My dog’s bone cancer was in his kidney

One month ago today, I dropped off my 8-year-old baby, Loki, at Best Care Pet Hospital in Sioux Falls, SD, and told him goodbye for what I thought might be the last time. He had a large mass growing on his kidney and the surgeon was going to try and save him by removing it and the kidney.

Mid-sized dog held by woman in wedding dress.
Loki was my plus-one at my wedding!

Loki had been sick for two months — red, weepy eyes, fever, shakes and diminished appetite — but blood work looked good and pancreatitis tests came back negative. Antibiotics knocked everything down every couple of weeks, but then when he ran out, all the symptoms would come back. His regular vet was baffled. And I was out of town for part of the time, so a friend took him to her vet. They too were baffled, but did an x-ray and found a mass in his stomach. It was diagnosable, though, and that vet suggested I consider hospice for my dog. It was the worst feeling, hearing my dog was dying while I was hundreds of miles away from home. When I returned to Minnesota, where I live, we finally got a definitive answer on January 15. A CT scan showed that a large mass attached to his kidney was filling his abdomen.

Loki barely made it to Jan. 21, but he did, and he came through surgery like a champ. A month later, he feels great. But the vet we saw on the 15th did not want to biopsy for fear of rupturing what looked like an otherwise stable mass. A post-surgery biopsy of the kidney revealed cancer, though — osteosarcoma, or bone cancer. It’s pretty much a death sentence in most dogs, but I’m hoping my fur baby can be a rare one who makes it a long, healthy time.

Dog reclining in the sun next to a chair.
Sweet pup posing in the sun.

You see, this type of extraskeletal bone cancer is rare. There’s only been one documented case of extraskeletal osteosarcoma presenting in the kidney in a dog, so Loki’s case has been of interest and discussion to oncologists and pathologists outside of the specialist we have been seeing in South Dakota. Although he was met free for the CT scan, meaning the cancer had not spread/taken hold elsewhere at that time, the vet suggested we do pre-emptive chemo to try and knock out any cancerous cells floating around. I have not wanted to do chemo for a number of reasons:

  • Loki now has one kidney, and although it is healthy, I worry chemo will harm it
  • Chemo is not as hard on most dogs as it is on humans, but it can make them feel crummy
  • Expense
  • What if he doesn’t need it?

I’ve been doing as much research as I can, looking for credible, alternative treatments. I’ve learned about what is referred to as The Yale Vaccine, an immunotherapy treatment that stimulates the dog’s immune system and cells and teaches them what to look for and attack in cancer cells. It was in clinical trials from 2016 to 2020 and I have heard that people anticipate it being on the market sometime this year.

Dog with a chicken foot in its mouth.
The bestest good boy gets himself a chicken leg during our poultry harvest in 2020.

I’ve learned about Immunocidin, another immunotherapy treatment that encourages the dog’s immune system to attack cancer. In some cases, it has eradicated tumors.

Tonight, I learned about another trial, this one exploring the ways a dog’s biome impacts osteosarcoma. I’ve reached out to the lead researcher and hope to hear back as soon as Monday.

I’m learning as much as I can because knowledge is power. It’s also super fucking scary, but I want to know as much as I can to help my pup. And beyond that, I’ve learned that osteosarcoma affects humans too, mostly children.

Survival rates are higher for humans, about 70% at the five-year mark, but it’s still a scary concept. When I learn about trials in dogs and horses, I feel hopeful for the animals in the trials, and hopeful they are going to generate data that will some day perhaps help humans use these therapies. I hope Loki remains healthy until the Yale Vaccine becomes available. I hope the other things I’m doing, like cutting sugar and limiting carbs are helpful. In the meantime, we’ve done one dose of carboplatin, a type of chemo that is easier on kidneys than others. Loki is a good candidate for an Immunocidin trial, and I’m leaning toward doing it. But to be enrolled, he must forego chemo, and that’s about as scary a prospect as his receiving chemo.

My biggest concern in all of this is that Loki remains comfortable and as happy as he can as time passes. He’s happy, healthy, playful and eating well right now. The Immunocidin trial requires weekly visits at the start, and Loki hates the vet. I am weighing the benefits and downfalls of this. Because Loki’s form of OS is so rare, we are running in the dark here. But my pupper remains surefooted and steady, so I’m enjoying lots of love and snuggles and hoping for the best.