When To Euthanize A Dog With Cancer

No loving pet parent wants to think about euthanasia. However, sometimes it’s an unavoidable topic, especially if your dog has terminal cancer or another affliction from which recovery is unlikely. Whether or not to euthanize your furry friend is a very personal decision — one that is not made lightly. It can be heartbreaking to say goodbye to your best pal through this method. In fact, some families would never choose to euthanize their dog based on their values, and that’s OK, too.

If as a pet parent you decide to euthanize, there’s another complex decision: When? There’s a tendency to want to pick the exact right day — not too soon and definitely not too late. Read on for some general guidance on when to euthanize a dog with cancer or another affliction, as well as what euthanasia entails.

Signs That Cancer, Other Diseases Or Trauma Are Taking A Toll

Various ailments and trauma can significantly impact your dog’s health and well-being. Here are some signs that it may be time to consider euthanasia:

  • Marked decline in quality of life: As a pet parent, you want your dog to enjoy a good quality of life. He or she is part of your family, after all. However, sometimes you and your veterinarian may exhaust all resources yet still are not able to improve your pet’s quality of living. If this is the case and your dog is struggling, it’s best to make him or her as comfortable as possible until a decision is made regarding euthanasia.
  • No longer interested in food: Refusing to eat is typically one of the first signs that your pooch is unwell. It may get to the point that your dog only wants to consume table scraps and nothing else. In such instances, one way to help is by feeding him or her low-fat options such as cooked turkey, chicken, or ground beef, boiled to remove any oils as much as possible. Appetite stimulants may help — however, keep in mind that they do not address the underlying cause and hence, may not always work.
  • Difficulty breathing: If your canine has difficulty breathing, he or she may have fluid buildup from lung disease, heart disease, pulmonary fibrosis, cancer or asthma. Your pet may even stop eating because of the difficulty of eating and breathing simultaneously.
  • Isolates or provides extra affection: If your pet doesn’t want to snuggle and pulls away from you, don’t take offense. He or she may want to be alone because of the affliction he or she is facing. Alternatively, some pets might offer more affection when ailing and may seek to be in your company.
  • Other physical signs: A pet might become weak, lethargic or frail from illness or old age. Weight loss and progressive arthritis can also occur. These physical issues eventually may no longer be treatable with pain medications, acupuncture or hydrotherapy, and access ramps that kept them mobile may not be helpful enough at some point.
  • Signs tied to specific types of cancer: Not being able to urinate is not only uncomfortable but life-threatening for a dog. It also could be a sign of a prostate or bladder tumor that has advanced. If this is the case, a stent could help if the cause is a blockage, but it’s only a temporary fix. Similarly, if a dog is having difficulty or is unable to defecate, it could be a sign of an anal gland tumor. A dog might drool or struggle to eat, threatening his or her quality of life and ultimate survival, if he or she has a large mass in the mouth. In the case of a brain tumor, a pet may eventually develop uncontrollable seizures or develop severe behavior changes such as aggression.
  • Rabies exposure: Rabies, a fatal and zoonotic disease that impacts the central nervous system, leading to dysfunction, is preventable via a regular vaccination protocol. However, some dogs have never received a vaccination. Depending on the state, a dog bitten by a rabid animal will often need to be euthanized, according to , in order to protect the public.
  • Debilitation due to severe trauma: A dog may have experienced terrible trauma, such as getting hit by a vehicle. If his or her injuries are untreatable, euthanasia may be the humane option.

Euthanasia Alternatives & Delaying The Decision

If you feel strongly against euthanasia or believe it’s not the best decision for your pet, there are other options. One is hospice care at home. There are mobile veterinarians who provide this type of supportive care, which entails making the dog as comfortable as possible while minimizing discomfort. Hospice care is appropriate when a dog has been diagnosed with a life-threatening ailment, but the pet owner is not ready to euthanize at the time or for those patients who need extra care at home during the days leading up to own’s decision to euthanize.

What Does Euthanasia Look Like?

Euthanasia is the act of painlessly and humanely ending a pet’s life. The procedure is performed by a licensed veterinarian, typically involving two injections after which the dog first goes into a heavily tranquilized state then and passes away. The first injection provides deep sedation, and the second injection stops the heart and lungs. The process happens quickly, and the vet will try to make the experience as comfortable and calming as possible for the dog and the pet parent or family. Once the injection is administered, a dog may sigh or twitch but is unaware and then passes peacefully.

Some pet parents or families choose to stay with their dog through the entire process, while others choose not to be in the room during the injections. It’s a personal decision, as there is a lot of emotion involved. Sometimes owners will bring other pets to the procedure, as well. To help children understand and process the experience, there are many wonderful books on the subject. “Dog Heaven” and “Cat Heaven”, both by Cynthia Rylant, are two examples.

After euthanasia, pet parents can choose whether they want a mass cremation, an individual cremation or burial at a pet cemetery.

PetCure Oncology’s Treatment Options

At PetCure Oncology, we consider pets part of the family — and we treat them like family, too. That’s why we offer a wide array of treatment options for dogs with cancer, including innovative Stereotactic Radiation and chemotherapy. Our compassionate team is ready and willing to help you create a comprehensive cancer care plan for your beloved pet. Our mission is to provide the best in clinical expertise and progressive treatment options.

Find a location near you to get started.

RELATED: When To Euthanize A Cat With Cancer

The contents of this article were provided in part by Dr. Renee Alsarraf, DVM, DACVIM (Oncology), a board-certified veterinary medical oncologist and member of PetCure Radiation Oncology Specialists (PROS).


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