My German Shepherd Has Cancer

Well this is certainly not a post I want to do, but perhaps through my blogging about it, perhaps it may help someone else, perhaps I will learn something to pass along, or perhaps a miracle will happen.

Let me first offer some background. About three weeks ago Sascha, my 10 year old German Shepherd would not eat. Not one bit. Not even one little piece of kibble.  I immediately took her to the vet the next day as obviously something was wrong. Since Sascha has been healthy her entire life and has had no medical problems the initial diagnosis was some type of infection, and we treated that with antibiotics.  After about three days of antibiotic treatment Sascha was back to her old self and eating her food.  Now about two weeks later, Sascha once again refused to eat (this was on a Friday). I took her into the vet first thing Saturday morning. After a brief discussion with my vet, I saw this certain look on his face that something was not good. I asked him to share what he was thinking. He mentioned that it was a little premature, but he was suspecting cancer or some type of tumor. The next step was to get some blood work and take some x-rays.

We did the x-rays and they showed an enlarged spleen, and blood work said she was anemic.  He suggested we give her some IV fluids that day, and then on Monday bring her back and give her more fluids, which I did. On Monday we discussed next steps. The next steps were to take her to another specialist vet to get an ultrasound on her spleen.  I should mention that throughout this last week or so that Sascha had been experiencing some weakness and instability in her hindquarters as well.

Today is Friday and I’ve spent the last five hours at the veterinary specialist. The results were not good.  Basically Sascha has at least three large tumors in her spleen, degenerative myelopathy, and possibly some kidney dysfunction.  The vet was very frank and honest with me. Since the spleen processes a lot of blood, with the tumors in there there was a significant risk of rupture which could be fatal. Additionally, even with surgery (splenectomy) prognosis is poor (3-6 months on average).  Here’s how my brain was processing this information and how I felt emotionally: “Perfectly normal healthy dog will likely be dead in 3-6 months even with surgery.”  Obviously heartbroken as Sascha has been the protector of the house, the guardian of Maggie (my Golden Retriever), and ridiculously loyal to me, wanting to follow me wherever I go and always wanting to just watch me.

I asked the vet when could they do the surgery, and how much it would cost. The surgery would be $3000-$4000 depending on if they needed to do a blood transfusion. That was on top of the x-rays, ultrasound, urinalysis, orthopedic consultation, and examination which cost a little over $1000.  It turns out they could do the surgery late this afternoon and I said “just do it.”  There really wasn’t a question in my mind on whether to do it or not. I would do it no matter what the cost.

Got a call around 5:30pm saying that Sascha is out of surgery and is doing fine so far. They will reevaluate her in the morning to determine if I can bring her home, or whether it will be Monday before I can do that.

I thought I would add it some little tidbits about what I’ve learned today, as well as what are some of the questions folks have asked me.

1. Does Maggie notice Sascha is not home, or notice that she is not sick? – From what I can tell, Maggie hasn’t noticed a thing yet. Whether that’s because she’s 12 years old, or because Maggie is much more into people than animals, I’m not sure. Behaviorally Sascha has been acting relatively like her normal self, so I don’t suspect Maggie would notice anything different at this point in time. Also, Sascha’s cancer has not greatly affected her physically just yet, so I don’t think Maggie suspects anything. Now once Sascha comes home from her surgery, and once Sascha starts to deteriorate, I would suspect that Maggie would notice. Whether or not she experiences some kind of depression or sense of loss remains to be seen. Sascha was always more observant of Maggie than Maggie was of her, so I really have no answers at this point in time.

2. How or why did you decide to do the surgery versus just putting her down considering the poor prognosis and the high cost of treatment? – Putting Sascha down is/was not even a consideration, because previous to her surgery today and being slightly anemic, Sascha has been acting the same as she always has. Always had a ball in her mouth, always loved being outside with me, and always wanting to lay next to me when I watch TV. So, Sascha hasn’t experienced any loss of quality of life so putting her down didn’t even cross my mind. However, despite how much I love all of my animals, once Sascha’s quality of life is no longer present, I refuse to keep her alive just to satisfy my own needs to keep her alive just so I don’t feel sad. She’s given me more joy over the last 10 years, so I will not have her suffer in any way just for my own emotional needs. Once that time comes I will do what needs to be done, but not without considerable sadness and loss, but I feel I owe her that dignity.

3. How are you going to deal with such a short period of time with Sascha? – Well statistically the odds are not in Sascha’s favor, but there is a chance that she is a statistical outlier and the cancer would be totally removed from the spleen removal. Second, I’m going to do the best as I can do just focus on the present, to enjoy each day that I have with her, rather than focusing on I’ve only got a few months left with her. When I start thinking how little time I have with her I just get incredibly sad. Focusing on the present makes me appreciate each day instead. As my primary vet suggested, “just think like a dog.” They don’t focus on the past or present, they just focus on the moment.

4. Why don’t dogs live a long time after the spleen removal? – From what I have learned, and from what my vets have educated me about, dogs don’t live a long time even if you removal the cancerous spleen because by the time the spleen has been removed, the cancer has likely already spread through the bloodstream.  I also asked my vets about the dying of a dog with this condition. What they both told me is that in general, it is not painful. The dogs may have some labored breathing and loss of energy, but they are generally not in any pain (again it depends on the type of cancer). When the time comes that Sascha no longer enjoys a good quality of life, or begins to suffer or struggle in any way, then I will do what (in my view) is the only respectful thing to do.

Those are the main questions, but if anyone has any other questions feel free to ask, and I will answer as honestly as I can. I know the primary focus of my blog is on nature and wildlife, but thought this post might help others, and it also gives me a little outlet to express what I have learned, what’s on my mind, and perhaps one day to look back on and remember what I was thinking.  I’m not sure how frequently I’ll be posting on Sascha’s condition just because of the lack of time, but I will try and provide fairly frequent updates, as again, it may help someone else who experiences this type of situation in the future, or maybe someone has some experience that they can share that I can learn from.


Camille - Oh, Larry- I’m so sorry to hear that Sascha has Cancer. And I would have done exactly the same thing you did- If surgery can gain Sascha another few months of pain free living so you can spend some quality time together and are able to have a proper “until we meet again at the Rainbow Bridge farewell”, then the cost is 100% irrevelevent!

I know that you are alot like we are with our pets- they are our babies and they provide us with so much joy and love. And it’s our job to do whatever we must do to keep them happy, healthy and safe during their lives with us. And when the time comes, as hard as it is, we must be prepared to let them go, and do what we have to in order to prevent them from being in any pain, and to preserve their dignity. It is so hard to fathom, and something I hate to think about too, but you’re so right- it’s what they deserve (and they deserve sooo much more than we can ever repay them) for being the best friends in the world!!!

I truly hope that Sascha gets back to her old self soon and that you have the entire summer (and more) together!! I would love to hear how she is doing throughout recovery. And even if you don’t do a post on here, please email me when you get the chance.April 26, 2014 – 1:09 am

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