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canine insulinoma

It’s been a rough and emotional summer in our household. Oso hasn’t been acting like his usual self and I feared something might be wrong. It started with random days of lethargy, refusal to eat or drink and vomiting whatever medicines or foods we could coax down his throat. A trip to the vet in July gave us few answers. Pancreatitis, they said. He was given an IV to help with dehydration and some anti-nausea medications to get him to eat again.

Over the next month he had good days and bad days. Mostly good but about once a week he would act lethargic again. By the end of the day, though, he would begin eating again so we didn’t take him back to the vet. That is, until 2 weeks ago.

Oso was having two bad days in a row. I took him back to our vet, concerned about dehydration and convinced that something was seriously wrong with him. They agreed to run a battery of tests to figure out what was happening. A few days later they diagnosed him with canine insulinoma.

Our poor baby boy has pancreatic cancer.

canine insulinoma

Our vet, forever optimistic, told me it’s no big deal. A simple surgery can remove the tumors on his pancreas. Despite the “simplicity” of the surgery, we were referred to another vet 45 minutes away.

An ultrasound and meeting with two more vets gave us a little more guidance for his treatment along with a realistic picture about his condition which is anything but simple. According to our new vet Oso’s glucose levels weren’t just low, they were abysmal. A normal glucose reading should be 90-110, his was a SIX. The doctors weren’t able to locate a tumor on his pancreas but did see some nodules on his liver, indicating that the cancer may have already metastasized. His epilepsy further complicates his cancer treatment.

canine insulinoma

It’s been a very hard decision for us but we’ve chosen not have Oso undergo surgery to remove the tumor. Insulinoma isn’t one large tumor but many small ones and it’s not likely that they will get them all. If they can’t find any tumors (because they’re hidden so well inside the pancreas) then they would simply cut half of his pancreas off and hope that they removed the half that had the most tumors.

There are options for treating canine insulinoma besides surgery, though. Dietary changes can prolong Oso’s life as well as medications such as prednisone. Some studies online have revealed that the average life expectancy for medication-only treatment is just 74 days. Our vet told us that she’s seen dogs live an extra 1-2 years. I’m hoping for the latter.

Ever since Oso’s diagnosis Brandon and I have been planning as many pet-friendly outings as we can. Day trips to the local farmers market and dog park will fill our spare time this fall. I’ve also got plans to take him to the Mystic Seaport, a popular pet-friendly attraction near our home. I might even buy him a ridiculous Halloween costume and take him trick-or-treating this year with Stink. I’m not sure if we’ll be able to manage an overnight vacation. Oso isn’t supposed to overexert himself and he gets so worked up on long trips but I’d like to plan one for him anyway.Ā  Perhaps we can get away for just a weekend, to Vermont or New Hampshire. I think he would love to see New Hampshire.

canine insulinoma
Oso’s first snow

It’s hard to think about Oso’s mortality, especially on days when he seems so normal and happy. We’ve had him since he was a puppy; he was our first baby and spoiled rotten. I wonder how I will possibly explain this to Stink, who has no comprehension of death at her young age. But for now I’ll try not to focus on that and instead enjoy each day with our little man.

canine insulinoma

canine insulinoma
Oso met another schipperke friend at our local farmers market


  1. I realize that this was posted 9 months ago & I’m new to your blog so I apologize if you’ve posted an update that I may have missed. I just received this diagnosis today for my 9 year old Boston Terrier. Heartbroken. So sorry for you.
    I do not have full test results back yet but I am leaning towards no surgery. Just doesn’t seem like it does much good.

    • Thank you for your thoughts and I’m sorry you have to go through this too. Oso is actually still hanging in there and still going strong. He’s on 3 medications: prednisone, phenobarb and potassium bromide and can’t really tolerate exercise or too much excitement but I’m glad that he’s still with us

  2. My Zeus is 7 years old I adopted him when he was a puppy. Zeus is an amazing dog so smart and sweet. He has been diagnosed with Insulinoma a few weeks ago. We have opted out of having surgery. Medically treated him as advised. Several feedings and Prednisone. My concerns are him being in pain. His quality of life is diminished immensely. We love him so very much and want him around as long as possible, but I feel selfish when there are really bad days. Then I see him have a decent day and it gives me hope. I know what the end holds. Please, if you have some words of wisdom reply.

    • Oso lasted almost 16 months after his diagnosis and we only treated medically (phenobarb, prednisone and potassium bromide) with a prescription dog food. For a while he had many more good days than bad days as long as he stayed relaxed and didn’t exercise or get overheated. But after a while he was having seizures weekly and losing control of his bladder. He never seemed like he was in any pain but he was just such a happy dog in general. It was a very VERY hard decision for us to make to have him put down, especially because when he had good days they were VERY good days. I imagine you must be going through the same thing with Zeus and it’s really difficult to tell when is the right time to let them go.

      Because we were trying so many things with Oso I can’t say definitively what kept him going as long as he did but we used Hill’s Science Diet w/d food. You can only purchase it with a prescription from your vet but it’s worth asking about. We also kept Karo syrup on hand and would rub it on his gums to pull him out of a seizure more quickly. Our vet also gave us small vials of Valium to use rectally if the Karo syrup wasn’t working. We rarely resorted to that though because it’s just so hard to administer. I know it’s tough but hang in there. I’ll be thinking of you and Zeus.

  3. Hi there – I’m sorry to hear your pup is no longer with you šŸ™ Very sad to loose our furry loved ones.

    Wondering if you can perhaps help me. I have concerns of my dog having insulinoma and would love some insight if you have the time. My apologies this is much time after looking your pup.

    My dog is generally a very happy excitable boy… but a stressed boy (7 year old border collie mix) – he always has been. He has had some seizures in the last few months (7 months ago first one – then started up more frequently 4 months ago), sometimes seem stress induced, some have been out of nowhere. I was told there can be many causes of the seizures – insulinoma being one of them.

    I’m curious on how they diagnosed Oso? I’ve been told to check his blood sugar levels right after a seizure, which I’ve been unable to get. He had an ultrasound 4 months ago when they began to happen more frequent, but came back clear (which I hear is hard to see on ultrasound).

    Also curious how exercise and excitement comes into play as you mentioned. Does it cause exhaustion? Cause a seizure to come on?

    Thank you in advance for your honest and heartfelt help.


    • From what I remember they did bloodwork to diagnosis Oso after he had a few days in a row of being lethargic and not eating. Insulinoma is diagnosed with high insulin but low glucose at the same time. If it’s just one or the other then it could be something else. We found that Oso had more seizures had he had been running around outside, usually in the summer when it’s hot. He also would have seizures when he gets startled, like if someone wakes him from a deep sleep.

      • Thank you so much for your very quick reply. Watching them have seizures is just horrible – my pups seizures are more ‘classic’ looking in some cases, some seem more like odd behaviour like run in a corner looking scared or can’t quite stand up momentarily… so very interesting regarding the heat or being started – and how it was diagnosed. I’ll keep that all in mind. So much appreciate your kindness and time Christa.

  4. If he still around? My boy is different and has adenocarcinoma šŸ™ My heart hurts thank you for sharing.

    • No, he survived for about a year and a half after his diagnosis but eventually the seizures became too frequent and we made the really tough decision to have him put down šŸ™

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