I came home one Monday afternoon and realised that I didn’t have my house key with me and was therefore locked out. I banged the door in the hope that perhaps someone had come home early. Ruby, our youngest German Shepherd came running out of the kitchen to the front door so I put my hand through the letter box and rubbed her head. Normally she would sit in front of the door so that she can jump on top of me once I get in, but that day she was acting very oddly.
She kept running to and fro the front door and the kitchen where our other dog, Harry, was lying. I jumped the back gate (despite the fact that it is 6ft tall and I was wearing a skirt) and went to the back door where I could see Harry closer. It became apparent that he had knocked over his water bowl and slipped, landing in an uncomfortable position. As I looked closer I realised that he couldn’t get up and looked absolutely miserable.
I was unable to get into the house until my mother came home 40 minutes later. Harry was drenched in a mixture of water and sweat even though it was a cool day. He must have been struggling a lot and had given up. We lifted him onto his paws and he limped for two metres before sinking back onto the kitchen floor where he ended up spending the night. I begged my parents to take him to the out-of-hours vet that evening, but they insisted that he was probably just a bit stiff from being stuck in that position and that I had to understand that Harry was old. Eventually I convinced them to take him to the vet the next day.
I had it in my head that he had a problem with his hips or spine, which is very common in German Shepherds but the vet thought differently. After checking Harry’s range of movement in his back legs, he did an abdominal exam and found a huge mass in his spleen. It was cancer.
Harry was scheduled in for emergency surgery the next morning.
The surgery went well and we got Harry back that evening. He seemed so much lighter on his legs and was noticeably smaller. I have no idea how we missed a watermelon-sized tumour but the vet said that it probably started growing about the same time that we put Harry on a diet last year. He lost so much weight in his face and I could feel his rib cage again (which is normal in healthy sized dogs) but his tummy just didn’t shrink at all. As well it was squashing up all of his organs, mainly his bladder and intestines. Harry had been having some issues toileting but we just put it down to age.
The tumour was sent away for analysis and on the day of my seventeenth birthday it came back as positive for cancer – but a benign one which hadn’t spread. For now Harry needs no further treatment other than regular check ups but I am so angry with myself that I put his issues down to age. It’s a good thing that dogs are such forgiving creatures. Right now, Harry is curled up in his favourite chair having a nap after having his cone-of-shame removed. He has shaved patches on his front paws where the needles were inserted and there is a nasty scar going along the length of his underside but with time the scar will heal and his fur will grow back.
The moral of the story is to take your animals to the vet if you ever notice any changes in their behaviour or appearance. It could be nothing, it could also be a watermelon-sized cancerous tumour.