Rocky’s Viewpoint

Rockys Viewpoint

A blog for people who treat their dogs better than family

Cancer – The Dreaded Diagnosis


It’s the diagnosis everyone dreads, whether it affects our 2 legged family members and friends or our 4 legged ones. I’ve just experienced it. On Wed. Sept. 27th, I lost my beloved golden retriever, Yankee, one of the house dogs at Rocky’s Retreat, to hemangiosarcoma. He was diagnosed on Aug. 25th and gone just a month later. He would have been 10 on Oct. 7th

Yankee at 7 years old

In mid-August I found a small tumor on Yankee’s right side. It appeared overnight. His vet recommended surgery, and the pathology report came back as hemangiosarcoma. I was urged to see an oncologist, so I took Yankee to the University of Florida Veterinary Hospital, a state of the art facility, with such wonderful, caring doctors. They also found a tumor in his spleen. Since it has already metastasized elsewhere, surgery and chemotherapy, the standard western medicine treatment option, wasn’t recommended. The prognosis was poor – he was given a few weeks. I opted to treat it holistically and to give him the best quality of life I could for as long as possible.  

On Tues. Sept. 26th, he was swimming in our pool at Rocky’s and playing ball, two of his favorite things, but much later in the evening he took a turn for the worse. I woke up Wednesday morning knowing that I needed to let him go. A wonderful vet, Dr. Dena Long, whom we had met years earlier, came to my home and helped Yankee pass gently and peacefully. She took his body to a private crematory in Pine Castle, and put the body in herself. The next day, she delivered his ashes, along with an ink and clay paw print. It was service beyond compare, and I can’t thank her or recommend her enough. The caring and compassion she showed me during this difficult time was beyond anything I’ve ever experienced.

What is hemangiosarcoma?

It is an aggressive cancer of the blood vessels, and most often manifests in the spleen or liver, where the tumor grows undetected often until it’s too late. That’s what happened with Rocky, my other golden retriever (and Rocky’s Retreat namesake) who died 10 years ago just after his 9th birthday.

For some reason hemangiosarcoma is more common in dogs than in any other species. It most often affects large breed dogs, and while any breed can get it, it is more common in German Shepherds and Golden/Labrador Retrievers. And because it’s so aggressive, treatments like tumor removal and chemotherapy are often ineffective.

But if you look at it, it seems as though cancers in general are becoming way too common in our beloved pets. Current statistics show that 1 in 3 dogs will be affected by cancer during their lifetime.

It is the leading cause of death in dogs over the age of 10.

The most common cancers found in dogs are inoperable mast cell tumors, lymphoma, hemangiosarcoma, and osteosarcoma (bone cancer).

American bred Golden Retrievers are specifically susceptible to cancer – about 60% of them will die from it, mostly from hemangiosarcoma and lymphoma, a number that began to spike in the 1990s. And they are dying at younger ages.

Why is cancer on the rise in dogs?

That’s a difficult question to answer because there’s no one answer. Genetics certainly play a part, especially with hemangiosarcoma. Researchers know that genetic mutations that cause cancer can be found in the reproductive cells and can be passed on to puppies, giving them a predisposition to the disease. I believe that was a factor in both of my goldens, since they were related to one another and both died from the same thing at what I consider a young age.

Mutations can also occur in genes during the course of a dog’s life because of certain hormones and through exposure to normal environmental occurrences such as sunlight.

Genetics aside, many researchers also believe the reasons range from the quality of food we feed, to environmental toxins. Many people feed low quality kibble that is full of meat by-products, grains, artificial preservatives and other unhealthy additives, which means they are not getting the nutrients they need. If this is you, I suggest you switch to a grain free food that is of the highest quality you can afford. Even the best quality of food we feed our pets and ourselves is affected by how the animal itself was fed, and how much hormones and antibiotics it received during its lifetime.

Another factor is environmental pollutants. Unfortunately, these days we live in a toxic world – chemicals and pollutants are everywhere. Most lawns, especially in Florida are regularly treated with pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers, etc., all of which are carcinogens. Dogs are routinely exposed to household cleaners, toxins in drinking water, flea and tick medications, some to cigarette smoke, and more.

Over vaccination is a suspect in causing cancer. Many dogs develop tumors at the vaccine site, that later result in cancers such as lymphoma. It’s important that you educate yourself on vaccinations and make informed decisions on how much to vaccinate your dog.

Excess weight can also lead to cancer. There’s a link between being fat and increased risk of cancer. This is because when an animal (or human for that matter) is overweight, there’s too much glucose, an increased insulin sensitivity, increased inflammation, and oxidative stress occurring in the body. These factors all play a role in cancer development. Since more than 50% of all dogs are overweight or obese, we’re likely to see cancer rates continue to rise in the future.

Is there anything you can do to reduce your dog’s chance of developing cancer?

Yes, but there’s really no guarantee. Here are some suggestions.

While we see and hear of some dogs (including big dogs) who live 15 or more years, unfortunately these days that is the exception instead of the rule. We do the best job we can to take care of our beloved pets, knowing all the while that our time with them is limited. In the majority of cases, we will outlive them. It’s something we must accept if we are going to have these remarkable, loving beings in our lives.

The greatest gift we can give to our beloved pets is to let them go when it’s time. While the pain is tremendous, it is the most selfless, loving act we can do for them. And when we’re ready, another great gift we can give them is to bring another pet into our lives and love them the way we loved the one who passed away. That’s what I’ll do – when I’m ready.