Our Dog was Diagnosed with Cancer

In January 2000, our eight-year-old old Rottweiler was diagnosed with nasal carcinoma. Through the late fall and winter, Riga was in and out of the vet’s office. Riga had a persistent slight discharge from her left nostril, as though she had a slight cold. Our vet prescribed antihistamines for what she called “reverse sneezing.” Our vet finally referred us to a specialist.

This veterinarian believed that given Riga’s age and breed, it was likely Riga had cancer of some sort. We had a CT scan done before Christmas. The results didn’t look good. The scan showed deterioration of the fine bones in her nose on the left side. Clinical language described our dog’s condition. The presence of osteolysis of the nasal septum, frontal bone, and ethmoid bone is most compatible with a malignant neoplasm of nasal origin. Indicated too was probable involvement of the olfactory bulb of the brain. We had a biopsy done to find out exactly what we faced.

The results were stark: Right and left nasal cavities: Carcinoma.

The specialist talked to us about treatment. At the time, radiation therapy was the treatment of choice. The cost of this treatment was then $4,000. The specialist described the procedure, where it would be done, and what it meant for our dog and us. My husband and I talked about our dog and her temperament. We talked about the fact that the Rottweiler’s average lifespan is eight to 12 years. We discussed the fact that cancer is a problem in the breed.

We decided against treating Riga.

One of the main reasons was because the specialist could not assure us that Riga would live any longer if we pursued treatment than if we didn’t.

We took Riga home and spoiled her for the seven remaining months of her life.

Riga saw her vet about once a month after her diagnosis so her condition could be monitored. Riga’s vet told us that she might eventually start to experience severe nosebleeds. (She did. And they were very severe.) The specialist told us that since Riga’s brain was involved, she might eventually experience seizures. (She never did.) My husband and I decided that if her nosebleeds couldn’t be stopped or when she had her first seizure, we would euthanize her. Our vet agreed to come to the house.

As the months passed, Riga’s nasal discharge intensified. She had periodic nosebleeds. She eventually became unable to breathe through her nose. The cancer began distorting the left side of her face, eventually to a shocking degree. What was unaffected was her zest for life. She gobbled down her food. She continued to rule over our younger dog. She was alert. She played with her toys and us. Riga gave us no indication she was in pain. Seeing her from her right side as she trotted around the yard, sniffing, you couldn’t tell she was terribly ill and that she was dying. We savored each day we had with her, taking each day on its own, as a gift.

While Riga had a playful side she displayed to those she loved, she was a dignified, serious dog. As broken as my heart was by her illness, it was my job to watch over her quality of life and to release her when the time came. Our vet told us we’d know when it was time.

One morning, I knew.

I put Riga’s breakfast into her bowl and set the bowl down on the floor. She walked over to it, sniffed her food.

And walked away.

I called her vet to make an appointment to come to the house and burst into tears. Riga was a typical Rottweiler: She was a stomach on legs masquerading as a dog. She adored her food and ate every single meal with gusto up until that morning.

I have no regrets that we opted not to treat Riga’s carcinoma. She broke my heart and I miss my darling PussCat to this day. But no regrets.

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