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Archive for August 5th, 2012

Dog Blog: Living with canine cancer (3)

Posted by indigodream on 5 August, 2012

Week Commencing 30th July

When I started writing this post a few weeks ago, I asked myself the question  “If we could wind the clock back to April 23rd would we have made the same decisions regarding Lou’s treatment?”….

At the time I thought that the answer was “yes” – maybe with a few tweaks along the way. But at this point I’m not so sure – however I CANNOT turn the clock back so we have to live with the decisions that we’ve made.

Where there’s a roach there’s hope – Lou can sleep comfortably and that’s an empty food bowl – there are some positives…

The reason for my uncertainty is Lou’s continued malaise as a result of the radiotherapy. She is not very bright in herself and is lacking in stamina – she can barely walk 500 yards before she slows down and starts to suffer; she doesn’t seem interested in rummaging any more. Lou’s regular vets says that this is entirely understandable because the treatments will have knocked back her immune system and her body will have been using all of its resources to fight the cancer. He hopes that this will improve with time and TLC.

More worrying is her throat – the site of her cancer and target for the radiotherapy. When she had her second round of radiotherapy, we were expecting a repeat of the mucositis that she had after the first round. As I mentioned in the last cancer post, we headed this off  by increasing the dose of steroids at the first sign of trouble. The mucositis was less pronounced than after the first round of radiotherapy, but although it’s less severe, it has persisted and is not getting better. If Lou exerts herself, her mouth fills with frothy saliva, which is obviously uncomfortable. She is having some difficulty swallowing and her breathing is quite raspy when she lies on her side.

When I saw the vet 10 days ago, he commented that she wasn’t screaming when he was examining her (she usually does!) so has asked me about her bark. It wasn’t until he asked that I realised that I hadn’t heard her bark for ages. The vet fears that the radiation had damaged the nerve supply to her larynx. We had a test last night – I had a chinese takeaway delivered (for testing purposes of course!) Ty barked when the driver knocked on the door; Lou got up and went to bark but nothing came out and she had a most peculiar expression on her face….

I felt unaccountably sad – having told the barkers to “shut up” on numerous occasion, I didn’t think I’d miss it if they couldn’t! Lou losing her bark is not a problem in itself, but it may be a worrying indicator of something bad going on in her throat….

Ooh ooh, Lou felt well enough to come for a little walk 4 days ago – she barked at a pointer puppy who was running around being annoyingly young! I was so happy and was telling Lou how wonderful it was to hear her bark, forgetting that the pointer’s owner was within earshot – she edged past with that worried look that people adopt when in the presence of suspected psychopaths!!! I hasten to add that Lou was under control – honest!

Also on the positive side, Lou is able to sleep comfortably and spends a lot of her time upside-down with all four feet in the air; she also has the odd mad moment in the garden and is enjoying her food – we are able to maintain her weight at the moment. She does not seem to have the urinary/kidney problems that she used to – this may be because we’ve cleared some cancer cells from her kidneys.

I have been in touch with Lou’s radiation oncologist – he says that Lou’s symptoms are very unusual – any reaction at all to radiotherapy (at the doses they give to dogs) is very rare – what’s happening to Lou is downright inexplicable. He is being very helpful, though radiotherapy in dogs is a very new science.

Lou went in for an endoscopy on Friday 3rd August – I am desperately worried – the vets tell me that the cancer cannot have come back; the oncologist says that the chance of the radiation having caused permanent damage is negligible – so what is going on????

What I learnt:

  • nursing a dog with cancer has few certainties – the logical decisions that I was happy with a few weeks ago are now being kicked in the arse by hindsight!

All this has made me review the factors that led us to opt for treatment (chemo- and radio- therapy):

  • Lou is a survivor and has tremendous strength of character
  • Her cancer is very treatable, even if it’s not curable
  • She is insured (though we have long since blown the policy limit!)
  • I work flexibly and have the time/resources to nurse her

But if it had been Ty our decisions might have been different – he is scared of just about everything beyond the garden gate and I think that the  stress of a minimum of two vet visits a week would damage him more that the illness itself. As for Ollie, well, he’s pretty laid back, but I’m not sure he’d cope with any side-effects – Lou has been a trooper! I pray to all available deities that I never have to make these decisions for the boys…

So what advice can I offer to other people facing difficult decisions about whether to treat or not when their dog is diagnosed with cancer?

I think that the best I can offer is “know your dog, know the cancer, understand your options and keep asking questions until you do”. I respect the vets that have been involved in Lou’s care, but generally their advice has tended towards the optimistic and have led us to expect that Lou would be much better than she actually has been during/after treatment.

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