How far do you go?

Happily my 5 year old Dane and 5.5 year old Bloodhound are both in good health, and I haven’t been faced with any tough decisions on either of them yet. But when I see articles like the one on Face Book today, I have to wonder to myself, how far would I go to save the life of one of my dogs?

The article announced that a vet hospital has been able to perform brain surgery to remove a tumor from a 12 year old Maltese. Click here to read it on

After the delicate surgery, the top of the skull was replaced by a titanium mesh, then covered with the dog’s original skin. The dog will now have to undergo both radiation and chemo in order to prevent the malignant tumor from regrowing too fast. The post doesn’t indicate how much time the owners bought with this elaborate procedure, but it does say that the dog should have a “good quality of life.”

What does that mean in a 12 year old dog with a fatal disease that will almost certainly kill him at some point? And I shudder to think of the price tag for this.

People are free to spend their money however they want, and far be it from me to tell anyone when the time has come to let go of their precious animal. But I think we have gone too far when we think of putting our dogs through surgery, chemo, and radiation for a relatively short reprieve from death. Just as I think we reject death as humans, we do the same for our pets, and force them through things to give them just that extra year or few months. It’s one thing to treat a younger dog with a decent possibility of full recovery and many years of potential life. And I’m not sure how many those years would have to be in order to be considered “many.” But I hope that if I’m faced with these choices, I can allow my dogs to go with a minimum of pain and suffering on their part, and not fight a desperate rear-guard action for an elderly dog who deserves more dignity than that.

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  • Brenda Lott

    Excellent topic today. I think it is a very personal choice. I have had to euthanize older dogs who were very close to losing their dignity and, tragically, very young animals who were terminally ill. I do not believe I would put any animal through chemo for strains which would ultimately prove fatal in a short period of time. While canines don’t seem to have the same level of bad reactions to chemo that humans do, I know I would be keeping the animal on Earth for MY benefit and not theirs. We have what time with them that we have and it is ALWAYS too short. I would not perform heroic measures to prolong a life less than a fully normal and quality life-span. With geriatric animals, once you can see the “dignity” leaving their eyes…it is time and they are silently asking you for release. I don’t believe people fully understand how long a suffering animal will fight to stay for our desires and not their own. I’ve definitely erred on the wrong side of this equation and let things linger too long and I truly will regret it till the day I die. I have not erred, in my heart or mind, by letting one go, too soon. Again, it’s a very personal choice that we each must make; BUT – always choose based upon the animal’s feelings and not your own. 🙂

  • Vickie Byrne

    While I do agree that “extreme” measures (both for humans and pets) can go too far, sometimes it is warrented. Years ago, my just-turned-eight year old Dane, Robbie, was diagnosed with Lymphoma. It just came out of the blue and the word “Cancer” hit me like a ton of bricks. My Vet (who loved Robbie!) arranged a meeting with an internist in Cinncinati (a two hour drive for us!). He explained to me, that as cancers go, Lymphoma in dogs was rather painless and very treatable. Dogs do not get as ill from chemo as humans do because the dosages are lower. Dogs are treated with the idea of giving them 2-3 years of good quality of life as opposed to twenty in humans. Robbie went into remission with the first treatment; it was amazing! He only had a bad time with one of the chemicals that he was being treated with during the next eight months. It made him so sick and miserable for five days, I was anguished and started to re-think the whole thing. After five days, he was fine again! Robbie had nearly a year of “quality” life before the cancer returned. By then he was nine years old and getting a bit arthritic, so I opted not to start over with the chemo. When he stopped eating, my vet came to the house and helped him to the other side. In the year that Robbie’s Chemo bought, he was able to meet his successor, Max, make many Therapy Dog visits to two local hospitals (especially the Oncology floors!), and I was given the time to say good-by. I would do it again!

  • Rebecca Waters

    This is always a difficult topic and one we face daily in the veterinary community. Ultimately there is no right or wrong answer, just personal choices. I have done this for a very long time and I can say without a doubt that I truly believe the decision to euthanize our beloved pets is the single, last, greatest gift we can give them. When asked by clients how I know when it is the right time I usually tell them that, for me, it is when my pet is no longer themselves, when my dog can’t be a dog anymore or my cat a cat, when everyday habits and comforts are no longer possible or become extremely difficult/painful. Unlike humans, who have the ability to decide when enough is enough and can also draw up and sign end of life decisions, our pets rely solely upon us for this. I wish we could give this gift to our loved ones, I wish when my time came, if I was suffering and in pain, unable to function on my own anymore, that my loved ones could opt to let me go peacefully, asleep and with all the love and support I have surrounding me. Now for my personal opinion, I think we all too often end up prolonging our pets lives purely out of selfishness or an inability to let them go. When we talk about buying them another 6 months or a year of life who are we buying it for? It isn’t for their sake, especially when it is at the cost of surgeries, medical treatments, chemo and other painful or uncomfortable treatments. I often try and weigh the cost to my pet with their age and potential life and decide what it is I am doing this for. A young animal, with a potential for a long fulfilling life will come out on the side of chancing some medical treatments over a senior pet that maybe only has a year or so left and is already experiencing physiological age changes (ie arthritis, incontinence, weight loss/gain, sight and hearing loss, loss of mental acuity). Dogs, and even more so cats, are extremely stoic creatures and often endure great amounts of pain, discomfort, sickness, and distress while showing nothing. I will never be the type of pet owner who opts for that last ditch purchase of another month or three or twelve, I will and have always chosen what was the best for my beloved pets and not for myself, even when it meant facing devastating loss. This topic is no easier than the same discussion on the human side of things and often people react the same way and tend to be very strong in their thoughts and feelings no matter which side they take. It is not for me to say whether or not anyone else is right or wrong, only what I believe for myself and those under my care.