A dog owner’s warning of the first signs their pet showed of cancer has gone viral online, and left other owners concerned about their own. Newsweek spoke to vets in an attempt to clarify any confusion.
Dog owner Tatum Hassell amassed over 10 million views after sharing that her dog Barley’s first sign of lymphoma, a form of cancer that starts in the lymph system, was a simple stretch—something a lot of dogs do.
“If your dog ever does this out of nowhere, please take them to the vet immediately,” she wrote, showing the golden retriever in a downward dog position, stretching out the stomach with the front legs elongated.
Barley began doing the stretch in November but Hassell was unable to find much information on Google other than suggesting that it was a playful stretch. It was only when she noticed a depleting energy that she contacted a vet, but Barley was still given the all-clear.
The dog passed away on May 3, and Hassell has used her TikTok videos to warn other owners of the subtle signs they might miss. Despite the owner uploading a follow-up video providing clarification that the stretching position was only a concern as it was out of the blue and paired with other symptoms, the comments were flooded with fellow owners panicking about the stretch they have seen their pet do before.
Newsweek consulted vets who said that although the stretch can be a sign of abdominal pain and thus a potential underlying illness, it isn’t always and there are distinct ways to tell the difference.
“Many dogs suffering abdominal pain assume the ‘prayer posture’ because this allows them to stretch the abdomen and relieve some pain. The prayer posture has been observed in dogs that have ingested a foreign object, dogs with other kinds of obstructions, and dogs suffering from pancreatitis, colic, cancer, or any condition that causes abdominal pain,” explained Paola Cuevas Moreno, veterinarian, and behaviorist at Hepper.com.
Fellow vet Cat Henstridge, who with 300,000 TikTok followers has an understanding of information being misconstrued and spreading on the app, added: “It isn’t very common and most dogs with a tummy ache will not do it and it is easy to mistake it for a big stretch or, more often, the other way around.”
“It sounds like with this story the dog was very poorly and had extremely subtle symptoms before his disease was diagnosed. Our dogs are great copers and very good at hiding the signs of illness, so this owner should not blame herself at all for not realizing what was going on.”
As explained by Henstridge, some signs of illnesses can go unnoticed but with the prayer posture, there are things owners can look out for that make it easy to differentiate from a simple stretch.
“Dogs can stretch in a similar fashion, with their front legs stretched out and backs arched, however the movement normally occurs after lying down for periods of time and tends to be relatively quick and fluid. Here we see a dog holding this stretched out position for an extended period of time, and lying down tentatively afterwards,” explained Everypaw Pet Insurance’s in-house vet Dr. Anna Foreman.
Cuevas Moreno agreed, exemplifying that the context of the position is extremely important for a dog owner to take into account.
“If you have noticed your dog has suddenly started assuming the prayer posture very often this should ring a bell, if the dog stays in the posture for more than a few seconds that is also an indicator that the dog is trying to relieve abdominal pain,” she told Newsweek.
The biggest indicator that something is wrong however? If it’s paired with any other subtle symptoms too. “If the dog smacks the lips, makes painful noises, or shows any sign of diseases such as gas, bloated belly, diarrhea, changes in toilet habits, decreased appetite, vomit, temperature, bad breath, or a low attitude then the dog must be evaluated by a veterinarian to find out what is causing the abdominal discomfort,” said Cuevas Moreno.
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