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I am not a veterinarian. This blog post is about my personal experience raising dogs.
On September 10, 2020, we said “farewell” to our sweet Sydney. She was a victim of hemangiosarcoma and it took her quickly. This experience taught me a lot about cancer very quickly and I can't help but kick myself, wondering if there was a way for us to avoid cancer or slow the spread of the cancer. Since Life doesn't give us a do-over with Sydney, I'm taking what I learned from that experience and applying it to our other dogs, especially Rodrigo, Sydney's brother.
What is Hemangiosarcoma?
The first time I heard the word hemangiosarcoma, I couldn't remember how to pronounce it, often saying HERmangiosarcoma or just sarcoma-something. It's crazy that something I'd never heard of a few months ago, I've now become intimately familiar with in such a short time.
Hemangiosarcoma (HSA) is an aggressive cancer that involves the blood vessels, which means that dogs diagnosed with HSA have bleeds, taking pet parents on a cycle of ups and downs as they try to control those bleeds with diet and supplementation. Tumors are found in the spleen, heart, and there can be skin tumors. Because HSA starts in the blood vessels, it spreads quickly to the liver or lungs. In Sydney's case, her tumors started in the spleen and spread to her liver. HSA is so aggressive that there is an 80% chance that the cancer has spread by the time a dog is diagnosed.
I've read that large breed dogs are at a higher risk; and HSA of the skin has been connected to sun exposure and is more often seen in light coated dogs.
However, as dark as this is, there is hope and I met pet parents who had dogs that were approaching four years post-diagnosis. Check out my original post about hemangiosarcoma to learn more.
What are the Symptoms of Hemangiosarcoma?
This is the part that gets me every time I think about it. How did I not see this? She was slowing down so I took her in for a wellness check at the start of July and it didn't come up in her bloodwork and she had no signs. She was slowing down, but I attributed this to age and arthritis. Sydney has been a couch potato for years so I scheduled a massage therapy session. It'll be a while before I can let that go, but if you're reading this, I hope that this will help you and your dog.
Sydney experienced the following:
- pale gums
- lethargy or slowing down; always tired
- decreased stamina
- distended belly (due to a bleed)
- increased painting
- change in bowel movements
- some dementia
Other symptoms include seizure, fainting, collapse, and partial paralysis.
Many of the symptoms I saw in Sydney could be attributed to aging. And I can't know how long she had HSA because after a bleed, when a dog will slow down, the body absorbs the blood. When I took her to the vet in July, a month before her diagnosis, her blood work didn't show signs of anemia because her body had absorbed the blood. So, don't beat yourself up for missing the signs.
Will My Dogs Get Cancer?
According to the AVMA, dogs are diagnosed with cancer at the same rate as humans with 1 in 4 dogs receiving a cancer diagnosis, which increases to 1 in 2 dogs in dogs over the age of 10 years. As dire as that sounds, there is good news. Dogs have a higher chance of surviving a cancer diagnosis and living with cancer longer than in the past. While Sydney only lived 5 weeks after her diagnosis, I met pet parents with dogs that were approaching the four-year mark (four years after a cancer diagnosis).
Rodrigo and Sydney turned 10 this year and Sydney developed cancer – that's 1 in 2 dogs (50%).
However, after what we went through with Sydney, I became worried that Rodrigo was next because we don't know if HSA is hereditary. In my reading on hemangiosarcoma, I found that cancer found in younger dogs is more likely to hold a hereditary component, whereas, with older dogs, the cancer is due to age. The cause of HSA in dogs is unknown at this time. There really is no way to tell if a dog is going to develop this horrible cancer or not, so it's up to me to figure out if I can give my dogs a better shot at not developing cancer.
How Do We Prevent Cancer in Dogs?
I don't think that we can prevent cancer in dogs; not yet, at least. But I think that we can give our dogs a real fighting chance against cancer, helping them survive and thrive after a cancer diagnosis. After our experience with Sydney, I became more focused on strengthening my dogs' immune system. I still feed my dogs a raw food diet, however, I changed what I add to their diet with the goal of extending and improving our dogs' lives.
Boost the Immune System
I began to look at supplements that support the immune system and I now add these to my dogs' diet at least five days a week. Why five? One day, my dogs have a modified fast (raw goat's milk instead of their full meal). And I always allow a day to forget, running late, or a sick day (me, not the dogs). Whole foods and supplements that boost the immune system are:
- Answers Pet Food Fermented Fish Stock
- Canine System Saver
- Turkey Tail Mushrooms
- Herbal Blend with Liver Support
- CocoTherapy Coconut Oil
- Vegetable Mix with Spirulina, Chlorella, and Green Lipped Mussel Powder
- Canna-Pet CBD Oil
Benefits of Fermented Fish Stock for Dogs
Fermented fish stock has many benefits. I add it to my dogs' diet to support the joints, thyroid, gut, liver, skin and coat, brain functions, the immune system, and heart health.
Benefits of Canine System Saver for Dogs
I was introduced to Canine System Saver several years ago and began adding it to Rodrigo and Sydney's diet for joint health. But CSS also offers support for dogs with auto-immune diseases and chronic conditions while boosting the immune system.
Benefits of Turkey Tail Mushrooms for Dogs
Turkey Tail mushrooms were regularly recommended by members of the cancer group I joined after Sydney's diagnosis because they bring an amazing source of antioxidants to the diet. Antioxidants reduce damage caused by oxidative stress, which is brought about by rampant free radicals floating around the body. Turkey Tail mushrooms promote a healthy immune system response while suppressing inflammation in the body. And many pet parents add turkey tail mushrooms to the diet of dogs with cancer because research has shown that turkey tail reduces tumor size and slows the spread of cancer; turkey tail is also given to patients along with other cancer treatments with great success. And, finally, Turkey Tail mushrooms contain prebiotics, which is the food for healthy bacteria; adding turkey tail to a dog's diet boosts their gut health, which, in turn, boosts the immune system
Benefits of Herbal Blends by Kairos for Dogs
Daily Health plus Liver Support serves to boost a dog's overall health while also supporting healthy liver functions. Chinese Medicine focuses on an imbalance in the body. When the liver is unhealthy, we may see aggression, anxiety, allergies, digestive issues, seizures, and eye issues.
Benefits of Coconut Oil for Dogs
Virgin Coconut Oil (VCO) holds many benefits for dogs, including bringing antioxidants to the bowl, slowing the spread of cancer, and boosting the immune system and gut. Not all coconut oil is created equal in sourcing, cheap labor, and processing – this is why I only use CocoTherapy products with my dogs (and myself).
Benefits of Vegetables for Dogs
I remember when I started feeding raw vegetables caused a lot of drama in raw feeding groups; and from that drama, I learned why my dogs needed vegetables other than the additional nutrients they bring to the bowl. I feed vegetables to my dogs as a source of fiber, which supports gut and immune system health. I also feed vegetables because of the antioxidants they bring to the diet.
Benefits of CoQ10 for Dogs
Although CoQ10 is abundant in fermented fish stock, I don't follow the dosing on the containers so I supplement with a Dr. Harvey's product to make sure that I'm supporting my dogs' heart health. CoQ10 is also an antioxidant and has been used in cancer protocols for dogs.
Benefits of CBD Oil (Canna-Pet) for Dogs
Answers Pet Food
When Sydney was still with us, I ordered a case of chicken, beef, and pork Answers Pet Food Straight formulas and we still have it on hand so I'm mixing it into my meal prep. I've put Answers Pet Food at the top of the list of foods that are good for dogs, especially dogs that aren't doing so hot healthwise. I've heard so many success stories from other pet parents, so I've decided to add a small amount of food from Answers to my shopping list. Already, I order their kefir, fermented fish stock, and cheese treats for my dogs.
animalEO Essential Oils for Dogs
I'm so thankful to the people who reached out to me about essential oils and animalEO. I had already ordered a couple of the oils and loved them so I was ready to place a monster order to help my dogs. To help improve my dogs' health, I have the following essential oils:
- Aroma Boost Collection (weekly application)
- Boost in a Bottle (great for Zoey, who isn't a fan of essential oils)
- Cardio Boost
- Sunshine in a Bottle
- Open Air
I placed an order recently for Dump-a-Lump to help with those pesky fatty tumors that make your heart stop when you first feel them.
New Wellness Plan to Prevent Cancer
And, because Rodrigo is Sydney's brother, he will go to the vet twice annually for bloodwork (my other dogs go once a year) along with x-rays and he'll get an ultrasound once a year. I know a lot of people take their senior dogs twice annually, but I've stuck with once a year and then additional appointments (with bloodwork) if I have a concern. This works best for my budget.
I've had people tell me that there was a low chance of Rodrigo developing cancer and I've heard from people who shared that a couple of dogs in a litter developed HSA and this is why it's important to stay in touch with the families of littermates. My veterinarian told me that there is no way to predict hemangiosarcoma in dogs. And with that information, I changed my focus on trying to figure out if Rodrigo was at a higher risk and began focusing on my dogs' immune system and over all health.
Wish me luck.