vomit and couldn’t stay there because as we dog people all know … our other dogs might just decide it smelled good enough to eat and I sure didn’t want them ingesting chemo medications. Ok, so now I’m picking up and digging through vomit to find her pills. I found the big gun but never found it’s buddy, so I only had one of the two pills accounted for. I grabbed the baking soda and dumped a pile of it on the remaining vomit remnants knowing they’d not touch the baking soda.
Not knowing what to do and certainly not wanting to OD her should she still have one pill in her tummy, I immediately then put in a call to the oncology department to find out what to do about the now missing dose of chemo drug since I could only account for one and she’s supposed to take the two as a matched set. I was advised to stop the chemo and give her a week to let her tummy settle and then they wanted to see her and figure out after a check-up what Plan B would be. From here things went downhill before they began to go uphill.
Our girl with the iron tummy can’t keep her meals down, even on no chemo drugs she vomited 6 or 7 times on Wednesday. In case I haven’t mentioned this previously, she can’t be on her raw diet when on chemo. The oncologist told me that she would not treat a dog with chemo who’s on a raw diet and neither would any of her oncology colleagues that she knows. They believe that because chemo lowers the immune system she would not be able to fight off the bacteria etc … that’s in raw that a healthy dog doesn’t have a problem with and she could be come very seriously ill or even die. When she explained this it made sense but absolutely refusing to put commercial dog food in her I began cooking her meals for her the Sunday before she started chemo because she needed to be off raw a few days before it was started.
Boiled boneless chicken breast, cooked white rice and canned carrots in the carrot juice and added unsalted chicken or vegetable broth. One batch is about five of her normal 11 ounce meals. The broth was added because she’s supposed to drink a lot of water on chemo and she’s not much of a fan of water, the unsalted broth is the next best thing. I’m not big on cooking to begin with and it’s not hard work but it is time consuming because I cut up the chicken into small pieces to mix well with the rest and then there’s the pot scrubbing and other clean up which I’m now doing every other day or so to keep ahead of things. I also cooked up beef, turkey hearts and some other meats & veggies with the rice to make a doggy stew.
Although Nissa probably doesn’t care (she loves chicken and rice) me being human and liking variety in my meals I figured not only would I do the same for her but more importantly she simply can’t live on boiled chicken and rice for six months, she needs more than that nutrition-wise and we all know that cooked food loses some of its nutritional value anyway. Let’s just say I went through all this food very quickly because of the number of meals that hit the floor shortly after eating them. A couple hours later I’d try again and she’d always keep round 2 of her meals down thank goodness. If you think about it though, what was happening is like throwing good food in the trash because on Wednesday she was losing it faster than it took her to eat it and then she’d get a second meal that she did keep down.
Now it’s getting pretty scary and my brain’s working overtime to come up with some new ideas that maybe she’ll eat and more importantly keep down. She’s a diva when it comes to what she’ll eat which in itself can be it’s own problem and in a situation like this makes things double-difficult.
I took her off every supplement she’d been getting. Salmon oil caps, vitamin e caps, slippery elm bark sprinkled on her food (which wasn’t doing what it’s supposed to do anyway and that’s to help with nausea), her probiotics, the turmeric, IP-6, coconut oil, and the digestive enzymes blah blah blah. The last four are supps that are being studied and showing very promising results for helping to fight cancer and/or helping her tummy to keep things down and her body to stay strong. So right now our girl is getting absolutely nothing to fight her cancer which to me feels like I’m doing nothing to help her but on the other hand if she’s not keeping it down what good is it? We had to figure out what was making her vomit as well, which would be a process of trial and error once she hopefully stops vomiting. For all we know it could be one or more of the supps or a combination of any of the above.
On Thursday I switched her to 3 small portions in the morning about 4 ounces each of just boiled chicken and nothing else and lo-and-behold she kept them all down! What we hope was happening was that the chemo drugs were not out of her system yet and causing the tummy issues. On Thursday night I went to two small portions about 6 ounces each about 2 hours apart and I have success! NO vomiting! I was out of plain boiled meat and none in the freezer either so the last small serving was the chicken, rice and carrot combo that I’d made in the slow cooker.
Next week we’ll go back to the oncologist and figure out what’s next. They tell me there are a few options open that we’ll discuss. So many things to think about! We may find out that Nissa can’t handle chemo. Maybe though it seemed right in the beginning it was the wrong decision to put her on chemo. Maybe we should just go strictly with supps? Her quality of life is what’s important. As much as we want that to be for as long as possible, living her life vomiting up her meals is not quality of life. The statistics show that her cancer will more than likely return somewhere in her body but there’s also our wishful thinking that maybe just maybe even a 1% chance that those damn mitotonic cells were in fact all inside the small margins and maybe there was no overspill so maybe they did get it all in her surgery.
It sure isn’t easy to make life altering decisions on maybes. This is definitely one of those times that all dog owners wish their dogs could talk. If she could only tell me what she wants me to do for her!
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