When Your Dog Has Cancer – How Do You Say Goodbye?

dog has cancer

When your dog is diagnosed with cancer, you’ll have to make several difficult decisions about treatments, and possibly say good-bye before you’re ready.

Here’s one reader’s experience:

“I have a beautiful 8 year old Bernese mountain dog named Beans. When he was just 7 years old, he was diagnosed with lymphoma-Stage IVA cancer. His disposition was great and we decided for him to receive chemotherapy treatments. Within the first treatment, he went into remission. He finished the protocol and did not receive any chemo for almost 8 months.

Then it happened, I had taken Beans to his oncologist and the discovered that his cancer had returned. Because Beans had such great success with the first round of chemo, we decided to do a “rescue protocol.” The first treatments were great and again Beans tolerated it and went into remission. Then he had to start a pill called Lomustine or CCMU.

After the third dose, Beans began to fail and his appetite was completely lost. His white blood cells went down and he developed pneumonia. Beans has lost a great amount of muscle mass and I am getting him fluids almost evey night at my local vet because he isn’t eating or drinking.

I feel it’s time to say goodbye but I can’t tell you the agony I feel inside. I never felt this way before and I am so scared to say “goodbye.” If you could provide me with some advice I would really appreciate it. Thanks so much.”

What happens after you say goodbye to your dog, and he breathes his final breath? Read Animals and the Afterlife: True Stories of Our Best Friends’ Journey Beyond Death and explore the possibilities.

If your dog isn’t at a late stage of cancer, you may find The Dog Cancer Survival Guide: Full Spectrum Treatments to Optimize Your Dog’s Life Quality and Longevity helpful.

Saying Goodbye When Cancer Takes Your Dog

I’m so sorry your dog has cancer, and especially sorry that he isn’t eating or drinking. It sounds like you know it’s time to say goodbye, but you feel overwhelmed, heartbroken, and scared.

The most important thing to remember is that if you can spare your dog even one moment of pain and suffering from the cancer or chemotherapy treatments, then you have to let him go. As the veterinarian said in Should You Put Your Dog to Sleep?, it’s more loving and compassionate to say goodbye than to keep him alive for your own reasons.

There are two different things going on here. One is your sadness, pain, and feelings of loss at saying goodbye to the dog you’ve loved and cared for, for eight years. You’re his protector and caregiver, and he has offered you so much more in return! Putting him to sleep feels like you’re letting him down, doesn’t it? It’s like you’re giving up on his life, on him. I think that’s partly why saying goodbye when your dog has cancer is so difficult. I love my dog with my heart and soul, and know that I will be crushed when it’s time to say goodbye to her. I will feel like I’m dying – and a piece of me will die when she goes.

The second issue is the mystery of death. We have no idea what it’s like, so we’re scared to let our loved ones venture forth. But, I challenge you to think of death in a positive, optimistic way – or at least with a curious perspective! What if death brings freedom, lightness, joy, and peace? What if our loved ones are actually happier and more content in death than in life? What if they’re watching us with love, and wishing we knew how peaceful and fulfilling death is?

This is how I will cope when I have to say goodbye to my dog, whether it’s cancer, an accident, or some other type of loss. I do not want to hasten her death in any way, but I hope to release her into the mystery of the other side without burdening her with my fear, pain, and sorrow.

I realize this is easier said than done when we’re faced with the reality of saying goodbye to our beloved dogs, cats, and other creatures. I take my dog to work, shopping, to the library, on road trips, and when I volunteer. Her life is woven into mine at so many different levels – as your dog’s life is no doubt interwoven with yours. Saying goodbye to your dog isn’t about unraveling those braids, but about continuing your journey forward without your dog. It is heartwrenching, but it’s the natural order of things.

And, I believe saying goodbye after an illness like cancer will bring relief and freedom to both you and your dog.

To learn how other dog lovers coped with saying goodbye, read When Your Dog Dies – Tips From Pet Owners Who Understand.

In Letting Go of an Animal You Love, I interviewed veterinarians, grief experts, counselors, and pet owners for help surviving pet’s death. Their stories and wisdom may help you cope when you have to say goodbye to your dog after cancer – or other types of loss.

Before You Go...

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Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen
I'm a full-time freelance writer and blogger in Vancouver, BC. I created the "Quips and Tips" blog series; my degrees are in Education, Psychology, and Social Work. I welcome your comments below, but I don't give advice. I can offer you a prayer and a blessing, though! You'd be surprised how helpful a prayer can be....

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8 Responses

  1. Laurie says:

    Dear D,

    I am so sorry to hear about your poor dog’s last days. Losing a beloved animal to cancer is hard enough, without having to struggle with the vet’s recommendations and bills. It’s terrible, and it sounds like your poor dog Pippy was put through more than he could bear.

    It also sounds like you were put through almost more than you could handle, too! My heart goes out to you — I have a love/hate relationship with my veterinarian. The tests, the medications, even the check up charges are overwhelming.

    Thank you for sharing here – I hope it helped! Please keep expressing yourself, let your grief out.

    Blessings and sympathies,

  2. D. Mcgrath says:

    Our beloved dog, Pippy, who has served us well during his lifetime. He was diagnosed with terminal metastatic liver/spleen cancer. He has internal bleeding. The vet wanted to put Pippy to sleep right away, saying he only has hours at most to live. But we didn’t want our beloved pet to die around total strangers. We wanted him to catch the ball one last time – his favorite pasttime. We wanted him to die around the things he loved most. We owed him that much.

    ‘lo and behold, Pippy lived through the night, and then another night. We made certain that he had pain medication so that he wasn’t feeling the effects of his disease. The first prescription of Tramadol ran out, and the vet gave him another prescription.

    Then ‘lo and behold, it’s now been two weeks since the day the vet was so sure he was going to die, and Pippy has been getting in all the ball playing that his poor body can stand.

    So here it is, the second prescription has run out, and the vet is saying, “Oh, no, we can’t give your terminal dog that has already run up a nearly $500 vet bill on any more prescriptions because we got to dig into your pocket just one more time for our profit margin’s sake. You need to drag that poor, hapless dog back down into our office, make him sit through the stress of being moved and being around strangers, which, well, will most likely mean his poor heart can’t handle it and he will finally keel over once and for all, oh, and then maybe we’ll be able to make some more money off the disposal of his body. Yeah, we need to see him so that we can make sure the medicine isn’t going to kill him, a dog that is terminal, oh, and we can’t do anything to change his condition, but we need to see him anyway.”

    So here is my dog who has just for the first time urinated on himself.

    Thank you, Dr. Strickland at Animal Hospital West, for putting my pet’s welfare ahead of your profit margin: http://www.animalhospitalwest.com/contact-us.html

    Thank you for all the years you have overcharged us and talked us into doing three costly surgeries on a different dog that had metastatic cancer, a dog you already knew would die anyway regardless how much you ran up our vet bills.

    Thanks for nothing…..

  3. Laurie says:

    Thank you for your comments. I’m sorry you and your dog experienced cancer – it’s horrific and heartbreaking. But I’m glad you were here, and I know your comments help others cope with their dog’s cancer and chemo treatments.


  4. Grace Caine says:

    Hi Laurie, I just found your website while doing a little research. My 3 year old Golden Retriever has a growing tumor and we’re just devastated. The Vet says he’s never seen a dog so young with a tumor like this, but also so energetic and excited. I hope this means that he has a fighting chance since he’s not weak or sleeping his remaining days away.

    Anyway, I didn’t start commenting so I could mope around (as I have been for three days), but to look for inspiration.. and your website has done just that. Thank you for taking the time to create such a wonderful place.

  5. Frank says:

    I have been saying goodbye to Abbie since Monday. She is a 7 and 1/2 year old German Shepherd and my best friend. She had a mammary tumor removed back in October. The cancer was suppose to be a routine surgery and no big deal. I found out this past Monday that she would not make it much longer. Unfortunately, I was unable to afford any type of cancer treatment. The vet gave her some pain medicine and we discussed when the time was right to put her to sleep. I spent the past few days saying goodbye and trying to figure out when is the right time. Her pain has just really been noticeable today. I am able to keep her comfortable with her pain medicine tonight, but I am going to see about putting her to sleep tomorrow. I just think it is only fair to her. This is just one of the hardest decisions I have made. I sympathize with anyone who has had to do this.

  6. Laurie says:

    Thanks for sharing your stories. Your words will help others who are struggling with saying good-bye to their dogs because of cancer.

  7. Debbie says:

    Our 11 yr old black lab, Hunter, was diagnosed with osteo sarcoma in her left shoulder in July. My husband and I struggle each day to figure out when it is “time.” She still eats (as a lab I’m not sure that will EVER stop) and will go outside to enjoy the sun and roll in the grass. But it’s so difficult to watch her struggle to get outside, her left leg sometimes dragging on the ground. She sometimes whimpers even though she is on 3 different medications sometimes taking 5 pills a day. I’ve made my peace with the inevitable, but my husband (who spends most of the day with her) continues to find the “good” days and her smiles. It is true – saving your pet from one day of pain is better than keeping her alive for your own benefit, but does that the fact that still eats and enjoys the outdoors outweigh the pain and lameness? Oh, I forgot to mention she is blind from cateracts and has surgery on both hind legs (of course her left one 2x). I guess we all look for approval and validation when we are left to decide when to end life – but for us, as I’m sure like many of you, it is like deciding when to put your child down.

  8. Laura B says:

    We could never really figure out Max’s breed. The best we could guess is part Dobie, Black and Tan Coon Hound and maybe Shepherd or Lab. A handsome, 80 lb black and tan boy! He was underweight and very nervous when he chose me at the pound….brought his blanket to me as I stood before his kennel. I have never had such a wonderful dog and I say this with love and affection to all my other dogs. Max loved cats, other dogs (even dogs who didn’t usually get along with other dogs) and gentle and sweet toward all children. Max is probably 15 years old now; I’ve had him for 12 years. He is a love, devoted and smart. The hardest thing is that he isn’t diagnosed with cancer or other life threatening illnesses, which might make the decision to euthanize more clear. He is old, unsteady, on pain meds for a slipped disk and has problems sleeping, very restless and seems uncomfortable. The meds help and he recently was rx’d melatonin to help him sleep. I spend two days a week at my 88 yo dad’s house and the ride over there is hard on him (even with a ramp) and my dad’s dog tries to pick a fight with him; thankfully Max is fairly deaf and doesn’t hear the growls toward him. I am choosing to put him down in two weeks so that he doesn’t have to endure increased pain, being fragile and the fear I have of his really hurting himself, with a crisis visit to the vet. Yes, fairly preventative, and as my vet says, “better a second too soon than a minute too late.” Sigh. My boy has been faithful, loving, funny, smart and truly, the best dog anyone could have (and I know there are people who also feel this way). I cry daily, have puffy eyes all the time, have the support of my family and friends and yes, as others mention, Max has looked his best the past few days, making me question my judgement.My previous dog endured my need to keep her longer than she should have been alive……so much guilt for being so selfish. Now, I will not let that happen again, even with the agony I feel each day……I love my boy, Max.

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