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Should dog with cancer be euthanized?

Species: Dog
Breed: Pug
Age: 11-15 years
Ben was diagnosed with a Grade III mast cell tumor last February. We had it surgically removed, but now (10 months later) it has spread throughout his entire body. He has a few visible tumors (one very large), all of his lymph nodes are enlarged, and the vet said that his spleen and liver are enlarged as well. We know we will need to put him to sleep soon, but as of right now he has no visible symptoms. We were hoping to wait a bit until he starts showing signs (eating less or vomiting), but the vet is urging us to have him put down sooner out of fear that his tumor(s) could "implode" leaving him in excrucuiating pain. She called him a ticking time bomb! Does this sound correct? We would put him to sleep sooner if it meant sparing him pain, but right now he seems okay. Help!!! Thanks so much...


Online vet, Dr. Marie

Dr. Marie replied:

Oh dear. I'm so sorry to hear about Ben's cancer. A Grade III mast cell tumor is indeed something serious.

Decisions like this are really hard to make. I can see where the vet is coming from. We know that Ben has a very bad type of cancer and it is affecting his lymph nodes and his organs. The odds are extremely high that he only has a small amount of time left. If I had to guess I'd say that this time is likely a week or two. (But that's just a guess of course.) The train of thought here is that, if Ben only has such a short time left, the best and kindest course of action would be to consider euthanasia now so that he doesn't need to experience sickness and pain.

I can also see your point of view as well. It would be very difficult to consider euthanasia when Ben is acting normal.

The answer, as I see it lies in how certain the vet is of the diagnosis. If there is a severe spread of cancer and it is definitely affecting his organs then you can be guaranteed that the end is near. We all wish that when our pets finally pass on that they do it peacefully in their sleep. However, that does not happen often. The types of things that could happen to Ben are not pleasant. If the spleen is affected, it may be that a tumor ends up rupturing the spleen and he can bleed out into his abdomen. This would cause him quite significant distress. If something like this happens over the holidays or in the middle of the night, rushing him to emergency to do an emergency euthanasia is going to be a very traumatic experience for everyone.

Another possibility that I saw many times when doing emergency work is that he could end up having seizures. Rushing a seizuring dog into the vet for euthanasia is very traumatic as well.

Now, it is possible that the decline is slow. You could make the decision to wait and when Ben has lost his appetite or is showing other symptoms of not feeling well such as vomiting or extreme lethargy then you make the decision then. But, there really is no way of knowing whether he will gradually decline or whether something emergent is going to happen.

It's a tough call. Your vet is the best one to help you in making this decision though and I really would trust her judgement in helping you to decide.

I hope things end well for Ben, and again, I'm so sorry for the bad news.

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. AskAVetQuestion.com 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.

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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.