Canine cancer: battling depression and restoring joy

caption: After a cancer diagnosis and a subsequent bout of depression, Max, a five-year-old lab/retriever cross, is back to his old self thanks to his new pet stroller and trailer.

caption: After a cancer diagnosis and a subsequent bout of depression, Max, a five-year-old lab/retriever cross, is back to his old self thanks to his new pet stroller and trailer.

By Eileen Coughlan

When dogs are faced with cancer, there are two things that give them a leg up over us humans. For one, when they are treated with chemotherapy and radiation, they rarely experience the same unpleasant side effects we humans must endure; and two, they don’t know they have a life-threatening disease, so they don’t suffer the same kind of anxiety we do.

However, when it comes to other emotions such as depression, this is where the differences between us and them blurs. When dogs are in pain and their daily routine and favourite activities are suddenly curtailed, just like us they can become terribly depressed.

This is what happened when our five-year-old Lab/Retriever cross, Max, was diagnosed with bone cancer. My husband and I quickly learned that physically dealing with his cancer was going to be only part of Max’s treatment plan. The other part was figuring out how we could increase his quality of life and ease his depression.

Once we learned that the fast-growing lump on Max’s right front leg was osteosarcoma, we assumed we had only two options: amputation or euthanasia. But the oncologists at Western Veterinary Cancer Centre offered us a third — potentially limb-saving — option: a new form of radiation called Stereotactic Radiation Therapy (SRS).

Since Max was in considerable pain and this type of cancer spreads quickly, we had to make a decision fast. One of the typical benefits of SRS is that it kills the pain almost immediately, which would mean Max could use his leg within a short time after the treatment. So we decided to try SRS and chemotherapy, with the proviso that Max did not suffer more because of the treatments, and that during his convalescence he was enjoying a good quality of life.

The radiation did begin to shrink the tumour and the pain was reduced, but he still limped badly. Max’s oncologist told us not to give up hope as the tumour was unique and things would improve with time. We were cautiously optimistic and okay with giving things more time, but the big question for us was: how much time? No one knew.

Before being diagnosed, Max had been an extremely active young dog. Over night he’d become an invalid and an almost complete shut-in. Since adopting him three years earlier, we’d taken him everywhere with us. Now we couldn’t even take him on our nightly walks. His level of activity had been reduced to going to the side of the house three times a day.

As the waiting time turned into days then weeks, Max started to show signs of depression. From being a dog who always greeted us with unbridled enthusiasm, he suddenly stopped even trying to get up, and some days he’d barely lift his head when we came home. It was heart breaking to watch, and we knew we had to do something to restore some joy in his life.

It was then we came up with the idea of a baby jogger. After doing a little research, we found that there were joggers and bike trailers made especially for dogs. The problem was that many of them were built for smaller dogs or were only bike trailers. Eventually we found one called Boohya Pet Stroller and Trailer with a weight capacity of 88 lbs. that is both a jogger and bike trailer. Perfect for Max, perfect for us. The Boohya was priced well at about $300 U.S. It’s easy to assemble and disassemble, which makes it super easy for travel. The supplier was terrific and delivered it to our door in about seven days.

Max took to it right away and his mood changed immediately. He went from being a very sad dog to being his old bright-eyed enthusiastic self. Once again, we were able to take him on walks/rides to his favourite parks, where he could water the trees, say hello to his friends, and sniff the breeze.

Over the past four months and the course of his treatment, Max has been showing improvement, but his progress has been slow. With the Boohya, though, life has been much easier, and some days seem almost normal. Max is once again able to come everywhere with us, and nothing brings him or us greater joy.