When your vet says,

“It could be cancer.”   

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Excerpt from our July newsletter by Chiclet T. Dog

I’m going to break with tradition and let you read my diary, an act usually punishable by a slow, painful licking to death. Something scary is happening to my boyfriend Jiggy, but it taught Mom and me so much we wanted to share it with you. You may think it doesn’t pertain to you. We didn’t think it pertained to us either—until it did. It’s about cancer, something afflicting half of all older dogs who die of disease—and lots of younger dogs, too. Please read on and find out what we’ve learned. It could help you with any major medical situation. 

June 13.  Jiggy’s latest blood test reports that his liver enzymes, which have been behaving themselves for several years now, have mysteriously risen. Dogs can look and feel terrific (Jiggy did) and still have an underlying disease process. That’s why your dog needs a yearly checkup and blood test. (Dogs over six should get two checkups yearly.)   

Anyway, Mom decided to have his teeth cleaned because bacteria lurking in his gums could be causing, or at least, exacerbating the problem. His liver disease makes anesthesia problematic so we opted for anesthesia-free cleaning by someone who works with our vet and who actually does sonar cleaning up under the gums. But that’s another story. 

July 3.  During cleaning, the dental tech found a lesion on Jiggy’s throat. You have to pull his tongue aside to see it unless you’re my size and are faced with it he yawns. It looks like a thin slice of pencil eraser (the tasty kind), except it’s oval. It’s rough and red in the center, smooth and pink around the edges. Even though Mom brushes our teeth daily, and checks around our gums, she never would have found this lesion herself.    

Dr. Brook Niemiec, a board certified veterinary dentist, told us he finds tumors all the time during cleaning—often when they’re small enough to be removed for a complete cure. Unfortunately, if we wait for our moms and dads to find them, tumors tend to be the size of golf balls. You Humans just aren’t very observant. When was the last time you inspected your dog’s whole mouth?  (Depending on the dog’s temper and tooth size, this job is often best left to brave professionals. Getting your dog to that professional regularly is your responsibility.)

        July 5.  A world-famous oncologist checked Jiggy’s throat and said that if Jiggy were a pup, or chewed bones or sticks (which he doesn’t), he’d presume that the “spot” was just an injury. Pressed by Mom, he guessed that, in Jiggy’s case, there was maybe a 50% chance it was cancer. I could tell the news wasn’t good because Mom started crying. She made herself stop when Jiggy looked up at her with concern. It’s important not to stress the doggy patient

The oncologist suggested an immediate x-ray, CT scan, blood test and biopsy. You need an empty stomach for some blood tests and for anesthesia, and Jiggy was brought in fasting. She almost handed Jigs over for the tests—she was so anxious and scared—until I gave her that “get a grip” look I have to give her sometimes. I know she always advises people to take a breath and take a break.  She needed to think things through before letting anyone cut on my Jiggy, so she rescheduled for tomorrow.   

We took Jiggy home and Mom called out our holistic vet. He told her to get the biopsy. My worry-wart Mom would have to know what was happening.  He also said to have them remove the entire lesion rather than take just a small piece to test—if they could do so safely and without too much trauma. Why?

  • It is not uncommon for biopsies to have to be repeated because they yield inconclusive results.

  • You may have to pay for everything again to take another sample or to remove the lesion/tumor.

  • Your want to avoid the risk of administering anesthesia again.

Of course, if the mass can’t be easily and safely removed, that’s a different matter.

Mom decided to consult the vet who helps with Jiggy’s liver about the advisability of giving him anesthesia even once.  She made an appointment for a phone consult the morning of the 7th  and postponed the biopsy again. 

July 6.  Waiting for the consultation gave Mom time to think and make plans:

1)  She had time to line up experts. She contacted her surgeon of choice, because her oncologist wasn’t a surgeon. The first vets to see potential cancers usually aren’t even oncologists. The person who does the biopsy can determine much of the success, or failure, of the entire treatment. Don’t leave this decision to chance. 

2) She remembered that Jiggy had a loose tooth that could probably be slipped out during the biopsy. He had been on antibiotics for the teeth cleaning so infection shouldn’t be a problem. (Otherwise, it might.)  They could do this simple procedure inexpensively without further danger to Jiggy. 

3) She remembered that Jiggy was on herbs; something the surgeon and anesthetist should know. She had time to stop them. 

4) She could get our Arnica Montana (available at your health food store or holistic vet) to help limit bruising and bleeding—and thus speed healing. Our vet recommends it before and after surgery. 

5) She could give Jiggy some Rescue Remedy before leaving him at the vet to help keep him calm.  

6) She could prepare his favorite carrier for him to stay in at the vet.  She taped his photo (left) to the carrier so they’d know who Jiggy was and whose carrier it was. (They leave it open inside his cubicle.) She could also spray the carrier with D.A.P. for a little extra emotional comfort and tuck in his favorite stuffed toy. Otherwise, he’d have to wait a long time in a hard metal cage with nothing to do but go berserk.

7) The surgeon and oncologist both recommended a CT Scan immediately before the biopsy.  Mom’s first instinct was to say no. We didn’t want him under anesthesia any longer than necessary.  Both doctors insisted that the scan was necessary to determine the size and depth of the lesion, and to determine where to take the biopsy.  Mom had time to do some investigation and reluctantly agreed that was the best course of action. 

            July 7.  Mom talked to our consulting holistic vet this morning. Mom described the lesion and answered a lot of questions. They decided we should watch the lesion for a week or so to see if it healed. No one wanted Jiggy to be traumatized unnecessarily while his liver was misbehaving. (Some cancers are aggressive and need immediate attention; we had already determined that Jiggy’s lesion didn’t appear very aggressive—we hoped.) 

Mom canceled today’s biopsy but wanted the oncologist to look at the lesion again. Our onco-doc wasn’t working that day so she scheduled a recheck with his partner. Second opinions are always a good idea, even when your vet is a friend or top expert. 

The new vet introduced himself as the only guy in the practice who had never treated Jiggy (only a slight exaggeration). He looked down his throat and said it looked like an injury that was healing. Yeah! Then Jiggy’s surgeon wandered by and took a peak. He thought it looked like a chemical burn. 

If this lesion were on trial for being cancer, we clearly had reasonable doubt.

The new doc gave Jigs a blood test at Mom’s request. The results came back immediately from their in-house lab. Jiggy’s liver enzymes were completely wacko. If they had used our regular lab the results might have been different, so they stuck poor Jiggy again and stole more blood. Mom hopes you’ll remember this when checking your own dog’s progress from an illness. Different labs yield different results. Save yourself some money and grief by using your usual lab whenever possible. 

July 10.   The results from our regular lab showed a much less dramatic rise in the liver enzymes but there’s clearly work to do.   

July 13.  Jiggy’s regular vet sees Jiggy’s throat and says he “doesn’t like the look of it.” We get scared again. 

July 19.  Mom and I left Jigs this morning for another blood test, a chest x-ray, CT scan and biopsy.  We think the lesion looks smaller but because mouth injuries usually heal quickly because of good blood supply, and this one hasn’t, we’re going for the biopsy. At 3:00 PM they called and said to come get Jiggy. The CT scanner wasn’t functioning and we’d have to postpone. Both Mom and I screamed.  Jiggy was just thrilled that he could eat. 

Mom considered taking Jiggy elsewhere but not all practices have a CT scan, a board-certified surgeon skilled in operating on small dogs, anesthetists skilled in administering anesthesia to small dogs (so important!) and an oncologist on staff. And no one else knows about Jiggy and his liver or knows that he’s a perfect dog. 

            July 24.  The CT is up and running and so we left Jiggy at the vet’s. Our surgeon and Mom agreed to proceed conservatively—to do a blood test then tranquilize Jiggy enough for the surgeon and oncologist to really look at Jiggy’s throat and poke at it with their fingers to determine what it felt like. If they thought the lesion looked like it was healing, we’d postpone again. Otherwise, we’d go ahead with the procedures. 

A few hours later we got a call. Jiggy’s liver enzymes are way down! Also, both vets agreed that the lesion looked better and recommended that we should just keep and eye on it and wait. Please keep your fingers and paws crossed for my dear friend and think good thoughts. And give your own dog a hug for us. 

           August 15.  Jiggy's throat lesion completely disappeared. Several weeks later, it was back in a different spot--then disappeared again. It appears to have been, for the want of a better term, a "reverse freckle" on his pink and black palate. As far as I know, it may have been changing since he was born.

          November 20.  Jiggy has a new, larger "reverse freckle." We'll continue to watch it and see what happens.

Summary.  Taking the conservative approach not only saved Jiggy an unnecessary surgery and anesthesia (at least we hope it has), it was about 1/10 the cost of a more aggressive approach. Even if we had decided to take the aggressive route, the delay would have allowed us to make Jig’s ordeal much more comfortable and safe. When it’s not an emergency, there are many benefits to proceeding with caution.   

Absent proof positive, even the best vets (and doctors) are just making educated guesses, and even great minds differ. It’s up to you to advocate for your dog, make the best decision you can, and then, for heavens sake, relax!  You humans can drive us crazy with that annoying crying.


Disclaimer: We are not veterinarians. If you spot any unusual lesion or any other signs of cancer, please see your veterinarian--or better yet, a veterinary oncologist.  If your dog has been diagnosed with cancer, please check out our chapters on major medical problems and the links on our link page.  



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