Home > Daisy, Health Care - Dogs, Pet Topics > Canine Cancer and Insulinomas – Sharing the experience with other dog owners

Canine Cancer and Insulinomas – Sharing the experience with other dog owners


My view right now. #Daisy #sleepingdogI never expected that writing about Daisy’s insulinoma would lead to meeting others who had gone or were going through the same thing.

It’s such a scary thing to find out your dog has cancer, no matter what kind it is, but having to make a quick decision on whether or not to do surgery is also scary. Having someone else who has already been there can really help. I sure wish I had known other people who had been through the same situation back in February so they could have helped to ease my mind about what to expect.

Now that Daisy is on the other side of it, I am so glad that I am able to share our experience with others who are having to make the same difficult decisions.

Of course, it makes it easier that Daisy came through the surgery and is still doing well today. I think it would be much harder to answer questions and respond to emails if she were not.

Med notes on Daisy's insulinomaI had completely forgotten about the notes I took on the day I received the phone call from Daisy’s consulting veterinarian at the University of Minnesota. Those notes recorded her confirmation of Daisy’s insulinoma and captured her recommendation that Daisy have surgery to remove it.

Today, I was cleaning out my work desk and came across them. It brought back a lot of the emotions I felt back then – worry, fear, uncertainty… fear. I imagine a lot of people feel that way when they find out their dog has cancer.

Going through Daisy’s diagnosis, surgery and aftercare has taught me a lot.

I have learned that…

  • You can seek input from those around you, but in the end you are the one who must make the decision about your dog’s care. No one else can,  or should, tell you what is the best decision.
  • Having someone else with you when you do speak to the vet about your pet’s illness (and the options) is helpful. What they say about people not hearing anything the doctor says beyond the word “cancer” is true. I sure wish I had someone else there who could have asked the questions I could not. In the end, I was able to write down my questions and ask them in person later on. It helped to be prepared in advance.
  • Know your monetary limit (or get pet insurance). You’d be surprised how quickly the costs can get out of control (they most certainly did in Daisy’s case). Plan for a dollar limit and then add another $1000. That way you give yourself some leeway when you go past your limit.
  • It’s okay to choose NOT to take an extraordinary measures to save your dog. Daisy’s insulinoma was caught early by chance (by her very awesome and alert vet), so we had options, but that is not the case for everyone. Opting to have the surgery or not, do chemo or not, is a personal decision. You know your own dog and what he/she can handle. Don’t be afraid to say no, if that is the right option for you and your pet.
  • Going forward with surgery or extraordinary life-saving measures is okay too. Just remember to check in with your pet to make sure the extraordinary measures are not because you can’t bear to say goodbye. Those first few days after surgery were tough. By the end of our ongoing list of recovery issues, I had come to the decision that I would not put Daisy through any more because it was traumatizing her (and me). Fortunately,she started to get better.
  • Veterinarians are just like doctors in that they want to save lives. They don’t want to give up any more than you do. They feel your pain and want to be able to give you the happy ending you seek. (Their big hearts are what led them to this profession after all.) Know that you may have to be the one who says “no more” at some point. The specialists who are caring for your pet may not be able to do so. I was fortunate enough to have a vet who helped me to be able to say “no more” in Daisy’s case. I am so grateful she did.

I am guessing many of you have been through a similar experience. What other tips or suggestions would you give to other pet owners going through a similar illness or diagnosis?

To the owners of Button, Scooter and Jack – our thoughts and prayers are with you as you go through this difficult time. Follow your heart in whatever you decide to do.

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  1. October 13, 2015 at 5:31 AM

    Very wise words in an easy-to-digest form. This should be on every vet’s wall (instead of those silly lifecycle of a flea posters).

  2. October 13, 2015 at 6:02 AM

    I am so very glad to hear that your Daisy made it through the surgery ok. Cancer is such a scary topic indeed.

    Our girl Missy was diagnosed with thyroid cancer last year, had the tumor removed, and underwent 4 chemotherapy sessions. I am ever so grateful that we had/have medical dog insurance in place, or we would have had a hard time coming up wight he 1000s of $$$ in vet costs.

    Besides having medical insurance for your pup (or a VERY healthy savings account) I would also suggest being your dog’s rock during the time of illness. Dogs are such sensitive creatures and mirror our emotions, so they really profit from a strong, calm human guiding them through the process.

    Our oncologist was a wonderful, very calm man Missy was incredibly comfortable around. Seeing him be so calm and caring helped me get a grip on my emotions!

    Now that Missy has kicked cancer’s butt, I have started being more conscious about the chemicals surrounding her (& her brother Buzz) and have incorporated several changes. First off, I switched them over to a home cooked, and then raw diet to boost the pups’ immune systems, and they couldn’t do better on it. I’ll never go back to feeding a highly processed dog food! I also stopped using the monthly anti-pest topical we used to apply on their skin once a month, and went with a natural option.

    So far, so good! We’re keeping our paws crossed that the cancer won’t come back.

    • October 13, 2015 at 7:42 AM

      Hi, is the natural option cedar-based? I have the worst time getting down to the skin of my Eskie’s furry neck, and the pills scare me, and seizures are happening… Thanks!

  3. October 13, 2015 at 6:23 AM

    We didn’t deal with cancer but we dealt with a terminal immune disorder. Most important lesson – have a vet you completely trust. I also learned them that you do need to pick a dollar amount or you will bankrupt yourself. I learned after the initial diagnosis to say no to extra tests that would just cause suffering. This was really hard because my vet is my friend and he was doing everything to prolong our Loki’s life. He had wanted a second liver biopsy to see how the disease was progressing. I didn’t consent to it because it was such an ordeal and I knew it was going to tell us what we knew, Loki was dying. I also think in these cases, like you said, you need to know your limit. You need to prepare yourself for the goodbye. Thanks for this thoughtful post.

  4. October 13, 2015 at 3:45 PM

    You are so right. I was the one who in the end had to say “no more”. The surgeon was ready to do another surgery but luckily he wanted Ceilidh to be eating more so I had some time to make that decision. I would do the first surgery again to remove the tumour, she had mast cell cancer and the tumour must have been uncomfortable; but I;m not sure I would do the chemo again. Since dealing with cancer I now have pet insurance, Ceilidh’s cancer treatment devoured what I had saved for pet medical emergencies and then right after letting her go my older dog had pancreatitus.

  5. October 13, 2015 at 8:09 PM

    Yes, at the end one needs to make up their own mind. Making the decision of not making the decision is something one would have to live with too.

    I always do a lot of research (if there is time; sometimes one has to make one on the spot) and ask everybody who’ll answer. But I learned to make my own decisions. I base those on balance between the situation at hand and prognosis.

    We’ve always gone all out for our dogs; can’t help it. Not doing that is perfectly fine. I’m glad we have insurance now, though.

  6. October 15, 2015 at 1:40 AM

    I would add two things: 1. Animals tend to hide their pain. I try to take that into account when making a decision. 2. Many vets are used to doing everything possible to prolong a pet’s life as mentioned in your blog. This may occasionally be due to the extra income it brings but vets are often pressed to do this by owners who can’t let go when they should. With my Maddy I had to tell the vet repeatedly that I didn’t matter — only Maddy mattered. She was so used to trying to please owners that she kept offering options until I got through to her.

  7. Lynn
    February 6, 2016 at 1:22 AM

    Our dog was diagnosed with Insulinoma about 3 weeks ago and the news has been difficult and trying to make the right decisions for a course of treatment are so confusing. We have her on prednisone and a feeding schedule of 4-6 times per day. We ran 3 blood tests, one of which was the confirmative test showing high insulin (116) and her low glucose (35). We took our dog to a specialists, ran x-rays of the chest and an ultrasound of her abdomen all of which showed nothing. Now we are faced with several decisions and don’t know what to do. 1) do we have a CT scan at only 65% chance it will locate a tumor, and either way do we move forward with surgery with or without seeing a tumor. Our dog has responded great to a low dose of predinose and frequent meals but have been told that she may only live 3-6 months without surgery. But we have also been advised surgery may or may not resolve it if they can’t see a tumor, and that she could be at risk for pancreatitis and/or diabetes mellitus. We have been so torn about what to do and have asked all of our friends and family which confuses us further. The vets cannot guarantee anything and yet say her best bet is surgery. We did buy pet insurance the day of her wellness exam, at the same time we did a full blood panel which revealed this disease, and the insurance won’t cover due to “existing condition”. Wondering about the diagnostics, if anyone has experience with ultrasound and CT scan, if the tumors showed up on these tests for you, and if not did you proceed with surgery blindly? Any advice or information you can share would be great appreciated. We are told even if surgery is successful the Cancer returns and either way we would only have 12-14 months. Anybody have any statistics on this?
    Thanks for your help.

    • Mel
      February 6, 2016 at 1:53 AM

      I am so sorry you are going through this. I know the confusion well.
      Here is what I can tell you. Daisy’s insulinoma was found before she had started to show any real symptoms, it was a blood test before a teeth cleaning that found it. If your dog has not shown any symptoms before the blood test, then it could be early.
      We had an appointment at the University of Minnesota veterinary medicine the next week. She had a CAT scan and they found her insulinoma, which was only 2 mm in length. I find it hard to believe you would only have a 65% chance of finding it on your dog like you were told. If they can find a 2mm tumor on my dog how likely is it something the same size or smaller couldn’t be found?
      The U of M told me they almost never see a dog with no symptoms and with an insulinoma that small. Daisy had surgery the following week. I did know the chances were that it could come back, but I decided to go forward. Hers had not spread and they thought they got it all. It’s been a year now. Her blood levels went back to normal immediately after surgery. It’s now been a year since the surgery. Today, we go to get her blood tested to see if she is still cancer free. I am hopeful. I feel lucky to have had ghis extra year with her.
      Most people who have responded here who could not do surgery, lost their dogs within weeks of diagnosis. I feel sad that they did not have the same options I did with Daisy.
      I think this is a very personal decisio, and I in no way want to tell you what to do, but if you think you would do surgery if it is caught early, then do the CAT scan for piece of mind. If cost is a real co Vern, follow your heart and mind. I know the agonizing decision-making process you are going through. It is not easy. I wish you and your dog well.

  8. Lynn
    February 6, 2016 at 1:27 PM

    Thank you so much for your quick reply. Our dog, Sugar started having symptoms a few weeks prior to the diagnosis. She was acting strangely, shaking/trembling, acting lost in the house, and had actually fell over a few times while trying to go potty. We took her to the vet, a blood test revealed high insulin, low glucose as I described above. The vet thought it was an error and retested in house to only get the same results. She then did a special blood screening to confirm her suspicions and the test came back with 116 insulin and a 35 glucose. We have researched every single site, and have poured over the information trying to get an answer. The surgeon told us the CT scan would only offer 65% accuracy in locating a tumor. If we do the CT scan, and no tumor is found, they suggested surgery to try and locate a tumor, but if none was found meaning it is microscopic, they would remove her entire left lobe of the pancreas which would offer a 50/50 chance of a cure. Our dog is a 14 pound pekingese, about 10 years old and a rescue from the shelter from 5 years ago. You were lucky that your results were so clear cut. We are being offered no guarantees, possibility of pancreatitis, diabetes mellitus, and of course any other possible complications unseen. We want to save our dog, but are told even with surgery she could have no improvement if 1) no tumor is found, 2) if they remove the left lobe of her pancreas 3) complications can arise. We are wondering if we should do the CT scan and take a chance of no tumor, or maybe we should just let them open her up, palpate the pancreas and try and find the tumor(s), or just do medical management which has worked beautifully since we found out which is about 3.5 weeks now. We feed Sugar 4-6 meals a day and have her on a very low dose of prednisone. It’s hard to find people like you to compare symptoms, treatments, etc. Any thoughts?

    • Mel
      February 7, 2016 at 7:03 AM

      Such a tough spot. If she is already showing signs, a CT scan may show how far it has progressed. I don’t know why they would offer exploration over a CAT scan, but Daisy did have half her lobe removed because her tumor was right in the middle where the two lobes join (in the bend of the pancreas). Daisy’s would have been close to microscopic at 2mm and they found hers. I think you should do what feels right. Daisy was 11 when she had her surgery, but I never would have done it if I had not been told that hers had been caught earlier than most dogs. The surgeon and specialist were so excited to see a dog this early in getting an insulinoma. The CT can is what helped me make my decision. Do you have a university veterinarian nearby that could offer you some additional information on the likelihood of a CT can finding one?

  9. Lynn
    February 6, 2016 at 1:33 PM

    I forgot to ask you what daisy’s levels were when you caught it early on the blood screening? Were her insulin levels high and glucose levels very low like in my dog’s case (116) Insulin (35) glucose?

    • Mel
      February 7, 2016 at 6:57 AM

      I am really sorry Lynn, but I don’t recall what her levels were back then. I just know that they were significant enough for my vet to suspect an insulinoma right away. But, Daisy was not showing signs other than she tired more easily.

  10. Lynn
    February 10, 2016 at 11:37 AM

    We are seeing another specialist next week for a 2nd opinion. We are guessing that Sugar’s tumor is microscopic but still it should have shown up on ultrasound I’m told. we also had chest x-rays done and those were clear. Her symptoms are being controlled with prednisone and lots of small meals throughout the day, she is weakest in the morning when she wakes up after a longer fast. The only reason we caught the disease was due to her obvious symptoms, and the multiple blood screenings confirmed that. We need to weigh all of our options again after seeing the 2nd opinion which I’m told we will get to also speak with the surgeon at the time of our visit. It’s a risk either direction we are told.

  11. Maria
    March 5, 2016 at 9:04 PM

    I’m glad your Daisy is doing well. Our dog is going in onthursday to have the same surgery. Now that we look back we think he had symptoms back in the summer. I hope we didn’t find it too late, he is only 8 years old hoping he pulls through it like your Daisy. Any advise would greatly appreciate it .

    • Helen
      December 23, 2016 at 3:18 PM

      Our dog Mo a Flat Coated Retriever started with symptoms in November 2014, but wasn’t diagnosed till April 2015. She has an ultra sound but they couldn’t see anything. We then had to make the decision whether to operate or use medication. As nothing could be seen on the scan the vet thought it could be scattered though out her pancreas. We decided to use Eudemine (dioxide).
      This medicine is amazing within days she was nearly back to her old self. Unfortunately she gets use to the dosage and we have had to up it. At the moment she is on 21 tablets a day which is costing around £425 a month. We had Mo insured but once she was diagnosed they capped it at £1000 per illness so it wasn’t worth renewing it. This may seem like a mad amount to be paying for a dog but she is part of our family and whilst she is happy and able to still chase her ball and be happy it is definitely worth it.
      living with an Insulinoma is a roller coaster that I wouldn’t wish on any dog owner. There are times when I think us this it but fortunately we have upped her meds and she has responded. I realise there will be a time when it won’t work and we will make the right decision for Mo. For now we are 2 years since her first symptoms and have managed it through medication and diet so there is hope if you don’t choose surgery or surgery isn’t an option. I hope all your doggies are doing well x

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