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.
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.
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.”
How to Cope When Your Dog Has Cancer
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 How to Know When to Put Your Dog Down, it’s more loving and compassionate to say goodbye than to keep him alive for your own reasons.
Coping with grief when your dog has cancer
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.
Thinking about death
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?
Read Animals and the Afterlife: True Stories of Our Best Friends’ Journey Beyond Death and explore the possibilities. This book provides enormous comfort and reassurance to anyone who has ever cherished a dog. It also offers food for thought for anyone who has ever questioned the place of our pets in the larger scheme of things, both here on Earth and beyond.
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.
Your comments on what to do when your dog has cancer are welcome below. I can’t offer advice, but it may help you to share your experience.
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For more information, read Dog Cancer – Signs and Treatments.