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Featuring Demian Dressler, DVM and Sue Ettinger, DVM, Dip. ACVIM (Oncology), authors of The Dog Cancer Survival Guide

Dog Cancer Surgery: What I’ve Learned So You Don’t Have To

Updated: August 16th, 2022


Dog cancer surgery is really scary, and there’s a lot to think about. The editor of The Dog Cancer Survival Guide just went through it.

As the editor of The Dog Cancer Survival Guide, I’ve been thinking about dog cancer every day for over a decade. I have been managing this website for Dr. Demian Dressler, absorbing and editing his words, and answering millions of emails from dog lovers all over the world. This is not fun work, I’ll admit. But it feels important and meaningful. In September, I found out just how important when my own little Kanga faced down her own dog cancer surgery. I hope to impart a few of the things I learned over the last few months below. There are also a few videos to share with you … don’t worry — nothing too graphic.

(I’m still quite raw emotionally so I may not be very articulate and organized. I apologize in advance for that, and hope that if you have questions or need clarity, you will let me know in the comments so I can address your feedback.)

Editor’s Note: This article was written in December 2018. My latest updates for Kanga’s health are below the main article.

You Can Do Everything “Right” and Still Get Cancer 🙁

Here’s the shocking truth about my dog’s cancer: I’ve done just about everything right as a dog mom. When Kanga, an eight-pound Maltese, came to live with us at age 13 weeks, I took Dr. Dressler’s advice:

  • Delayed spay (actually, never did one, for various reasons)
  • Delayed her vaccinations
  • Never, ever fed her commercial dog food (until The Honest Kitchen started making their lovely dehydrated human-grade food, which Kanga loves and takes some of the pressure of cooking tasks)
  • I gave her EverPup* every day starting at age 2 when it first arrived on the market.
  • She’s had daily walks, most days on the beach.
  • We give dozens of pets and snuggles a day.

True to breed, her teeth are awful — but otherwise, she’s been almost disgustingly healthy. She just turned ten in October, but routinely gets mistaken for a puppy.

So what happened?

Your dog can fight cancer with food!

Finding the Lump

In late September, I took Kanga to see Dr. Dressler for a physical and a MUCH needed tooth cleaning.

I knew her teeth had been bothering her for a while. She’d become picky about food and sometimes didn’t want to eat at all. Her breath smelled like a garbage truck. I avoided bringing her in, typically, because I am always worried about anesthesia risks. Finally, when she vomited three mornings in a row, I decided we better go in.

Pro Tip: If your dog is vomiting thin yellow bile in the morning, and has stinky breath, it could be an abscess that is draining to the stomach and irritating the whole system. It could also be something worse. Don’t be like me, take your dog in for regular oral hygiene appointments. 

Dr. D examined her thoroughly, including X-rays to make sure her lungs were clear for anesthesia. (At ten, she’s getting to that age when it could be riskier.)

He put her on a round of antibiotics to clear her obvious mouth infection, advised me that she would likely lose a dozen teeth, and sent me home. I decided to wait until my husband got back to Maui before bringing her back for a follow-up. I can’t tell you why, exactly, although it had something to do with me being a wimp and not wanting to deal with the stress of worrying about her all by myself.

My Delay May Have Saved Her Life

It took about five weeks for us to get back to Dr. D’s office to get her pre-dental bloodwork done, which turned out to be a blessing.

Why? Because Dr. D decided to examine her again, and as he palpated her abdomen, he paused.

“There is a lump that was not here a month ago.”

Oh. My. Word.

If we’d gone in a few weeks earlier, we may have never found that tumor. We’d have just cleaned her teeth, then waited months to “torture” her with another vet visit!

Sometimes, procrastination pays off. (Sometimes.)

But Does She Really Need Dog Cancer Surgery?

Ultrasound was ordered, and there it was — a mass 2.5cm long where her right ovary should be.

What had been a discussion about routine dental cleaning was turning, quickly, into a discussion about biopsies, prognosis, and ovarian tumor types.

Good grief.

I remained calm, especially compared to how most people feel when getting this news.

I know so much about how common dog cancer is — how stupidly, ridiculously often people lose their dogs to cancer — that I can’t say I was surprised, exactly.

After all, we live about five miles away from a field where a giant biotech company sprays cocktails of herbicides and pesticides on their seed corn to see if it can withstand the chemicals. We’re downwind, and I am acutely aware that open-air spraying of those substances really increases our exposure. Closing windows and eating organic food can help, but I can’t avoid exposure from just walking outside, breathing our air, or swimming in the ocean off that field.

Reality Check

One out of two dogs over the age of ten gets cancer. One out of seven dogs eventually gets cancer. It’s the number one cause of death in dogs, after shelter euthanasia. I’ve known this for years. I’ve been emotionally preparing for the reality that I could do “everything right” at home … and my Kanga and Roo could still get cancer.

Even with all this knowledge, though, I was gripped by apprehension and doubt. Could I really let Dr. D cut her open? Was the risk really worth it?

Was the risk really worth it?

The look in his eyes told me what I needed to know: yes, it was worth it.

“This thing has been growing quickly. We’ve got to get it out and see what else is going on.”

We scheduled the surgery for a few days later, early on a morning when he had no other surgeries and could monitor her all day after.

She had become super picky about food, and we had to hand-feed her by this point. The night before surgery my husband James decided she needed a special meal. We are kinda superstitious, so I won’t call it her “last meal.” But for the first time ever she got to sit up with us at the table. We had to put a bunch of pillows on the chair and her dog bed on top of that. I felt supremely silly, because I’m not really a dog-at-the-table kind of dog mom. But … we really wanted her to eat, because we knew she hadn’t been and wouldn’t for a few days. So, anything to get her interested!

Here’s a home-movie video I took of James hand-feeding her a dinner of turkey or beef burgers and rice.

I’m laughing at myself right now, because even watching that video a month later, I think “ugh, her freshly washed hair is getting in the plate!”

Pro Tip: if you can bathe your dog before surgery, do so. It will be a while before they can get anything other than a sponge bath while the wounds heal!

Day of the Dog Cancer Surgery

I’m not going to go into details about the surgery itself, because the images I saw on Dr. D’s phone are just not ones I want to think about (let alone show you). Here are the basic facts.

  • It took nearly 3 hours, which is a long time for a ten year old, eight pound dog.
  • The right ovary had “reached out” tentacles and attached itself to the kidney, it’s neighbor, and the spleen, which is not a neighbor.
  • There were multiple blood vessels Dr. D had to carefully cut in order to get the whole thing out.
  • The tumor was bleeding inside — a slow oozy type of bleed that can happen when a tumor grows so fast that it outgrows its own blood supply and starts to die off. If left inside her, that bloody tumor could very likely have erupted into a life-threatening internal bleed.
  • The other ovary was “degenerating” and the uterus was full of what later turned out to be endometriosis.
  • Kanga did much better under anesthesia than any of us thought she would.
  • Dr. D was also able to get her teeth cleaned and extract the abscessed tooth.
  • He was pretty sure he’d gotten all of the tumor out.

I was really, really grateful that Dr. D was there for us and for Kanga. Before the surgery, when I handed her over to him, he said “I’m going to take good care of her,” and I knew he was making a soul deep commitment.

Learn how to communicate with your veterinary professionals 🙂

I didn’t quite hold my breath until the phone rang to tell us she was out, but I did get a little lightheaded a few times.

When we picked her up later that day, Kanga was mad at me for the first time ever. She wouldn’t look at me. She didn’t kiss me for nearly 48 hours.

She felt, and looked, awful.

I felt like a big, mean, awful jerk.

Night of the Dog Cancer Surgery

That night I held her in my arms in bed at an angle that prevented her from putting pressure on the massive, six-inch-long belly scar she sported. The staples were so close together they looked like a zipper up her abdomen, and she moaned or squealed throughout the night.

I used to be a massage therapist, and I know that my hands “feel good” to others. But that night, I didn’t feel like I could offer her any comfort. The best I could do was simply give Reiki, all night long.

It was horrible. As I lay there, listening to her whine-breathe, I truly regretted the surgery. I kept thinking “it couldn’t possibly be worth all this pain, all this trauma.”

Natural, Normal, Second-Guessing Denial

After a few hours of sleepless self-denigration, I realized that I was doing exactly what I’ve seen so many other dog lovers do — second-guessing myself. I worked it all through in my mind. I followed my thoughts to their logical conclusions.

  • I shouldn’t have had the surgery, I should have just let her be.
  • OK, well, then what would be a likely scenario? She would die of catastrophic internal bleeding … and I would feel terrible because I knew she had this massive tumor inside and didn’t take it out.
  • The only way that would have been OK is if I hadn’t known about the tumor.
  • But then I would have been mad at myself for not getting her teeth cleaned sooner!

I started to relax a little, as I realized that no matter what, I would blame myself or try to blame others for what Kanga was going through. It’s a normal, natural part of denial. I was just in denial about this whole thing because I couldn’t bear her pain.

Cut yourself some slack. You will always second-guess yourself.

So, my job was to cut myself some slack and realize that I had made the best choice I could. If she recovered fully, the surgery would have removed a massive tumor that could have killed her in weeks.

My job now was to care for her post-surgery and wait for those effing biopsy results. Both would take at least 12 days — so I just had to focus on her care.

It didn’t help me sleep, but at least I wasn’t beating myself up all night.

And lo and behold, after 36 hours, Kanga seemed to have fully forgiven me. Thanks to the pain meds and Reiki, she seemed to be doing much better. Here she is super-smiley right after a short trip outside to pee and just before I put the cone back on.

Post Dog Cancer Surgery Care

This is where the book really came in handy for me. While most readers will find an entire chapter about their dog’s tumor in The Dog Cancer Survival Guide, there isn’t one on rare ovarian tumors. So I focused on wound care, and absolute, 100% rest for my pup.

She has always had panic attacks in her crate, so I got a dog sling to use around the house and kept her on her leash at all times.

I tied her up on her little dog bed so she couldn’t move even when she wasn’t on my body.

I kept her cone on, even though she HATED it.

I made sure she was clean as possible but didn’t give her a bath.

I was persnickety about her antibiotics and pain medications, absolutely refusing to take NO for an answer on anything.

When we went outside so she could relieve herself, I didn’t let her go farther than her six-foot leash allows.

My husband and I both pray, and we both have Reiki, so we did a LOT of both.

Dogs don’t know they need almost total rest. Make sure your dog gets it after surgery!

Every day, thankfully, she improved. She even started offering me her belly for rubs after five days. She started eating as her mouth recovered from the extractions, and that really helped to perk her up. By the time we went back on day 12, Dr. D was thrilled to be able to remove all the staples and give her the OK for walks around our neighborhood.

He was also thrilled to give us the BEST POSSIBLE OUTCOME: her tumor type.

Granulosa Cell Tumor!

Based on what he’d seen in surgery, we were all prepared to find out that Kanga’s tumor was an aggressive carcinoma that would likely have already spread, despite her looking clear on both X-rays and ultrasound just weeks ago. In that case, we would be preparing ourselves for an end of life situation within the next few months.

But that’s not what she had. She had a granulosa cell tumor, which, thankfully, has the best prognosis. While they can metastasize, the likelihood that happens is only 20%!

As of now, we don’t see any spread on imaging, and he thinks he got the entire tumor out in his marathon surgery.

So at this point, we are breathing a sigh of relief. For now.

And Kanga? She feels FANTASTIC. She’s playing, running, jumping, and basically acting like nothing happened.

Follow Up Treatments and Check Ups

In four months we will head back to the vet (despite her literal screams of protest) to check and see if any more tumors appear on imaging. But in the meantime, Kanga will be on Dr. Dressler’s Full Spectrum Cancer Care recommendations, the same ones that millions of dog lovers have told me over the last decade have helped their dogs. And yes, for the rest of her natural life — whatever that is — we will assume that she has cancer on a microscopic level. It’s just smarter that way.

UPDATE: Kanga remains cancer-free at the end of May, 2021. Follow up ultrasounds reveal no problems. Thankfully! I’m even considering having her teeth cleaned again. She might forgive me quicker if she wakes up without major stitches.

Full Spectrum Cancer Care Recommendations I’m Following for Kanga

I’m a good student, so I’m taking this cancer thing as my teacher Dr. D recommends: one step at a time.

  • Step One is Conventional Tools Like Surgery, Chemotherapy, or Radiation … in our case, surgery has been a success, and she is healing REALLY well. Not even three weeks after undergoing that massive surgery, she is back to her puppy-like ways, eating happily and taking walks, including, as of this morning, on the BEACH. My husband James and I have already decided that at her age, we will not likely do another surgery even if another tumor appears. She really hated the process, and unless it’s very discrete and easy to take care of, it’s probably not worth the life quality loss for her (and for us). These tumors spread to the lungs and abdomen, and we just can’t see opening her up again at her age. If we see spread in a few months, we will not do chemotherapy or radiation to treat it. The protocols are not worked out for these rare tumor types, and we don’t want to put her through it if we don’t have solid numbers telling us it’s worth it. We don’t have those, so we likely aren’t doing those.
  • Step Two is Nutraceuticals … dietary apoptogens may really support normal cell turnover and encourage cells to “wake up” and eliminate themselves BEFORE they become problems. Nutraceuticals are discussed in chapter 12. We use Apocaps CX, because it’s appropriate for Kanga, has no side effects to worry about, and really supports her life quality while we wait to see what else happens with this stinking thing.
  • Step Three is Anti-Metastatic Supplements and Immune Boosters … I’ve got her on a medicinal mushroom blend to boost her immune system called K9 Immunity (other brands work, too), plus a Transfer Factor that boosts its effects. I’ve also put her on modified citrus pectin, another dietary apoptogen that also offers good anti-metastatic support. She’s sleeping in total darkness, getting plenty of sunlight, and is still taking EverPup as her multivitamin.
  • Step Four is Diet … I’ve given Kanga fresh food since her puppyhood, but now I’m a lot stricter about low-carb foods, and making sure she gets plenty of liver and cruciferous veggies. This step I’ve already been doing, but I’m becoming more conscientious, for sure.
  • Step Five is Brain Chemistry Modifications … including daily exercise, massage, as much Reiki as she likes (and she likes a lot), and plenty of fresh air. I’m also starting to meditate with her again. I’m sorry I ever stopped!

Seriously, if the editor of this book needed it when she found out her dog has cancer, you should get a copy, too.

What I Learned:

Here’s a partial list of what I learned during the last few months that I either didn’t fully understand before or just plain didn’t know:

  • My dog’s occasional hesitancy to eat starting about four months ago should have been a major red flag that SOMETHING was wrong.
  • Tumors can die and start to bleed even as they are growing — and if the dying tumor cells are in or near a major blood vessel, this can open up a hole that dumps blood into the dog’s body cavity. While Kanga’s tumor was “oozing” not “flowing” with blood, it could have been much, much worse. These bleeds are life-threatening.
  • Because of the above, I know really understand why vets always “want to cut it out.” It’s not just about (or even really about in some cases) removing the cancer. It’s about saving the dog from a disgusting, painful death from a potential catastrophic internal bleed.
  • I could beat myself up for “waiting too long” to get it addressed, but then again, waiting we were able to find a life-threatening situation that was not noticeable during a regular exam.
  • Imaging is expensive, but man, it sure clarifies things. Seeing a clear X-ray of her lungs was such a relief. Seeing the ultrasound of the ovarian tumor was motivating.
  • I will start judging myself for everything when my dog is in pain or sick. I have to really cut myself some slack to stay focused and make good decisions.
  • When the discharge instructions say “complete rest,” they MEAN it. The incision wasn’t the only thing Kanga had to heal. She also had to heal all of the INSIDE wounds from the surgery.
  • My dog really, really wants to lick her paws. She’s like a little kid who chews her nails.
  • Dogs really do live in the moment. Once her pain and swelling went down, she just bounced back energy-wise. If I’d had a major abdominal surgery, I would not want to go for a walk just a few days later. I’d still be in bed three weeks later!
  • I had to adjust my expectations of myself to accommodate the intensive care needs of my dog. I work from home, so I’m lucky I was able to be there all the time, but I had to let go of lots of other things, like my own workouts and sparkling clean toilets. I had a new appreciation for just how upsetting it must be for someone who has to leave their dog all day while they convalesce. If you can arrange to work from home while this is going on for your dog, I would. But I realize that most can’t. This hurts my heart.
  • I’m really lucky that I trust Dr. Dressler because handing her over to go under the knife was really, really scary.
  • No matter how useful I’ve always known the book to be, I know now that it REALLY helps. I used the index multiple times a day to find something I needed to understand or remember.

Bottom Line

In all, I’m feeling much better. Kanga feels much better, too, which helps.

Thanks for reading this. I don’t think I realized ahead of time how much better I would feel after I wrote all of this down! I hope it’s been helpful for you, too.

Before I go, though, I have three videos that you might want to see.


Videos of Dog Cancer Surgery with Dr. Dressler

Several years ago, Dr. Dressler had a cancer scare with his own wonderful dog, Bjorn. He made videos of their progress, including before, during the surgery, and after, when he finally got the biopsy results. These have been on this site for years, but I think they’re worth reviewing now, especially if you are facing dog cancer surgery for your own pup. It might help to see that even veterinarians feel overwhelmed, upset, and impatient about how long it takes to find out the biopsy results!

Don’t worry — the video of the biopsy surgery is not TOO graphic!

Even Dr. Dressler feels terrible waiting for the results!


Update: November 18, 2019

It’s been almost a year since Kanga’s surgery, and I have to say, she’s doing great. Her scans have all been clean and clear, and she’s eating and walking and relieving herself and playing just like ever. She still gets mistaken for a puppy, even though now she is eleven years old.

I could not be more grateful for her health. Not. More. Grateful.

Still, James and I are focusing on QUALITY OF LIFE over all else, because we feel like we escaped a terrible fate quite narrowly.

We still think of Kanga as having cancer, because we know that even with the tumor type she has, there is a chance that it metastasized.

Here is what we have been doing for the last year now:

  • The dog cancer diet, as outlined by Dr. Dressler
  • Healthy treats like berries, liver, and other yummies
  • Apocaps CX, full dose for a 10 pound dog, daily to remind her apoptosis genes to keep monitoring for deranged, damaged, or old cells.
  • Medicinal Mushrooms (whatever we can find, usually K9 Immunity) daily to boost the immune system.
  • Sardines a few times a week for the omega 3’s
  • Modified Citrus Pectin as an anti-metastatic
  • EverPup with every meal to make sure she gets a multi-vitamin and digestive/joint support
  • Daily walks to boost life quality
  • Lots of pets and snuggles and Reiki
  • Meditation sessions. I swear, she LOVES meditating twice a day! I have to set up a sort of duplex situation on my lap to make it work for both Kanga and Roo. Kanga’s on the pillow, here. But you can see both of them are in full-on “hound lounge.”

I know some people who have dog cancer would look at this list and think “you’re not doing everything, you’re not doing enough.” I know that because I see the long lists of supplements some folks give their dogs … sometimes twenty or thirty at a time.

But I don’t want to duplicate supplements or throw her body off. I want to give her the support she needs, and no more. There is such a thing as too much of a good thing.

This list has been enough, not too much, and not too little.

It addresses every single step in Full Spectrum Cancer Care. And I feel more strongly than ever that Dr. D has it right: there are things that can help most dogs, and we should use them. And then trust that it’s enough.

Whatever comes, I’m ready. At least, I think I am.

Future Worries

I still struggle to keep myself from worrying too much. Even now, when I told my husband James that I was going to update this article, he said “Aren’t you worrying we are jinxing it? It’s not yet a full year.”

But I am doing it anyway because I find that the best way for me to deal with my anxiety is to just FEEL it.

And once I felt how anxious I am that November 29, 2019, is just next week, I knew that I should update this article NOW. It’s not a magical date.

Like Dr. D says, there is no calendar with a date on it that tells me when Kanga will pass.

Superstitious thinking is normal, and I’m not going to beat myself up about it … but I also am not going to let it ruin another Thanksgiving!

Update: November 18, 2020

I was so superstitious about updating this article again, but here it is, a year later, and little Kanga is sassy and spunky as always. Here she is just a couple days ago, demanding to be taken out for a walk.

I could not be happier to report that Kanga still thrives. And while the rest of us wish the pandemic was history, she’s reveling in the extra attention she gets now that we are home 100% of the time!

As another Thanksgiving arrives, I am grateful for her and her love, and for her health.

Happy Thanksgiving to those in the U.S., and warm wishes to the rest of the globe.

Update: December 9, 2021

Kanga is still doing great, and we continue all the same supplements and diet that we’ve been doing:

  • a low-carb, high fat, moderate protein diet as outlined by Dr. D. in his book
  • Apocaps at full dose
  • Modified Citrus Pectin as outlined in the book
  • Medicinal Mushroom as outlined
  • Transfer Factor as outlined
  • EverPup as a daily supplement (including a multivitamin, important when feeding a home-cooked diet)

Last week Kanga had to go in for an urgent care visit. She’s thirteen now, and it was just Thanksgiving, so I suspected pancreatitis. I didn’t give her A LOT of turkey, but I did give her some, and didn’t wash off the gravy clinging to it. So I suspected her fatigue and not wanting to eat — and then a little fever — was due to holiday indulgence.

Fortunately, it wasn’t pancreatitis. Unfortunately, it was SOMETHING in the belly.

X-ray and ultrasounds showed a mass. An aspirate was done. We just got the pathology report back, and it seems to be some sort of sarcoma.

In a way, this is good news, because I was worried it was lymphoma, and we wouldn’t have much time left with her. At thirteen, and living in a very rural area, the likelihood of us choosing chemo for her is very low.

That may still be the case, but perhaps there is something we can do. We are visiting with Dr. Dressler this afternoon to go over the results from the urgent care session and see what he thinks.

In the end, at thirteen, she has reached a normal lifespan for her age and breed. The likelihood that she lives a LOT longer if we do another surgery is low.

The surgery Dr. D did three years ago resulted in a totally normal, healthy, fun life for her … for there more years. That means that she got 30% more life from that surgery. That was well worth it!

But she’s older now, and less sturdy on her feet in general. She’s still sassy, but we’re not sure how happy she would be at another surgery and recovery.

So we will be doing some more Risk Analysis based on Dr. D’s thoughts. I’ll update when we make some decisions.

In the meantime, we are continuing with what we’ve been doing for the last three years:

  • a low-carb, high fat, moderate protein diet as outlined by Dr. D. in his book
  • Apocaps at full dose
  • Modified Citrus Pectin as outlined in the book
  • Medicinal Mushroom as outlined
  • Transfer Factor as outlined
  • EverPup as a daily supplement (including a multivitamin, important when feeding a home-cooked diet)

After getting fluids last week, she’s been totally normal since leaving the hospital. She’s taking her walks, playing with toys, eating three square meals a day, taking her supplements … so as long as her life quality is high, we Type B folks will be thrilled.

Update: August 16, 2022

I’m very sad to give you this update, friend … but Kanga left us to cross the Rainbow Bridge and play with Roo on July 26, 2022, twelve days before the one-year anniversary of Roo’s death, and 2 years, 8 months, and 8 days since her epic surgery.

And most of that time was just amazing in terms of life quality!

After her health scare last December, we tried a couple more aggressive anti-cancer tactics with Dr. Dressler’s guidance.

We added Low-Dose Naltrexone (LDN), and also a hemp-based CBD in a higher dose than we had previously used for occasional comfort care.

But Kanga started to have diarrhea after a few weeks. Diarrhea is a big no-no for life quality in her estimation, so we stopped those two new additions to see if it cleared up.

Once off the LDN and CBD, she went back to what we call happy poops … and when we tried a lower dose of one and then the other, she had diarrhea again.

So we decided to stop those and just continue with her other supplements that we knew she did well on.

February, March, April, May, and June all passed with wonderful experiences.

We went to the beach, we took our daily walks, we snuggled and enjoyed.

Every night at 8pm she insisted on playing for about 30 minutes, just like she has her whole life.

And on the evening of my 50th birthday, she brought me to the beach and I saw a baby whale being born. Here’s an (edited for length) video Jim took of the amazing birthday gift she gave me.

The Beginning of the End … But Not Yet the End!

In mid-May, Kanga started to slow down. She wasn’t as willing to take walks and stopped playing at night. She didn’t stop eating, but she got super picky.

After a few days, we knew we needed more support for her.

Either the metastasis was spreading, or her orthopedic pain was increasing.

Prednisone — a powerful steroid that can really quell inflammation and pain — was prescribed.

She felt better within a day! She was walking again, and she ate without complaint. Like many dogs do on pred, she started panting a little occasionally. She was hungry all the time, and thirsty, too.

But the side effects were very tolerable, and she smiled and wagged her tail again. She started taking walks and playing again.

Prednisone can be a really great drug for life quality, although it can also shorten the time you have left.

But our mantra for Kanga was Life Quality First.

This dog was super dignified, friend. She had no interest in a bad day, thank you very much!

So we administered the pred and took her off other supplements that might have increased the risk of tummy upset. After about a week she was really just on the pred and EverPup.

She did very well until two months later when she started to slow down again.

And this time, it felt like she wouldn’t speed up again.

We added some gabapentin to see if it was orthopedic pain that just needed more support.

But that didn’t help.

Early in the morning on July 26, we woke up to the sound of snoring. Was it Jim, or me?

Neither. It was Kanga, and it wasn’t snoring. It was her laboring to breathe as she slept.

She continued to labor that morning.

As I interviewed job applicants who wanted to help us with a new dog cancer project, she lay on my lap.

I could feel her ribcage harden more with each breath.

All of her accessory muscles were straining.

By 3pm, we realized it had been 12 hours.

And we knew we were at the end.

She had started down the slippery slope. We had hours, not days — days, not weeks.

She would not come back from this, and she was clearly in pain.

We know what it’s like to not be able to breathe. We didn’t want her to experience that for longer than necessary.

We called veterinarians to see if anyone could help us help her pass.

We were able to get an appointment to help her. It was in a beautiful place, with a caring and compassionate veterinarian.

When Kanga took her last breath, we were sitting under that huge avocado tree, watching the last rays of the sun shine through the dark. It was quiet and peaceful, and dignified.

Seconds after Jim and I felt Kanga go completely still, sirens started wailing. A string of lights blazed along the road below as emergency vehicles passed on their way to their calling.

It was a Good Death. But the Pain Is Real

My life has been inexorably changed by her death.

I consider myself an expert griever. I’ve had to do it many times, for many types of losses. I’m one of those ‘highly sensitive’ people that feel things very deeply, and so I’ve had to learn how to process and incorporate loss to just live a normal life.

Most of the losses I’ve mourned were complex and gnarled. This one was utterly simple. It was like a French swordsman had been called to take my head off: cleanly, quietly, swiftly, when I was looking the other way.

I’ve spent the last three weeks looking for my head and trying to stitch everything back together.

I don’t want to belabor the aftermath for you, because I know you are dreading that day with your own dog, and honestly, there is a book I want to write about grieving a dog.

So I’ll just send you these posts I made for my loved ones. Here’s the one I wrote immediately after we returned home on July 26:

Things were better a week later, when I had my first real visit from Kanga in a dream. Here’s that post:

Dear reader, thank you for reading.

Much Aloha and warm wishes to you and your dog. We’re all in this together!


Molly Jacobson, Editor
The Dog Cancer Survival Guide

*This article contains affiliate links. Please see our disclosure policy for details.

Leave a Comment

  1. Patty Sankey on October 18, 2022 at 6:21 pm

    Molly, your story both moved me to tears but also inspired me. Your writing is beautiful abd I could feel your heart in your words
    Thank you most sincertt ree my

  2. Renee B on March 16, 2022 at 1:55 pm

    Hi Molly thanks for the information. I am at the point of making a decision of whether to do the surgery or not for my 11 yo dog who has a malignant liver tumor. They can’t really tell me anything until they have her in surgery whether they can remove it or not so I’m struggling if I wanna put her through that for a not-so-promising outcome. Plus the surgery is extremely expensive! Way more than the last time I did surgery on my Jack Russell. Any advice would be welcoming. I wish I could go to your surgeon! ❤️

    • Molly Jacobson on March 16, 2022 at 3:38 pm

      Argh. That’s so hard!! I would ask a lot of questions, because the liver is a really tough location. It’s filled with blood, for one thing. For another, it’s sometimes difficult to tell on imaging what is going on — which is why they are saying they won’t know much until they see it during surgery.

      I would ask them things like …

      “If you open her up, what could you see that would make you just close her up and not even try to remove anything?”

      “Have you ever done a surgery like this before?”

      “Are you board-certified in surgery? Do you feel confident in your skillset?”

      (Board-certified surgeons basically do nothing BUT surgery. They are specialists, and so they are more experienced at surgery. Some general practitioners are very good surgeons, as well. Dr. Dressler, who did my Kanga’s surgery, is not board-certified, but he’s VERY good, in part because of his own native skill and interest, and also because we are in a rural area, so he can’t refer out. So this isn’t a dealbreaker for me, but the way they answer this question will help you assess how confident they are.)

      “What do you think the best outcome is, and on a purely gut level, how likely is that to happen?”

      “What do you think the worst outcome is, and on a purely gut level, how likely is it?”

      They may not be able to give you concrete answers to these questions, and that is totally understandable. They don’t have a crystal ball, after all. However, by asking and listening and asking follow up questions as they occur to you, you will start to get a picture of the risks involved, and be able to calculate what you are willing to do.

      If your dog is otherwise healthy, like my Kanga was/is, surgery might be safer than you assume. (Although awful to contemplate.)

      Here’s a good article to help you calculate risk, and in it is a bunch of podcast episodes we did on personality type, which may also help you make your decision.

      Best of luck as you make your way through this tough decision. And remember, no matter WHAT you decide, you are doing the right thing by your dog. It’s not easy to make these decisions!


  3. Melanie D'Andrea on July 1, 2021 at 3:49 am

    Thank you. Very informative.
    Melanie D Buffalo, NY

  4. Renee Hutchinson on September 16, 2020 at 7:04 pm

    Hi Molly
    Thanks for sharing your experiences with Kanga. Last night we bought our 8yr old little Aussie terrier Roxy home after major surgery. She has mouth cancer and too we initially took her in to our local vet because of her teeth and breath.
    Then we got the news even though 3 months prior was in fab health.
    Yep mouth cancer, 2 days later they took a lot of teeth out, then scans to see if it had spread through out her body. They were optimistic so they suggested we operate and take part of her jaw. If we didn’t she had about 3 months to live. So as she is my absolute everything I decided to go with the vets advice.
    We are home now and Roxy has had lots of jaw out and her face is completely different to what she normally looks like. I felt so guilty last night and was asking myself if I to had done the right thing, my poor little girl.
    She is learning to breath through her crinkled nose.

    After reading your post…thank you ,thank you. She will recover slowly and I’m so fortunate I can spend every moment of the day with her during this process.

    Now we are waiting to see in 12 days if they got it all.
    She is my absolute everything. Just before her surgery we took her to the beach and gave her some awesome food, just incase.

    Thanks again for your actical as you have gave us hope at this time in need.

  5. delphia blize on May 20, 2020 at 11:03 am

    I’m a mess… my dog is 18… He has anal sac carcinoma, and i’m struggling with whether it is worth it to put him through surgery at this age, or if I just concentrate on giving him the best quality of life possible. I’ve been doing a home-made diet for six years now and he has excellent nutritional support. It is really hard to know what the best decision is for him. Part of me wants to keep things peaceful and focus on his quality of life and preparing for the transition, part of me wants to do the surgery. But putting him through that pain with the increased risk at his age is a really tough decision. My worst fear is he dies on the table, or has a greatly diminished quality of life afterwords, and I’ll have made something worse by trying to “fix” it.

    • Molly Jacobson on May 22, 2020 at 3:55 pm

      Aloha Delphia, I’m so sorry to hear about your boy. Surgery at any age carries risks. But honestly, age is not really the thing to think about. If he is otherwise healthy, he may actually be a good candidate for surgery. Here’s a recent podcast episode that will help explain:

      I was sure that Kanga was too fragile for surgery. It turns out that she is plenty tough. It’s just that she doesn’t WANT to be uncomfortable. I learned a lot about her by supporting her through this.

      No one but you can listen to your dog and find out what’s best for him. And I guarantee, that no matter what choice you make, you will second-guess it 🙁 because we just don’t have a crystal ball. I trust you to know what the best choice is for your sweet boy. It sounds like you are an excellent, conscientious Mom!

      Aloha, Molly

  6. Christine on May 16, 2019 at 11:22 pm

    My dog had a blister-like growth between his toes. Initially our vet treated it with antibiotics but after it increased rapidly in size, a fine needle aspirate was done and he has been diagnosed with MCT. The vet says it’s aggressive given the rapid growth to the mass-like form. When they took a fine needle aspirate of the tumor it bled quite a bit so it’s also quite vascular. I don’t know the grade of MCT. A subsequent fine needle aspirate in that leg’s lymph node has identified cells but the vet advises it could be cells draining from the primary tumour.
    We have to decide on what is the best course of care for him.
    CT scan to check if it has spread followed by potential amputation of his leg.
    What if it has spread? We wouldn’t want to do such drastic surgery.
    Chemotherapy to reduce the tumour.

    I’m just at a loss to know what is best. We’re also restricted by the cost of whatever option is chosen for him.

    • Dog Cancer Vet Team on May 17, 2019 at 7:05 am

      Hey Christine!

      Thanks for writing. It sounds like you should have a look at the section on Treatment Plan Analysis. Especially the articles on How to Make Decisions About Dog Cancer Treatments and Why Your Personality Is So Important To Your Dog with Cancer

      There is no “one-size-fits-all” treatment plan when it comes to dog cancer as each dog and their health situation is unique. You have to decide on a treatment plan that is right for both you and your dog. Are you okay with handling the side-effects of conventional treatments? How important is life-quality to you? Do you think your boy can handle surgery? Do you have a budget? These are just some of the questions that you have to ask yourself.

      It’s also important to find out the MCT grade and stage– this will help to determine many factors like spread rate and treatment options. Dr. Sue, who is an oncologist and the co-author of the Dog Cancer Survival Guide, dedicated an entire chapter to MCT and discusses grading, staging, prognosis, and much more. She also wrote an AMAZING article on What To Do After the Aspirate Confirms Mast Cell Tumors, that you may find super helpful! 🙂

      In terms of amputation, Dr. D writes in this article that dogs can have a pretty normal and happy life. They genuinely don’t care if they are walking on 3 legs or 4. And if you are wondering about the myths and facts of amputation, check out this informative article by Dr. Sue!

      In the Dog Cancer Survival Guide, Dr. D also writes that there are a number of things that you can do to help your dog with cancer– under your vet’s supervision– such as conventional treatments, nutraceuticals, immune boosters and anti-metastatics, mind-body strategies and diet. As your dog has MCT, you may want to consider a low-histamine diet, which you can read about here.

      I know that’s a lot to take in, but once you know your options, and what is most important to both you and your dog, you will be able to make a decision based on what you think would be best. Consult with your vet, or oncologist, and don’t be afraid to ask questions! You are your dog’s guardian 🙂

  7. Esther Flores on December 18, 2018 at 4:08 pm

    Hi Molly so good to hear that your fur baby is doing well after her recent surgery. Like you this past Oct I kept smelling an awful odor coming from by Lee V 11 yrs old pet ( 7lbs). took her to her vet thought it was an infected tooth, sent her to a specialist God must’ve told my husband to bring her home, I decided after 4 wks. of antibiotics and prednisone to take her to an internist. She had a CT scan she was dx’d with squamous cell carcinoma,chemo or radiation were not an option. The cancer had destroyed the turbinates in her nostrils. I purchased Dr. Dressler’s cancer guide book I have her on a low carb and chicken and vegetable diet, and Apocaps, and Piroxicam, the internist vet says she had 3 mos to live if it’s possible I ve cried an ocean . Lee V is the sweetest loving dog. I am a registered nurse and I ve seen what cancer can do to little children therefore I should be use to it but I am not. Lee V is a shih Tzu who I pray everyday will somehow over this terrible disease. I am not working now to take care of her and older pet who went blind this year also. I am so happy for you and your fur baby I will keep her in my prayers. Many blessings to you, and Dr. Dressler’s book is a wonderful guide for those of us that so lost when it comes to our pets. Thank you

    • Dog Cancer Vet Team on December 19, 2018 at 8:12 am

      Hi Esther,

      Thanks for writing, and for your warm wishes and prayers! We will definitely pass them on to Molly for you 🙂

      The Dog Cancer Survival Guide is a wonderful resource to have if your dog has cancer, and it has helped so many of us 🙂 Your Lee V is your fur baby, so discovering that she has cancer can be quite devastating. As Dr. D writes in Chapter 2 of the Dog Cancer Survival Guide, managing your emotions is crucial for your girl, and her cancer Iditarod, so take care of yourself– there is such a thing as caregiver stress, and Molly wrote a really amazing article about it that you may find helpful. Here’s the link:

      Dr. D has also written a helpful, and informative article on squamous cell cancer that you may beneficial :-). Here’s the link:

      There are many things that you can do to help your dog with cancer, such as conventional treatments, diet, nutraceuticals, mind-body strategies and immune system boosters and anti-metastatics– check out chapters 11-15 in the Dog Cancer Survival Guide for more in-depth information on these topics, and chapter 16 to learn more on making confident choices 🙂

      As we’re not veterinarians here in customer support, we can’t offer you medical advice. Consult with your vet before making any changes to your dog’s health care, as they know your dog, and will be able to provide feedback or advice on what can work alongside your girl’s current treatment plan 🙂

      Warm wishes from all of us here 🙂

  8. Beth on December 18, 2018 at 3:06 pm

    Oh my! Molly, thanks for sharing this, so that we can all learn from your experience. So sorry for what you all went through, but am happy that Kanga’s prognosis is good.
    Happy Holidays!

    • Dog Cancer Vet Team on December 19, 2018 at 7:37 am

      Hi Beth,

      Thanks for writing, and for your warm wishes! We will definitely pass them on to Molly! 🙂

  9. David dams on December 18, 2018 at 1:58 am

    Hi Molly,
    I’m so glad that Kanga is doing better. I’ve been following the blog and have used Dr. Dressler’s books since my two lab rescues were both diagnosed with cancer within 6 months of each other a few years ago, Sadie with mast cell and Molly with adenocarcinoma in her anal gland. Both girls are doing well and have been cancer free since 2016. They are both on a version of the dog cancer diet I came up using the original formula from the dog cancer book. As I am getting older now, it’s becoming difficult to afford the hundreds of dollars in groceries and supplements all the time. I see that you are using Honest Kitchen and thought that might be an option for us. They still get everpup but I couldn’t afford the apocaps any longer.
    Thanks for sharing your story.
    Dave, Molly and Sadie

    • Dog Cancer Vet Team on December 18, 2018 at 7:07 am

      Hi David,

      Thanks for writing, and for sharing your story with us! It sounds like your girls are doing well 🙂

      Second only to a home cooked diet, Honest Kitchen, Halo, Solid Gold, and Blue Buffalo are some great alternatives that you could try 🙂

      We hope this helps! 🙂

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