I hope it's not dog cancer.
January 28, 2013 12:25 PM   Subscribe

I took my dog to vet to get his teeth cleaned today. They saw a very obvious bump on his nose that I hadn't noticed before, told me to see a specialist ASAP, and the dental cleaning did not happen. And then I cried in the car for twenty minutes. Obviously, I'm not asking for a diagnosis via Metafilter, but how can I negotiate/maneuver with veterinary costs?

I'm inclined to believe that this (large, smooth) bump appeared rather suddenly, because I took my dog to the vet a little over a month ago and they didn't see anything, and I took my dog to hang out with some friends a couple weeks ago, and I feel like someone would have mentioned a bump on his face. Hell, they were all giving me shit about his possibly arthritic back legs.

And I feel like I would have noticed it, but who knows at this point.

He seems pretty healthy. I found him over the summer and he was quite emaciated, but he's gained weight and he's a lean, healthy seventy-seven pounds. He's not sneezing blood. He snores a little - I thought that was normal, though.

I'm hopeful that this is just a cyst or some sort of abscess, but I won't know for a bit. I'm taking him to see a specialist tomorrow, and I am freaking out about cost. I set aside $300 (scrimping, saving, eating lots of eggs) for his dental cleaning, I have some savings, and I was approved for care credit, but I already have more credit card debt than I would like and I don't want the albatross of additional debt hanging around my dog.

But I just love my dog so fucking much.

How do I explain to the vet that I am poor and please, please don't take me for a ride? How can I live with myself if I don't do whatever it takes to save my dog?
posted by ablazingsaddle to Pets & Animals (50 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
How do I explain to the vet that I am poor and please, please don't take me for a ride?

Openly and honestly, and try a different vet if they're not willing to do anything for you. Veterinarians are doctors, and doctors know that, at the end of the day, rich and poor alike will have no choice but to see them at some point. Some will use that to their advantage, some will cut you a break. The vet probably has a sliding scale and/or deferment plan already in place, so ask them about it.
posted by griphus at 12:32 PM on January 28, 2013 [6 favorites]

Best answer: I'm so so sorry.

My beloved Buffy had a (thankfully benign) tumor on her leg last year. At this first meeting, the specialist will probably take a biopsy of the lump and have it examined - this shouldn't cost too much more than a standard vet exam, but don't be afraid to ask what the cost of the exam is going to be before the exam.

After the initial examination, the doctor provided me with a very detailed estimate for surgery. He also went through all the items and explained why he thought they were necessary, and what the lower-cost option would be. For example, he provided an estimate for laser cutting, which has a faster healing time, then said that it would be cheaper if they used a scalpel.

At that point you can definitely price compare. After the initial exam, some vets will provide a cost estimate for surgery without charge.

How can I live with myself if I don't do whatever it takes to save my dog?

Sometimes, "whatever it takes" means decreasing the dog's quality of life - in all likelihood, dogs do not have the same fear of death that humans do. They seem to live much more in the present, which is a blessing. Your dog loves you and trusts you to do what's right, which may mean ending their pain and misery.
posted by muddgirl at 12:35 PM on January 28, 2013 [5 favorites]

Best answer: IANYV IANAV IANAdog.
My dog was recently diagnosed with bone cancer. From what I understand, the time between "visable lump" and "it has already spread" is quite short, and surgery is minimally effective. Which sucks. If it is cancer, unless you want to spend kajillions of dollars on human-like treatment, there's little you can do. My dog is currently on a pain management plan, which right now costs like 12.95 for pills a month, which is quite reasonable.

The best way I've found to deal with it is remembering that my happy fellow lives in the present, and couldn't understand through the misery of chemo etc that he'll get better eventually. I know that he only has a few months, so I make every day the best day he's ever hard. Hikes, bones, treats, sleeping on the couch, the whole nine yards. Sometimes "whatever it takes" isn't what's best.

Sorry to be a downer, I'm wishing you the best.
posted by Grandysaur at 12:39 PM on January 28, 2013 [24 favorites]

Do ask about payment options. Give him a smooch for me, and keep us updated!
posted by jgirl at 12:47 PM on January 28, 2013

Older dogs get all kinds of lumps and growths and fatty tumors and the like. Ours has been sprouting them like crazy in the past year or two; with all but one the vet was able to tell just by looking that no, that's not cancer, that's just a benign whatever, don't worry about it. (The exception was a nasty-looking golfball-sized lump on his gums that they wanted to remove just in case it was interfering with his eating; it too was benign. )

No guarantees of course, but don't panic, there's a good chance this will turn out to be nothing.
posted by ook at 12:47 PM on January 28, 2013 [3 favorites]

Also, keep in mind the "get him to a specialist ASAP" and lack of cleaning could be simply a blanket CYA thing and not because the groomer thinks something is very wrong. Like ook says, dogs get bumps and deposits and all sorts of stuff, and some are bad and some are benign and the vet will tell you what is what.
posted by griphus at 12:54 PM on January 28, 2013

(If I showed up to the barber with a weird, new lump on my head, he'd probably be a bit wary about cutting my hair until I had it checked out.)
posted by griphus at 12:55 PM on January 28, 2013

Do you have the ability to get to a rural area? I have found very often that vets operating out of big fancy technologically advanced vet hospitals or offices will jack up the prices for everything they can and upsell you at every opportunity in order to pay for all that stuff that they have. But if you can see an old-timey country vet, especially the type that makes house calls, you can get a lot done for super reasonable prices. Every vet I have ever been to in my city charges 80 minimum just for a visit, and that is before you even start paying for anything they do during the visit. This really eats into your ability to save for the big stuff. I go to the country vet for everything I can, he charges 30 per visit and several times he hasn't even charged me if it's a "what do you think about this weird thing?" visit that takes him 5 minutes and turns out to be nothing.
posted by cairdeas at 12:55 PM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'd second the above about country vets, they are usually way cheaper.
posted by glip at 12:58 PM on January 28, 2013

Response by poster: A few clarifications:

My usual vet, the one I saw today, is very reasonable about price. However, he urged me to see a specialist, gave me a referral, and pretty much told me that whatever this is on my dog's face is probably not benign. (Great people skills, dude!) He was not able to diagnose it on sight.

So, that's why I'm heading to a possibly pricey clinic. As far as a payment plan, I have care credit, but as I said, I don't want to rack up a bunch of debt if I can avoid it.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 12:58 PM on January 28, 2013

Best answer: Also: How can I live with myself if I don't do whatever it takes to save my dog?

Two years ago when I had a dog die of cancer, I did do "everything." I went to the fanciest veterinary oncologist that there was, I spent upwards of $3k, I administered round-the-clock treatments. From the time my dog was diagnosed until the time he died was about a month. At the time, wild horses could not have stopped me from any of the desperate attempts that I was making. But in hindsight, I don't think it was worth it for him to live one more month that, while it had some great days, also had quite a few days where he was very sick and miserable.
posted by cairdeas at 1:01 PM on January 28, 2013 [18 favorites]

Talk to your vets from the get go. Explain your financial situation, most vets do not become vets to make a fortune but because they love animals and are very good at finding ways to work within peoples financial situations so that they can give animals the care they need.

My dog was diagnosed with cancer in the bones of her face, the initial symptoms where a small bump to the face and snoring. Go see a specialist straight away, talk to them about costs up front. There are lots of treatment options available. There are drugs which can slow the growth and keep your dog pain free and not all of them are expensive so if that becomes necessary talk to your vet about options.

The following is a bit of a downer but I was lucky enough to have been in a position to be able to afford all sorts of cutting edge treatments and even got my dog into a research trial for treatment that was new to Australia at the time. In the end I stopped all treatments except some basic drugs for pain and light chemo, even if you can afford all the treatments in the world I was doing them for me to give me some hope and not for her. She spent her last days pain free and happy and once the drugs stopped making her pain free and she wasn't happy anymore I made the decision to let her go. I spent a lot of money and bought her 3 months of life, there was never going to be a magical cure and it took me that time to realise that. What Grandysaur said is true sometimes "whatever it takes" isn't the best thing to do, so if for financial reasons you can't just keep throwing money at this and hoping it gets better please do not feel guilty. Do the best you can.

I would spend the money to find out what the lump is and to find out ALL your options and then you can decide what is best for you and your fur baby.
posted by wwax at 1:02 PM on January 28, 2013

How can I live with myself if I don't do whatever it takes to save my dog?

Sorry, but you have to stop looking at it like this. You really do. This is, while understandable, a selfish way of dealing with this situation - prolonging an animal's life when it's in pain is unfair. They can't tell you what they want, they can only suffer.

And I say this as someone who had to put their utterly beloved 10 year old dog down exactly three years ago today.

still miss you, buddy :/
posted by elizardbits at 1:10 PM on January 28, 2013 [12 favorites]

How can I live with myself if I don't do whatever it takes to save my dog?

Accept that six months or so were all he was going to get, and be happy that he got to spend them with you instead of running around the street.

After he's gone, whenever that is, you find another dog headed for euthanasia and give him/her the best life you can for the time they get.
posted by flimflam at 1:11 PM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I think I have a thread-sitting problem, but anyway: The reason that I am preemptively feeling guilty about not doing enough is that PetMD and seemingly everybody else recommends MRIs, radiation, etc. That shit is expensive. I'm capping myself at $1,000 unless there's a really good reason to go over that.

I don't even want to think about getting another dog right now.

I think it's raining on my face.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 1:13 PM on January 28, 2013

Best answer: I mean, yes, take him to the specialist, get a second or third opinion. If they predict surgery will give him a good chance of survival, then do it and work out a payment plan, which pretty much any decent vet will be willing to do. Otherwise, shop around til you find one that will.

on preview: oh christ, don't put your dog through chemotherapy. please.
posted by elizardbits at 1:15 PM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

pretty much told me that whatever this is on my dog's face is probably not benign.

I'm very sorry.

I don't know if this will help but for what it's worth, while we were waiting for the biopsy results on our dog's golf ball my wife and I agreed that if it did turn out to be cancer we would not try to treat it (beyond pain management) -- both of us feel it'd just be prolonging the inevitable, and reducing his quality of life in the meantime. That wasn't a financial decision for us, it was a 'give him as much happiness as we can in the time remaining' decision. (To give this some context, my father in law died of lung cancer some years ago. I am not convinced I would choose to put myself through chemo or the like if that were my situation; there is no way in hell I'd put my dog through it.)

You absolutely do not need to feel guilty if you choose not to put your pet through all that.
posted by ook at 1:20 PM on January 28, 2013

Talk to the specialist vet up front about what your budget is and what are the minimum tests you can get to clarify whether this is a relatively cheap fixable thing or whether it is going to be a rough ride.
If the tests show that it's benign or that it won't be very time consuming, tough on the dog, or expensive, then ask about their payment plans.
If the tests show that it's bad news, I am very sorry and you should focus on making the dog happy and put him down when it seems like life isn't fun for him anymore.

No one (dog or human) likes to live in the hospital or get poked or prodded often. So this is what I'd want for myself as a person, too. Minimal testing, assess, figure out what makes life easiest.
posted by rmless at 1:20 PM on January 28, 2013 [5 favorites]

Best answer: The reason that I am preemptively feeling guilty about not doing enough is that PetMD and seemingly everybody else recommends MRIs, radiation, etc. That shit is expensive.

Not only is it expensive dollar-wise, but what are those dollars buying? If it turns out to be cancer, what is the point of an MRI? What will radiation do for your dog? Will prolonging his life by a month to a year make up for the fact that radiation and chemo cause a significant decrease in quality of life?

"Make your pet comfortable and beloved" is not a shameful goal.
posted by muddgirl at 1:23 PM on January 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

Not only is it expensive dollar-wise, but what are those dollars buying?

In case I wasn't clear, I think this is absolutely an appropriate question to ask your vet about every recommendation, even if they are for tests and procedures that fit your budget.
posted by muddgirl at 1:26 PM on January 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Friends spent $1000s on procedures on a dog with a cancerous tumor on his gums. Eating was compromised; more $100s on special foods. Eventually, facts were faced and dog was put down.
If it comes to that sort of diagnosis, put your dog's comfort before your sentimental attachment.
posted by Cranberry at 1:27 PM on January 28, 2013

BTW benign tumors are pretty common on dogs. My childhood dog started getting them when she was 6 or 7 and the vet said they were not a big deal and he'd only remove them if they got so big they were dragging on the ground or something.

Not sure what is going on with your dog, but sometimes even big sudden growths can be harmless.
posted by rmless at 1:30 PM on January 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

Our beagles have weird bumps on their skin. The vet said it is genetic, nothing to worry about, and ignore it. It may nothing. No reason to panic until you actually know something.
posted by COD at 1:36 PM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Don't forget that once you have a diagnosis you can still probably talk to your regular vet to see if they have any experience they could share about what the quality of life is for dogs with that condition. Don't beat yourself up about capping your spending. The amount that you can spend treating pets is seemingly endless. Do talk to the specialist and explain your situation. I'm hoping they can help you prioritize what would be useful for your dog both in terms of tests and treatment. They might also know if there is any kind of financial assistance you could get or cheaper ways care for your dog.
posted by oneear at 1:38 PM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I am so, so sorry, and I sympathize greatly. I lost my beloved Clyde to bone cancer. I did go ahead with all of the treatments (surgery, radiation, chemo). I thought if there was even a remote chance that I would do what I could for my boy. He lived a good quality life for a few months, but I honestly don't know if the treatment made a difference or not.

I love my dog more than anything in the world, but I would not go down that path again. I would have spent all the money in the world if it would have meant that he would get well. The reality was that he just wouldn't, no matter what.

If you're told that your dog has a condition with a good prognosis after treatment, by all means, do what you can. However, if the vet says that the prognosis will only change by a few months at best, do both of yourselves a favor, and just bring that boy home and give him all the lovin' you can.

If you're looking a treatable condition and need help with veterinary bills, I recommend RedRover. They offer grants for just such occasions (see http://www.redrover.org/redrover-relief-grants). I am a long-time supporter of their work, and I personally know someone who received a medical grant from them.

Best wishes to both of you.
posted by ReginaHart at 1:38 PM on January 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

i also have a shepherdy-looking mutt with a bumpy nose, and don't panic yet. i put my pup through a ton of testing, biopsies, and "ooh that looks bad"-ing from the vet only to have them tell me that it is a relatively harmless form of lupus that can occur in shepherds. five years later, she's still going strong. even though it may look bad, it might not be a completely dire situation!

do talk with your vet about your budget and hopefully they can recommend a course of tests that will get your big guy sorted out and also give you some peace of mind. don't feel bad about setting some boundaries for yourself in terms of what you can spend and any level of suffering you want your dog to go through. best of luck!
posted by marshmallow peep at 1:48 PM on January 28, 2013

I am surprised that your vet would make such a pronouncement (re: benign/not benign) before having done tests. Like, I get that he wants you to take your dog to a specialist right away to be checked out, but in my experience vets are pretty guarded about such strongly expressed speculation unless they've already done a test. I obviously cannot promise it will be OK, but first things first: get your dog tested and find out what is really going on.

Nthing what everyone else has said about asking around to find an affordable vet and inquiring about sliding scale fees. And yes, if you can, take him somewhere that is outside of a big city practice. I have a friend who drove his dog 45 minutes to a vet in the suburbs (recommended by a satisfied friend) and it saved him $300 compared to what the big-city vet was charging for the same procedure.

Best of luck to you and your dog--he is lovely and you are doing your best for him as a pet owner. Don't beat yourself up for not noticing the bump before--lumps and bumps can appear quickly, and it doesn't mean they are necessarily cancerous.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 2:06 PM on January 28, 2013

I'm so sorry. We are on round two with osteo/fibrosarcoma with our cat, and cancer is bullshit in people, but in animals, I think it's worse. At least people understand what is happening to them.

First of all, having been through this twice now, let me assure you - a good vet will be honest with you about the quality of life your pet can expect and MORE THAN THAT, the vet will be focused on providing your pet with the maximum number of really good days. That is the point of chemo and cancer treatment in pets, specifically because if you did go all-out and make them sick as hell to save them, they couldn't understand it, and then if/when it didn't work out, we'd all feel worse for our pets having suffered needlessly.

So, don't worry about doing 'everything.' Worry, if you must worry, about doing enough to keep your buddy happy for as long as possible.

The vet should absolutely provide you with an estimate, and if they can't work with you, I don't know what the university hospitals are where you are that have good vet programs, but your vet or this specialty vet should know, and should know whether they might take you at reduced or pro bono rates.

Again, I hope this is not what your vet suspects, but if it is, and you want to talk with someone who's done pet cancer, please feel free to contact me. Good luck.
posted by Medieval Maven at 2:15 PM on January 28, 2013

There's good advice here. I just came in to say "OMG, after seeing the picture, I love your dog, too!"

Take heart, your dog has a good life with you, and is definitely benefitting. Take it slow--at each step, you can take your time and mull over your options.
posted by vitabellosi at 2:46 PM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Do not feel guilty because some websites talk about MRIs and chemo etc. Websites are not there to tell you when to stop spending money because it's not going to give your pet more time or make him enjoy his life more. They can't make that decision for you. The websites are simply there to give information about the next treatment steps if you should want to pursue them. There is no value judgment there.

If you look up websites on human cancers it's the same story, you'll find recommendations of PET scans or MRIs or chemo or radiation on and on and investigative treatments etc. These websites are aimed towards people who are grasping at straws. Their target audience are not the people who feel that they do not wish to pursue further treatment for metastatic cancer with a life expectancy of 6 months. Those people don't need a website to tell them the course of action.

Anyway this is all premature talk and I hope the bump turns out to be nothing. But I just wanted to point this out because you should not be feeling like some website out there can tell you the right thing to do for a pet with cancer - it can't, it can only give you the options.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 3:05 PM on January 28, 2013

IANYV but IAAV, and I have to say that every time you think this: How do I explain to the vet that I am poor and please, please don't take me for a ride? How can I live with myself if I don't do whatever it takes to save my dog? , go read the story about the $50,000 cat bite. Vets don't "take people for rides", and if we wanted to make a killing we would have gone to human medical school (same pre-requisites, easier to get into), and would be implanting pieces of silicone into insane hairless apes for 500K a year. We do this crazy job because we are crippled by compassion, but we cannot survive as lending institutions or charity operations. Our staff doesn't work on a sliding scale, and neither does our power bill, mortgage, or malpractice insurance. Don't skimp on the procedures necessary to getting an accurate diagnosis (biopsy etc.). This is the first step. DO NOT PANIC until you get that. A rapidly-growing lump has just as much chance of being an infected ruptured hair follicle as a tumor until you know what's in there, and that means having a pathologist look at samples of the tissue. There are companies (CareCredit is one, I have no affiliation to any of them) who only finance human and veterinary medical procedures, and it may be an option if you have good credit.
posted by SinAesthetic at 3:26 PM on January 28, 2013 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: We do this crazy job because we are crippled by compassion, but we cannot survive as lending institutions or charity operations. Our staff doesn't work on a sliding scale, and neither does our power bill, mortgage, or malpractice insurance. Don't skimp on the procedures necessary to getting an accurate diagnosis (biopsy etc.).

I already applied and got approved for Care Credit. My limit is $3,000, but I don't make a lot of money, already have credit card debt (including vet bills!), and I don't want to spend that much.

I'm not asking for charity or saying that all vets are greedy bastards, but I've been given the relentless upsell by dentists and other doctors, and it's scary to be put on the spot like that. I once signed away for an expensive and possibly unnecessary dental procedure while my mouth was already propped open, and I don't want tomorrow to be the vet equivalent of that.

Is not getting a $1,000 CT scan or MRI skimping on the diagnostics? A needle biopsy shouldn't be that expensive, but beyond that, I'm not sure what I can afford. But thanks for making me feel guilty!
posted by ablazingsaddle at 3:33 PM on January 28, 2013

Response by poster: Okay, that was snippy, but really, I'm young, poor, and I'm a fucking mess right now.

Thanks for anecdotes, advice, etc. I'll update when I have an update.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 3:38 PM on January 28, 2013

A needle biopsy, punch sample or removal (under anesthesia) is going to give you very useful information. For a lump, an MRI or CAT... I can't see those as useful at this point until you have more information about the lump itself. My hounds have had lumps biopsied, and so far they have been benign. Please go hug your gorgeous dog now and don't worry until you can take the next step to getting clarity on this issue.

I know how scary it is to not have information to work with when it is your beloved dog. I know it hits the heart hard, I really do. But your dog is in the moment, and your goal isn't to be a worried mess around him or doing everything possible past the point of sense. Your goal is to have as many happy days -- weeks, months, years -- with him as possible, not to go past his comfort level or drive yourself into debt.
posted by vers at 3:54 PM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Is not getting a $1,000 CT scan or MRI skimping on the diagnostics? You don't know if you need either of those things yet, right? This is just from the websites you've read, yes?

I am so sympathetic about this -- our dog had a stroke and died and if we'd known she had a blood clot, I am sure we would have paid for dog neurosurgery -- but try and take it one step at a time. Deal with what you have on your plate right now. See what the specialist says, and go from there. Don't worry about the MRI until you have to worry about an MRI. You may never get to the MRI stage, after all -- a needle biopsy may do it. You don't have to make these long-ranging choices about your sweet dog's care yet.

Hang in there.
posted by Countess Sandwich at 3:56 PM on January 28, 2013

Best answer: How can I live with myself if I don't do whatever it takes to save my dog?

Please don't put it to yourself like this. Whenever your dog dies, it will NOT be because you didn't save him. It'll be because we're mortal creatures, and that's how it goes. None of us are meant to be arbiters of life and death. So make the best judgement calls you can, but whenever possible, remember to give yourself a break, and don't beat yourself up.
posted by Sing Or Swim at 4:15 PM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh ablazingsaddle, I'm so sorry to hear you and your dog are going through this. Your love for your dog comes through in every question you ask about him, and you're obviously a good and caring owner. I just wanted to second everyone here who's saying to take this one step at a time and try not to catastrophize - yes, at some point a vet may suggest you spend more than you're able to, but you're not there yet and may not get there at all. The needle biopsy may be the end of it; when my dog was getting older she had a lump that twisted me up in knots, but the biopsy was fairly quick and inexpensive, and despite my fears and all the horrible things I'd read about online, it turned out to be nothing to worry about.

The best thing you can do right now is get off the internet (well, maybe not Metafilter, but at least PedMD) and go love on your dog. You're already doing the right thing in setting a cap that is reasonable for you, and you obviously know how to research your options once you do know more, so for right now there's not a lot more to be done. Go play with that adorable dog, and take tomorrow when it comes. Best of luck to you both - sending hopeful thoughts your way.
posted by DingoMutt at 4:19 PM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

I don't have anything to say other than I am tearing up at your story and hoping so much that you are able to find a way to do whatever you need to do. We love and adore our pets and I have gone through the exact situation you are. It's so hard. There is no right or wrong. Just love your dog.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 4:49 PM on January 28, 2013

I have had this problem. I explained to the vet that I was poor. She was kind and charged a reasonable fee and set up a payment schedule. I think you have to also be realistic about what you can do. I have had dogs I loved dearly, but the world tends to run on money too. I never had to had a dog put down because I could not afford the treatments, but I have had to make the difficult decision of how much I realistically could pay.
posted by fifilaru at 4:50 PM on January 28, 2013

I can only imagine how frightened and sad you must be. I have two dogs and love them to pieces, so I do sympathize. But please try to be calm and take things one step at a time. You are panicking before you know what's really wrong. I recommend seeing the specialist -- talk to him/her about your financial concerns, get more information and a real diagnosis, THEN come up with an appropriate treatment plan together. You are not the first person to find him/herself in this position, and you won't be the first client the specialist has seen who has a limited budget. The specialist may offer a payment plan -- not a discount or sliding scale, but an opportunity to pay in installments rather than all at once -- or maybe not. You won't know what your options are until you talk to the specialist, and you can't make an informed decision without more information.

Good luck. I'm sending positive vibes your way....
posted by Boogiechild at 4:52 PM on January 28, 2013

Best answer: Okay I know it's hard but STOP GOOGLING RIGHT NOW.

Story time: in 2007 I moved to Florida with my cat Sammy who I'd had since he was a big-headed kitten. We became super attached--I was in a long distance relationship at the time and Sammy was my bestest cuddle bud. At the first visit to the fancy, all-cat vet I went to, she casually mentioned that he had a heart murmur. About a year later, he got into a fight and got an abscess. The emergency vet x-rayed him and thought his heart looked enlarged. I went for a follow-up visit with my regular vet and she berated me for not going to a feline cardiologist sooner, when I'd never been even told it was absolutely necessary.

So I--a poor graduate student--spent the night frantically googling and even asked metafilter about it. I was completely hysterical. I called my mother and she told me to have him put to sleep and "not waste any money on an animal" (thanks, mom). There were all sorts of internet communities for "big heart kitties" and vivid stories about cats throwing clots. I was a complete mess.

I went to the feline cardiologist and he was exceedingly blase about it. He suspected that my cat's heart isn't enlarged at all and recommended a follow-up visit. I was supposed to go after six months, but I was really, really broke and couldn't afford it at four hundred bucks a visit. At his next check-up a year later, my vet berated and gulit-tripped me so I made another appointment.

I got it checked by the specialist again who said there was no valve thickening and everything was fine and that he needed absolutely no treatment unless his murmur gets worse. Well, the murmur has actually been downgraded several times. It's now 2013 and Sammy is fine, happy, energetic, and as obnoxious and lovey as ever. We go to a different vet, though. I was tired of being berated.

The internet is filled with panicked, hysterical pet owners--just like you! But there are very few people who come back to report when everything is fine. And your vet doesn't know if anything is wrong. The specialist will help you through it, not metafilter and not google.

One thing I did get out of the whole Adventure of Sammy Katz and the Enlarged Heart was that I will now frequently tell my cat I love him and that I'm happy he's in my life when we sit together for petties and cuddles. It may sound goofy, but it makes me feel a lot better to have those feelings expressed. If something bad ever happens, I'll know that he had a good life and I won't feel like anything's gone unsaid. He might not understand (though he is an abnormally clever cat), but it makes me feel a hell of a lot better.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:53 PM on January 28, 2013 [9 favorites]

Best answer: ablazingsaddle: I know it's hard for folks to enter an emotionally charged medical situation and feel overwhelmed, especially when you are not only worried but also worried about how to pay for things. I only meant that you should make sure you do adequate diagnostics to know what is going on before you panic. Most times all this takes is a needle or small incisional biopsy under sedation with a local anesthetic. If your doc feels that the mass is more extensive (especially if it is next to bone), it may be necessary to do imaging (x-rays, ct/mri) to determine where the best location is for biopsy so that they don't get a non-diagnostic sample and have to have your dog come back and go through a second biopsy procedure. Unlike in human medicine (well, OK, except peds!), we can't ask our patients to stay perfectly still for certain procedures, especially those that might be uncomfortable, and so we have to use anesthesia for things as simple as dental cleanings and biopsies, which bumps up the cost a bit (though still a massive bargain compared to human med).

I know you are upset and worried, but nthing what others have said about staying away from Dr. Google until you know what's up. Everyone and their brother has a "Story of my dog's mass" blog, and none of it has anything to do with your dog until you have a diagnosis.
posted by SinAesthetic at 11:45 AM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If you're told that your dog has a condition with a good prognosis after treatment, by all means, do what you can. However, if the vet says that the prognosis will only change by a few months at best, do both of yourselves a favor, and just bring that boy home and give him all the lovin' you can.

This, a thousand times. We lost our first dog to bone cancer, seemingly out of nowhere, last August. The emergency vet was very honest about treatment options, and my wife and I knew that buying him a few pain-filled months would just break our hearts. He wouldn't understand "when I get better," only that he hurt so badly right now. And so we made the decision to let him go, not even an hour after we showed up.

Know that they only live in the moment, and if it turns out to be the worst case, take him home, and spoil him rotten for a while. (and read Jon Katz's "A Dog's Last Day."). We didn't even get that chance, and to this day, I can't decide if that made it worse or better.

I think I need to go take a walk now.
posted by canine epigram at 11:55 AM on January 29, 2013

Response by poster: Well, I don't know anything for sure until the biopsy results come back. But what the vet told me was not good. The tumor on his face is most likely a fibrosarcoma, and there are other possibilities that are less scary, but based on a preliminary examination, it's most likely a fibrosarcoma. The treatment options are surgery, surgery and radiation, and radiation, and due to the location of the tumor (on his face), surgery is a limited option.

I'm crossing my fingers that it is a tumor that can be chopped out, but I'm trying to brace myself for the worst.

Also trying hard not to think about how much I'll miss him when he's gone.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 2:21 PM on January 29, 2013

Response by poster: Sad update: It's a high-grade fibrosarcoma. He has 3-6 months to live.

In a way, I almost feel better knowing that there's nothing that I could do for him even if money was no object and I spent eleventy billion dollars. The only possible treatment is very aggressive and unlikely to work. The vet said to keep an eye on his appetite - if he's not eating, he's in pain - and that there are some low-grade painkiller options, but really, when he's in a lot of pain, it's time to let go.

He's a wonderful animal. I'm trying to live in the moment and enjoy the wonderful while I can. I will worry about how to move on, what to do with all his stuff, etc. when I have to.

I saved him from dying in a shelter, I spent seven months (and hopefully it will be nearly or more than a year) scratching his belly and taking him on long walks, and he will die under the care of a person who loves him a lot.

Metafilter has been really helpful the past couple of days. I feel much less alone.

All dogs go to heaven.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 4:58 PM on January 31, 2013 [5 favorites]

When my dog died, I received an email from one of my stoic older relatives. This relative had a tough childhood and his mother died of cancer when he was still a kid. I do not usually talk about emotional things with him at all. The email said, "I am sorry about your dog. At least he left this world surrounded by the people who loved him. That is all any of us can ask for." It is true. We are all going to be there at one point or another, but we might not all be so lucky.
posted by cairdeas at 6:54 PM on January 31, 2013 [2 favorites]

Thank you for updating. I'm so sorry that your time with your guy is going to be so much shorter than you want, but I'm so glad for him that you will be there to make his end days so full of love.
posted by Brody's chum at 6:55 PM on January 31, 2013

By the way, he looks sooooo sweet. I just wanna cover him in kisses.
posted by cairdeas at 9:42 PM on January 31, 2013

Thank you for updating. You're a good friend to a good dog. We'll be thinking of you.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:17 PM on January 31, 2013 [2 favorites]

I am so sorry to hear the result of the tests, ablazingsaddle. It's often said dogs live in the moment and I think that is true, so the good thing is, all your dog is thinking about at the moment is what a wonderful life he has right now with you--not what happened in his past, or what will happen tomorrow.

Take care.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 10:53 PM on January 31, 2013

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