On 09 Dec 2013 at 1200 MST, Cobalt Foxunit Milanowski, my greyhound, died at a kennel. A staffer at the kennel passed the hound before letting some other dogs out and noticed he was laying around like greys typically do. A few minutes later he returned and noted blood was coming from Cobalt’s mouth. The kennel called several veterinarians and determined Cobalt died quickly and peacefully in a matter of minutes. The kennel called me immediately. I was mid-flight, returning home from a vacation and planning on picking up the dog that day.
The kennel offered to cover a necropsy. The logical side of me that wants to know what happened also told me to let go and let Cobalt have peace. The idea kept turning over in my head; ultimately, my clinical compulsion won and I ordered the autopsy.
A blood panel came back negative for valley fever. Rather than run a tick panel, doxycycline was given prophylactically to treat any tick borne illnesses. A radiograph displayed cortical bone loss which is a sign of canine osteosarcoma. The vet recommended we periodically x-ray the site to insure the loss did not become greater.
The swelling reduced some, but resumed a day before the vacation. My plan was to make a vet appointment for him upon my return, but death intervened.
Cobalt’s past medical history includes a heart murmur when dehydrated, a bout of vomiting (which was never diagnosed, but resolved itself), and cryptorchid which was resolved surgically before we adopted him.
Another vet performed the necropsy. Upon gross examination the vet observed petechiae on the abdomen and free blood in the abdomen and thoracic cavity. He found a tumor on the left atrium (hemangiosarcoma). The disease typically begins around 8-10 years of age. Cobalt was 7; he was detrimentally precocious.
The vet reported Cobalt likely had an underlying malignancy which triggered an autoimmune storm. A cascade of events occurred in a matter of hours and Cobalt’s death occurred in a matter of minutes. His end was sudden, quick, and peaceful.
A hemangiosarcoma would not show up on radiographs and would only be visible on an ultrasound. If the disease was detected in its very early stages, then treatment might have been a possibility. Chemotherapy would be performed in addition to a very vexing and delicate surgery to remove the tumor from Cobalt’s atrium. Even with surgery and chemotherapy the hound’s life is only extended by 8-9 months. Furthermore its treatment is generally limited to the expertise of a veterinary cardiologist, something not found in Flagstaff. Cobalt’s life might have been extended, but at what cost to the dog’s quality of life?
Given there were no outward signs nothing could have been done. Even if the disease was detected, at this stage the animal’s death could occur at any time. Early detection is the key to cancerous conditions in both humans and animals.
I am grateful for Cobalt. I am also grateful he did one last thing for me and expanded my knowledge of canine health. I miss my hound. Hopefully his dog brain was able to understand that my wife and I love him dearly.