Book Review: Going Home: Finding Peace When Pets Die


Book, Going Home: Finding Peace When Pets DieGoing Home: Finding Peace When Pets Die
by Jon Katz

“Sometimes we humans forget how to connect to one another. Dogs and cats never forget how to connect to us. Animals have taught me how to love purely. And patiently. They have helped fill in some of the lonely gaps of life. They have helped me to be a better human being. That, I think, is their legacy and glorious purpose.

If you honor this legacy, it will bring you perspective and help to heal your broken heart.”  ~ exerpt from “Goiong Home: Finding Peace When Pets Die”

Losing a beloved pet is one of the most painful experiences that a person can go through in life. It is so much more than just losing a friend. It is losing a family member, surrogate child, closest confidante, defender, and BEST friend. It is losing someone who never judges you and never asks for more than you can give. It is losing part of our very selves.  And it hurts.

But, somehow there is comfort in knowing that we pet lovers aren’t alone in going through this journey of loss. That others understand the unique grief that comes with the loss of a four-legged family member, whether it’s due to illness, age, accident, or the unpleasant necessities of life. That even the deepest sense of loss can be followed by a profound sense of gratitude and joy for the time we shared with our animal companions.

And that is exactly what Jon Katz brings out in his latest book, “Going Home: Finding Peace When Pets Die.”  He shines a light on the fact that the pain that comes from the loss of a beloved pet is universal, despite the fact that the grief experienced is so often underestimated and ignored. But beyond this – and where the book really stands out among other pet loss books – is the emphasis on how to truly honor the lessons that our pets teach us, and to honor the love they shared with us, by moving past the grief and making our way back to joy. And, perhaps most importantly, by opening our hearts to other animals who are in need of the love and care that we can give them – an idea that many grieving pet owners struggle with due to feelings of being disloyal to their departed friend.

My absolute favorite part of the book is actually the last chapter, “Letter from a Dog.”  It brought me to tears, yet is a chapter that I have already read several times because it touched me in such a profound way. The chapter features a letter written from a dog’s perspective – what they might say to their grieving people to help them through their loss and what they hope their legacy will be now that they are gone. The letter is filled with a simplicity, wisdom and compassion that truly reflects the nature of our precious canine friends. The author captures the heart and mind of a dog perfectly, and the result is so moving…and so healing.

Written in Katz’ characteristically witty and down-to-earth style, “Going Home” is filled with memorable stories, honest reflections, and hard-earned wisdom from his own experiences with animals as well as stories from other people who have had also had to cope with the loss of a pet. The result is unlike any other book on pet los that I have read, and is definitely a must-have resource for any grieving pet parent.

The pain of pet loss is inescapable, but holding on that pain indefinitely is a conscious choice. And by reading “Going Home: Finding Peace When Pets Die,” you will discover how you can let go of some of that pain in order to truly celebrate the life of your pet and live the lessons that they taught you about how to face each day with optimism, acceptance and gratitude.

CLICK HERE to purchase “Going Home: Finding Peace When Pets Die” from Amazon.com.

Posted in Pet Loss / Grief, Resources | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

A Cancer Diagnosis Changes You Forever


Over the years I’ve heard friends talk about life after their dog’s cancer diagnosis and comparing it to living with a post-traumatic stress disorder of sorts. And I can’t disagree. Once you are blindsided by cancer, especially one of the more aggressive forms of it, it’s hard not to be forever changed. I’d argue that it’s IMPOSSIBLE not to be forever changed. 

In some ways it’s good. You become more vigilant and you pay more attention to the details when it comes to diet and nutrition, regular vet visits, the latest advances in veterinary medicine…you want to be more prepared next time. And let’s be honest, you want to do everything within your power to make sure that there ISN’T a next time. But, when 1 in 3 dogs are diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime, chances are, if you have enough dogs in your life for enough years, it’s going to come back around at some point. You just have to hope that the next time you will be better at dealing with it, and there will be more options to cure it. You pray that the next time, there will be a different ending to the story.

Sampson

My handsome Sampson, loved beyond words.

But the shadow of cancer always lurks somewhere in the distance, and every time something is a little off with your dog or something crops up that mimics a symptom of cancer, that’s the first thing that crosses your mind. And until you hear otherwise, that’s the worry that sticks with you night and day.

I’ve known all of this for a long time, and I’ve seen close friends go through it — sometimes finding out that all their worry was for nothing, and sometimes finding out that they need to face the demon again. Luckily though, that was never me. Until this week.

My husband noticed a small lump on the front of Sampson’s right leg yesterday. Just a strange little reddish bump that kind of looks like a large wart. Nothing dramatic, nothing painful, but something weird. Something new. Something not quite right. And so the landslide begins. 

I start thinking about the fact that Sampson hasn’t been wanting to go for walks lately

…But, he always has plenty of energy to play in the back yard for hours…Still, it’s out of the norm. 

Has he seemed a little blue lately?

…Of course, bulldogs are legendary for their glum faces and their ability to nap nearly 24 hours a day (in between meals at least). And, it is that time of year when he’s inside more and the days are shorter — aren’t we all a little less enthusiastic about jumping out of bed when the mornings are cold and dark?

Statistically, I know he’s at risk for developing mast cell tumors at some point — he’s a bulldog with a history of severe allergies and ear infections. Clearly a sign of a dysfunctional immune system. And now that he’s 7 going on 8, his risk increases each day.

…But, he has a great diet, gets lots of good supplements, and his ear problems and his allergies have been under control for a while now. He’s completely healthy and in great shape by all accounts, so I’m just overreacting.  Right?

Probably. Maybe. I hope so.

It’s interesting to be here right now. Worrying as moms do, but trying to learn from my own experiences, and to take my own advice. On Saturday, we’re going in for our semi-annual vet checkup, and he’ll have full bloodwork done, and we’ll have this weird little bump looked at, probably biopsied if it’s still there. I’d rather pay for a test to tell me all is well than to worry for no reason or do the dreaded “watch and wait,” which rarely seems to work out well for anyone.

So tonight, I am worried because I am a mom, but optimistic because I am a realist. I know that just like people, dogs get lumps, bumps and weird little skin growths all the time, and usually, it’s nothing serious. But, as I’ve told many pet parents over the years — better to get it checked out and find out for sure. No use getting upset until you know something is really wrong. Being proactive and prepared…it’s the best you can do. 

I guess it’s a good reality check that no matter how much you study, research and try, you can never really rise above it all. In the end, we do our very best for our pets and we work to make each day special, and to not take a single day for granted. But, no matter how hard we try, we will always worry about them — worry that they will be sick, or hurt, or leave us someday. It’s a curse that we humans have, of worrying about a future that we can’t see or control.

Sometimes I wish I could be more like Sampson, who is cuddled up under a blanket near me and clearly not worried about a single thing in the world right now. He really knows how to live.

Posted in Reflections | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Book Review: The Dog Cancer Suvival Guide


Cover of The Dog Cancer Survival GuideThe Dog Cancer Survival Guide: Full Spectrum Treatments to Optimize Your Dog’s Life Quality and Longevity
by Dr. Demian Dressler, DVM with Dr. Susan Ettinger, DVM, Dip. ACVIM (Oncology)

I don’t know why I waited so long to finally read The Dog Cancer Survival Guide, except that for years it was only available as an e-book and apparently I’m still old fashioned enough that the idea of reading an entire book on my computer wasn’t appealing at all. Or, maybe I’m a book snob and thought that it might not be as “credible” as other animal cancer books available in hard copy. It had intrigued me though, and I had followed Dr. Dressler’s blog posts for a while, and often liked what he had to say.

So, the day I found out that The Dog Cancer Survival Guide was coming out in paperback and was available through Amazon.com, I ordered my copy right away – and I am SO glad that I did

Without question, the most comprehensive book related to dog cancer out there, The Dog Cancer Survival Guide takes you through everything from the initial flood of emotions after a cancer diagnosis, through conventional and holistic treatment options, diet, pain management and even end-of-life-care.  And it’s written from a very down-to-earth perspective that I think will appeal to many pet parents out there. It’s jam-packed with useful information, balanced advice and practical solutions, but never feels overwhelming or overly technical. And, because The Dog Cancer Survival Guide was written with the help of Dr. Susan Ettinger, DVM, Dip. ACVIM (Oncology), the reader gets the benefit of both a conventional/holistic vet’s perspectives as well as a board-certified cancer expert’s. So, in reading each section, you feel very confident that you are getting the WHOLE story, and it may also help you better understand where your own medical team is coming from when you talk with them during the course of your dog’s cancer treatments.


Some of my favorite parts of the book include the section on how pet parents’ emotions affect their dogs during treatment and simple exercises that can be done to help cope with the stress and fears that usually accompany a cancer diagnosis, as well as the advice on how to work successfully with your medical team.  These are topics that are rarely covered in depth in other books you will find on treating your dog with cancer.  There is also a detailed listing of chemotherapy drugs and their typical side effects, as well as common cancer supplements and how they can be used (as well as when they should NOT be used). There is also an entire section towards the back of the book written by Dr. Ettinger on 12 of the most common types of canine cancer and her recommendations regarding conventional treatment options.


All in all, The Dog Cancer Survival Guide really lives up to its name and should definitely be one of the first books that pet parents look for after their dog has been diagnosed with cancer. My copy is already filled with highlighter marks and notes about things that I found helpful – I can only imagine that if I were still in the middle of Georgia’s cancer treatments, I would probably just carry it around on a string around my neck all the time because I would be referring to it so often!


So, if your dog is currently dealing with cancer or you’d like to learn more about how to keep your dog healthy going forward, please do yourself a favor and order this book today. You won’t be disappointed.

CLICK HERE to order from Amazon.com. 

Posted in Cancer Treatments, Diet & Nutrition, Recommended Articles, Resources | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Celebrate Breast Cancer Awareness Month WITH Your Dog


Breast Cancer Awareness Ribbon

Dogs can get breast cancer too, so learn what you can do to reduce your pup's risk.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month…and it’s hard to go anywhere without a reminder of how many people this disease impacts each year. But, did you know that breast cancer impacts our dogs too?  In fact, mammary cancer is one of the most common types of cancer faced by our canine companions, and female dogs are 3 TIMES more likely to develop a mammary tumor than a human woman.

So, in honor of this special month, we wanted to provide an overview of mammary cancer in dogs – which dogs are at highest risk, how it is treated, and how it can be prevented (and this type of cancer is NEARLY 100% PREVENTABLE in dogs).

Mammary Cancer: The Basics
Most dogs have ten mammary glands, five on each side of their body. Tumors can develop in any of these glands and the tumors can vary widely – from completely benign to very aggressive.  It is difficult to know which type your dog may have without a full biopsy of the tumor. While a fine needle aspirate can rule out other types of lumps and bumps, to really know what type of mammary tumor it is, and how aggressive, the lump should almost always be surgically removed and biopsied.

The good news is that half of all mammary tumors are benign, so if your dog develops a mammary tumor, don’t panic. It may not be as serious as you think. Of those tumors that are malignant though, 50% will metastasize, or spread, to the lungs, lymph nodes, or other parts of the body.  So, early detection and treatment can be critical.

Dogs Most At Risk
Some breeds are predisposed to certain types of cancer, and mammary cancer is no exception. Breeds at highest risk for developing mammary tumors include Cocker Spaniels, Brittany Spaniels, English Springer Spaniels, Pointer breeds, Toy and Miniature Poodles, Dachshunds, Maltese, German Shepherds and Yorkshire Terriers.

But the most important predictor of whether or not a dog will develop a mammary tumor is whether or not they have been spayed, and more importantly, WHEN they were spayed.  If a dog is spayed before their first heat cycle (usually around 6 months old), their chance of developing mammary cancer is reduced to approximately 0.5%.  Less than one percent chance!! Spaying just after the first heat cycle increases the risk to about 8%.  And if you wait until after the second heat cycle? The risk jumps up to more than 25%, and appears to offer little protection against eventually developing a tumor.

Male dogs, by the way, have very little risk of developing mammary cancer, although it can happen.

How It Is Treated
Surgery is the primary treatment option for treating mammary cancer. Generally, the mass will be removed immediately in order to biopsy it, and if the pathology report shows clean margins around the mass (no cancer cells), it is considered a curative surgery.  But, if the tumor appears to be more aggressive, or if clean margins are not obtained, a more aggressive surgery may be performed.  Depending on the circumstances, the vet may also suggest x-rays prior to the biopsy in order to see how extensive the tumor is and if it has spread to the lungs.  If the dog has not yet been spayed, the vet might also recommend that this surgery be performed right away too, as this may reduce your dog’s risk of developing additional tumors. 

To really reduce the likelihood of new tumor development, veterinary oncologist, Dr. Susan Ettinger, co-author of “The Dog Cancer Survival Guide” suggests discussing a radical mastectomy with your doctor, which removes the entire chain of mammary glands associated with the tumor rather than just removing the mass.

Chemotherapy may be recommended in some cases in order to prevent or delay metastasis to other parts of the body, but if the cancer has already spread, this approach is not typically very effective. This is, in part, why getting a full pathology report and x-rays up front can be so helpful – to provide realistic expectations and to ensure that your efforts are put into those things likely to do the most good.

Radiation therapy is not commonly used for this type of cancer in dogs.

What You Can Do To Protect Your Dog From Mammary Cancer

  • Have your dog spayed as early as possible. (**Large-breed dog owners, see note below.)
  • Keep your dog at a healthy weight – just as with humans, obesity and high intake of dietary fat can increase risk of developing breast cancer. 
  • Check your dog for lumps and bumps monthly. In dogs, the two mammary glands (closest to the tail end) are the most likely to develop a tumor, so pay special attention to this area. If you find something – get it checked by your vet immediately.
  • Feed your dog a high quality diet (food is the foundation for all good health).

**Large breed dog owners: Some research has indicated that early spaying & neutering may affect your dog’s risk of developing other types of cancer, in particular osteosarcoma, which is more prevalent in large breed dogs. You are encouraged to discuss all of the pros and cons about the timing of this decision with your veterinarian, as in some cases it may be more beneficial to wait until the dog is slightly older.  For more information about this topic, CLICK HERE.

Posted in Cancer Treatments | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Treating Animal Cancer Naturally – A Path With Paws


Many of us who have faced cancer with our pups have decided that the best way to fight is to use an integrative treatment approach that takes the best from both conventional and holistic medicine.

And, while finding a great holistic vet near you is often still a challenge, the internet has made finding information on natural treatment options easier than ever before. But, this easy access to information can also make it harder to sort through all of the ideas, recommendations and mixed messages out there.  How can a pet parent make sense of what really works?

dog smiling

We're all smiles about Dr. Lena McCullough new "open source" project to help pet owners & conventional vets discover ways to treat cancer naturally.

Helping us to deal with these issues is Lena McCullough, DVM, CVA. Her website, A Path With Paws, is a great online resource for holistic veterinary information and natural cancer treatment options. But that’s just the start.

As Dr. McCullough explains on her website:

I often get calls and emails from folks out of the area with animals with cancer. Sometimes I am able to turn them on to someone who can help them in their area but sometimes they are far away from big cities and holistic vets.

So after much thought I have decided to embark on a journey over the next couple years to bring the information I have to anyone who may want it. I am going to begin to write a book on treating cancer in dogs and cats.

My plan is to post what I am writing on the web in small sections and then in the end to pull all the information together into a book. However I want this information to stay open source so everything will also remain on my website for viewing.

In reading Dr. McCullough’s articles and looking at the tentative outline of her book, this project will undoubtedly result in a must-have resource for pet owners AND their conventional vets to use during their journey with cancer.

We are so excited to watch this project as it unfolds and will continue to share Dr. McCullough’s articles with you on our Facebook page so you can educate yourself and share this information with your regular vets.

Sharing information and supporting each other throughout the cancer experience is what it’s all about. It’s how we can work together to save more lives, and will eventually help us to beat this disease for good.  We applaud Dr. McCullough for her work and for her commitment to making her work accessible to all.

To learn more about A Path With Paws and treating cancer naturally, CLICK HERE.

Posted in Cancer Treatments, Diet & Nutrition, News, Recommended Articles, Resources | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Texas A&M University Opens New Animal Cancer Center


Pet owners rejoice!  There is yet another state-of-the-art treatment facility available to help you and your pets fight cancer. Texas A&M University in College Station, TX has just opened a new Diagnostic Imaging and Cancer Treatment Center.

This new facility features some of the most cutting edge technology including a Tomotherapy Unit, a CT Scanner, and a 3 Tesla MRI Unit, making it one of the most comprehensive and cutting-edge veterinary cancer treatment centers in the country.

Thanks to the generosity of many donors and college funds, $11 million dollars was raised to make this new center possible. It is nothing short of amazing that there are now so many options available to pet owners in their fight against canine cancer — and the technologies being used at Texas A&M are a good reminder of how many similarities there are between human and animal cancer research and treatment, since the technologies incorporated into this new facility mirror those found in human hospitals.

CLICK HERE to learn more!

Posted in Cancer Treatments, News | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Don’t Forget the Vet


I recently read an article that said that visits to the vet are down 26% since 2006. In part, this is due to the recession – people skimp on preventative care in order to cut down on their monthly bills. But this significant decline is also attributed to the rise in online information available to pet owners – more pet parents are taking matters into their own hands when it comes to diagnosing and treating their animals’ ailments.

This may sound strange coming from someone who runs a canine cancer and health information website…but to me, these numbers are depressing, and downright scary!

Vet with client and their dog

Regular checkups and a strong relationship with your vet can be critical to your dog's health and wellbeing.

First of all, the idea that preventative care is a waste of money is horribly inaccurate. Although I do believe that pet owners are much more likely to identify a problem with their dog through regular observation and daily care than their vet can in annual, or semi-annual visits, there’s just no substitute for those regular check-ups when it comes to identifying things that aren’t yet obvious.  Regular blood panels, fecal tests, weight checks and a physical exam by an experienced veterinarian can identify small changes early and can prompt important conversations with the vet that can help you prevent a larger (and much more expensive) problem from developing in down the road. The truth is that none of us are perfect pet parents and sometimes familiarity can breed blindness when it comes to seeing subtle changes in your pet’s health or demeanor.

I remember when Georgia was first diagnosed with cancer. It was such a shock and seemed to come out of the blue.  But once she hit her stride during chemotherapy, put on a few pounds and regained her energy, we suddenly realized that she had actually shown signs of her illness before it was diagnosed. When we looked at pictures from just before the time of her diagnosis, you could see that something wasn’t right. But that was only in retrospect. At the time, she was as beautiful and healthy in our eyes as she had always been. Sometimes an objective opinion is important. 

These preventative checkups are also an important part of building a strong relationship with your vet, which becomes especially important in times of crisis, when a serious illness or injury does occur. You want to know and trust the medical professionals you’re working with. And you want your vet to really know you and your dog so they can offer you the best support and advice possible.

Which leads me to the other issue – relying on the internet for your pet’s health care.

I’ll be the first to admit that online pet health information is a godsend. I’m still amazed at how much more information is available online today than back in 2005 when I found myself sitting at the computer all night long trying to learn about canine lymphoma and chemotherapy for dogs. It’s an entirely new world for pet owners, and you can find detailed (and reliable) information on virtually any pet health issue on the internet now. Plus, you don’t have to stop with just the “official” information provided by the experts. You can also find pet owner comments, stories, reviews and advice to help guide you as you make decisions about your pet’s health. But should that ever take the place of visiting the vet?  NO!!

The benefit of all of this online information is not to REPLACE your vet – it’s to help you be an active partner WITH your vet. So you can have better questions to ask and have more in depth conversations with them about how to manage your dog’s health issues and most importantly, MAINTAIN their good health. Online information is helpful because you don’t have to feel that you are relying exclusively on one person’s opinions for all of the answers – instead, you can work effectively with your vet to be the best advocate possible for your dog – balancing your values and your intimate knowledge of your dog with their expertise and knowledge of veterinary medicine.

No vet  is perfect, and just like in any profession, they are continually learning and adapting as new information becomes available and as experience teaches them how to do their job more effectively. And if you become an educated, open minded pet owner, you may not always agree with your vet’s initial suggestions (and they may not always agree with yours either!). But don’t make the mistake of discounting their years of training and experience – listen to their ideas, ask them questions and be an active player on your dog’s health care team.

The knowledge you gain from online research can help you to earn respect when discussing complex issues, and may even give you the opportunity to teach your vet something new every now and then, but no amount of online research should replace this critical part of your dog’s health care. It’s easy to do a lot of focused research online and fool yourself into thinking that you are an expert in the subject matter – but don’t make the mistake of becoming overconfident. If your vet does recommend something that doesn’t sound right to you or is contrary to what you’ve read online, don’t assume they’re wrong.  Find out what their rationale is, understand all of the factors they are considering, and respect that they usually know what they are doing and have valid reasons for the recommendations they make. That doesn’t mean you have to follow their advice blindly, but together, as a team, you should be able to make the best possible decisions regarding your dog’s care and find a happy medium where everyone is on board with the plan.

Okay, I’d be lying if I said that every vet in the country is comfortable with this new generation of informed and self-educated pet owners. Unfortunately, some still like to live in an ivory tower and see their word as gospel. But that’s the minority. Most vets are caring, compassionate and dedicated professionals who truly want your pet to live a long, healthy and happy life, just as you do. So if you don’t currently have the right vet to meet your needs, find one that does, and build a strong relationship with them. Take the time to find one that you trust and one that you are comfortable taking your dog to regularly, and that will listen to your concerns and respect your place on the team.

The old adage, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” applies to veterinary care too.  So don’t forget the vet by skimping on checkups and relying on the internet alone to manage your dog’s health. In times of illness, your veterinarian can be one of your best allies, and is critical to your dog’s wellbeing. So take the time to build this relationship through regular visits and respectful dialogue.

Your pet will thank you for it.

Posted in News | Tagged , , | 5 Comments