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cancer in an old dog with other health issues

cgpm59cgpm59 Registered User Posts: 613 Member
Found out this week that our 11-year-old dog with other significant health issues has a melanoma on her foot; the vet wants to do surgery to remove her toe at a cost of $1300. Our dog was a rescue and we've had her since July 2007, so we are only estimating her age; she could be a bit older as she was full-grown when we got her. In March 2010, she ruptured a disc in her back and lost the use of her hind legs and control of her "potty functions". We spent a couple of thousand dollars over the next months at the vet's office, animal chiropractic visits (which I didn't even know existed -- she HATED that guy!!), not to mention some sleepless and sleep-interrupted nights taking care of her, etc. She was in a very bad way for several weeks and it was a consideration at the time to put her to sleep. But we kept on trying to get her better; my DH even made a wheeled cart for her.

Gradually over time, amazingly, some function in her back legs came back to where she can walk, for the most part, although she sort of looks drunk sometimes. I don't think she has any feeling in her back feet; sometimes a paw will drag top-down on the ground until she can get it back the right way. She has never regained full control of her potty functions; she will squat to pee outside, but oftentimes the pee and the poop start before she is aware of it. She is mostly an outside dog, so most of the time that isn't a problem, but in cold or stormy weather, she's in the house. Because she can't feel those nerves in her back end, she has been almost continuously on antibiotics for the past several years; she gets bladder infections at the drop of a hat and once she finishes a round of antibiotics, she may go as long as a couple of months before the infection returns.

Now, we find out about the melanoma. If she was a younger dog, or if she didn't have these other ongoing, long-term health issues, we'd do the surgery in a heartbeat. But she is an old dog, she's already been through a lot of pain and suffering with the ruptured disc, and making her have surgery on one of those already-wobbly back feet isn't something we want to do.

When DH told the vet that we had decided against the surgery, but that we'd continue with antibiotics for the bladder infections and will keep her comfortable as long as we can, the vet said she understood. By the way, even with all her problems, she still eats, sleeps, drinks water, poops (!!) and plays.

Anybody else who's had a cancer diagnosis in an older dog who maybe can offer us some insight?
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Replies to: cancer in an old dog with other health issues

  • saillakeeriesaillakeerie Registered User Posts: 2,150 Senior Member
    So sorry to hear that. We had a golden several years ago which a vet told us had cancer and needed surgery. We checked with another vet who said that goldens often get lumps in their abdomens as they age. If it wasn't cancer, no reason to do surgery unless she was very uncomfortable. If it was cancer, this vet's view was there isn't anything that you can really do. At the time, she was 9 years old. It wasn't cancer but we had to put her down 18 months later because of liver problems and major arthritis which severely limited her movement. Had it been cancer, she likely would have lived shorter than she did. May well have been true with the surgery as well. But with the surgery, what is the quality of life? You can't reason with an animal about the reason for the surgery, recovery time, etc.

    We have another golden who is 9 years old. Day when she will be gone is too fast approaching. No health issues at this point. Knock on wood. Big problem for goldens is cancer.

    I agree with your analysis in terms of younger and healthier dog versus older dog with other health issues. Good luck with your decision. Isn't easy either way you go.
  • FallGirlFallGirl Registered User Posts: 8,002 Senior Member
    Hugs,cgpm59. Just because the treatment/surgery is an option doesn't mean it is the best choice. Our dog is 15 and had tumor removed several years ago , but at this point we would not choose to put her through surgery.

    I think your choice to keep her comfortable is a good one. Please don't feel guilty about this.
  • rosered55rosered55 Registered User Posts: 4,288 Senior Member
    edited June 2016
    Our previous dog was diagnosed with bone cancer at age 9. We decided to proceed by having the afflicted toe removed and a biopsy was then done. Very fortunately, the cancer was an unusual kind that is much more curable than the type the vets said it was likely to be. The surgery recovery was challenging, mainly because we were supposed to protect the wound site from the dog herself and from the elements. When we put an Elizabethan collar on her, she had what I can best describe as a psychotic reaction. So for the first few days, we kept her from bothering the wound by lying on or with her on the floor. Seriously. She had to have a foot covering on outside; keeping a sock on a dog is not easy. But she recovered and lived four more years. When she got sick at age 13, we chose to treat only for comfort.
    In the final illness, the vets supported me in the decision not to treat the underlying ailment, but I was frustrated by them not being more assertive about end-of-life care. I would call and say things like, "She's not eating" and instead of responding, "She's probably dying," they offered me special dog food. And they didn't tell me that they had a home euthanasia service until the day before she died (at home, without assistance, but after much suffering, which I could have prevented if I had been encouraged).
  • MomofadultMomofadult Registered User Posts: 1,110 Senior Member
    My sincere sympathy. We faced similar issues as our toy poodle hit age 13. Much as we would have loved to keep him alive forever, it was clear that the interventions would not be comfortable and prognosis was that life expectancy would not be significantly increased. Hard decision to make - to treat or not - as there times when he would still play (briefly and irregularly) like a puppy. We wanted to believe that this was a good sign, but in our case, the vet told us that this was normal for dogs - they will try to please the owner no matter how difficult for them. It became very clear to us when life was too difficult for our little one and our decision was easy to make, if not easy to implement. I think you are on the right path.
  • noname87noname87 Registered User Posts: 1,217 Senior Member
    I am also a dog lover who has had to face this decision multiple times. The price for adopting senior dogs.

    My rule is that I also try to do what is best for the dog. They give us the best years of their life. We owe it to them not to let them suffer so we can hold on to them. Every situation is different, but it appears your heart is in the right place.
  • cgpm59cgpm59 Registered User Posts: 613 Member
    Thanks, everyone, for your stories. Rosered, your story about the recovery process is something I was in particular wondering about. I suspected it would be something like that, which with both myself and DH employed full-time, not sure how we'd manage to keep her "off" that foot.
  • greenbuttongreenbutton Registered User Posts: 2,717 Senior Member
    So sorry..it's the hardest decision :( My husband sat our kids down when we first got our dog and said someday, he's gonna get old, and sick,and we don't spend thousands on a dog. (DH was raised on a farm, and had many many dogs). Sure enough, at about 14 the dog started to have various difficulties and while it was hard to let him go, it was easier than the suffering. Your dog is relying on you to not prolong his pain, and make him comfortable in the waning years. Best of luck.
  • MotherOfDragonsMotherOfDragons Registered User Posts: 3,960 Senior Member
    I have a 14 yo cat that I brought into the vet because she has a bleeding melanoma on her abdomen (I had a dog with skin cancer-I know what it looks like). They want $1500 for surgery for her, and charged me $100 just for looking at her, and refused to euthanize her.

    No wonder people are dumping their sick animals at the pound. We won't do that-our cat is the best cat ever and that's a terrible way to go, but there is a vet service that comes to your house just to euthanize your pets, and we'll be doing that instead (we found out about it from a coworker when we were talking about the astounding cost of the vet).
  • intparentintparent Registered User Posts: 36,882 Senior Member
    edited June 2016
    My lab got a nerve sheath tumor in her leg at the age of 11 that our vet removed. But he said it had a good chance of returning, and if it did the only choice would be to amputate her leg. I had made up my mind not to put her through that at that age if it happened and have her put down if it came to that, but it didn't happen. She got sick with something else (inoperable tumor), and that was what brought the final decision -- they couldn't make her better and they couldn't make her comfortable. So then the decision was obvious. As stated above, we are kinder to our pets at end of life than we are allowed to be to humans. :(

    You can get pet insurance -- the quality has improved quite a bit since the initial offerings, I think.
  • LuckyCharms913LuckyCharms913 Registered User Posts: 1,005 Senior Member
    My sympathies at this time.

    Our beagle (like yours, a rescue, so we think she was about 15 y.o. but not sure) died a few months ago of liver failure. She must have been sick for while, but the end was very sudden: she stopped eating on Saturday, I took her to the vet on Monday, and she died at home on Wednesday. The vet said that due to her age, she did not advise surgery (which might indicate a treatable condition, but probably not). I appreciated her pragmatism. We absolutely would have opted for euthanasia if she'd lasted a few more days.

    Although kids and I were upset for days (and of course I still miss her), we started looking for a new rescue about 2 weeks later. Happened upon a dog who had been adopted, but then returned a month later because (reportedly) she didn't get along with the family's other pets. We've had her for almost four months and she is a delight.

    I don't mean this to sound callous, because if someone had said to me back in February, "Oh, just go get another dog and you'll be fine," I might have assaulted them. However, with the passage of time, I am comforted by the idea that losing our beloved beagle allowed us to open our hearts to a new dog that needed a family. You'll know when it's time.
  • wis75wis75 Registered User Posts: 13,890 Senior Member
    edited July 2016
    Physician couple here who long ago decided we would not go to such expenses et al when we got our dog. Several years ago he died of something in his cerebellum based on signs and symptoms (infection vs tumor- no good way to diagnose regardless of costs) at almost 12 years. Want another dog- eventually. Now we want the freedom to travel. Choices- it wouldn't be fair to the animal or us.

    Physicians tend to do less for themselves with end of life illnesses, and this would apply to pets I presume. I would not go all out with limited benefits for myself just because it can be done- likewise for my dog. Spending limited funds for no good outcome also seems to be a bad idea to me. Kudos to vets who understand this.

  • HImomHImom Registered User Posts: 34,234 Senior Member
    Mayb foster animals, so you can give love and then give the animals to a good home and still travel. It's worth considering anyway. :-)
  • cgpm59cgpm59 Registered User Posts: 613 Member
    @LuckyCharms, your last paragraph made me laugh! DH and I both had beagles growing up; his was 15 when she died and mine was 16. We got him when I was 5 years old and he died when I was 21. We also had a beagle when we were first married and she lived to be 14. We love our beagles.

    This dog is not a beagle; we think she's part basset and part lab. She's a funny-looking dog and she's goofy. We'll definitely miss her. But for now, she's totally "normal" so no effects of the cancer yet.

    @HImom, fostering might be a good idea in the future; we'll look into that, when the times comes.
  • walkinghomewalkinghome Registered User Posts: 7,737 Senior Member
    We had a thirteen year old golden that developed a lump on his foot. We made the poor decision to have it removed when he was under anesthesia for something else. (It's terrible, but I can't remember what the something else was!) The recovery from the bump removal was fairly traumatic and he developed hot spots from licking it, even though we went through a plethora of things to stop him from doing that, including the dreaded collar. What finally worked was a wound boot. I think the stress though sped up whatever else was wrong with him, and one night he had a seizure and could no longer walk. We made a midnight run to the vet and they said it was most likely cancer but would have to do some expensive testing to ascertain that. We loved our dog dearly, but he was thirteen, seemed to be in pain and could not walk. The vet said he was already living on borrowed time and we knew he had lived a good long life. We made the decision to put him down that night. I know we did the right thing, and he passed quietly surrounded by people he loved.

    A year and a half later, we also got a rescue golden mix, and she's brought great joy back to our life.
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