How can I keep my sick dog healthy?
October 13, 2011 7:01 AM   Subscribe

My dog has cancer. Am I hurting him if I spoil the heck out of him the next few months?

Full details: Charley is a coton de tulear, 9 years old. He had a mass in his spleen that ruptured and was bleeding into his abdomen, which required emergency surgery Friday. An ultrasound and exploratory work revealed no problems with his major organs, although he had additional cancerous nodules and evidence of the illness in his tissue. So he's got some time left with us--not a lot, but enough to make it worth our while and have some fun. He's already got his spring back in his step.

I fortunately don't know from cancer, or sick dogs. How relevant is the dog's health and diet to his ability to stave off the disease? We obviously want to keep him healthy as long as we can, and I assume that a healthy body means better ability to ward off illness just as it does in humans. But I'm also inclined to give my pup an outsize share of bones and peanut butter and things because, well, life is short. (He's obsessed with food, more than your typical food-obsessed canine.) Should we pursue dietary and exercise changes? Or is it OK to just give him all the greenies he can find?

Note that everything I'm finding online re pet diets and cancer refers to lymphoma, which my dog does not have, to the best of my knowledge.

(Related for curious parties: this Ask MeFi post is helpful prep for later on, although it's extraordinarily depressing.)
posted by werty to Pets & Animals (16 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
This is a nice article about giving a dying dog the best day ever. It's what I would do -- follow the "life is short" model and give your sweetie all his favorite treats and activities. Dogs lives are so relatively short to begin with that I can't imagine gaining that much more time together by skipping the treats.
posted by BlahLaLa at 7:15 AM on October 13, 2011 [8 favorites]

I doubt there's much you can do that will do more damage than the cancer will. Go nuts.
posted by dortmunder at 7:15 AM on October 13, 2011

What a fun-looking dog! Sure, go ahead and spoil him rotten - most concerns about spoiling critters (or people) is long term problems, something you likely won't have to worry about here. :( To balance, maybe take him for more walks!
posted by notsnot at 7:17 AM on October 13, 2011

Honestly, your vet is best placed to give you advice on this. My own inclination in these situations is to make my own judgement, though. Dogs do not have a profound sense of the passage of time or lifespan; they are completely and totally about quality of life in this very instant. When time is limited, I am keen to make that everything the dog could want it to be. I personally am less interested in buying more time my friend will enjoy less.

How you navigate an aging companion through the end is a really, really personal call. I'm sorry you have to make it.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:17 AM on October 13, 2011 [5 favorites]

I've been party to spoiling many a dog in failing health, with no perceptible further harmful effects. My first childhood dog lived out his last days on his two favorite foods, even when he wouldn't eat anything else. French fries and candy corn still perked him right up, and we all took some comfort in that.
posted by Rallon at 7:19 AM on October 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

My parents' black lab was diagnosed with cancer (a mast-cell tumor) and was given up to a year to live. That was five years ago. My parents wanted her remaining time with them to be awesome and spoiled her rotten, which makes it very, very irritating to watch her when they go out of town, as she now begs incessantly and resists obeying basic commands. I like the idea of making his time with you as happy as possible, but would suggest you do that with playtime and love rather than treats and allowing crappy behavior.
posted by SeedStitch at 7:41 AM on October 13, 2011 [6 favorites]

I'd take him for lot's of walks to interesting places while he still feels up for walking and the weather is still nice. Take him to dog parks or on lots of playdates with his best friends or just hanging out on the couch with his family, what ever your dog likes best. I've found very few treats that a dog would like as much as just hanging out with their family doing stuff.

Of course food treats are also nice but they don't have to be super unhealthy. Poached chicken cut up into little cubes that sort of thing are mana to dogs but not too unhealthy. I'd just watch giving them too much people food too suddenly work up to it slowly so that he doesn't get a tummy upset with the runs, which is probably the last thing he'd want right now.

When my dog was dying of cancer she got all the best toys, jackets, walks and play dates I could find for her as well as (while she still had her appetite) all of her favourite foods.
posted by wwax at 7:58 AM on October 13, 2011

Oh, he's so beautiful. No, you absolutely will not be "spoiling" him. My beautiful Westie McRae died a year ago yesterday from cancer (oral squamous cell cancer), and while his entire life was full of love, his last three months he was loved more than ever. Take him for walks, snuggle with him, tell him you love him. Mick was on pain killers and I don't know how much pain he was in; it seemed like for the first two months after his diagnosis, his health was fairly good. Then he started going downhill, and that was so gut-wrenching for me as the reality of what was happening kicked in. But spoil him. You will not regret it for a minute.
posted by ElizabethEllis at 8:14 AM on October 13, 2011

Sent you a PM.
posted by bolognius maximus at 8:40 AM on October 13, 2011

I was an answerer in the linked thread. I *totally* spoiled my dog in her last months and it didn't hurt her. Ice cream (Haagen-Dazs vanilla), baby food, walkies, car trips--any and all every. single. day. She also really liked this super stinky raw milk cheese I found. Any and all dog treats.
Hugs, kisses, cuddles, smiles. I only cried in front of her twice--they day she was diagnosed and the day she died. I wish she didn't have to see me cry before she died. i wanted every moment she had left to be filled with positive happiness.

You should do it, but not because it won't hurt your dog. The months of spoiling him will live in your memory forever. I look back on those months of showering her with the deepest love and care and treats and it is so comforting to me. It was so fun to do--to just say, "Fuck it, let's eat ice cream!"

Take lots and lots of pictures. I couldn't look at them for a couple months but I'm getting better now.
I still have jars of baby food in my cabinet and the quarts of (now freezer burned) ice cream in my freezer. I can't get rid of them.
posted by hecho de la basura at 9:28 AM on October 13, 2011 [5 favorites]

Tears here, too. The most precious thing you can give is your time. Why not take a morning off work every week just to spend with him? I treasured the time I spent with my recently departed cat. All he understands is what today is like, so I would try to make every day free of pain and full of satisfaction. Not a bad idea to do the same for all our non-terminal loved ones, actually. My cat didn't make it to her fifth birthday, so I try to remember that there might not be that many days left.
posted by wnissen at 10:46 AM on October 13, 2011

I am so sorry! I think it is perfectly reasonable to spoil him. Treats, time, love. My only caution would be to not overdo the treats to the point where he is suffering from gastro-intestinal problems, high blood pressure, etc. You can cause them other discomforts by overdoing the treats, so be a bit careful on that end.

off topic: while he is still healthy and happy, if you get a chance, make a little video of him, even if it is just with your computer camera and he is just laying around doing nothing, eating dinner, sniffing around, etc. It will be nice to have later.
posted by Vaike at 11:20 AM on October 13, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone. Spoiling will commence once his stitches are out. I'm going to ask my vet for best practices just to be sure.

@Vaike I actually have this: one day a few years back I recorded a day in the life of our dog. Charley playing, Charley going for a walk, Charley at the dog run, Charley smothering me with kisses, etc. My wife and kids have never seen it. It will be nice to dig out the DVcam tape and watch it someday.
posted by werty at 1:03 PM on October 13, 2011 [3 favorites]

My mom made steak for my childhood collie when he had lymphoma at age ten and there was little hope despite chemo. Just reading this and thinking about our poor guy makes me tear up ( and we put him down in 1999!). ENJOY HIM while you can and SPOIL SPOIL SPOIL.
posted by sweetkid at 8:45 PM on October 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

My mother and brother did this for my cat four years ago when I couldn't be there and it was for a much shorter time but it makes me very happy that they did and goddam but the onions are strong in here.
posted by villanelles at dawn at 9:22 PM on October 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

Rusty, The Wonder Dog, had all these fatty tumors all over her, all of her life. They scared the poop out of me, I even insisted that the vet remove this one or that one when they first started showing up (young) but I finally came to believe the vet (vets; I moved from Houston to Austin and got a new vet) I came to know that these fatty tumors don't hurt a thing, and in fact many pooches have them but you can't see them because the dogs have longer hair than Rusty, The Wonder Dog had.

My vet here in Austin told me that it's always a good thing to keep an eye out for any new tumors anyways, and he told me that I would know if a tumor was trouble, as they're harder, smaller, they're tight and hard.

When Rusty was seven, I found one of those, and I did know. It was still very small, about the size of a pea, but it was cancerous and a dangerous kind of cancer, too, I don't know from cancer but I trust that vet implicitly.

He took her in as soon as the biopsy confirmed what we knew, he hacked the thing out of her—it was right where her back leg joined her body. He did the surgery, sewed her up, and there was a vent tube to allow any drainage of fluids. We went on our usual Saturday morning walk the next day, like five miles, Rusty was indomitable.

We got it in time. It didn't spread. Rusty, The Wonder Dog beat cancer.

Gone were the days of no ice cream. She got people food of every kind, though not as much as she wanted because I'd never have been able to afford to feed even her, much less both of us; she loved people food and ate voraciously. Gone were the days of being off the furniture. Gone were the days of being off the bed. I'm not the best dog owner, she drove me insane sometimes with her neediness—I'm pretty sure she thought she was my wife, I'm pretty sure that I thought she was my kid, and I'm also pretty sure that the truth lay somewhere in between—but I did what I could, I gave her what I could give her. The scare of that cancer and my awe of how outstanding she was in beating it made it clear to me that what she'd been trying to tell me for years was dead gospel truth, that she by god deserved ice cream and ham and cheese sandwiches and macaroni-tuna salads and bananas and the rest of it, not all that she wanted of course (truly, I'd still be broke) but even some was absolutely The Right Thing to do.

She lived another five years. I'd give away my condo today if Rusty and I could bop around in my pickup for a year, go to the dog park and whatever else, and give her sandwiches.
posted by dancestoblue at 1:36 PM on January 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

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