How do I know if my dog is suffering?
March 12, 2014 3:45 PM   Subscribe

Short of raising his paw and saying, "Yo, mom, I'm ready to die," how will my dog let me know that it's time?

(This question is very hard to write. Please be nice to me).

My sweet, 11-ish-year-old German Sherpherd has had cancer for a long time. He is the energizer doggie, out-living my and the vets' expectations by quite a bit (almost a year). His tumor has grown a lot, and it has now started to ulcerate. In a way, the fact that it's growing outward and breaking the skin seems to indicate, to me at least, that it's not growing into and bothering his gums or his nose. But my handsome doggie is still occasionally bleeding from his face, and I am not sure what to do about that.

But . . . He has an incredible appetite. He chases toys. He barks at the mailman (and pigeons and joggers and . . .) with great vigor. He loves going on walks, and he attacked a hill yesterday like a much a younger dog. He seems, more or less, to be the same as he ever was. If I follow recommended quality of life index for dogs, this is an old pup who should stick around for a bit longer.

He just has a big-ass tumor on his face, and the skin is breaking and I'm freaking the fuck out. He's always been kind of whiny, and I'm not sure if his whining is "Pay attention to me!" or "Just put me out of my misery!"

I'm going to call the vet tomorrow, but I don't want to bring my dog to the vet and cause him distress if I don't have to. I am also afraid that they are going to pressure me to euthanize him on the spot, which is probably insane, but that's what I'm afraid of, so here it is Metafilter. I haven't put him on painkillers yet because he hasn't seemed to be in pain, but I'm open to it, obviously.

How will I know? And what can I do about the ulcerating scary tumor? My vet's advice a year ago was, "Enjoy every day your dog is alive." I'm trying, but I don't want to enjoy him at his expense.
posted by ablazingsaddle to Pets & Animals (44 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
It sounds as if he still very much enjoying life. Does the tumor seem to cause him any pain?
posted by michellenoel at 3:53 PM on March 12, 2014

I meant to add that he does look very sweet and I'm sorry you are struggling. Our boy is 18 now!
posted by michellenoel at 3:54 PM on March 12, 2014

Our dog had cancer, outlived expectations by about 9 months, and was generally a reasonably content dog throughout. One day, very abruptly, she couldn't even get up. Vet said we could keep her alive and undergo major surgery but, when prodded, admitted that the odds of significant life extension were slim but the odds of pain and suffering were substantial. That was a reasonably clear decision point.

Every dog is different, but my guess is that the signs will be a lot clearer when it's time. In the meantime, you should ask the vet for any options to care for the ulceration.
posted by Behemoth at 3:56 PM on March 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Does the tumor seem to cause him any pain?

Here is the crux of my issue: I have no idea. I think he doesn't like it when I touch it, but the vet told me that, based on the location of the tumor, a good indicator of pain would be that he'd stop eating.

Part of my reluctance to put him on painkillers just in case is that it would make him kind of loopy and out of it, and he is also incredible difficult to get a pill into. He is pretty catlike in his refusal to swallow pills.

Other than a change in behavior, how can I tell if he's in pain?
posted by ablazingsaddle at 3:57 PM on March 12, 2014

I don't have help with deciding on the time to put him down, but for the pills, if they're capsules they could be opened or tablets crushed, and then mixed into a spoonful of wet food or some other wet treat he likes.
posted by HermitDog at 4:02 PM on March 12, 2014

I would think he would have much less energy if were in pain. It would be too distracting. Oh - I just ran across this with a quick search. It may be very helpful.
posted by michellenoel at 4:02 PM on March 12, 2014

I would start him on the painkillers if he's bleeding from his tumor. That's gotta hurt a bit. You could start him on half a pill or something, see if his enthusiasm/personality changes. My opinion on life is that no one should be in pain if there are options. Peanut butter is always a good way to get pills into dogs, from my experience.

Also, I think you'll really know when it's time. If you're still questioning it, it's probably not time yet.
posted by clone boulevard at 4:05 PM on March 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

When my cat was dying, I knew it because she could no longer move around without wincing or whining, she couldn't use the bathroom effectively anymore (was collapsing in the litterbox, just outside the box, etc), and she was having trouble breathing. For my dog, he was having little seizures every day that prevented him from doing his favorite things, and with what little energy he had he was constantly worrying the spots where his tumors were to the point that there was always blood everywhere from where he had started chewing through them.

I promise you: you will know. Your pet won't be themselves anymore and their quality of life will be reduced because of it. That's when it's time to give them as much love as you can dish out, and then send them on. Your dog seems like he's doing okay right now if he's still active and mobile, and isn't worrying the tumor area too much.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 4:09 PM on March 12, 2014 [5 favorites]

My last dog (Chandler Bingdog was a very good boy) did kind of just tell me, "mom, I'm done." He wasn't very mobile in his last weeks, but seemed happy and comfortable enough. Then one day he stopped thumping his tail and didn't want food. He stood up on his own one last time to come over and lean on me. It's been five years and I still miss that big dope. But he told me when it was too much for him to do anymore.
posted by komlord at 4:09 PM on March 12, 2014 [13 favorites]

I just read an article about animal hospice. The vets who do this say it's time when your pet stops eating, walking or responding to attention.
posted by brujita at 4:14 PM on March 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Re: Giving him a pill (I do think he might appreciate pain killers - there are veterinary equivalents to Aspirin or Aleve that will dull pain but won't make dogs too loopy)

For food-motivated dogs, I have had really good luck with hiding pills halves in a spoonful of chunky peanut butter. The pill will just seem like a peanut.
posted by muddgirl at 4:14 PM on March 12, 2014

Best answer: I had to make the decision to put down our 10 year old Boxer on Christmas Eve. She, too, thrived happily on her multiple forms of cancer... until one day it had spread to her spine and she was unwilling to lift her head high. They were able to give her pain injections at the vets, but we couldn't provide strong enough palliative care at home to keep her pain free and the decision was heartbreaking but easy. I put her down that morning.

FWIW, it was an amazing way to go. She got a sedative, was pain-free and blissed out, and fell asleep on her favourite blanket being cuddled by her favourite human. We should all have endings as kind and loving as the ones we are able to give our dogs.

In any case, you can't be reluctant about trying pain killers "in case" they make him loopy. If they make him loopy, then you make a decision. Can you describe your method for giving pills? You also cannot be reluctant to go to the vet for a palliative consult "in case" they tell you to put him to sleep. The chances they will pressure you to put down an active dog on the spot are slim, but even if they were to be that awful, the decision is yours. They cannot force you.

As gently as possible, I encourage you to consider that avoiding "in case" scenarios is not in the best interests of your pal, who depends on you to overcome your own fears to provide him with the best care you can.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:14 PM on March 12, 2014 [20 favorites]

Best answer: When I was trying to figure out what to do with my own cat, another pet owner told me about "the three A's" - Appetite, Affection, and Activity. What you need to be looking at is whether he's lost any of those "A's" - is he not eating, but is still affectionate and active? You're better off treating whatever health thing is going on rather than thinking It's Time. Same as if he's still active and eats but is grumpy, or if he eats and is friendly but is lazy. If he's lost 2 A's, that's time to get more concerned; if he's lost all 3 A's, it may be time.

It sounds like your dog has all 3 A's, which may be a good indicator to wait and see.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:22 PM on March 12, 2014 [12 favorites]

My dog also died of cancer, though much more quickly after his diagnosis.

I would say that the signs you already are looking for are good ones:

-He resists eating or drinking
-He resists normal movement
-He doesn't want to be touched
-He seems depressed or lethargic
-He starts to have unusual trouble with the bathroom.
-He starts to have trouble breathing - he is panting a lot, holding himself up in a tripod position to breath better, etc.

The veterinary oncologist I saw gave me a simple suggestion that I found helpful. Just mark on your calendar whether he's having a good day or a bad day and notice when the bad days are outweighing the good days.

In my case, my dog had about a week's worth of very, very bad days before I had him euthanized. That was three years and four days ago and I still feel incredible guilt for putting him through that week.

So I'd add another one:

-When you find yourself putting out fires every day. In my case, it was things like - he's coughing so much, if I could just get him to take this cough medication, then I could get the coughing under control! He's stopped eating by himself but maybe he's just tired, if I sit here and feed him every mouthful by hand then he's still willing to eat, so we'll just do that and that's okay!

When that is happening every single day, and then multiple times a day, it might be time, and I feel regret that I didn't recognize that when I was in your shoes.
posted by cairdeas at 4:24 PM on March 12, 2014 [3 favorites]

My cat has gotten painkillers in her gums/cheeks - a quick squirt under her lip flaps and much stronger than taking them as pills I guess. There are lots of options for which painkillers, too. She did well on bupinophrine (which I guess is not as crazy as whatever they gave her after surgery?) and then on a very strong anti-inflammatory long term (the anti-inflammatory causes no mental side effects!). We sprinkle her meds on food, too. If she wouldn't eat them like that, we were offered the option to get them as flavored liquid to put on food made by a compounding pharmacy.

As for the vet & knowing animals are in pain, it's so hard. My experience is that cats hide it but dogs are much less subtle. Your vet will know and present your options with compassion. That's what they do. If they don't, get another vet. Please do. You don't have to make these decisions in a vacuum; there's a way to tell and there are options you don't know about. I'm so sorry about your guy.
posted by sweltering at 4:25 PM on March 12, 2014

Best answer: Much like a human, when they lose their joy in life.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 4:26 PM on March 12, 2014

Dogs generally withdraw a lot when they're in pain or wearing down. Happy body language stops, eating and drinking drops way down or stops.

I have waited too long in the past, and have some regrets. You can reach a point where they're not non-functional across the board but there are serious limiting issues, and those can be kind of a big deal with a large dog who is difficult to carry or hold up, but also really easy to slippery-slope into doing before you realize it's too much.

I would say that for as long as his attention is outwardly-directed and he is able to move around without assistance, you're in good shape. Also, there are pain patches and liquids, so you have resources.

Don't be afraid to go to the vet for palliative care, and also don't be afraid to just call or go in by yourself (you can always take photos of the tumor to show or email the vet) and have a chat before stressing your dog with a trip in case you can just go pick up medication. In my experience, most vets are super reluctant to even talk out loud about euthanasia even when honestly they ought to put a foot down, so nobody's going to take your dog away from you and do something that isn't your decision.

Right now it sounds like things are pretty good, and it would make sense to keep on keeping on until he winds down. It gets difficult when you reach a point where you're having good days and bad days, because you don't want to be the worst human being on the planet and make the call when he's got 4.2 Good Days (and 10.8 Bad Days) left, but you don't actually have to get it exactly right. Once the Bad Days start, when the eating and alertness are no good at all, don't feel like you need to keep pushing through them in hopes of one more good day. I'd rather leave a couple of good days on the table than watch a dog die (which is not always peaceful) when I had the ability to make it easier than that.
posted by Lyn Never at 4:28 PM on March 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I recently lost my German shepherd mix to hemangiosarcoma. Like your guy, she was a very energetic, very tough doggy. In fact, her joy in life was so strong that she only every showed physical signs of dying, up until the morning she was actually passing.

Do you know of the various signs to check in a dog to see if they are in non-obvious systemic distress? Capillary response in gums, coolness of paws and extremities, drooling to indicate nausea, etc.?

For my dog, the signs of her shutdown were hard to spot because in addition to being a willfully happy animal, she was recovering from surgery. We were waiting on biopsy results to see if the mass was hemangiosarcoma or benign, so we did not know that she was in the end stages of metastasized cancer.

The night before she passed, she was drooling a lot, which is a sign of nausea in dogs. Her energy level was decent and she had gone on several short walks that day. She played with the younger dog, made sure to get lots of affection from us, and wolfed down a salmon skin despite being on meds that made her appetite nonexistent. Capillary response in her gums was good and her extremities did not feel cool. I was checking every sign of distress I knew of regularly following the surgery a week prior and she was physically better every day until the last. She also seemed very happy: she had a great last weekend and started the week off in style. Prior to the last morning, the drooling the night before was the only sign that something was going sideways.

That morning, I woke up to get ready for work. I heard this deep, deep mechanical rasping sound resonating throughout the living room. Niki was sprawled out on her bad as usual. I thought something was wrong with the A/C unit outside the window until I realized that I was hearing her take one huge, desperate breath every three to five seconds. She stopped breathing in our arms as we were carrying her out to the car to get her to the vet, somehow came back, and finally passed in my s.o.'s arms as we were weaving through morning traffic.

The decline was very sudden and she literally took every single last breath she could get. You are dealing with a different kind of cancer, but maybe a similar kind of dog.
posted by Derive the Hamiltonian of... at 4:33 PM on March 12, 2014 [6 favorites]

Do you have someone in your life who is honest and can handle death, or maybe just hard situations, with straightforwardness? I think you need a human friend to talk to, someone who isn't so worried about possibly hurting your feelings that they won't say what they really think to you. A lot of times people are too close to their pets to be entirely rational about them, and that's mostly okay! You should love your dog! But sometimes it's incredibly helpful to have an outside party just listen.

I suggest this because every time my mother has had to put a pet to sleep, she's consulted and confided in me, and the reverse has held true as well. Pets usually let you know when it's time for them, but that doesn't mean it's time for you. And that's when another person can help you come to the right conclusion. They might also be able to help you work through your fears about the vet. The way you've written this question it just sounds like you don't have much support about this issue, or if you do, it's the type that's too close to you and won't want to upset you.

You can have a consultation with your vet without bringing your dog in. Nobody is going to pressure you to euthanize him. You are doing the right thing by getting professional care involved right now. From what you've written it sounds like you're not enjoying your dog "at his expense" right now, but rather maybe you're just reluctant to move into a different stage of care. That's understandable. Rely on friends to help you work through it.
posted by Mizu at 4:33 PM on March 12, 2014

If you want your dog to eat pills, try covering the pill in peanut butter and putting it on a dog biscuit. Works for my dog. If he has a tumor that is breaking skin, that has to hurt, so I'd start the painkillers. You can see if it knocks him out, but with my dog, he needed painkillers for an issue with his eyes, and it didn't really seem to affect him too much. Every dog will be different.
posted by AppleTurnover at 4:43 PM on March 12, 2014

More pill advice. Ours will take them in her soft food if we hand feed her several dollops of food in sequence, hiding the pill inside one. She's too excited and greedy to stop and spit it out.
posted by bonobothegreat at 5:01 PM on March 12, 2014

I just went through this, although at a much faster pace. My vet said to decide ahead of time what the line is. She recommended three days of not eating as a good rule of thumb. Also you have to balance the stress of caring for the dog (on you and the dog) vs the benefit you're getting. For example, when my Corgi went into acute kidney failure, we tried a few times giving her subcutaneous fluids (we were still waiting on test results and trying to figure out what was going on). That was a freaking nightmare and would not have been a long-term solution even if it had miraculously fixed her - it was really stressful for all of us.

Honestly it sounds like your dog is chugging along despite the tumor. Dogs will hide their pain to a degree, but you can tell when they're upset. The week that my dog was dying it was obvious that she was in pain, and when it was time we just knew.

In terms of what your vet will say, it doesn't sound like they are going to push you to put the dog down. My vet at least never pushed me to do anything, she just gave me information and gave me her assessment but allowed me to make my own choices.

As for the pill thing, I totally feel ya. My Corgi was so difficult. I ended up changing tactics about weekly. The thing that worked the best was crushing up the pill (or dumping out the capsule) into her food, and since we already gave her a squirt of fish oil it just kinda stuck. However there was one pill that apparently tasted bad, so she would literally not eat food with it sprinkled on! We did pill pockets, we did cheese balls, we did sprinkled on plain yogurt and smushed on the roof of her mouth, and we did shove down her throat followed by a smush of peanut butter. Man I miss that stubborn little girl.

All that said, when it's time, euthanasia is the best gift we can give our pets. Deciding to put Sunshine down was so so so hard but it was also easy because I knew it was right. It was really scary but it was over so fast and I knew she wasn't in pain any more. If you've never gone through it and you need some support/advice, memail me.
posted by radioamy at 5:38 PM on March 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm a cat owner, not a dog owner, but it sounds to me (in my non-expert opinion) like what many above posters have said - that your dog's quality of life is still pretty good, he's still experiencing a lot of joy, and it isn't his time yet. I'd be surprised if your vet pushed euthanasia, and I think it would be worth a visit if you're worried. I also wanted to say that your dog is very handsome, with beautiful soulful eyes, and I am so sorry you and he are going through this.
posted by ClaireBear at 5:43 PM on March 12, 2014

I'm so sorry that you have to be in this position. I actually just had to put my dog down yesterday. I totally understand the "enjoy your dog but not at their expense" sentiment. It was clear to me and my family that she was no longer enjoying her life - she was turning down previously-loved treats and toys, slept most of the time, wanted to get walks over with ASAP. She was not ill, just quite old (and had physical issues surrounding that - bladder control, joint pain, etc.), so I can't speak to the cancer aspect specifically. It was incredibly hard but it also felt right, in a way. As others have mentioned, it seems like his quality of life is pretty good. I would wait, maybe try painkillers. I think you will know when it's really time.
posted by jorlyfish at 6:32 PM on March 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

...he is also incredible difficult to get a pill into. He is pretty catlike in his refusal to swallow pills.

I remember my dad giving our childhood dog pills by holding her mouth open and shoving the pill to the back of her throat. I thought that, once I got my own dog, I'd have to do the same and I dreaded it. I saw this and now I don't understand why this method isn't more well known. It's so easy I'd think that trainers would mention it in puppy classes or vets ask if you know about this the first time they give you pills for your dog to take.

Dogs can be really stoic when they are in pain. In the wild, it doesn't pay to show weakness. Behavior changes are the biggest clue that they are in pain. Reluctance to play, eat, or drink are clues that something is off. If your dog is acting normal, then he probably feels normal.
posted by VTX at 7:31 PM on March 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

More pill advice: Pill Pockets (from the pet store). My cat gets three a day, with all her pills hidden inside.
posted by nanook at 7:39 PM on March 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

What a gorgeous dog! An armful to hug and cuddle with, for sure. I'm so sorry this time has come for the two of you.

I've had dogs live to old age and die quietly and comfortably at home, and I've had a few I had to have put to sleep - every one is different, but it always hurts. It sounds to me like your sweetie is still happy and I'd wait to consider euthanasia until you're sure he's uncomfortable. It would seem to me that if the tumor hurt he'd be rubbing his face a lot, his eye would be inflamed and running and he wouldn't be eating without a lot of difficulty. You said it's been a year, so it's a pretty slow-growing tumor - he's probably adjusted to it a little at a time and may not even notice it as a problem if it's not painful.

I like your vet's advice - just to enjoy all the days you have together.

I'd add one other thing as far as the signs that the dog is in distress: Sometimes they get agitated and restless when they're in pain. They'll lie down and then get right up again, try again and get right up again, etc. - and the distress is pretty obvious then. To me, it seems like there's deep pain then and my own gauge for euthanasia time is when there's serious pain going on.

Please give him a big hug for me - and one for you, too.
posted by aryma at 7:52 PM on March 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

Dogs, unlike humans, don't have the ability to know that tomorrow might be better.
I've never known anyone who thought it was too soon (After the fact.)

These two pieces of advice were most helpful to me in my own Metafilter post about my dog.
posted by k8t at 8:06 PM on March 12, 2014 [5 favorites]

I'm so sorry you're going through this. I just had my cat put to sleep a bit over a week ago after a long battle with cancer, during which she exceeded many expectations. Like you, I was torturing myself with "how will I know when it's time?" and didn't entirely believe all the friends who told me I'd know. She went very suddenly at the end - was fine when I left for work in the morning and when I came home was quite different. I left any decisions until the next morning just in case it was a bad patch that would pass, but it wasn't, and I knew then.

It's really hard when it's a degenerative thing because you are constantly reducing your definition of normal behaviour. Normal for her in the last few weeks looked very different to normal a year ago, or even 6 months ago, in terms of appetite, activity levels, engagement and interaction. But just at the end, she was different again. Her voice sounded different, her demeanour had changed, it was like every part of her was saying "mum, make it stop". I talked to some friends who've had cats die and another friend came round in the morning and agreed, it was time. The vet said they could try herculean things with drips and more tests, but it would just be postponing the inevitable.

I offer this story as things that might be helpful for you as well. Keep notes, maybe, of what his eating/playing patterns are like in case your memory isn't so great for it. Take him to the vet regularly, they will be a good unbiased perspective and if you have a good vet, will acknowledge that you are the best judge of when it's time because you interact with him all the time. Most animals behave differently at the vet's, and it's hard to judge from a limited interaction vs the shared living that you have.

My cat, like many, would not tolerate pills. At all. I have scars. Cat chemotherapy, I gather, largely involves pills so that was out - it would have destroyed our relationship and only bought her a bit more time. Instead she had steroid injections every 3 weeks or so - this not only alleviated pain, but also helped fight the cancer. I don't know if they'd be appropriate for your dog (different animal, different cancer) but it would be worth asking the vet.

But in the end my cat died painlessly and peacefully with the two humans she loved best in the world there with her. She was loved and cared for right up until the very end. If that's what happens with your dog too, it's a good thing. We should all be so lucky.
posted by Athanassiel at 9:34 PM on March 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: However there was one pill that apparently tasted bad, so she would literally not eat food with it sprinkled on! We did pill pockets, we did cheese balls, we did sprinkled on plain yogurt and smushed on the roof of her mouth, and we did shove down her throat followed by a smush of peanut butter.

My dog is just like this! So stubborn.

The decline was very sudden and she literally took every single last breath she could get. You are dealing with a different kind of cancer, but maybe a similar kind of dog.

I thought I was done crying for today, but I guess not.

I'm going to call the vet tomorrow. I don't think I can give him any non-narcotic painkillers because they will make his gums/tumor bleed (but I need to clear that up with the vet), but maybe a low dose is all that is needed and will still leave him with enough energy to do the things that he enjoys doing.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 10:40 PM on March 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

It's so hard, I know. My kitty lost so much weight that when I ran my hand along her back I could feel each vertebra. It broke my heart, much like the picture of your dog breaks my heart. But if he's still happy and enjoying his life, I think you owe it to him to bear the heartbreak because humans know what will happen and hopefully he doesn't, he's just enjoying his life. Even talking to the vet and getting some advice over the phone will help, maybe they can suggest something that doesn't need him to come in. Hang in there.
posted by Athanassiel at 1:50 AM on March 13, 2014

PS: It may seem soon to some people, but we started fostering in January. Our current resident Dutchie is a 10 year old German Shepherd. We both grew up with them, we love them, and yours is beautiful. Beautiful.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:34 AM on March 13, 2014

It sounds like your boy still has his zest for life, as everyone else has said. Also nthing, you will know - lethargy and loss of appetite are good markers for when it's time.

A note on pain meds - Our 16 yo shepherd-husky, Gert has arthritic hips and was prescribed pain medicine (Tramadol). From our experience and the experience of few other folks, Tramadol is very bitter/bad tasting. Gert is very non-food motivated, so giving her the Tramadol has been frustrating. Wet cat food, in multiple blobs, as bonobothegreat suggested upthread, has been successful. If your vet does prescribe Tramadol, you might ask for a different med, if you think getting it into him will be complicated. We do intend to switch, when we refill.
posted by sarajane at 5:25 AM on March 13, 2014

My best friend's cat had a tumor on its face much like your sweet doggie. It was on her eye. She was totally fine - bopping around and being social and happy and the same old sweet thing she'd always been. It started to break and bleed a lot and her mood was fine. Then her mood changed and it was clear she was in pain. We both just knew. That's when we started giving her pain meds.

I guess what I'm saying is that you won't be guessing. You'll know. If you don't know, your little buddy isn't in any pain or isn't in enough pain to tell you.

No one pressured my friend to euthanize her cat. The tumor was aggressive and the cat was 16 and she went for treatment because she could afford it and did not want her friend to suffer. The prognosis was grim but no one told her to put Kittie down. Vets are very good at what they do and I highly doubt that they'll pressure you to euthanize her. Even when my friend's cat was very clearly dying (she had an abrupt acute episode a few weeks after starting treatment and died pretty suddenly) the vets still fought like hell to save her. No one is going to recommend you put your dog down now unless it is clearly best for your dog, and that just isn't clear.

You're a good friend to this little puppy and he will let you will know when he is ready to not do this anymore. He will tell you.

Good luck and I am sorry. This sucks.
posted by sockermom at 7:15 AM on March 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I am concerned that you are freaking out about the monstrous visible tumor.

Think of three-legged or one-eyed dogs you may have seen. What seems extreme to us doesn't seem to affect their attitude at all.

Except that he doesn't want you to touch it (which I'm assuming is necessary to clean up blood now and then) , you describe your dog's behavior as normal.

There are dogs who have had a happy, active year or more with huge chunks of snout missing. (Or other drastic surgeries. )

Your vet can help you with this. He's already told you to look out for eating and appetite changes.

Yes, the day will likely come when you have to have this dog put down. I don't think today is the day.

I hope the vet is able to help you figure out what's best for the dog, for now.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 7:37 AM on March 13, 2014

re: pills. Our dog will eat the pill pockets and spit out the pill. Pills in hot dogs get spit out (sometimes bit in half, but don't worry, two halves will be on the floor, slimy from dog drool and coated in hot dog leavings). Similarly, with peanut putter, it gets spit out and she'll lick most of the peanut butter off of the pill.

But we've found success giving her three pills (one a giant horse pill) at once for the last 6 months or so just with some pudding in a spoon, and the pills lightly shoved into the pudding (half sticking out). 95% of the time she gets all of the pills and pudding, and of the 5% where a pill gets knocked (with pudding) to the floor, she'll lick up the pudding with the pill. I guess pudding is just some magical consistency.

I think you're looking at things sanely; mobile and hungry/thirsty are good signs. I can't imagine a vet who's going to pressure you to euthanize a dog as you've described, even with the erupting mass.
posted by nobeagle at 8:03 AM on March 13, 2014

I've heard several versions of this advice... Make a list of 10 things your pup loves (belly rubs, fetch, specific food/treat, etc). When he's no longer able to enjoy at least 5 of them, it's probably time.

Like others have said, my dog went downhill very quickly (from ~8 things to zero overnight). It was the hardest decision I have ever made, but I know it was the right one. You'll know when it's time.
posted by jshort at 9:36 AM on March 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

(I don't have an answer but I just want to say thank you for posting this question (and everyone else for answering): this was at the top of AskMe last night when I brought my 13 year old golden retriever home from the vet after his first major seizure. Frank's been been declining for a long time; it's starting to feel like a vigil. We're wrestling with the same questions you are and the answers here have been extremely helpful to us as well. Thank you.)
posted by ook at 10:14 AM on March 13, 2014 [3 favorites]

Just wanted to say it sounds like you are accurate in assessing her health. Even if she's having some discomfort, sounds like she'd want to be active as much and as long as possible.

Hugs to everyone who has lost a beloved pet.
posted by theora55 at 10:52 AM on March 13, 2014 [3 favorites]

One thing to add - you don't mention this although perhaps you and the vet have already discussed concerns about your dog injuring the tumor site. That might involve your having to deal with excessive bleeding, infections, confining the dog, and an extra batch of stress and confusion. Or, maybe not.

Nothing to worry about, but definitely something you should discuss with the vet.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 11:10 AM on March 13, 2014

Response by poster: In case anyone needs to know:

Just had a very matter of fact discussion with my taciturn vet. I'm starting the dog on a low dose of painkillers and antibiotics (to prevent infection in his face). When I asked if the antibiotics are necessary, the vet said, "Eh, couldn't hurt."

So, that's that.

Then I'm taking him to the park.

I'm lucky he's decided to stick around for as long as he has.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 2:08 PM on March 13, 2014 [8 favorites]

Just checked this thread again because I've been thinking about it. Glad to hear that you had a good convo with the vet. And now I am tearing up again.

Also wanted to note that sarajane is right - they hate Tramadol!

This is going to sound kinda morbid, but one thing that helped my anxiety about my sick dog was having things planned out ahead of time, because I'm a planner and having everything written down helps me a lot. I talked to my fiance about what we wanted to do with the cremains (really glad I had that convo way before, because we had differing views). I was really worried about something going wrong when the vet was closed, so I made sure I knew the closest emergency vet. I also got the number of a vet that did housecall euthanasia. In case she died naturally at home I got the number of a place that will come pick up the body. Fortunately everything happened during normal business hours at our vet, but I am glad I had all that info on hand.
posted by radioamy at 4:55 PM on March 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

I just let my cat go a month ago.

Good god. A month. I can't believe it, to the day even.

He had a terribly aggressive cancer that stopped responding to chemo. I don't know what to tell you but . . I sat with him one morning, doing the antibiotics and pain killer routine, and I realized, I don't want to be this person to my cat. He hates this. He doesn't want medicine. He wants to be with me, and that's really all.

I hate to say you'll know, but you'll know. And the very second I gave him permission to go, he started going. Please be prepared for that.

Like radioamy, I planned everything. I got in touch with a vet who was recommended to me for letting him go at home. It was the best decision I could have made, because I know he was comfortable and not scared.

Good luck. I am so, so sorry. Cancer is the worst.
posted by Medieval Maven at 5:22 PM on March 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

Ablazingsaddle, thanks for posting this question. It helped me to realize (along with the many other similar questions on AskMe) that it was time to put my sweet dog down over the weekend. She was another Shepherd mix with hemangiosarcoma and she was suffering. It was time to let her go and realizing that she didn't still have the zest for life that your dog has helped me to realize what I had to do.

Thanks to all of the thoughtful MeFites who have posted their own experiences about losing pets in this and other threads.

Best wishes to you and your happy guy.
posted by heathergirl at 10:00 AM on March 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

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