Naturally, the topic of this month’s Natural Pet feature, “Cancer-Free Pets: Five Ways to Help Keep Them Healthy” (see page 24), got me thinking about my beautiful rottweiler Jesse, who developed bone cancer in her hind leg at the age of 6 and died at 8. She lived two more years because her leg was amputated and she went through chemotherapy―without the surgery and treatment, she would have been gone in weeks, if that. This was just not acceptable to me, and although the cost of her treatment was not for the faint of heart, I could get the money at the time and knew I would never regret spending it (which I never have).
Unlike chemo for humans, chemo for dogs is far less rigorous, and although some dogs don’t tolerate it well, Jesse made it through with flying colors and had basically no side effects. My husband and I lived on our horse ranch at the time, so she carried on roaming the fields and forests with us on our daily walks. She had the strongest spirit and zest for life, and I can’t even relay the feeling it gave me—and still does—that she had two more good years after receiving that devastating diagnosis. However, it did make me think about prevention because I would have moved heaven and Earth to have kept her from having this awful disease.
Firstly, rottweilers are predisposed to bone cancer, as I found out after she was diagnosed. It never even occurred to me 20 years ago when we were deciding on a breed that this needed to be a consideration.
I thought about the concept of spaying her too early―part of our contract with the breeder we got Jesse and her brother, Shiloh, from was to spay/neuter them at 6 months old, which we did dutifully, without even realizing the possible consequences. As the article points out, there is now research behind holding off, or finding alternatives.
In addition to spaying Jesse too young, I considered another, perhaps connected, factor of too much exercise on growing bones. I felt that perhaps she overdid it on occasion, and that could have been a contributor. Of course, that doesn’t mean no exercise, just a more moderate amount and perhaps certain types of exercise over others.
Food, food, food… The big deal about our rottweilers, according to our veterinarians, was to keep the weight off them so there wouldn’t be added stress on their maturing bones and joints. So, we did what we were told and fed them prescription weight management dog food. It’s hard to comprehend that I could have been so naïve and not done my ingredient checking as I always do with my own food. Did it cause the cancer? Likely not, but it certainly contributed to the perfect storm that was brewing in my “little” dog’s body.
Although rottweilers typically live 8 to 11 years on average, and my Jesse was on the low end of average, it was way too young to lose her and extremely hard, as she was my “soul” dog. I certainly did go through bouts of beating myself up about how I could have done things differently, until I came to terms with the fact that everything I did for her right from the day I got her was out of love and that I was working with what I knew at the time.