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Brain and thyroid cancer.

Species: Dog
Breed: Golden Retriever
Age: 8-11 years
Hello Dr. Marie,

I'm so sad to say I lost my boy cancer last week. We first noticed a large growth on his neck--confirmed thyroid cancer but was incapsulated. An ultrasound revealed the cancer didn't appear to spread so I then proceeded to schedule surgery to have the thyroid tumor removed. About a week later, he developed a slight head tilt and uneasy gate--then had a terrifying seizure. An MRI revealed two cancers: one in his cerebellum; the other in the brain stem--obviously a bad prognosis. The neurologist quickly put him on Prednisone and Phenobarbital.

The first couple weeks were rough: he seemed high as a kite and quite wobbly. I was on the verge of putting him down but my vet said to wait overnight.

Miraculously he was a new dog in the morning--somewhat back to his old ways. Riley was swimming, playing; very aware and alert. I was SO thankful I waited! Of course he panted a lot; drank tons of water; and had an enormous appetite. But overall he truly appeared happy and content.

Approximately a month and a half passed and noticed a decline in his mood. His head tilt began to re-appear and was even more unstable as the days went on.

Here's the issue which is causing the most sorrow and guilt:

Due to stress, life, and logistics I forgot his medicine which was to be given twice a day.
He had a dose Friday morning then not another till Monday morning ( so, 2.5 days without medicine ). On Saturday I noticed an extreme head tilt and unusual gate. He was alert and was somewhat normal other than that. He remained in the same state Sunday. Monday morning came and I gave him his medication. He was definitely more unstable at this point--very wobbly. For the first time he didn't finish his food. I do believe he did in fact swallow his pills.

Midday Monday Riley threw up and was quite lethargic. I game home Monday night to find Riley on his side in a seizure. It appeared he bit his tongue and found blood, bile and urine nearby. I know he wasn't coming out of this seizure. All I could do was watch him die. I was so sad and in shock. He didn't acknowledge my presence--definitely near death. Our other three dogs witnessed the seizure and ultimately death.

I feel so sad and guilty for forgetting his medicine. Did he suffer? I know his death was inevitable and on borrowed time but feel as if I killed him? Did missing 2.5 days of medication really mask his illness? Was he days or weeks away from dying even if he was on his medication? It's ironic--I was going to put him down later that week. Did he know and not want to put me through that process? Did he have that sense? My vet did warn me the Prednisone would stop working at some point.

All I want to know is if he died without pain. According to the vet--probably not. The vet suspects his cancer was progressing rapidly and dogs do not feel pain during a seizure. It was so sad to see his breathing slow and then his last gasp of air.

I know Riley had a great life. He lived on a boat during the week; and in the wine country on a vineyard with pond on the weekends. His dearest companion, Bella, a Jack Russell Terrier, kept him young and entertained. He's been on a raw diet for three years and had the best care possible.

Online vet, Dr. Marie

Dr. Marie replied:

Oh, what a sad story. It sounds like you did so much for Riley. It's never easy to lose a friend like this, but it is harder when there is so little that can be done.

Brain cancer is terribly difficult thing to deal with. In many cases it is even harder because not everyone will go to the expense of having an MRI done. In these cases we are just guessing at what is going on. In Riley's case it was good that we knew what the problem was. However, I'm sure you still felt helpless.

Your vet is right that Prednisone will slow the progression of cancer but it always reaches a point where it stops working. The prednisone helps to shrink the inflammation that is around a tumor. But it doesn't get rid of the cancer or even stop it from growing. You can rest assured that you did not cause Riley's death by forgetting 2.5 days of prednisone. I'm guessing that it is possible that *with* the prednisone he may have lasted another day or possibly a few days, but that's it.

We do not believe that cancer in the brain is painful. And, yes, it is true that dogs don't feel pain during a seizure. Seizures are difficult for us to watch because the dogs look so uncomfortable. But, during a seizure like this Riley would have been completely unaware of what was going on around him.

I'm so sorry for your loss. I want to thank you for everything that you did for Riley. It sounds like he had an amazing life.

I'll be online for a couple of more hours tonight so let me know if you have more questions.

Dr. Marie.

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Disclaimer: Although Dr. Marie is a qualified veterinarian, the information found on this site is not meant to replace the advice of your own veterinarian. and Dr. Marie do not accept any responsibility for any loss, damage, injury, death, or disease which may arise from reliance on information contained on this site. Do not use information found on this site for diagnosing or treating your pet. Anything you read here is for information only.

Customer reply:


Thanks for the quick reply. I feel a lot better.

Riley died on a Monday. Is it a coincidence or did Riley have the sense to know I was planning on putting him down the following Wednesday or Thursday?

My vet said she's heard that story many times--as if the dog doesn't want to put us through the pain? I was planning to hold him in the grass at home--would have been tough.

Thanks again for your help!

Online vet, Dr. Marie

Dr. Marie replied:

I've seen stuff like this happen a lot as well. This month I had clients who were agonizing over whether to put their cat to sleep before they went on vacation. He had been sick for ages and they didn't want to have their friends look after him and potentially have to have him euthanized if he got worse. Well, two days before they were about to leave the cat suddenly got much worse and they put him down.

No one knows what is going on in an animal's mind, but I do think that they know more than we can give them credit for.

I pray that your time of grief is not too long.

Dr. Marie.

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Dr. MarieDr. Marie is a veterinarian who practices in a busy animal hospital in Ottawa, Ontario. She created Ask A Vet Question as a resource for good, accurate veterinary advice online. Dr. Marie treats dogs, cats, hamsters, guinea pigs, and rats. She has been a vet since 1999.

Is an online vet visit just as good as a trip to your veterinarian? No! But, many times, asking an online veterinarian a question can help save you money. While Dr. Marie can't officially diagnose your pet or prescribe medications, she can often advise you on whether a vet visit is necessary. You can also ask Dr. Marie for a second opinion on your pet's condition.