When Cancer Strikes Our Pets
Updated: May 25
The dreaded C word. As a veterinarian, this is one conversation I dread the most with pet parents, because I know it will change their world forever. I have always hated cancer, but it never hit home really how much until it became a part of my personal world.
Stanley, my little grey spicy kitty, was diagnosed last July with an aggressive GI lymphoma that had already metastasized (aka huge abdominal tumor that was out of control). Yes, it was July 4th weekend when I found the mass so every July 4th is now remembered as the weekend I knew Stanley's time with me was limited. As a holistic veterinarian, my mind started racing with all the treatment options I could try to help slow it down. I could use this herb and get him on this food and use these supplements, but my oncology appointment and ultrasound brought me back to reality. I did not use chemotherapy on him and only used prednisone. His cancer was everywhere and all I wanted to do was give him love and cherish the final weeks I had with him. Unfortunately, his time after his diagnosis was short, and we had to put him down two weeks later because his chest filled with fluid which helped make the decision to euthanize him easy but still so hard and heartbreaking. His personality was so big that our German Shepherd was afraid of him. He was a sassy cat (or an a**hole!) but also very loving. RIP Stanley.
After Stanley's passing, I thought to myself "OK, Stanley was on an ok diet so I can do better there but what else can I do to keep my other cat, Callie, and dog, Finn, from also getting sick?" I felt empowered with all my holistic knowledge and that I could keep the dreaded C word out of my house. Surely, cats are supposed to live to be 20 years old, not 11 years old like Stanley. Determined, I put Callie on a raw diet. She loved it! I used the company Darwins (www.darwinspet.com) and highly recommend them. I put her on Standard Process supplements, and she did great with them! Callie is Stanley's true sister and is the complete opposite personality of Stanley (and also looks very different - Mom had many late night escapades if you know what I mean). We moved into a new house (where they are not allowed to spray pesticides everywhere!) and Callie and Finn loved having more sun to sleep in and space to romp around!
Unfortunately, my personal journey with cancer did not end with Stanley. Labor day weekend (yes holidays are not a good time for me) I found a mass in Callie's abdomen. Her appetite was a little bit up and down and she had been vomiting about once a week for the past two weeks. Otherwise, she was acting completely normal. I took her into the clinic, and everyone thought I was crazy when I said there is another mass and it's like Stanley's all over again. Well, x-rays showed another mass in her colon but the ultrasound this time showed it was still localized in her abdomen. I'll tell you another reason cancer sucks is that when you do bloodwork, it will come back normal 90% of the time! Screw you cancer, delaying my diagnosis and treatment. Callie had bloodwork about a month prior to her diagnosis and it was all normal.
So needless to say, we started Callie on chemotherapy because surgery was not an option with lymphoma and her mass needed to shrink fast and I felt like I had to give her a chance. Starting chemotherapy was one of the hardest decisions I have had to make for my pets being a holistic doctor. I know about all the toxicities and how hard it can be on their body, but you know what?! Callie would not allow me to put anything in her mouth! I knew what herbs and supplements to use but I couldn't. Do you know how hard it is to know what to do but you CAN'T use it?! Sometimes you have to just be ok with what you are doing and know that is the best you can do and that is ok. Thank goodness there are multiple options now for medicating animals, so we were able to use ointments on the inside of her ears. This is something I always tell my pet parents now when we are talking about treatment options for their sick pets. There are a lot of different treatments out there and my job is to educate and guide pet parents, but if they are not able to cook for their pet or medicate them because of the stress on everyone, that is OK. It is OK to just love on your pet and give them the best life that you can until the end.
Callie ended up almost making it to six months past her diagnosis, and she had an awesome six months. She was allowed to sleep with me every night, she ate whatever the hell she wanted and she had so much love and attention. She was a fighter and one strong kitty. She would sing the song of her people whenever you would try to draw her blood at the clinic, but she never would lash out (unlike Sassy Stanley). The love you could see in her eyes when she would look at you, touched your soul. You know she touched multiple people's lives when her oncologist and technician cry with you when you give them the news that you helped her cross the rainbow bridge.
I know this article did not go into how to help your pet with cancer, but I wanted everyone to know that it is ok to do what you can even if it's not everything your veterinarian is telling you that you have to do. Give your pets love and be with them and that is the most important thing at the end of the day. Being with Callie and Stanley in their final moments of life was the greatest gift that I could give them after they gave me so many years of laughter and love.
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*Disclaimer: This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of your own veterinarian or doctor. Dr. Katie Woodley cannot answer specific questions about your pet's medical issues or make medical recommendations for your pet without first establishing a veterinarian-client-patient relationship.