My name is Heather Underwood, CVT and for the past 13 years I have been a veterinary technician at Family Pet Clinic in Southampton, PA. Over the years, I’ve see new fuzzy friends come in as puppies and kittens and i’ve watched as they come in year after year and silently they grow older. I’ve helped thousands of our wonderful customers with things like how to medicate, allergy injections, teaching how to give fluids, disease management, and tips on caring for an aging friend. Aging can be one of the hardest things to deal with in life, and I love the fact that I can help keep your best friends comfortable as their age increases. I’ve been knows to talk for hours about pets and I’m always willing to listen and help. I can handle most pet situations with ease, that is until an emergency arises involving my own pet! Suddenly I go from being a certified technician to being a customer concerned about her best friend.
Meet Winston, my amazing 13 year old Golden Retriever/Chow Mix that I adopted from the SPCA in 2002. He has been my best friend and writing partner for the Family Pet Clinic website (www.familypetclinic.vetsuite.com) for many years. I’m here to share our journey with everyone, in a hope that Winston and I can help out some other dog or cat that may be in a similar situation.
On July 1st 2014 he refused to eat his breakfast, this is pretty typical for him in the summer time, due to that thick fuzzy coat so I didn’t think much of it. As the day proceeded, he began to breathe heavier and just seemed generally tired. After being let in from going potty at night outside he collapsed on the porch and couldn’t make in the house. After a few minutes of rest and lots of coaxing to get up, he came inside and clearly he wasn’t himself, he just wanted to sleep so I sat with him through the night and prepared to take him with me to work the next morning for an exam. I didn’t realize how serious his condition actually was. That morning Dr Menninger examined him, after a CBC and Chemistry bloodwork were run and some radiographs were obtained, it was evident that he had a large splenic mass, and it was bleeding. Dr Menninger set up an emergency ultrasound at V.S.E.C, (one of the local animal emergency hospitals) and after a quick call to Winston’s dad to meet us at the ER we were on our way. An ultrasound confirmed that he did indeed have a 3.5” mass connected to his spleen and it was actively bleeding. We were given the option of surgery immediately (with an estimate of $4,000-$5,000) or euthanizing him to stop the pain and bleeding from the mass. The doctor said that there is a 70% chance of this being Hemangiosarcoma, a very bad cancer of the blood vessels that is common in large breed dogs. (especially Golden Retrievers and German Shepherds) Even with surgery, we are told that he would only have 4 to 6 months to live. We were distraught, what could we do? The options were scary, and I have never been on this side of the conversation before. Money is very tight for us right now, but he is our best friend, and we elected to go ahead with removing his spleen and the bleeding tumor. A dog can live a healthy normal life with no spleen and this was my hope for him after the surgery. After some tearful goodbye hugs Winston’s dad and I left the ER to go and sit by the phone waiting for the phone call when his surgery was complete. When the doctor called we were relieved, he did well and would have to stay in the ER for 2 days to be monitored. He went home on July 4th 2014 with a bag of medications, including pain killers, antibiotics, and anti nausea pills. It was a rough 10 days of recovery. He was on round the clock medications, had a 14” long incision with stitches and was generally uncomfortable. From being on his back on a surgery table for hours, his arthritis was aggravated and he had trouble walking normally for days. He received the best care from the family and bravely took all his medications (baked turkey lunch meat was perfect for that). After 10 days he was starting to act like his old self again. The biopsy report came back on day 11, that tumor was indeed what we feared. My fuzzy baby has hemangiosarcoma and was listed with a poor prognosis and 2-4 moths of survival time.
My mom works for Bunns natural food store in Southampton, PA and with the help of the amazing team at Bunns she helped research the best cancer fighting supplements available for pets. We learned that Japanese mushroom complex capsules given with Mitocke mushroom liquid drops can boost your immunity, along with Curamin (a natural pain fighter and anti-inflammatory) Shark Cartilage (a cancer fighter), Probiotics, and most importantly a Chinese herb called Yunnan Baiyao. Yunnan Baiyao is an herb that is used to stop bleeding. It is important to use Yunnan Baiyao in cases of hemangiosarcoma, since this is a cancer of the blood vessels. Once this cancer is in the body it can create bleeding tumors anywhere. The Yunnan will prevent the tumors from bleeding and can be used to prolong a happy life. The problem was, Yunnan Baiyao, is not available in any stores in Pennsylvania. Thankfully, after a little research I found Modern Herb Shop in California, this online store has the most caring and helpful people that truly seem to care about the health of your pets. I have contacted them several times and each time my email was responded quickly and with a smile. You feel like you truly have a friend with them. Anyone needing to purchase Yunnan Baiyao, I can’t recommend Modern Herb Shop enough.
Diet is also very important! I have learned that sugar and most carbohydrates do nothing but feed the cancer cells. A cancer diet consists of high protein meats, fats and only brown rice or oatmeal for highly digestible healthy grains. No sugar, no preservatives, and no dairy products can be eaten. Winston use to get cheese every day with his thyroid pill and Pepcid that he takes. I think he misses the cheese slices, but he never turns down his new baked turkey! On his breakfast and dinner, he gets fresh chicken or hamburger on top of his brown rice and oatmeal based dry food from Verus. Normally fresh fish or fish oils are recommended for their many health benefits, but you CAN NOT have any fish products while on Yunnan Baiyao, it had adverse effects and causes copious amounts of diarrhea.
Winston is coughing and has discharge in his right eye. I brought him to work with me concerned that the cancer has spread to his chest, after an exam and radio graphs it was determined that his chest is clear, his heart looks good and he only has a little cold and mild eye infection. Cancer does weaken the immune system and we take walks in a community park every week so a few days of eye drops and he is back to his old self. I’ll make sure to avoid other pets in the park from now on.
As I type this, It has been 3.5 months since Winston’s surgery, and he continues to be his old goofy self, taking walks with me (avoiding other dogs), begging for food from everyone in the house, including his cat friend Isis and generally being a happy dog. I love every day that I have with my furry best friend and I LOVE seeing that smile on his face. I’ll continue to update on Winston’s progress, but if anyone has anything they would like to discuss feel free to email me at FPCVET@gmail.com attn Heather in the subject line.
Please keep in mind what has currently worked for Winston, may not work on all pets. There is no cure for cancer but if you can help boost the immune system of your pet so their body can start to fight the cancer cells.