Financial/resource based euthanasia for dogs
July 23, 2014 1:27 PM   Subscribe

There are probably viable treatments for my 8 year old dog but I can't afford them or take the time to carry them out. I am considering euthanasia. How do I manage this?

My pug dog is 8 years old and suffering. He very rapidly declined over the last three days, with symptoms of fever, shortness of breath, pain, reluctance to move, whimpering even with pain medication, dragging back foot.

One problem that they suspect he has is IVDD, which is usually resolved with expensive back surgery or alternatively 8 weeks crate rest then rehab. I don't have the money for surgery and given that I am currently in physical therapy/rehab, my husband is recovering from surgery, I've been laid off and looking for work, and we have a seven year old I don't think crate rest is viable.

We are getting an ultrasound to look at the fever and breathing problems. He has elevated liver enzymes and high white blood count. I am waiting for the ultrasound. Differential is liver/kidney infection or tumour.

If we hadn't been wiped out financially with medical bills and then me getting laid off I would consider surgery for a relatively young dog but I just can't think about it right now. We are in for $1500 for diagnostics, IV fluids, broad spectrum antibiotics, and pain meds to date.

I am thinking of putting the dog down without a full workup (ie, neuro consult) even though I know there are interventions that could potentially give him years of good life. I am worried about money.

This seems early to euthanize but I don't want my buddy to be in pain, and he is suffering. How long do we wait? He was healthy and strong before this. Do we see if he can fight an infection or stop now and walk away?

I love my dog and this is breaking my heart. My husband, daughter and I are in tears over this. We've only had 3 days, this is acute onset.

Did you ever have to put down a dog because you couldn't afford treatment? Could you live with the guilt? I feel like a bad pet owner and only want my dog back...
posted by shock muppet to Pets & Animals (29 answers total)
I am sorry you're going through this. Have you heard about CareCredit? Not all vets take it, but if your vet and/or the vet who would do the surgery does, it could be an option. I used it for emergency surgery for one of my dogs, and it was 0% interest for a year.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 1:34 PM on July 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

I don't know where you are, but in San Francisco, there is a resource specifically for people in your situation. I donate to it because I've been close to where you are in the past.

Here's something that might help you to frame this terrible and heartbreaking issue -- the woman who runs a private shelter from which I adopted my two cats a few years ago told me, when I told her that I felt guilty about putting my last cat down rather than having his leg amputated, that in her opinion there are so many animals who need good homes that sometimes the right thing to do is to prevent your animal from having to deal with pain and trauma, to do it with great love and all the kindness you have in you, and then let another animal into your life. For me, it took 18+ months before I was ready for another animal, and I'm glad I waited, but I'm also glad that I had room in my heart and my home for my two little lovebugs.
posted by janey47 at 1:44 PM on July 23, 2014 [12 favorites]

I have had a pet put down (not a dog) because the cost of care wasn't supportable. It was very painful at the time, with many tears, but definitely the right decision. I'm so sorry for all the troubles you're having, but having your dog euthanised sounds reasonable to me, and kindest to you all in the long run.
posted by anadem at 1:46 PM on July 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I live in Vancouver, Canada.

There are financing options available at the clinic I assume we will be referred to. I hesitate to even incur the debt since the benchmark for the back surgery is $6000 minimum, that's not including whatever other problem is causing the fever/breathing problem.
posted by shock muppet at 1:46 PM on July 23, 2014

I had to put down a cat under financial duress. I still have some pangs of guilt and regrets even though I know it was the right thing to do. What I would do over again is not spend so much money up to the decision in an effort to feel less guilty. I would have felt better if I took half the money I sunk in diagnostics and gave it to an animal charity or rescue group. Good luck.
posted by 724A at 1:47 PM on July 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

Have you considered surrendering your dog to a breed rescue like this one? These rescues take in dogs regardless of health and owner reasons. The one I linked to is based in the US, but perhaps you can e-mail them to see if they have any contacts near where you live.
posted by peripathetic at 1:53 PM on July 23, 2014

You can also check out Red Rover, but you'll need to join care credit to get the aid.
posted by brookeb at 2:00 PM on July 23, 2014

You have given your dog a loving home for 8 years. It sounds like your family is in dire straits. It is not cruel to put your dog down under these circumstances. Don't incur any more debt, just tell your vet this is the end of the road. They will not judge.
posted by agatha_magatha at 2:00 PM on July 23, 2014 [18 favorites]

I put a dog down because he was a biter and I thought he was going to ruin me financially. I regret doing it because I didn't even look for another home for him. Maybe someone could have loved him. But I thought no one would want a biter. I think you should give one try to find someone who might want to take on his care costs. You just don't know. Like the breed rescue mentioned above.
posted by cda at 2:07 PM on July 23, 2014

I would contact pug rescue organizations like Pacific Pug Rescue and also try Best Friends Animal Society (they would at least have a list of referral organizations for you). Also ask your vet if they do any pro bono care, or if they know of any vets that provide pro bono care. If non-medical care (like the rest period) could help him significantly, a rescuer/volunteer may be willing to foster him for the necessary period.
posted by melissasaurus at 2:10 PM on July 23, 2014

An 8 year old pug isn't a young dog sadly. They have genetic and heritable liver diseases, breathing issues and back issues as you are finding out. Honestly, I think a pug of his age with multiple medical issues is not a candidate for drawn out treatment and it might be kindest to let him go no matter what your financial situation.

He has elevated liver enzymes and high white blood count. I am waiting for the ultrasound. Differential is liver/kidney infection or tumour.

It's not uncommon for them to need liver stunts or go into liver failure very young.

And confining them in a crate away from people is awful for such a sociable dog breed, as I'm sure you know.
posted by fshgrl at 2:11 PM on July 23, 2014 [15 favorites]

I'm sorry this is happening to you. If pug rescues aren't able to help out - please don't feel bad if you need to do euthanasia. It sounds like you're a caring pet owner and you've tried your very best to do what you can (or even, honestly, beyond what you can do, spending $1500 when you're out of work and your spouse is presumably also out of work recovering from surgery) to help him.
posted by needs more cowbell at 2:19 PM on July 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

Personally I wouldn't judge you. And if you do decide to put him down, remember that he's not going to know what's happening, or what it means.
posted by bleep at 2:28 PM on July 23, 2014 [7 favorites]

I can't help with the potential liver/kidney issues, but I can speak about pugs with suspected IVDD. Earlier this year, my 9 year old pug had a sudden onset of not wanting to move, whimpering from pain, etc. We had her checked out at the vet and IVDD was suspected. She's very high energy for 9 years old and it was hard to keep her calm, but we opted to do a rest period. We blocked off the stairs, added ramps, etc. She took to it quite well. We did this for a few months and it did wonders for her. She's basically back to herself. She is definitely a survivor personality though.

This site was immensely helpful. If you can get past the other issues, trying a rest period is worth it, especially if he was healthy and strong before.
posted by disaster77 at 2:45 PM on July 23, 2014 [4 favorites]

I would not in a million years spend $6,000 on surgery for an 8 year old dog. Yes, your dog absolutely is a family member, but a family member with a limited and abbreviated lifespan. You have to balance that against quality of life and cost of care, and to me this is a pretty clear situation.

You should not feel badly; your vet works with families in this situation all of the time. It is totally OK to say "Look, we love Puggy but we are approaching our spending limit here. Please talk to me about low-cost treatments and timelines against the possibility of euthanasia since surgery will not be an option."

How much you spend is not an indication of how much you love your pal. Don't let anyone make you feel otherwise.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:02 PM on July 23, 2014 [13 favorites]

I can't help with the other issues, but as far as crate rest for the IVDD, that really should be doable for you, especially since you're between jobs at the moment. My friend's dog is going through this. At first it was 12 weeks of rest, but he's done so well that the PT has shortened it to 8 with a prediction that he'll be able to return to full activity (super active dog, too). At first she felt overwhelmed by the prospect but it has turned out to be kind of a big nothing. It would be a shame to lose a dog without first trying something as simple and free as crate rest (again, assuming the other issues resolve). Best of luck to you.
posted by HotToddy at 3:40 PM on July 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'd suggest giving the crate rest a shot if that does indeed turn out to be an option. It has the great benefit of being inexpensive compared to surgery and needing only patience. Since you are not working, it shouldn't be too much of a hassle.

If it isn't working, then yeah, I would not spend $6,000 on surgery for my dog either, as much as I love her, and you sound like you're in worse financial straits than I am.
posted by zug at 3:59 PM on July 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I have big concerns about crate rest:
- I was effectively on "crate rest" myself, off my leg from Nov-Feb this year. I had to learn to walk again myself not so long ago and I don't know if I can do a big rehab again so soon
(aside: this is why I am against dog MRI - I am still waiting for my own MRI and it should be people first!)
- We have a half-duplex with 3 floors. I slept in a hospital bed in my living room for two months so I know how difficult it is confined without being able to climb the stairs.
- We have an active child used to playing active games with the dog. The child might be more difficult to train than the dog.

So it's not just financial resources it's emotional. I feel bad that I am not equipped to take on a special needs dog. We already have two special needs humans. Is one adult functioning at 100% a prerequisite for taking on a dog rehab project? We don't have one.
posted by shock muppet at 4:07 PM on July 23, 2014

My husband and I have had the very hard conversation about how much money we get to spend on our kitties in their lifetimes.

That number is a hell of a lot lower than your dog's surgery will cost.

On the other hand, we have friends who just dropped 10k on surgery for their 10 year old dog.

There are people who will judge you no matter what you do.

If you have given your dog 8 great years, you should not feel guilty for not putting him through a surgery and rehab. Adopt another dog when you're ready.
posted by freshwater at 4:27 PM on July 23, 2014

I had to put my dog down recently after four months of illness and a heck of a lot of money. Could I have done more? Sure. Because you can almost always do more. But I was tired and she was tired and even though I cried and cried after making the decision, it was absolutely the right thing to do. It is hard to make the decision when there is no one huge unavoidable thing you can point to, but that doesn't mean it isn't the right thing to do.
Also, I have volunteered at a non-municipal animal shelter for years. Even if a rescue says they will take any dog, it doesn't mean they won't euthanize if the dog is deemed unadoptable. I say this utterly without judgement; but I sometimes feel "give your dog to a rescue" is the new "send your dog to live on a farm." Usually not a viable solution.
posted by fairfax at 5:04 PM on July 23, 2014

We have friends who have a $15,000 stray cat (no that number is not a typo). It was a cumulative thing over about 18 months, after they'd had the cat about two years. First a couple hundred here and a couple hundred there, then five hundred. Then surgery. Then more surgery. Then boarding for antibiotics. Then more surgery. Then ongoing medication. At some point they decided they'd already sunk so much money into the cat that they couldn't stop. But they absolutely regret it every day.

"Think how many cats," she says "I could have had spayed or neutered for fifteen grand."

Euthanizing this animal is the most responsible thing to do for your family. You're not a bad person for doing it.
posted by anastasiav at 5:51 PM on July 23, 2014 [5 favorites]

FWIW we put our dog to sleep on Christmas Eve because we were unable to effectively treat her pain at home and the only ongoing option was crate rest. I know other people make other decisions based on their dog's personalities, but never mind the rehab -- that much crate rest would have been AGONY for her and there was no way I was going to do it. We euthanised her that very day. I described that experience in a pervious comment, saying "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. "
posted by DarlingBri at 6:22 PM on July 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm sorry.

I just went through this with my cat (she was my shadow for 14 years) after she suddenly developed peritonitis. After blood work, urinalysis, x-rays and sending it off for a second opinion, analysing the lymph aspirated from her abdomen we were no closer to an answer. The next diagnostic step would have cost between $1500-$2000. I wish I could say the sky's the limit, but it wasn't. The vet explained that she more than likely wouldn't be able to survive the peritonitis even if we could figure out what was wrong with her. He offered to euthanize her that day. I told the vet I wanted to take her home and give her palliative care.

On her last day I had to explain why euthanasia was the only option to a new vet who was sitting in locum while my vet was on vacation and summed it up at the end with this, "When I took her in I promised I would take care of her and this is part of taking care of her." He said back, "You're right."
posted by redindiaink at 6:40 PM on July 23, 2014 [3 favorites]

It seems to me that euthanasia is a proper choice for your little buddy. You will never be able to do this without feeling awful. But underlying your grief is knowing that you ended his suffering.

I have had to make this choice with several dogs, a few cats, and some horses. In a few cases, the details were a mix of the critter's age, condition, and the expense involved in treatment. It was seldom a clearly defined situation, and I never got to get through the experience without second guessing myself, or without tears.

As a farrier, I've dealt with certain horses in situations where the kindest thing would have been to have them put down, but they were valuable brood mares, and the owners wanted one more foal before they let them go.

Please excuse me if I seem to lecture you, but, unless you are keeping long-lived animals such certain parrots or tortoises, facing their demise is a part of the price you pay for the joy they bring to your life. Even in death, their short lives are instructive, in the most elemental way, of how things work. Celebrate your little buddy's life; if you can bear it, be with him at the end, to witness his passing.

Also, please accept my sympathy for the suffering your little buddy is experiencing, and for the pain it's causing you and your family.
posted by mule98J at 7:10 PM on July 23, 2014

I had a cat who needed special medical treatment. He did well for a year, but then got worse. I took him to the vet for more treatment. He spent the last 3 days of his life at the vet getting poked and prodded, and on the last day he died in the middle of one of the treatments. I visited him every day -- he was in a small cage, within earshot of barking dogs, and catatonic from fear, if not pain. He responded well to those treatments, but was so unhappy.

I have regretted that I had those last treatments done ever since the day he died. His life ended in pain and fear because I was too weak to have him euthanized when I should have, on the first of those three days. I recently realized that I made the best decision I could at the time, based on what I knew at the time. That's all I can ever expect of myself.

My point is that you never know what will happen -- maybe specialist care will help your dog, maybe it won't. All you can do is make the best decision you can, with the information you have right now. Your dog has had a great life with you, and he needs you to make these decisions for him now. Whatever decision you make will be the right one. I promise.
posted by OrangeDisk at 7:16 PM on July 23, 2014

The certainty of eight good years and a peaceful death at home surrounded by people who love him is a much better choice for a dog than eight years followed by painful health and treatment with strangers and possibly another 2-3 years with a new family, but also that the treatment doesn't work and he ends up in a shelter.

Put some money into having a vet do an at-home euthanasia - you guys have had such a rough time, be kind to yourselves and your dog and make his last days good (pain medication, favourite food etc).
posted by viggorlijah at 8:30 PM on July 23, 2014

Have you contacted the Farley Foundation?
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:44 PM on July 23, 2014

Response by poster: Fantastic news from the ultrasound.

Liver and kidneys are fine. No tumours or masses. There is fluid in the lungs which caused pneumonia. We suspect he aspirated water while playing at the beach (explaining acute onset).

They expect that the most severe pain is related to the pneumonia and will go away with hard core antibiotics. He will still have a back problem but we can deal with it later.

Another day on the antibiotics made a huge difference and my dog perked up.

He's on light rest (we are trying to teach him not to jump on furniture, short slow walks, no ball and no running) and we'll see how he does with this.

He is alive and he will make it!

Thank you so much for your support, I think I will be able to handle his back once he's not so sick any more.
posted by shock muppet at 10:52 AM on July 24, 2014 [12 favorites]

Oh, thank you so much for the update, and I'm so glad your pup is doing better.

I saw someone the other day with a tattoo that was a picture of their dog's face and underneath it, it said "2008 -- ". I can't tell you how smart I think that is. Our animals are with us for such a short time, and maybe the reason we love them so hard is that we try to give them a human lifetime of love during the space of an animal lifespan. Keeping in mind that everything ends, some things more quickly than others, is a wonderful way to keep at the forefront of our minds how much someone means to us.

I hope your little one gets healthy & stays healthy for a long, long time.
posted by janey47 at 1:12 PM on July 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

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