My beloved dog has cancer
May 11, 2013 8:20 AM   Subscribe

My sweet 8 1/2 year old golden retriever has been diagnosed with an aggressive peripheral nerve sheath cancer this week. She can hardly walk on one leg and is on a lot of pain medication and she still is quite uncomfortable. We have been offered palliative radiation as a method of reducing some of her pain, not extending her life. Have you ever chosen palliative radiation for your dog? Was is a good decision for your pet or in hindsight would you have chosen euthanasia instead?

Money is not an issue. Her comfort and happiness are. I know it's my job to know when to let her go when it's time and to keep her from suffering, I'm just not sure how proactive I should be in trying to treat her in the meantime.
posted by cecic to Pets & Animals (21 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Aw, I am so sorry you (and your sweet pup) are dealing with this. Many hugs and ear scritches to you both.

We chose that option for our dog a couple of years ago, with bone cancer (she had also had the affected leg amputated). It did actually seem to reduce her pain for a short time--she had energy again and was far less timid about walking around. But we did eventually choose to stop the palliative care, and put her down.

My mom likes to say that the dog will tell you when it's time, which seems absurd, but somehow has always proven more or less true. You know your dog; have faith that you'll make the right-est decision out of a rotten lot.
posted by like_a_friend at 9:00 AM on May 11, 2013

I'm so sorry to hear about your dog. If the vet feels that a curative cancer treatment is not warranted, obviously you are aware that you are postponing the inevitable. I've not been in your shoes, so I'm not sure if this applies. But if I were in your shoes, I think one important question for me would be whether the vet expects the radiation therapy to improve her mobility in addition to reducing her discomfort.

My view is that if you are trying to make the best choice for the sake of your pet, then the goal should be much higher than simply "not suffering/not in too much pain." If the pet no longer has the freedom to do most pet-like things like go for walks or sniff around in the yard, then it's time to let them go. (and here I am in disagreement with my own mother, whose 15-yo completely blind, partially deaf and diabetic miniature poodle has a life that consists of sleeping in a crate for 21 hours a day, teetering around the house in confusion wearing a diaper, and getting muzzled and stuck with an insulin shot twice a day.)
posted by drlith at 9:06 AM on May 11, 2013 [5 favorites]

I went through the choice of euthanizing a pet this spring. When it was time, I really knew. The one thing I can suggest is looking for a vet that does in-home euthanasia. It made the whole process very peaceful for my cat. Knowing that I had a plan gave me a bit of mental safety valve.
posted by 26.2 at 9:14 AM on May 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

Please have the dog put down. Discovering our sweet family dog lying confused and angry, unable to get out of her own shit and piss-soaked bed, was more heartbreaking than letting her go.

(it's been 15+ years but I still miss Lucky so.)
posted by scruss at 9:18 AM on May 11, 2013 [6 favorites]

We spent thousands of dollars on treating our cat's cancer. In retrospect, we should have just let her go. She was not able to do normal kitty things (as drlith mentions) other than sleep, really. Toward the end we took her out in the grass and sun for a last sunbath, and I wish we'd done it earlier. The whole thing was miserable. (Of course, all decisions in these cases feel miserable, I know!)

Take care. *hugs*
posted by wintersweet at 9:28 AM on May 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

Been through this twice, last year. It's never easy.

Our pets were old and seriously ill, and we were given the option that the OP mentioned both times. My wife and I discussed it... and drlith sort of nailed it - when they can't do stuff that pets like to do, it's time to let them go. We came to the conclusion that the palliative care option was more for us than for the pets. YMMV.
posted by brownrd at 9:36 AM on May 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'm so sorry to hear about your dog. I've owned several dogs throughout the years and this decision was the most difficult. For me, the decision comes down to whether I think my dog still wants to be alive...subtle cues like does she still get excited over her favorite treat?

In your shoes, I think I would most likely get one course of radiation to see if it helped with the pain. I don't think there's a right or wrong choice though and whatever decision you make will ultimately be the right one.
posted by parakeetdog at 9:54 AM on May 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

Almost a year ago, our wonderful Zoe was diagnosed with very aggressive bone cancer. She was in some unknown amount of pain even on painkillers, and declining quite rapidly. We were given the option of palliative treatments, but decided instead to give her the Best Week Ever and then have her put down at home. It was the right choice; we miss her, it was very hard - especially for my fiancee who raised her from a puppy - but it was absolutely the right decision.
posted by insectosaurus at 9:55 AM on May 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

I don't want to give any blanket recommendations without knowing your dog, but here's a quality of life checklist that I think is quite useful in these situations.

For what it's worth, my dog has a tumor that I have decided not treat. He's not in any obvious pain yet, but when he doesn't want to do the things he likes to do (eat, walk, look at squirrels) because he's in too much pain, I know that it will be time to say goodbye. I'm so sorry. Dogs can really break your heart.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 10:59 AM on May 11, 2013 [3 favorites]

We had to put ours down in February. Everyone's different, but for me, if she's in pain and can't get around it's time to let her go. The checklist linked by ablazingsaddle is what we used to help us think about it. We will always out live them and they don't last forever. It's all part of being a dog owner.

She counts on you to be her caretaker. That means you have a hard decision, but you have to make it. In contrast, she counts on your to be her caretaker and it makes that decision about the hardest thing you ever have to do.

Positive thoughts going your way. I have something in my eye.
posted by humboldt32 at 11:25 AM on May 11, 2013

Our family dog has a blood/bone cancer. When it was first diagnosed she could hardly walk and was miserable. It seemed like her life wasn't going to get better again and that we would soon reach a point where the kindest thing would be to have her put to sleep. My parents decided to try chemotherapy with the understanding that if it made her worse, or didn't make her better then it would be time to stop. It has made an amazing difference and she is almost back to her old self. She has a great quality of life at the moment, one day that will change but for the time being we are all glad and grateful that we gave it a go.

All dogs and all cancers are different but if your vet thinks there is a chance that radiation might help give her a decent amount of time with good quality of life then perhaps it's worth trying?

Whatever you decide please remember that the most important thing is that you have given her a happy life full of love. Please feel free to mail me if you want to talk.
posted by Lotto at 12:14 PM on May 11, 2013

We had to let our relatively young dog go about 2 years ago, as a sudden and aggressive cancer progressed through his system, and it was a terrible thing to face. Radiation was offered as a way to maybe extend his life a bit, but not as a cure. We declined.

One friend gently pointed out that the dog doesn't know his life has been short. He doesn't have a bucket list or an imagined trajectory of all he'd accomplish someday. He's just had a lot of fun, and now things are not so fun anymore.

Keep the dog going for as long as you need to, for you (not for her), and then let her go. I'm so sorry.
posted by jon1270 at 12:14 PM on May 11, 2013 [3 favorites]

We have two elderly cats, both of whom are in different stages of kidney failure. After a lot of consideration, we're choosing to avoid a lot of the standard treatments because they're just too stressful for the cats.

The process of giving subcutaneous fluids was terrible for them, full of howling and panting and hiding afterwards, so we stopped after a few times. Vet visits are super-traumatic, so we don't take them in anymore, preferring to consult with the vet by phone, and when the time comes for euthanasia, we'll have the vet come to us at home. On the other hand, food changes were easily implemented, so we feed them a renal diet and they eat it happily. Some cats tolerate subcutaneous fluids and vet visits just fine, so many people choose those treatments for their cats, but it's not right for our cats.

Does this mean we have less time with them? Probably. But the time we do have left is happier for them, and that's what being a good pet guardian is all about in our minds. Any treatment that causes them stress, confusion, or discomfort would not be for their benefit but for ours, to get more time with them, and we are unwilling to cause them stress for our benefit.

Obviously you know your dog, and you know what kinds of things cause her stress and what kinds of things don't. If she loves trips in the car and she doesn't freak out at the vet, then maybe palliative radiation would be a good choice. If the vet causes her a lot of stress, maybe radiation isn't such a good idea.

Remember that she won't understand the purpose of stressful things like vet visits and injections--she'll only feel the stress. In that case, who is the palliative treatment really for--her, or you?

I'm so sorry for the difficult time you're going through. All my good thoughts to you.
posted by jesourie at 12:47 PM on May 11, 2013

Palliative radiation might REDUCE her pain, but she will still be in pain? Put sentiment aside and realize that you are trying to avoid the pain of loss that you will feel when she is put down instead of the constant physical pain she feels. It is not easy to give what is in fact a death sentence, but keeping a pet alive when it has no future, no hope of returning to full health, is just not a humane choice.
posted by Cranberry at 1:22 PM on May 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you all. You told me what I knew in my heart but needed to hear from a neutral source. It would be doing it for me and not her. I've canceled her radation consultation and contacted a local vet who does home euthanasia and should have an appointment for early next week. I went to the store and bought steak, hamburger and Frosty Paws dog ice cream. So she will be well spoiled and well loved in the days to come. Here is my baby girl during a happy moment this afternoon.
posted by cecic at 7:21 PM on May 11, 2013 [4 favorites]

Just what are you buying? and who are you buying it for?

Sad times, but we all know this is a likely end when we get our cats and dogs. I have always gone for the early euthenasia in similar circumstances, on the basis that prolonging the animal's suffereing does noone any favours.
posted by GeeEmm at 7:25 PM on May 11, 2013

I kept our dog alive for years. It was a tremendous cost financially, emotionally, and time wise. And he had a fairly terrible existence.
I would never do that again.

She is a beautiful dog. Remember her that way.
posted by k8t at 10:01 PM on May 11, 2013

What a beautiful girl dog. You're doing the right thing; sorry it's so hard.
posted by feets at 10:17 PM on May 11, 2013

Best answer: What a gorgeous girl. I'm glad you already made your decision. I stopped by to say I chose palliative radiation for my darling lab with painful bone cancer. It felt like the right decision at the time, but in the end all I was doing during that time was trying to steel my own nerves. I wouldn't make the same choice again. I chose home euthanasia after planning and giving him his Best Dog Day Ever.

Best wishes to you and your girl.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 11:54 PM on May 11, 2013

She is beautiful, and you are doing the right thing.

All dogs go to heaven. I'm sure she'd thank you if she could.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 12:09 AM on May 13, 2013

She's wonderful.

Someone said it in an AskMe around the time we had to make this decision that:

Every time I lose a dog, he takes piece of my heart. Every new dog gifts me with a piece of his. Someday, my heart will be total dog and maybe then I will be just as generous, loving and forgiving.
posted by humboldt32 at 9:45 AM on May 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

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