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Post Mandibular Surgery Recap

Beamer jaw
October 24, 2013

We are posting this information to share with others who may be experiencing the same type of cancer and surgery options for their dogs as well as to share Beamer’s status with his many friends.

It was a little over a week ago (October 15th) when Beamer had part of his lower jaw surgically removed to excise a Hemangiopericytoma (Soft Tissue Sarcoma) located on his lower gum.  The surgery was done at the University of Georgia Veterinary Teaching Hospital.  We took Beamer home the very next day with instructions to give him 75mg of Tramadol every eight hours for pain.

We have to admit that seeing Beamer after surgery with part of his jaw removed was startling.  We only had two choices in this situation: leave the cancer to grow and spread until such time as it was too painful and then put Beamer down; or surgically remove the section of the jaw and take as much of the jaw as necessary to assure “clean margins,” meaning that they believe they cut out all remnants of the cancer.  Now, after seeing the affects of the surgery, it caused us to question, did we do the right thing?

We did our homework prior to making this decision.  Around the world various dog owners online spoke of the fact that their dog did well after the surgery.  The vets and surgeon assured us of the same thing.  They adjust.  The question was more about us adjusting than Beamer, or so it seemed.

At home, Beamer was obviously in pain.  He was withdrawn and you felt as though he was asking, “What happened and why did this happen?”  He looked depressed, and he wouldn’t raise his head or look at us.

The first day we hand fed Beamer.  Small bites.  He was hungry.  We felt that his appetite was a good sign.  He struggled with drinking water from his bowl, but we held his bowl up to his mouth to make it easier.

The second day home the effects of the anesthesia from surgery, shock of the situation, and pain meds really kicked in.  He was very lethargic and withdrawn. His eyes were sunken and hollow.  It was if the life had been taken out of him.  His face was obviously very tender.  We accidentally brushed it as we dried his face to keep his sutures dry and he yelped in pain.  What was even more concerning is that he refused food and water.  Despite trying many times, and cutting his food in to very small bites, he refused everything we gave him.  We thought baby food might be the answer, given his sore jaw, but he would have no part of that either.

The third day was more of the same.  No food, no water. We were becoming very concerned.  It looked as if he was saying, “I’ve had enough.”  We began to think that he was telling us that he wanted to go.  Dogs have a way of telling you their ultimate decision.  The trouble was, we weren’t ready.  So, with consultation from our vets we continued to try to feed him and give him water off our fingers to keep him going.  We did manage to feed him small pieces of dehydrated chicken breast that was purchased at the local pet store.  We rehydrated the pieces to make them moist and shredded them so he could manipulate them with his tongue to swallow.  He refused everything else.  Most of all, we showered him with love and affection.

On day four there was only a modest improvement.  He began to drink a little water out of a bowl and we were able to get him to eat a few bites of cut-up meat (bison is his favorite).  We supplemented with fresh cooked salmon.  At this point, it was five days since he last had a bowel movement.  His urine was very concentrated and had a strong odor.  He was obviously not getting enough water or food.  The anesthesia and meds had constipated him as well.  We had thought of returning to the veterinary hospital but decided to wait another day.  We knew the trauma of traveling an hour and a half away and seeing the hospital could be even more distressing to him.

Day 5.  Beamer woke up after a very long night’s sleep.  Sleep heals, so we let him sleep as long as possible.  To be honest, it was hard to watch him while awake.  For four days he hung his head, wanted to be left alone and hid in very unusual spots in the house (corners, behind doors, etc.).  But today, when he woke up, he was different.  He began to follow more of his old routine.  He asked for a treat, went outdoors, went to the bathroom, and came back inside asking for more treats.  He even ran and jumped while outside.  It seemed as if he had turned the corner.

It was nice to see a full belly and the TT pose

It was nice to see a full belly and the TT pose

With encouragement and persistence, he began drinking water out of his bowl and is now actively looking for food (and treats).  It’s almost fair to say, Beamer lives for his treats.  Unfortunately, his normal treats are very hard and he cannot possibly chew them with his jaw.  That doesn’t mean he doesn’t want them.  We have substituted very soft treats (Buddy Biscuits and some homemade pumpkin cookies).  We have also been soaking the harder biscuits in water and broth and breaking them into tiny pieces so he can basically swallow them once they’re softened.

So, at just a little over one week after surgery, Beamer is beginning to return to normal.  He enjoys lying out on the deck or sitting in the grass at night and smelling the fall air.  He is alert and is somewhat back on his schedule.

His hair was shaved from his neck and chin for the surgery.  It will take some time for his long locks to return, but we have a feeling that with a little more time we will hardly notice the reconstructed jaw and he will learn to eat without his lower front teeth and canines.

We want to thank Dr. Amy Mathews at Village Vets in Buckhead for her constant support and concern throughout this ordeal.  She has been extraordinary.  Her care and guidance was as much for us at it was for Beamer.  Also, thanks goes out to the doctors and interns at the University of Georgia Veterinary Teaching Hospital.  Lastly, to Dr. Susan Wynn for her assistance on a second opinion for the surgery and help with Beamer’s diet once he’s able to eat more normally.

We will keep you posted as we now expect a full recovery and many more years with our sweet and truly remarkable boy, Beamer.

Lots of sleep and time heal almost anything

Lots of sleep and time heal almost anything

14 responses »

  1. Pauline Bissett

    Our Smudge had the same surgery. We found it more distressing than he did and it was a very short time after that he was able to pick his treats up from the floor.(I cried the first time!) His coat hid the deformity of his shortened jaw and few people realised that the bundle of life had had cancer at all. We had him for many happy years after it.
    I hope Beamer has the same rapid recovery.

    Reply
  2. Does Beamer need chemo also? My husband asked. My two nieces live in Buckhead. My son just flew there for a wedding. He is at Microsoft Research in Seattle and did a tri flight. One niece is OB GYN and husband head of ER at Grady. WE live in the Palm Beach area. Give him time. If he goes down hill some do accept fate. Pauline’s dog did well. It’s a stressful operation. Again good luck.

    Reply
    • Hi Dianne,

      No, Beamer does not need chemo after this surgery. That was actually one of the determining factors in deciding whether to have surgery or not. We do not want to put the dog and ourselves through that. It’s also not proven to really prolong most dog’s lives.

      Thank you for your well wishes and we do believe that Beamer will be with us for quite some time. :-)

      Gwen

      Reply
  3. All the best to you and brave Beamer. I cannot imagine how hard this must be for all of you.

    Reply
  4. Eggs are also a good option for treats. An well-cooked omelet with some chicken bits and cheese in it would be a good protein option. Just cut it into bite-size pieces and it will be gentle on his front teeth when he takes it. Hoping for a speedy recovery.

    We just had a massive tumor removed from my son’s dog last week. It was on her belly, she is also 12 and is recovering nicely.

    Reply
    • Hi Susan,

      I’m sorry to hear about your son’s dog, but glad she’s doing well. There are too many incidents of cancer in our pets these days.:-( Beamer does enjoy eggs and I will often scramble him one with a bit of cheese. Whatever he will eat is what he gets these days.

      Gwen

      Reply
  5. Hi– How big was the tumor? I have a dog with a tumor coming out of his upper gum that is about 1 inch across. Will be seeing surgeon soon. Don’t know if it’s malignant or what will be recommended, but regular vet thinks it may be.
    So they think your dog may be able to live out a regular life span?

    Reply
    • Hi Sara,

      Beamer’s tumor was probably close to that size. They first did a biopsy at UGA and then based on the type of tumor it was, recommended the aggressive jaw surgery.

      Of course, nobody knows what will happen, but if Beamer doesn’t have another tumor, then his life expectancy is about what it was before the tumor. He has a number of other medical issues, so all things considered, he is doing well.

      Best of luck to you!

      Gwen

      Reply
  6. Dear Gwen, thank you so much for sharing this story about Beamer! I’m from the Netherlands and am looking for similar stories and tips for our Jack Russell dog, but could not find any in Dutch.

    A week ago our dog Riffy was diagnosed with the same tumor in his left lower jaw as Beamer and as it was so aggressive he has been operated last Monday. It’s very hard to see how much pain he is experiencing and is missing half a jaw which makes it almost impossible for him to eat. Yesterday he ate like he hadn’t eaten in days or weeks, but today he stopped eating, which makes it also impossible to give him his pain medication. When we try to help him, he starts to panic and runs off.

    Your story gave us some hope and learned us that Riffy just needs his rest and sleep to get better! And will have to get confident with his new mouth.

    Thank you again and should you have any other tips regarding feeding him, please let me know.

    Best regards,
    Daniëlle

    Reply
    • Hi Danielle,

      I’m glad that you found my post and I hope the advice I can offer helps with your dog’s recovery.

      The process of recovery with this surgery was slow. It was as if Beamer had given up and didn’t want to live for a number of weeks following his surgery. I literally had to hand feed him soft foods and his water, oftentimes from the tip of my finger.

      Beamer still needs encouragement to eat much of the time. It is a challenge for him to eat from a bowl and he scoops his food, but many of the pieces are pushed out of the bowl, so I feed him from a large vegetable bowl with high sides. Since he has become even fussier with what he will eat now, I’ve found that meatloaf made with either ground bison, chicken, or turkey is a good choice. I can sneak in other things that are good for him since he won’t eat most of the homecooked food I have always made him. I add organic whole oats, eggs, cottage cheese, and grated carrots or broccoli, bake it and then slice and freeze the individual pieces so they can be thawed for meals one at a time.

      I’ve also found a good freeze-dried food that comes in a round biscuit-like shape that I use as a supplement and a snack. that way, when it’s hard to get him to eat, I at least know he’s getting additional nourishment.

      Hang in there and I promise, it will get better. It takes time and I know it’s a big adjustment for everyone.

      Please leave me a comment sometime soon with an update. Good luck and hugs from Beamer.

      Gwen

      I am still feeding him sometimes by hand as I do think he gets frustrated with trying to eat, although at about 8 week,s he was able to enjoy hard treats again and that makes him happy. I do have a recipe for pumpkin treats that are soft that I fed him in tiny pieces after the surgery. they were a big hit. Here’s the recipe

      Reply
      • Karin Rittenberg

        Our 7 yr old Aussie, Neyo had this surgery today.

        He was supposed to have a less invasive procedure to remove teeth and scrape the bone and the tumor was much worse.

        He ( and we) are pretty shocked and scared. He’s home. On drugs but in pain.

        I’m happy to hear of your dogs recovery and will happily hand feed him.

        I’m nervous about the next week.

      • Hi Karin,

        I wish you the best of luck with Neyo’s recovery. It’s a long process, but it does get better every day. I promise.

        Gwen

  7. Karin,
    We did this surgery three and a half weeks ago for my lover dog and are starting radiation tomorrow. I wish I would have offered this consolation before, but here it ts late.

    We live in Columbus, Ohio. We are blessed with one of this country’s premier veterinary hospitals at Ohio State and by MedVet. Experts at both said we could do nothing else than do this surgery. You have done the right thing.

    Sloppy eating and wild drinking you are used to by now. But today, on a lovely, rainy afternoon, I got to doze quietly with my best friend. Actually thanked my surgeon for the gift today.

    Best of luck,

    Dee

    Reply

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