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Did I make the right decision?

Species: Dog
Breed: Boxer
Age: 8-11 years

I guess my question isn't so much of a question but more of a plea for help. I recently had to put my dog down, and I am experiencing extreme pain, guilt, and sorrow. I keep thinking things: what did I do wrong? Could I have saved him? Was he in extreme pain? And the list goes on. I suppose I'm just hoping I made the right decision. Maybe it's because I miss him so much that I'm feeling so sad and selfishly want him to be laying next to me. I don't know. I just need to feel like I truly did make the decision best for my wonderful dog.

About a month and a half ago, my 9 year o,d boxer had a bout of 9 seizures in a 36 hour period. He was obviously put into the emergency vet to be watched and medicated. It was decided that he had a brain tumor, because of his age, breed, and bloodwork. When we took him home, he was sleepy and really out of it for 3 weeks because of the pheno. Along with this, he was ravenous and thirsty all the time. He wasn't my dog anymore. He laid by his food bowl and was not as interested in human contact. His eyes were glassy and it looked as though he sometimes didn't understand us. He also started having accidents in the house, which he never did. I babies him and loved him the best I could. I rearranged my schedule so he could be taken care of. He meant the world to me.

After 4 weeks of being on pheno, we noticed he started jamming his head into the floor and rubbing it around. Shortly after this (one day), he had another bout of cluster seizures and was back in the emergency room. The doctors gave us prednisone for him to take, along with the pheno. We took him home and watched him closely. He seemed uncomfortable, was even more hungry and thirsty, and the head discomfort seemed to continue. Along with this, he couldn't sleep through the night. I was on the floor with him, making sure he was let out when he needed to go out (4-5 times a night), and to make sure he was comfortable. We both work 8 hours a day, so the thought of him being alone and experiencing these things without us just killed me. I thought of his seizures, his hunger, his head pain, etc.

After long conversations with my husband and looking at my dog's tumor rapidly taking a toll, we decided we owed him a peaceful end to his life.

The thing is, from an outsider's view, Henri looked normal and even acted like a regular dog. To us, though, his whining, begging, head pain, and seizures were all signs of his decline. I guess after looking at all these forums online, I found that so many people would keep their dogs around until the bitter end, when their dogs can barely walk, eat, or get up. Is this what I should have done?? Waiting until he was suffering more? I just didn't know people did this? Why let the dog live to the point of complete and utter distress?

My vet said brain tumors do not really have a good prognosis, especially in boxer breeds. If I would have kept him on the meds, he would have suffered from the side effects. Always sleepy, always hungry, always thirsty was not my dog. If I took him off the meds, he would have horrible seizures. It seemed like a lose lose for me. After reading all these forums, I feel so guilty.

I don't know what I'm looking for. Reassurance? Validation? I don't know. I loved him more than words can say and he had the best life a dog could ever have. I just hope I did the right thing. I wanted him to die in peace, without suffering, whether it be from the seizures, the headaches, or the side effects of the medicine. I know we all say "dogs don't feel seizures." this may be true. But they feel it afterwards. Henri hid in the corner and cried. :(. I just don't know what to feel. Since you have so much experience with all this, I'm hoping you can say something to me. I can't let this go, and it is a horrible feeling on top of the safeness I feel without him.

Sorry for the long post. Thank you. It takes such a special person to do your job.

Online vet, Dr. Marie

Dr. Marie replied:

Oh, thank you for sharing your dog's story with me.

These are always such tough situations. I've helped many a person through a situation like this and from what you've written it sounds like you did exactly what I would recommend.

When a an older dog has a severe onset on seizures like this it is usually a brain tumor. The symptoms that you were describing with him pressing his head to the floor sound like liver problems. It's possible that the brain tumor had spread to his liver. (Or it may have been liver cancer all along and this spread to his brain.) We don't have cures for most brain and liver cancers.

I tell clients that we believe that dogs are not aware of what is happening during a seizure. However, most dogs will have some sort of a pre and post ictal phase. This describes the time before and after the seizure. For some dogs this time period is mild, but for others, like Henri, it can be quite uncomfortable and cause significant anxiety.

I have seen people do what you described in your question - wait way too long before putting a dog to sleep. I recently had clients with a beautiful dog who had a brain tumor and they waited and waited and waited and watched him get worse and worse. It got to the point where I had to tell them that they had no choice but to put him down or I would consider it animal cruetly. In their case, they were avoiding euthanasia for their sake and not for the dog's sake.

Henri had a condition that he was never going to recover from. You tried medications as prescribed in the hopes that he would improve. But, when he was not improving then you did what was right for Henri and humanely ended his life so that he would not have to continue to decline any more.

I'm so sorry for your loss. It's never easy.

Dr. Marie.

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Disclaimer: Although Dr. Marie is a qualified veterinarian, the information found on this site is not meant to replace the advice of your own veterinarian. and Dr. Marie do not accept any responsibility for any loss, damage, injury, death, or disease which may arise from reliance on information contained on this site. Do not use information found on this site for diagnosing or treating your pet. Anything you read here is for information only.

Customer reply:

Thank you so much for replying. It means so much to me that you would have recommended the same thing.

I think it is just hard when he looked the same as he always did. He wasn't unable to walk, eat, or get into the car. He would snuggle with me all the time. His issues were: laying by his food bowl for the whole night, unable to sleep the whole night through because of being uncomfortable or hungry, and having accidents. And the biggest problem...those horrible seizures. I didn't want him to live his life going through those things. I could have kept him alive and just medicated him (even though he has seizures on the meds) and fed him constantly, but leaving him every day was so hard, and I didn't want him to be alone during those times.

He was such a special dog, and I wanted him to be peaceful. Afterall, it's the least I could do.

I think I just need to stop looking at people who would keep their dogs around until the bitter end.

I know in my heart my decision was right; I just miss him terribly.

Online vet, Dr. Marie

Dr. Marie replied:

Erin, you did the right thing. You did what you needed to do so that Henri was comfortable.

Just so you know it is quite normal to feel extreme grief over the loss of a pet.

Allow yourself to grieve and don't get concerned over what others think.

Dr. Marie.

Customer reply:

Thank you so much.

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Dr. MarieDr. Marie is a veterinarian who practices in a busy animal hospital in Ottawa, Ontario. She created Ask A Vet Question as a resource for good, accurate veterinary advice online. Dr. Marie treats dogs, cats, hamsters, guinea pigs, and rats. She has been a vet since 1999.

Is an online vet visit just as good as a trip to your veterinarian? No! But, many times, asking an online veterinarian a question can help save you money. While Dr. Marie can't officially diagnose your pet or prescribe medications, she can often advise you on whether a vet visit is necessary. You can also ask Dr. Marie for a second opinion on your pet's condition.