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

Your Dog Cancer Journal

Updated: August 12th, 2019


Keeping a dog cancer journal — even a simple one — can help you and your dog tremendously. It doesn’t have to be fancy or take a long time. If you’ve got a pen, you’re all set.

One of the main points Dr. Dressler makes throughout the Dog Cancer Survival Guide is how crucial it is to record as many details as possible related to your dog’s cancer. When you hear the devastating news, it can be easy to become disorganized, and it’s difficult to keep track of everything that’s going on. A dog cancer journal is a tool that can help you track your dog’s schedule, medications, side effects, symptoms, diet and other aspects related to her fight against cancer.

Why You Should Use a Dog Cancer Journal

Using a dog cancer journal helps you, your veterinarian, and your dog in many ways.

Tracking things like your dog’s water and food intake, when and what kinds of medications and supplements she takes, you’ll be able to see how any changes affect her mood, behavior and energy level.

You may not have noticed a difference on your own, but if you look at your notes, you’ll be able to see even small differences.

You can bring the journal with you to your vet’s or oncologist’s office to help them assess how treatment is going.

And don’t forget to take notes while you are there: that way, your journal can remember their instructions information for you.

Tools You Need for Your Dog Cancer Journal

We’re assuming that you’ll be using a blank notebook as your journal, but in reality, you should use any tool that works for you. Some folks like to keep a separate diary, and others just want to jot down their notes in their existing journal. Some people use a digital app on their phones to record notes, and others use their calendar programs. We know some people use their dictation apps to text their spouse notes!

What you use is really up to you — but for the purposes of this article, we’ll pretend you are using a plain old ring-bound notebook.

First: Your Dog’s “Healthy Story”

When you start your journal, your first task is to record a description of your dog when she’s healthy. Her ‘healthy’ story should include:

  • Her routine: how much she eats, how much she drinks, sleeping times and play times.
  • Favorite foods
  • Favorite toys
  • Favorite activities
  • A description of her personality
  • The way she interacts with other dogs, family members, and people
  • Any other details you can think of.

Having this “healthy story” in writing will help you by giving you a baseline description of your pup’s healthy state. You’ll be able to use this later.

Next and Monthly: His Current Health Story

Your next task is to write your dog’s CURRENT health story. Is his routine different? Are there personality changes? How close is your dog to his normal state of health?

Make sure to date your entry so you can look back and see how things are going.

You should repeat this task every month. If you write your dog’s current health down in a descriptive way every four weeks or so, you’ll get an excellent overview of your dog’s health and whether it is getting better, staying the same, or declining.

Later, if you need to make hard choices, these monthly stories and the “healthy story” you started with will really help you to see what your next steps need to be.

Treatment Plan Records

In addition to your health stories, make sure you record the following in your dog cancer journal:

  • The name of current caregivers (your veterinarian, oncologist, etc.)
  • The current treatment plan recommended by your veterinarian
  • The dates of any medical treatments like surgery, chemo, or radiation
  • The dates and results of tests
  • All medications (including doses)
  • All supplements (including doses)
  • All nutraceuticals (including doses)
  • Modifications to your home or living area (like installing shades, etc.)
  • Lifestyle treatments like play, exercise, etc.
  • Anything else you are doing to help your dog.

One of the worst things about cancer is that it changes so much, so often, which means we have to change the way we respond to it. Treatments stop working, and we have to try new things. So be prepared for changes!

Whenever you make changes to your plan, make sure to record a new treatment plan in your journal. It might feel like overkill, but I recommend making a new entry with a full plan detailed. That way everything will be in one place for your reference, and you won’t have to flip back and forth.

Daily: Jot in Your Dog Cancer Journal

It’s a good idea to get in the habit of jotting down notes in your journal every day so you can include as many details as possible. Write everything down as it’s happening so you don’t forget later. In The Dog Cancer Survival Guide, Dr. Dressler lists several items you might want to track in your dog cancer journal:

  • Mealtimes: What did she eat, and when? How much did she eat? Does she have a good appetite? Does she still seem to be enjoying her food?
  • Medications: Which medications? How often? What time were the medications taken? Any new medications?
  • Side effects: Any side effects from any of the medications? If so, how did you manage the side effects?
  • Discussions with the veterinarian or oncologist: Include every visit to the vet or oncologist in your journal. What did the vet or oncologist say? You can also include upcoming appointments here.
  • Temperature: When you notice your dog isn’t feeling well, take his temperature and record it in your journal.
  • Changes in coat quality: Any fur loss? Does the skin appear healthy? Hotspots?
  • Thirst: Keep track of how much he’s drinking. Drinking less? Drinking more?
  • Energy levels: Normal energy levels? Tired? Sluggish? Hyper?
  • Vomiting: What time did the vomiting occur? What color was it? What was in it? How did you manage it? Did you call your vet or oncologist?
  • Weight gain or loss: Dr. Dressler recommends weighing your dog every 5-10 days, and noting any weight gain or weight loss in your journal.
  • Stools: Diarrhea? Any blood in the stool? Mucus? Any straining?
  • Panting: When did the panting occur? Anything else unusual with the panting? How long did she pant for?
  • Sneezing: Any nasal discharge? What color?
  • Coughing: When did the coughing occur? Wet cough or dry cough?
  • Color of gums: Normal gums are salmon pink. Are your dog’s gums normal color, yellow, white, pale?
  • Surgical notes: Is the site healing well?
  • Vocalizations: Any crying? Moaning? If so, when? How did you help?
  • Changes in cancer: Note any changes in the tumor (if your dog has one). Change in size? Bigger? Smaller? Compare it to an object like a pea or a golf ball, so it’s easy for you and your vet to understand it’s size.

As you journal each day, you might find that there are things you don’t need to track as closely, because as you get used to your dog’s condition, you’ll be able to just note when things change. But still, make a note each day — even “no changes, doing great” will help you later if you need to understand when a new symptom cropped up, or when discomfort began.

Bullet Journaling

If you are new to keeping a journal, bullet journaling is a helpful method you may want to look into, because it’s simple and organized without being restrictive and fussy.

Watch the video below to learn how to bullet journal. It’s not a must to keep your journal like this, but for some people, this may be an excellent way to keep track of everything you have going on.

Final Thoughts for Your Dog Cancer Journal

Always remember, it’s better to include too much information in your journal than not enough. And, your vet or oncologist will be happy to see as much detail as possible. Too often our brains are cloudy with our dogs not feeling well, and it results in us being ‘lost’ at the vet’s office. Our journal is our ‘mind’ when the weight of the cancer is pulling us down physically, mentally and emotionally.  We’re still able to depend on what we have written in our journal to guide us on the difficult journey ahead of us.

Amber Drake

PS: If you’re stuck on what type of notebook to buy, don’t be. Both of these journals have thick pages (no bleed-through), come in blank, ruled, or squared off versions, are hardcovers (which make them last a long time), and include pockets for receipts and prescriptions. The Moleskine notebook is a classic, but the Leuchtturm 1917 also has a table of contents, making it a fantastic choice for keeping organized. Available everywhere, but also on Amazon.

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