The end of life stage can be very hard on everyone. It often is gut-wrenching to see your dear companion start to say goodbye.
Like any weighty decision, sometimes the emotions involved can paralyze our ability to choose.
During these times it is so important to gain some clarity by seeking support in counselors, support groups, spiritual leaders, old friends and the like.
For more on gaining some clarity during these difficult times, see The Dog Cancer Coping Guide.
If a decision is made to try to make your dear friend comfortable during the departure stage (as opposed to letting him or her go), I would like to go over a few items.
a. Diet: at this point we forget about the standard dog cancer diets. Most dogs in this state don’t want to eat much and appetite stimulants (B complex, prednisolone, anabolic steroids, cyproheptadine) don’t do much to help. Go ahead and tempt your dog with the good (tasty) stuff.
b. Pain control: essential. Try Tramadol, amantadine, NSAIDs like Metacam or Deramaxx, gabapentin, fentanyl patch, and long-acting morphine. Combinations must be used, and these drugs require veterinary supervision.
c. Hydration: you want to give your dog about 1 ounce per pound in a 24 hour period. So a 12 lb dog gets 12 oz over 24 hours. Try flavoring with a little low sodium broth or bullion. Have your vet teach you how to give subcutaneous fluids if you can’t hand-hydrate.
d. Prevent bed-sores: decubital ulcers (bed sores) happen in large dogs who don’t move much laying on hard surfaces. Roll your dog over, by rotating the legs under the belly/chest to flip, at least every 8-12 hours. Pad the surface well.
e. Prevent urine scald and fecal soiling: sponge bath at least two times daily if your dog cannot make it outside.
f. Improve life quality: bring your dog outside, go for a drive, massage, brush, stroke, talk to, sing to, tell your dog his or her life story from start to finish, and play with toys if possible. Apologize for anything and everything you could have done better. Touch therapies and acupuncture are options too.
This is a very tough time. However, if you are able to take the time to do things the right way, your dog’s goodbye can seem more like a farewell for now, my friend.
All my best,
Dr. Demian Dressler is internationally recognized as “the dog cancer vet” because of his innovations in the field of dog cancer management, and the popularity of his blog here at Dog Cancer Blog. The owner of South Shore Veterinary Care, a full-service veterinary hospital in Maui, Hawaii, Dr. Dressler studied Animal Physiology and received a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of California at Davis before earning his Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine from Cornell University. After practicing at Killewald Animal Hospital in Amherst, New York, he returned to his home state, Hawaii, to practice at the East Honolulu Pet Hospital before heading home to Maui to open his own hospital. Dr. Dressler consults both dog lovers and veterinary professionals, and is sought after as a speaker on topics ranging from the links between lifestyle choices and disease, nutrition and cancer, and animal ethics. His television appearances include “Ask the Vet” segments on local news programs. He is the author of The Dog Cancer Survival Guide: Full Spectrum Treatments to Optimize Your Dog’s Life Quality and Longevity. He is a member of the American Veterinary Medical Association, the Hawaii Veterinary Medical Association, the American Association of Avian Veterinarians, the National Animal Supplement Council and CORE (Comparative Orthopedic Research Evaluation). He is also an advisory board member for Pacific Primate Sanctuary.