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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Well I think you are doing everything you can for Nissa. Hopefully she will continue to keep her meals down and gain strength. We will be anxious to read your next posting after she visits her oncologist again. We have also gone through cancer with our Wire Hair. Good wishes and prayers go to you and furkids. From Maggie and her humans!
Great to see you again and I apologize I didn’t get to responding sooner.
I have to agree, I do feel that I’m doing everything possible for Nissa (which helps me feel better!) and we’re watching her closely for any signs of bad anything from the chemo. She was slowly reintroduced to the chemo in a different way and it’s going on two weeks with absolutely no detectable ill effects whatsoever. She doesn’t appear to feel poorly in any way, she’s acting herself and it’s a joy to see her when she gets into her puppy-like moods all bouncy and happy! I’ve even seen her try to play with Gracie a few times which is rare but has happened a bit more recently. The last two times we put her on the chemo she was not herself, she laid around a lot and of course had the diarrhea and vomiting issues. But this time, so far so good but I’m not taking this for granted!
Thank you so much for your thoughts and well wishes. It’s great that you dropped by, thank you!
My father was diagnosed with double hit lymphoma in September of 2012, the best study I could find at the time showed a median overall survival (OS) of just 18 months. After months in the hospital at Emory in Atlanta he came out in a wheelchair from the chemo and with some residual disease. The docs put him on one final round of rituxan without much hope of its success and he started taking resveratrol and curcumin (turmeric) supplements.
Two years later he is still in complete remission, albeit with permanent bone marrow suppression and a partially collapsed lung but he is still alive and doing pretty well.
In September 2013 my mother was diagnosed with stage 3 ovarian cancer and underwent surgery and chemotherapy, like most she achieved remission and like most last fall she relapsed and is back on chemo for the rest of her life as the disease is considered incurable. The resveratrol and curcumin supplements she has been taking since the beginning have helped with both improving the chemo effectiveness and reducing its side effects as evidenced by the fact that when she stopped using them during her treatment her CA125 cancer antigen marker barely moved and she was much sicker from the chemo.
I don’t know if it is safe to give these supplements to dogs or if they can use the curcumin (turmeric) that is compounded with black pepper to improve its bioavailability. Having witnessed the effects of multiple lines of chemo I would probably do as you have done and tried them to see how my girl responded to them, that being said, I would not subject her to what my parents have endured without the hope of a cure or durable period of remission. I wish you and Nissa the best as you continue to deal with this horrible disease.
I apologize for my late response. I’m so sorry to hear about your parents and wish them and your family all the best.
You can indeed give turmeric/curcumin to dogs and Nissa is getting this twice daily along with the black pepper! I need to add that if your dog has any issues with their liver do not give it to them unless you first check with your vet as this is the one thing (that I know of anyway) where giving turmeric/curcumin can be damaging. I would love to give it to Riley to help with his aging hip issues but until he has normal liver enzyme levels I am not. Since turmeric studies report so many good things it helps with I even started taking it myself which has very quickly relieved me of my normal daily old age aches and pains. After just one capsule my knees and back started to feel better so I added a twice daily capsule to my little medicine dispenser to make sure I don’t forget to take it.
Next week I will make a coconut oil paste which includes turmeric and pepper for Nissa. We have re-introduced her chemo meds very slowly and in a different way and she’s currently tolerating both very nicely. But I have to wait until after Wednesday to introduce anything else new in case there are toleration issues we need to know specifically where the issues come from. Coconut oil is an excellent supplement for both people and dogs and ups the power of the turmeric by like 2000% (yes, that’s two thousand percent).
You can be assured that my decision to put Nissa on chemo was not an easy one. Had I been told this wasn’t such an aggressive cancer with such a high rate of recurrence and had her margins been clean we would have just gone the turmeric etc … route. The fact that 80+ percent of dogs tolerate chemo much better than humans was quite encouraging. She’s had some issues getting on and staying on it but at this point with the new reintroduction method she’s doing very well, no vomiting, no diarrhea and she seems absolutely fine. If this changes she will likely be pulled from chemo.
Thank you for your information and your well wishes, we really appreciate your thoughts!