Telling this story is a matter of the heart for me.
Although several years have passed already, Leyla remains unforgotten and her story is one of the reasons why I chose to become a holistic animal practitioner.
My own beloved dog Leyla died of cancer in September 2016.
I got Leyla when I was 17 years old. She was a tiny puppy of 8 weeks and for the next 13 years she was my furry baby, no matter whether I lived with her or apart from her.
I did not spend all her life by her side because I spent several years abroad and Leyla lived with my mother seperated from me. I have to admit that in her last years it was my mother she felt most attached to, but Leyla would never forget that I was her real owner, no matter how many months or years I would spend away from her.
When I moved back to Germany in summer 2015 I was so happy to be able to spend my life back together with my black beauty, and I had brought her a new friend from Shanghai, Sasa. At that time Leyla was almost 12 years old, and although she was overweight she was pretty fit and playful, still the same pup as always. I was so sure she would live another 3 years at least and die peacefully of old age. Unfortunately, I was wrong! Just one year later, June 2016, one of the worst diseases conquered my dog – cancer!
I didn’t have any clue nor feeling about what could be wrong when I took Leyla to the vet for a general senior checkup.
Since I was studying alternative veterinary medicine, physical therapy and nutrition at that time I was maybe more sensitive to „symptoms“ than the general pet owner, although it is always somewhat an exaggerated precaution when it comes to my own pets.
Leyla had no real worrisome symptoms, the only things I had noticed were that she did not enjoy her walks that much anymore, she even sometimes refused them. I thought it was due to her back pain, she was an old lady and obviosuly had some degenerative joint issues.
But I also noticed that she got fatter and fatter, which I thought was due to the lack of exercise and the treats my grandma was hiding from me and feeding to her over the years. But one major thing that I found alarming was the excessive drinking, she started to drink more than usual. But never ever would I have thought of cancer, I was rather suspecting some urinary tract infection or kidney function disorders, due to aging.
So I took her to the vet and we ran a „senior dog blood test“, including blood analysis for organs like the thyroid, liver, kidneys, and general blood works.
Back home I was ready to put her on a strict weight-loss diet, because no matter the disorder she had I knew that overweight is a high risk for any disease to evolve, and not helping her old joints and bones either.
Some days later the blood examination showed a not so worrisome result, her liver values were a bit higher than normal but she was an elerdly dog, so the vet and I agreed that it’s not a big deal. Still we wanted to run some additional tests „just to make sure“.
We had some disorders in mind, like a fatty liver, diabetes or Cushing’s disease. The tests for Cushing’s and diabetes came back negative and since Leyla kept drinking a lot more than usual, I took her back one month later for another blood test. This one showed even higher liver enzymes, now three of them significantly out of the reference range.
I got concerned. I had treated her liver during the past month with alternative medicine, herbs, so it should have been better by now, not worse. What was wrong with her? The vet and I agreed to perform an ultrasound of the liver and other organs like the spleen and pancreas, just to make sure again.
I was scared of that day. Somehow I already suspected the worst, although she actually did not show many symptoms as said. She was still my happy playful pooch.
The day of the ultrasound came, and what my vet saw on her screen was some „abnormalities“ in the liver organ tissue. The other organs seemd fine. So what was it? There is no way to tell just from an ultrasound whether this „mass“ is cancerous. It could be anything, benign or malign, meaning „good“ or „bad“.
Any growth is called tumor in medicine, it does not say anything about whether it’s harmless or cancer. But I needed to know and I wanted to know it fast!
The vet said the only way of knowing is actually cutting her open, removing a little piece of the mass and sending it to the lab for histopathology. Too long I thought, and I did not want her to go into surgery „in vain“. She was such a happy dog and she loved her home, she hated the vets and was a drama queen just sitting on the vet table, not even being touched.
So I asked the vet for an X-ray of her lungs. I knew that most cancers, no matter in dogs or humans, spread into the lungs, so I wanted to see whether Leyla had lung metastasis. Because if she had I would know it’s cancer for sure, and I would know that it is highly progressed. The vet agreed, we took the picture. The result was shocking and clarifying at the same time – the lungs were affected, they had metastatic growths, Leyla had cancer!
No doubt anymore, we had the final diagnose. And I had a broken heart staring at the x-ray picture and at my dog.
How long would she live for? The vet didn’t dare to estimate. The cancer was pretty progressed and it was actually unusual that Leyla had so few symptoms.
The vet said there was nothing we can do, nothing life-saving at least. Chemo-therapy does not really help with liver tumors in dogs, cutting it out won’t save her for long either.
The only way was palliative care, meaning supporting her healthy organs as good as possible and relieving the pain she was going to have. Cancer is painful once the body functions start deteriorating.
The vet also told me that she most probably will have breathing issues quiet soon, as the lungs are being compromised by the metastasis, and she will develop a caugh. I did not want her to have breathing difficulties or any of those pains. But it was not time for her to go yet.
She was my baby and I would take care of her until her last moment, day and night, this was my promise.
I just wanted to give her some last happy moments within the family, in her home, with her friend Sasa.
So I took on the challenge and tried to keep her among us as long as possible while keeping her suffering to a minimum and improving the quality of her remaining life. She still had an amazing appetite, so I knew she wanted to live and enjoy the moment.
I frankly believe that dogs don’t care about the future, they live in the present and they want to be happy now, so I tried to make her feel as comfortable as possible and let her live as normal as possible for just a little longer.
Of course I did treat her with several alternative medications to prevent pain and to ease discomfort. I did prepare her special meals to strengthen her immune system and I did treat her lungs with Traditional Chinese Medicine herb formulas to prevent her from breathing issues. I fed her several nutritional supplements and relied on Medicinal fungi combined with selected herbs.
I have to say that until her last breath she had no breathing difficulties at all, my vet was very surprised and I was convinced the herbs were working on her.
She lived 3 more months.
The first two months she was quite happy, playful and hungry! Just like a normal dog. I was relieved the therapy was doing its job, although I knew it was just a matter of time, but the more time we got together the better.
The last month before she died was more difficult. One day she wouldn’t stand up anymore, I was frightened. I thought this was the end! I called an emergency vet, he came to our home, injected a high dose of painkillers, and said she might not survive. She did stand up that same day, but from this day on, it was going downhill with her.
Leyla developed bloody stools, she became incontinent, I had to quit the strong pain killers because her sick liver could not detox those anymore. Her digestion went down, her appetite got lost. I knew the end would come soon.
How to decide when it’s time to let go? Some pet owners fight until the very end while others want to prevent the animal from pain and let their furry love cross the rainbow bridge long before the real end. The decision is very intimate and always heartbreaking.
I thought she would tell me, show me. So we kept going. Followed by a few weeks of ups and downs, happy and unhappy, energetic and lethargic.
And it was really the weekend before her death when she got really energetic and playful one last time, running through the garden, barking and chasing the birds. What a lively spirit in such a sick body! A few days later I had to say goodbye to the most loyal and beautiful dog I ever had!
She showed me that she wanted to rest, in her eyes I saw there was no more spirit, she did not want to stand up anymore, she was drooling from her mouth, breathing harder. I called the vet for an emergency, we took Leyla to the garden, it was a warm and sunny day. We said goodbye, we hugged her and kissed her, the vet patiently waiting with the „sleeping medication“.
This was truly one of the hardest moments of pet ownership so far, and I can imagine that most pet owners would feel the same for their furry loves.
She will remain in our hearts and she will be unforgotten forever, RIP Leyla love!
I am not telling you this story to make you feel sad and be afraid that cancer can happen to your dog or cat as well, but to actually help pet owners find explanations for root causes of this disease and to find hope in alternative treatments like healthy nutrition, herbal treatments, TCM, and other palliative care.
Cancer in pets is becoming an epidemic just as in humans, and although medical treatments are more advanced than ever, more and more canines and felines develop cancer.
For me as a pet nutritionist and holisitc practiotioner it is important to understand the possible causes of this so diverse disease and to identify treatment options that could benefit and support a cancer patient but also to prevent healthy pets from getting cancer.
I’ve been researching a lot about cancer the past years and Leyla’s story was the reason why I have become so conscious and cautious about this disease.
I’ve learnt about root causes like genetic predispositions and metabolic disturbances and made myself familiar with diverse possibilities for both prevention and treatment.
No matter whether for humans or pets, wrong and unhealthy nutrition and lifestyle are clearly mentioned as major factors throughout the research papers for any sickness and chronically developing diseases like cancer.
Depending on the stage of disease, although the change to a healthy diet and lifestyle is never a guarantee for a cure, but it can be a big support for the maintenance of healthy body functions.
Leyla’s cancer was very progressed at the time it got diagnosed, but her remaining last months showed the difference in treatment with the help of selected foods, supplements and medications. My vet gave me credit for treating her right, and it has opened my eyes for the power of natural and alternative therapies.