When It’s Time: End Of Life Choices For Dogs With Cancer

dog end of life

Cancer is a terrible disease. It’s hard to treat. The standard veterinary approach of radical surgery followed by chemotherapy is nearly always very unpalatable … especially to anyone with a holistic philosophy of health care.

I know I wouldn’t like to put my own animals through that!

That’s not to say that surgery won’t be the best choice for your dog … in some cases. If you can catch a small aggressive lump before it grows and seeds throughout the body, it can be curative.

However, I’m not into radical surgery. No way would I put my animals through surgeries like some of my clients choose to do … like removing half the jaw!  

RELATED: Chemo And Radiation: Would You Do This To Your Dog?

Treating cancer holistically often gives you more time … and an increased quality of life. But in my experience, it’s pretty rare to have the cancer growth stop … and very rare to see a full remission. I’ve only seen 3 or 4 out of hundreds of animal cancer patients I’ve treated. 

Cancer Is A Strange Disease

Sometimes it comes like lightning out of a clear blue sky. One day your dog is fine, the next he’s not. And when you investigate, he may be riddled with tumors. Or your dog gets one small lump that grows aggressively. It seeds itself into other parts of the body before you can have surgery done.

These invasive cancers can lead you to the ultimate decision for your dog in a short space of time. You may have days, weeks, or a few months.

But then there are cancers that grow more slowly. Some of these cancers can take years to make your dog so uncomfortable that you need to make that decision

The Impossible, Merciful Choice

Nearly all cancers are going to lead you to this decision. The ultimate decision. The one that there’s no coming back from. The most merciful and beautiful gift you can give your old friend. Release from suffering. 

Making this decision is the hardest thing. I remember what it was like for me with Martis, my big old black bruiser of a dump cat. He had a tumor in his nose, up in the sinuses. For maybe six months, every now and then he would sneeze a bit of blood, and the swelling over his face slowly got bigger. 

Then one day he started scratching at his face. That’s how I knew it was time. Before that he was happy … his normal big goofy lovely self. But when it started to be too painful for him, I helped him go (with lots of tears). 

How To Know It’s Time

I want to lead you through the process I go through with my clients. This approach helps them decide when is the best time to help their dog with cancer to the other side.

Answer this question for me.

Do you carry any guilt from times in the past when you had to put any of your dogs to sleep?

With my clients, if they’re not beating themselves up about doing it too soon … they’re giving themselves a hard time for leaving it too late. But, every time you make this choice, the right time is when you decide it’s time.

If you’ve helped your old friends go in the past, and you’re holding guilt because you thought you did it too soon … or too late, you have a wonderful opportunity in this moment. You can forgive yourself, completely.

Forgive yourself, right now! It’s as easy as choosing to do this, in the end. This guilt is so important to let go of, because if you haven’t, your guilt can be a real problem for your dog. Why? Because it can muddy the waters in deciding when is the right time for your next dog.

The circumstances surrounding any other times you helped your old friend die with grace led to you choosing the perfect time (even if it doesn’t seem that way in hindsight). Believe this, because it’s true. 

Trust me. Let go, forgive yourself. And now you’ll be able to make the best possible decision for your dog when his time comes.

Then I talk about quality of life.

A lot of people don’t want their dog to suffer any pain. Unfortunately, that’s not possible. Pain is a fact of life, and every dog with advanced cancer is going to experience pain … even with pain relief on board. 

Please don’t hold back on pain relief in the final stages. Throw the kitchen sink at it, including prescription drugs. You need to have a palliative care mindset. Don’t worry too much about side effects unless they are obvious (then try different drugs). Pain relief is the most important consideration for your dog as he nears the end.

I ask more about happiness.

Is your dog still happy? Some dogs can cope with significant pain and still be happy. If your dog still seems happy, engaged, and is eating well, the it’s probably okay to keep on going with him. 

Your dog can tell you.

Ask your dog to let you know when he’s had enough. Has the light gone from his eyes? You need to be willing to let him go. Your dog loves you so much … he will hang on through anything if he feels like you need him. If you cling onto your dog emotionally, it makes this whole process a lot more difficult for everyone. 

Some Signs It’s Time

It’s all about your dog. You need to almost pretend it’s someone else’s dog sometimes. This helps you get a little more emotional distance and perspective. Ask yourself what your dog wants. 

  • If you look at your dog and you get a feeling that he’s ready to go, then it’s time. 
  • If your dog stops eating, it’s time.
  • If your dog can’t get up, it’s time.
  • If your dog has a large tumor that has burst or ulcerated and is not operable, it’s time.
  • If your dog is consistently having more bad days than good days (over a week or so), it’s probably time.
  • If your dog has any other severe and uncomfortable symptoms that can’t be relieved, it’s time.
  • If your dog has uncontrollable severe pain, especially to the point where he is vocalizing … it’s definitely time. 

The most painful cancer of all is osteosarcoma (bone cancer). Pain relief doesn’t seem to touch the pain from this one. In some cases, amputation helps. But if your dog is too old or too heavy or arthritic to lose a limb … then this is one cancer where I advise owners to put their dog to sleep almost immediately. If you need 24 hours to say goodbye, well and good. But be aware that every hour you wait can be an hour of agony for your dog in 99% of these cases. 

RELATED: Osteosarcoma In Dogs: Natural Alternatives …

Other Considerations When Making End Of Life Decision For Your Dog

I generally advise people to think about making the decision a little earlier … rather than leaving it until things are desperate. That way you can send your old friend off with more grace and dignity. 

However, sometimes things change very quickly. If your dog suddenly gets worse, then it’s not that you’ve left it too late, either. It’s simply that the circumstances have brought you to that moment of the inevitable choice.

Much of the time, we have no control over how things happen. It doesn’t mean you did anything wrong. That’s why you need to forgive yourself!

It’s the hardest thing. The most merciful thing. The last gift of love that you can give your old friend. To send him away with deep love and gratitude for the beauty he brought to your life.

And it hurts, so let the tears fall. Embrace your grief. It’s okay to fall in a heap when you lose a family member. 

And if you can’t decide, ask for help. Talk to friends, your family, your vet. Intuitive people like animal communicators can be a big help. And listen …

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