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Thursday, 24 March 2011

How do you know when it's time to let go?

We have just lost Moses, our beautiful nine-and-a-half-year-old Pyrenean Mountain Dog, to bone cancer. Moses was diagnosed with bone cancer last Friday and he was put to sleep on Tuesday. The house is really quiet without him and we are very upset.
We had known something was up for the last month or so as he was always very happy to charge around but had recently slowed down on walks. I phoned our breeder, who has been wonderful and has offered advice throughout Moses’s life, and she recommended a change of diet. Then after two weeks, he began limping, so we took him to the vet, who diagnosed arthritis and put him on an anti-inflammatory, which seemed to have a positive effect and he was bouncing around again. However, this only lasted for a week or so and he began to slow down again. We knew something was very wrong as he had never failed to get over-excited at the sound of the car starting-up before, but he was now very still.
We took him back to the vet on Friday, who found a swelling on his leg, x-rayed him and told us of his diagnosis. Having googled survival rates, we thought he may have about a month left as he was still eating masses and giving his paw. Our breeder was very sympathetic and quietly said this may not be the case and that we would know when it was time for him to go. Our vet had also said we would know when the time had come, but actually we weren’t really aware of what those signs were. On the Tuesday, Moses was panting a lot and he was wanting to spend time on his own, when previously he had always been around the family, and it was this distance that made us realise it was time.
Moses has had a very healthy life – he hadn’t actually had arthritis – and although the larger breeds are more prone to cancer than smaller dogs, we had not realised quite how aggressive bone cancer is. The vet told us that by the time 90 per cent of bone cancers are detected, the disease has already spread to the lungs. We are obviously very upset at having lost a member of our family so quickly, but very grateful to our breeder and our vet for their wonderful support.
People always say ‘you will know when the time comes’, but I am unsure that we did really know. We weren’t aware that panting was a sign of pain and we weren’t aware of how much pain he was in (we have heard bone cancer is the most painful form). Has anyone else felt this way when their dog was desperately ill? We would not have wanted to prolong his life if he was in pain and hope we have not caused him unnecessary suffering, and I was wondering how others have ‘known’ when it is time to let their dogs go? Thank you in advance for your thoughts.

Jess, by phone


  1. Christine Bailey25 March 2011 at 07:12

    Hi Jess

    I'm so sorry, it's awful to lose a dog, especially when it all happens so quickly. I think what you are going through is a normal part of the grieving process. You are torturing yourself by asking if you could have done more, when the truth is that you did everything you possibly could. You realised Moses was unwell and took him to the vet who gave him medication that at first seemed to help.

    You recognised he was still unwell because you knew him so well; you took him straight back again and this time the symptoms were such that the vet was able to make a positive diagnosis.

    You did know by Moses' behaviour when it was time to say goodbye and took immediate action.

    Moses has left a huge gap in your lives, which is to be expected, but he obviously had a wonderful life with a very caring family. At the moment your grief is raw, but please accept that in time this will fade and you will remember the wonderful times you shared with him.

  2. Dear Jess

    I honestly think that 'knowing when to say goodbye' is an tough task. It is made harder because the decision is in our hands.

    You did everything you could and I am sure that your Vet would be the first to tell you straightaway if your dog had been suffering unnecessarily. It can often be very hard to spot pain signals in a dog. This is partly why in my job as behaviourist I always ask owners to get their dog checked by a Vet first, because dogs can hide pain so well. You picked up those signals even though you were not aware something was fully wrong at the time.

    I felt exactly the same way when my old dog was put to sleep. I wondered if I could have done more to help him before his final day. Be kind to yourselves. Your feelings and reactions are normal for someone who sounds like a caring and lovely owner.

  3. Alison Logan, vet, says...

    I was so sad to read about Moses. Coincidentally, I was in this very same position today with a rottie, a wonderfully soft and well-mannered gentleman who simply did not deserve to have the bone cancer which was all too obvious on a radiograph. Similar to your Moses, he came into my consulting room severely lame on a forelimb despite being given a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug. Given the high likelihood of secondary spread to his lungs having already occurred, his owner decided to part with him without delay. I left work feeling very upset because it does seem so unfair.

    But, I do truly believe that it is our privilege to be able to give our dear canine friends a peaceful and dignified passing, a release from pain and discomfort when it can no longer be controlled, when there is no realistic hope of recovery. It is an incredibly hard decision to make because it is final. The grief which follows is not unnatural just because you have lost a pet. Our doggy friends are members of our family and therefore to mourn the passing of a dearly loved dog is to be expected.

    I do not set down guidelines or goal posts when it comes to making the decision to have a dog put to sleep. We are all individuals. The right time for one person may, for another pet-owner, be too soon or too late. I do believe that whenever a pet owner books in for a pet’s final visit then the time is right, because he or she will have taken considerable time thinking about it before booking that appointment.

    Quality of life is always a major concern. In Moses’ case, you had a diagnosis and a grave prognosis. It can be much harder with an old dog who is simply losing his or her faculties. I have been in that position twice, and in many respects this is a privilege in itself given that my border collies had led long and healthy lives. However, when to part with an old dog hangs over one often for months if not for longer.

    Euthanasia is an important part of my work as a veterinary surgeon, and one which is not taken lightly. Each patient, of whatever species, is an individual with his or her own particular circumstances and family. I do find it upsetting, but could not do it if I did not sincerely view it as a privilege to be able to spare further suffering.

    My thoughts are with you and your family at this sad time. Moses may no longer be with you in body, but he will have left you with many years of happy memories.

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