Featuring Demian Dressler, DVM and Susan Ettinger, DVM, Dip. ACVIM (Oncology), authors of The Dog Cancer Survival Guide

There’s No Expiration Date … But Here are Some Warning Signs That a Dog Is Dying

Updated: November 21st, 2018

Summary

What are the warning signs that my dog is dying?? Learn what signs to look for, and how to handle them.

If you’re reading this article, you’re probably worried that you’re missing the warning signs of your dog dying. You may even have literally searched for “warning signs dog dying.” As editor of The Dog Cancer Survival Guide, I wanted to write this, just for you. Here’s what I need you to know, right up front, right now:

  1. There is no expiration date for your dog. There is no such thing as a crystal ball we can consult to know “today’s the day.” No one, not your veterinarian, not your spouse, and not you, can predict with 100% accuracy “when” your dog is going to pass from this earth.
  2. There are some warning signs that you can use to see the end as it nears.
  3. There are some wonderful, simple things you can do for your dog RIGHT NOW that will help, no matter when the end comes.
  4. This is a very, very hard time for you, and you should be very gentle and kind to yourself.

Before we launch in, let me tell you this: I am not a veterinarian. I am a writer, and the editor of the best-selling book on dog cancer, The Dog Cancer Survival Guide, but I have no medical credentials of my own. What I am including in this article is what I know from Dr. Demian Dressler and his co-author, oncologist Dr. Susan Ettinger … but mostly from my own experience as a dog lover, just like you, who has gone through the dark nights of agony at the end of a beloved dog’s life.

With that disclaimer, let’s move on.

There’s No Expiration Date

Readers of the book often join our private Facebook support group, where they can network and get support from other readers who understand what it’s like to have a dog with cancer. Far too often, a reader posts a photo of their gorgeous dog and asks “how do I know when it’s time to let go?”

And the advice from fellow guardians (what we call dog lovers facing canine cancer) is almost always summed up this way:

“You can’t know ahead of time … but when it is finally time, you will absolutely know. Your dog will tell you.”


If you would like to reach out for support from others facing dog cancer, read success stories, and gain new ideas, please join our private Facebook Group for readers of the Dog Cancer Survival Guide.


This idea that our dogs will “tell” us may sound a little obvious (or mystical, depending upon how seriously you take interspecies communication studies). But it’s not.

We often have to be reminded that our dogs actually have opinions, thoughts, feelings, and preferences. They are not human, but they are, in a very important sense, people. I’m not making this up! This is a relatively new way of thinking about animals, but it’s becoming clearer with every passing year: this planet is populated by over 7 billion human individuals, and thousands of billions more of individual animals.

Dogs are not just members of a species called Canis lupus familiaris… in fact, they are individuals who happen to be part of that species. Just like all of us humans are individuals who happen to be part of our species, Homo sapiens.

Dogs have a sense of themselves as individuals. They don’t look at another dog and think “hey, we’re interchangeable!”

But because dogs don’t speak “English” (although they understand a lot of it), and because we don’t speak “Canine,” we often forget that our dog IS a person. He has his own unique view on his world. She has her own set of experiences — experiences that you will never actually know about. Because you haven’t been her, and you haven’t lived his life!

My point is, it’s easy to forget in our distraction and panic over our dog’s warning signs that they are feeling ill, or maybe even dying, that they are actually having their own experience — that is separate from ours.

And when we forget that about other people (whether human or dog) … we forget that we need to LISTEN. Just as we would to someone in our life who does speak our language. If your grandfather told you “I think I’m near the end,” you would understand what he meant. Well, dogs might be able to “tell” us something like that, too.

So, when we offer each other those frustrating words of advice “your dog will tell you,” another way to say it is “ask your dog.”

Look, there just isn’t any way to know the exact timing of anyone’s death, human or canine. But there is great value in listening to someone, closely observing them, and providing comfort, whether they are near death, or not.

And our dogs certainly deserve that close, loving attention, at all times in their lives. Goodness knows, I wish I were even a fraction as good as my dogs. I would be a saint.

So, bottom line is this: set aside your need to “know” if now is the time for your dog. It’s just not possible to know for sure — until you do.

When it’s time, you will know, because your dog will somehow, someway, get through to you to tell you. In the meantime, the best thing you can do for yourself AND your dog is to listen, observe, and offer comfort and help as needed. How much time you have left is less important than how much closeness and love you give each other in whatever time you have left.

(I speak from hard, hard experience.)


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Warning Signs Dog Dying

OK, here are some things that you can look for to see if your dog is nearing the end of life. Keep in mind that none of these are definitive, and if your dog is only going through one or two of them, it may not mean she’s near the end. I have heard from too many readers over the years about turnarounds to think that any one of the following signs definitely means your dog is going for sure.

But if you see several of the following warning signs, all at the same time? Breathe deeply. We’ll cover some more things for you to do in the next section.

Lethargy That Just Won’t Quit

In general, dogs like to move, walk, play, bounce, cuddle, fetch, eat, drink, and relieve themselves. Any time your dog is listless or lethargic … not “acting like himself” you can be sure he’s not feeling well for some reason.

In particular, lying in one spot for long periods of time, especially one that is kind of quiet and isolated, or not a normal napping spot, is a sign that your pup is feeling like life is not something he wants to participate in wholeheartedly. Those of us who live in rural areas, where our dogs have lots of outside spaces to roam, are familiar with how, given a chance, some dogs prefer to isolate themselves, far from their families, when they sense their time is up. I had a friend whose elderly dog seemed fine right up until the night she didn’t come in when called after they let her out after dinner. They found her curled up under a bush in an area she almost never napped in — as if she didn’t want to ruin their happy memories of other trees, paths, and walks.

If you live in a city or suburb, and your dog doesn’t have an outside option, you might find he chooses a weird spot you’ve never seen him use for a nap. Another friend’s dog curled up in their laundry room for his last days. It only made sense when she realized how it was out of the way, out of traffic, and afforded him maximum privacy from his beloved small human family members in their busy house.

If a dog is near the end, they may not want to get up from their spot, even for their most favoritest, favoritest things, like toys, treats, and offers to go for a walk. They might not even seem happy to see family members. If your dog has been sort of puddling up in a pile of lethargic, disinterested misery, and it’s been more than a day, that can be an early warning sign that she is getting ready to leave this life.

Lack of Interest in Food and/or Water

It’s the rare dog that doesn’t want to eat. Sometimes, nausea from cancer treatments (or cancer itself) can be the culprit. Other health conditions, medications, and even foods can certainly cause temporary nausea, too. Here’s one of my favorite articles about how to help your dog to eat when she won’t.

But if you’ve gone through all of that, and even started offering other tidbits that might be no-no’s on a typical cancer diet, and he still won’t eat? Or if he does, but then vomits? That’s a warning sign.

If your dog stops drinking water, that’s another sign that she is possibly nearing the end. At the end of life, our organs start shutting down, and as a result, the brain just stops sending us hunger and thirst signals. There’s no point in taking in food and water that can’t be digested and then used by the body.

So, if you’ve tried and failed to get your dog to take an interest in food and water, and it’s been over a day or two, it might be because he’s near the end.

Movement Problems

Dogs that are near the end of their life often become very disoriented, so if your dog does get up and move around, she may stumble, wobble, or collapse. You may find him shaking, or even having what looks like a seizure, as his muscles tremble and discharge energy.

Losing Control of Bowels and/or Incontinence

A dog who is dying often loses control of their muscles (as above), including all the sphincter muscles that hold waste in the intestines, or urine in the bladder. Combine that loss of control with the inability to move with confidence and general lethargy, and you see incontinence. Often, you’ll find your dog has soiled himself without even attempting to get up — urinating and/or defecating right where he’s lying. You might also see sores from the waste irritating the skin.

Labored Breathing

At the very end of life, breathing often becomes ragged. Instead of a nice, even in-and-out, you might hear great breaths in, and then a long pause, and a little sigh out. There might be panting, or great pauses, or almost a rattling sound as your pup struggles to keep going.

Super Snuggliness

I have a theory that most dogs absolutely know that they are dying, and they want to make the most of their last moments. Before you point out that I just told you about dogs isolating themselves to die, let me tell you this: both of those dogs actually spent the hours BEFORE they isolated themselves to pass asking for kisses and pets and snuggles from their human family members.

As far as I can tell, dogs love unconditionally, even those of us humans who maybe don’t deserve it. And so it makes 100% sense to me, as a dog lover, that my dogs all got really snuggly at some point near the very end of their lives. They want to make absolutely sure that you know that you are loved before they are forced to leave you.

If your dog is spending lots of time gazing at you with adoration, snuggling into your lap, or doing his best to request a belly rub given his limited movements, you might see that as a warning sign.


Get the Dog Cancer Survival Guide to read more on End of Life and Hospice Care, in Chapter 25


What You Can Do for Your Dog If You Think She’s Dying

First, make sure that’s what is going on. Calling your veterinarian and telling him or her all about everything you’ve observed is your first priority. You will want to know if a recent change in medication or technique could have caused these symptoms — and if so, there might be something they can do for her to get her through this period so she can recover.

Before you call in, make a list of everything you’ve seen and heard, and your general impressions of your dog, so you don’t forget anything. The nurse or tech who answers the phone will be able to help you, or have the veterinarian call you back and discuss.

Getting medical advice at this stage is really important. If there is something that can be done, they’ll advise you about what it is, and what the chances of it helping are. And if not, they might still be helpful — sometimes an overnight stay at the hospital can help both with pain management and “hospice” care, if that’s necessary.

But then, there are definitely things you can do at home to help your dog. These all can help to alleviate pain and really up the quality of life he’s feeling right now. For more detail on each of these, please see the chapter of “End of Life Choices and Care” in The Dog Cancer Survival Guide.

Hydration

For dehydration, aim to get about one ounce of water per pound of body weight into your dog over a 24-hour period. For example, if your dog is 10 pounds, you want to give about 10 ounces of water.

If he won’t drink out of a bowl, you can try squirting a turkey baster filled with water into his mouth. You can also use other fluids, like low-sodium chicken or beef broth, soup, or even tea. But if he refuses to drink, or hates the baster method, there’s not a lot you can do to force the issue.

In this case, ask your veterinarian for “subcutaneous fluids” to give at home, along with detailed instructions about how to inject them under the skin.

Appetite

If your pup hasn’t eaten in over a day, and you’ve done everything you can think of in Susan’s article, throw out all the rules you’ve learned about what to feed a dog with cancer.

High-carb? Fine! Hot dog packed with nitrates and nitrites? Terrific! If your dog hasn’t eaten in a few days, ANYTHING she eats is lovely.

Offer anything that isn’t toxic (no onions, grapes, raisins, chocolate). Anything that tempts her to take a bite is PERFECT, and an important life quality “treatment.” Our dog Maui, when she was dying, loved angel food cake. (And we loved feeding it to her.)

Safety

If your dog is really wobbly, try to keep him in a quiet, comfortable place that is safe. Remove any furniture or objects that he might knock over, and pad hard surfaces anyway you can.

Cleanliness

Cleanliness is really important to your dog, as it is to us humans. So if she’s soiling herself, give her a gentle sponge bath with lukewarm (not cold, not really warm, certainly not hot) water as soon as you can. Keeping her clean and dry will help her to feel comfortable and keep her from developing bed sores.

Bed Sores

Lying in one spot can cause bed sores, little ulcers where skin is rubbed raw from the pressure of the body. This is particularly important for large breeds.

Keeping your pup on a thickly padded surface and rotating him gently from side to side is a good idea. While you do this, gently look for sores that are developing so you can care for them right away if you see them.

Also, keep in mind that you don’t want to “twist” your dog as you move him. If he hasn’t turned himself over in a six-hour period, gently gather all four of his paws to his belly, roll him to his front, and then on to his other side. (Don’t roll him onto his back — it’s dangerous, especially to large breed dogs, who are prone to get a “twisted stomach” this way.)

Pain Management

Pain management might be in order, particularly if you notice panting, a possible sign of pain. There are many pain meds your veterinarian might want to prescribe, based on your dog’s specific case, so don’t be afraid to ask.

This is also a time when something like CBD oil might be warranted, for comfort at the end of life. Discuss this with your veterinarian, if you’re interested, because laws vary by state, and not every veterinarian is comfortable prescribing or using something that is still illegal at the federal level. (And I refuse to get on my soapbox about this, but let’s just say I wish scientists had the opportunity to study this.)

Life Quality!

Focus on total, 100%, super-awesome life quality tailored to YOUR dog.

You know your dog best — what does she like? Is there a favorite toy you can get for her to snuggle with or gnaw on? Is there a special treat? Does she adore fresh air?

When our dog Maui was in her last days, I bought a pack ‘n play for her, filled it with her favorite dog bed, toys, and snugglies, and put it outside in a shady spot. We also carried her in our arms and gently walked up and down her favorite beach. I can’t prove it, but I know it’s true: being outside and feeling the sunshine and fresh air, and smelling her favorite beachy smells, made her happier.

So did getting groomed. The day before Maui died, our mobile groomer appeared at the door. It was an appointment we’d made a month earlier, and forgotten to cancel as we took care of Maui in her last days. We assumed Maui wouldn’t want to make the effort to get up and get groomed, but when she heard Allyson’s voice, her tail thumped and she raised her head, and she even walked to the top of the steps to greet her. When we listened carefully, and observed her obvious positive response to Allyson, we “knew” she wanted to get groomed. Allyson’s tender care for her in her last hours was a miracle. Maui always loved being groomed, and it truly ended up being one of the “life quality treatments” we applied at the end of her life.

Manage Your Grief

OK, this one is hard, but it’s really important. While you care for your dog at this last stage of his life, try hard not to break down in front of him. Dogs pick up on our emotions, and whatever you are feeling he is likely feeling, too. So try to stay in a warm, loving, attentive, close, intimate frame of mind. Leave the harsh, ugly crying for later, or go somewhere else to do it.

It’s a terrible burden, to watch a loved one die. It can be really hard, and for some, it’s totally devastating. But if you can keep breathing, and keep your heart open to how much love there is between you and your dog, you’ll be doing a deep and great service to your pup.

And somehow, I know he’ll be grateful to you.

Which brings me to the last thing I wanted to tell you.

Be Gentle, and Loving, with Yourself, Too.

Good grief, it’s hard to lose a dog. And maybe even harder is knowing you’re about to lose your dog — that it’s going to happen soon, but who knows when. That limbo feeling can complicate our decision making and terrorize our minds. We might not feel right about eating ourselves, or sleeping, or going to work, or even taking a shower.

So acknowledge to yourself that you’re going through a really tough time, and that YOU need care, too. One thing I’ve learned over the years is that no amount of money, time, or energy can insulate us from heartbreak. Whether you are in a situation where you can’t afford pain meds, or need to euthanize, or can’t afford to miss work to be with your dogs — or whether you have all the time and money you need — you’re going through a devastating loss.

So do what you need to do to care for yourself, too. Get support. Talk to friends and family members, or a pastor or counselor. I personally advise NOT talking to people who aren’t dog lovers — some folks simply do not understand the bond that can form between us and our dogs. The last thing you need to hear right now is “it’s just a dog.”

If you’re a reader of The Dog Cancer Survival Guide, I highly recommend the Facebook support group. (Email us using the contact us page to get details on how to join that private group.) Having fellow travelers take a moment or two to post messages of love and support can be very healing.  They can also be really helpful at “trouble-shooting” your end of life care for your dog.

In addition to reaching out for emotional support, I also recommend a few time-tested comfort measures. The following came highly recommended by my grandmothers and grandfathers, and my great-grandmothers and great-grandfathers (I am so lucky to have known so many!):

  • Get as much sleep as possible. Now is not the time to pull all-nighters if you don’t have to. Go to bed when you are tired, and if you can nap, do it.
  • Make sure YOU are eating and drinking. Your dog does not benefit from you being weak and hangry.
  • Take a shower. Everything seems more manageable when you are fresh and clean.
  • Take care with your dress and grooming. My grammy used to say “I wear lipstick because I feel better.” You don’t have to wear lipstick, but sometimes feeling “dressed” — whatever that means to you — helps you to face the world.
  • Breathe deeply. Constantly. When stressed, we often hold our breath, which just keeps our brains from working well. Better to add breath to any stressful situation than take it away.
  • Have tea. Any kind is comforting, but herbal teas in particular can be very therapeutic.
  • If you have a diffuser, diffusing essential oils can be really helpful to both you and your dog. Amber Drake really likes lavender oil, and so do I.
  • Eat soups. They are warm and comforting, and broth can be very nutritious, and quickly absorbed, so you get “instant” food.
  • Cry when you need to. Give yourself breaks to let out your grief, at least a little. It helps to rid the body of stress hormones.
  • Dark chocolate is a great way to reduce stress hormones and “treat” yourself. (My grandmothers all thought so — now science backs them up!)

I’m going to give the last word to one of the wise readers who contributed a “true tail” to The Dog Cancer Survival Guide. Here are some words of wisdom from someone who’s been where you are:

Let Outcomes Unfold

“Deal with it one day/ step at a time, and don’t jump ahead. Let outcomes unfold, rather than focusing on the worst case scenario. Don’t beat up on yourself.You did not cause your dog’s cancer. Don’t try to be brave. If you need to cry or do hours of research or watch action movies to feel better, go for it. If not, just love your dog. Don’t waste any energy on things you can’t do anything about. Use your energy to help your dog. Have courage when making the decisions you will have to for your dog’s well-being. Some will be hard, but if you keep the focus on giving your dog the best quality of life possible, they will be easier.”

– Susan McKay,Winnipeg, Manitoba

I don’t know you, but I feel your pain if you are reading this. I wish you the very best, and thank you, personally, for loving your dog so much that you ended up here, reading this article.

If you have anything to add, please share your story in a comment. Believe me, future readers want to hear from all of us who love and lost our dogs.

Many blessings,

Molly Jacobson

Editor, The Dog Cancer Survival Guide

Also Read:

Hospice for Dogs

Was There Anything Else I Could Have Done?

Molly Jacobson is a writer and also the editor of The Dog Cancer Survival Guide, published by Maui Media. A lifelong dog lover and self-professed dog health nerd, she is all too familiar with dog cancer. She has been supporting readers of this blog since the beginning. Molly earned a BA from Tufts University, and after a career in bookselling and book publishing attended The Swedish Institute to become a licensed massage therapist in New York State, licensed by the medical board. Her fascination with health is both personal and global, and she is most proud of how this site and the associated publications have revolutionized not only our approach to dog health, but our own health.

Discover the Full Spectrum Approach to Dog Cancer

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  1. Joanne Schiff on December 15, 2018 at 5:59 am

    My 13 year old is dying from a mast cell tumor that has gone to her lymph node. I got her through 5 mast cell tumor’s in her life with surgery. This one appeared after the removal of the last two. Her body is also ravaged by diabetes that I had pretty much under control. Your article was wonderful and has given me great comfort. I would like to join your Facebook group as I don’t know how much time we have left and could use the support. Thank You, Joanne Schiff

    • Dog Cancer Vet Team on December 17, 2018 at 8:07 am

      Hello Joanne,

      Thanks for writing, and we’re sorry to hear about your girl. We’re not veterinarians, so we can’t offer you medical advice. However, we can provide you with information based of Dr. Dressler’s writing 🙂

      Making a decision on which treatments to undergo can be one of the hardest things that you have to do as your dog’s guardian. You know your girl the best, and will be able to decide what treatment options YOU think would be best for her. Is she mentally, and physically, able to undergo another round of surgery? Are you willing to handle the side-effects? How important is life-quality to you? Those are just some of the things that you will have to take into consideration when making your decision, and for each dog guardian, the answer will be different because each dog, and their situation is unique.

      Here are some articles that you may find helpful in making a decision for your girl:

    • How to make decisions about Dog Cancer Treatments
    • Why your personality is so important to your dog with Cancer
    • But Cancer Treatment At My Dog’s Age?
    • As Dr. D writes in the Dog Cancer Survival Guide, there are many things that you can do to help your dog with cancer, such as conventional treatments (chemo, surgery, or radiation), diet, nutraceuticals, mind-body strategies and immune system boosters and anti-metastatics. Here’s a link to the Dog Cancer Diet PDF that readers of the blog can get for free 🙂 : https://store.dogcancerblog.com/products/the-dog-cancer-diet

      You may also find this article on diet for dogs with Mast Cell Tumors to be beneficial. Here’s the link: https://www.dogcancerblog.com/articles/cancer-type/mast-cell-tumors/food-and-nutrition-for-dogs-with-mast-cell-tumors

      If you’re concerned about Life Quality and End of Life Care for your girl, you may find this article by Dr. D to be extremely beneficial as he covers how to care for your dog, what to look for, and much more. Here’s the link: https://www.dogcancerblog.com/articles/end-of-life-care/end-of-life-care-in-dog-cancer/

      Even though the Dog Cancer Support Group is for the Dog Cancer Survival Guide readers only, the admins will accept your request and grant you provisional membership to talk with members and give you time to get the book. You can find the Facebook Support Group here.

      We hope this helps!

  • GAVIN on December 12, 2018 at 8:18 am

    my dog has just died am feeling angry and let down by my vet. 5 years of age and dead .She was diagnosed in april with ibd and put on 5mg of prednisolone a day and took to it well.She wasnt having the bloody stools which was the only concern at this point and put a bit weight back on which she had lost.Tests were done and there were a blood test,pancrease test and stool sample.All come back fine apart from there was a parasite present which she was put on antibiotic to treat.We were told to give a grain free diet of prescribed kibble and she lost weight, stopped eating.Then they put her on 2 5mg predisolone tablets per day .4 months later still on that dose and she had bad gas.Vet was allowing my wife to pick the steroids up like she was going for paracetamol and that it was not a long term solution .So what was the long term solution?.Now researching why wasnt i told to get diet right before the introduction of prednisolone .Maybe raw ,home made or something easily digestable .When i have researched i think i could of saved her if i had this information about food earlier but we relied on the vet which is there profession.NOVEMBER still on steroids and declining fast, fatigue ,not walking properly and not eating much.She was vomiting at least one time a day and stools were diarrhea like curry.LAST WEEK OF HER LIFE was the worst week of my life of 33 years on the planet my girl maisey was my soul mate.Out at 5 am looking for novel meats,canned pumpkin and king canine gastro brown label after my own research .MONDAY-took her to vets she could barely stand and they give her b12 injection and she was anemic .She had bad diarrhea at the vets after the injection and we left also with the insruction of giving her x2 5mg prednisolone on a morning and x2 on a night a total of 20mg.I give her broccoli,potatoe and white fish mashed up for easy digestion.She was sick but ate it back up and kept it down.Next day she was a little better i had to carry her over the field but she walked about a bit unsteady on her feet though.Next day she wouldnt eat or drink anything and just lay there i force fed her and she was sick and would not drink anything.next day i syringed water in her mouth and gave her little canine gastro and a little pumpkin but she brought most of it back up,i feel anti nausea meds would of helped her eat and the vets never recommended them.THURSDAY took her to the vet she had lost 500g from the monday and the vet said she was worried but to continue with the 20 mg dose for my now.My 8kg dog which she was a year and half ago, now she is 4.5 kg dog and hasnt passed stool in 3 days and she couldnt walk properly.FRIDAY part of me died i lay there syringing water to make her dink and she would not drink.Later she lay there and pooed were she was lying i put in the bath and she lay there lifeless i was never of the phone to vet and tried everthing.I took her lifeless body to the vet on the saturday and told them to do everthing they could and they put her on a iv ,x rays just incase there was a blockage.I went home got a call at 1158 am saying she was in pain and to put her to sleep.I went up and she died in my arms.I havent ate in 3 days and i believe we were soul mates and i need answers.DO YOU THINK IT COULD OF BEEN CANCER

    • Dog Cancer Vet Team on December 12, 2018 at 12:26 pm

      Hello Gavin,

      Thanks for writing, and we’re sorry to hear about your girl. We’re not veterinarians here in customer support, so we can’t offer you medical advice. It does sound like she was very ill, and you did the very best you could.

      We are sending our heartfelt condolences to you and your loved ones. We’ve been where you are. One thing that helps us to cope, which may help you, is to know that feeling the intense grief is normal. Because dogs and other pets are so vulnerable and dependent upon us, our parental instincts are really kicked into high gear when they get sick/pass.

      The bond we share with them is close enough to the parent-child bond that the same biological and evolutionary instincts get turned on.

      That means there’s an intense drive to STOP them from dying, and a genuine feeling of “this shouldn’t be happening/shouldn’t have happened.” Also, when they finally do go, it seems nearly impossible to avoid a nagging feeling that we should have done more, done better, acted earlier. We go over and over their illness and passing, wondering where we could have made a different choice, a better choice, a choice that would have kept them alive.

      That’s because it is entirely unnatural for a human child to die before their parent. Intellectually, we absolutely know that our dogs have shorter life spans than we do, and that they will die before we do — but because the bond feels like a child-parent bond, we don’t FEEL that way.

      So when our dogs pass on, we’re left with this weird combination of intense grief that is biological and an intellectual understanding that it’s totally natural! So we’re confused, on top of desperately sad.

      So … treat yourself very gently now. The most important thing is that you feel FULLY whatever comes up.

      Write it down. Journaling can help us to process emotions, and allows them to pass on naturally, so that we can move on.

      You will always, always miss your dog — but eventually, especially if you allow yourself to grieve naturally now, you will find that there will be less pain when you remember. Eventually, your memories will bring you mostly happiness at having been able to love such a creature, not sadness at having lost.

      Treat this as a close family member’s death, because it is, in a way. In fact, it can feel more intense to grieve a pet than even our own parents. The bond is so loving, so unconditional, and so free of other baggage that our grief sometimes actually feels more intense and for some of us (or for some dogs) worse.

      So, be careful with yourself and treat yourself gently, and keep warm, and look at beautiful things, and cry when you need to, and get angry when you need to, and talk to sympathetic people who love you and will treat you with gentle warmth.

      Also, hot chocolate and warm soups.

      And also, allow yourself to gradually find moments of happiness again, to embrace life again, because THAT’S what your dog would want. Your dog would want you to be happy, even if he or she can’t be there for you now.

      So, as you start to recover a sense of happiness, or even just OK-ness, allow that to be true, too. It’s normal to feel injured after a loss, and it’s also normal to heal.

      There is nothing wrong with you for feeling awful now.

      There is nothing wrong with you for feeling better later.

      There is nothing wrong with you feeling happy, sad, angry, loving, hurt, confused — all of this is normal.
      Keep in mind that when we mourn the loss of our dogs, we ALL go through a stage where we wonder if we did the right thing, if we could have done something else, and if we somehow “gave up” on our dogs. The questions you are looking to answer are never going to be answered, because none of us have a crystal ball that can see what never was.

      We hope this helps, and please accept our most heartfelt condolences.

      • gavin on December 14, 2018 at 1:06 am

        Thank you so much for your reply and everything your saying i know is true but its hard. I see now that im not going crazy and its natural to feel like this .Thank you x

        • Laurin on December 14, 2018 at 7:01 am

          Gavin, I read your comment and wanted to let you know, you are not alone in feeling great sadness and grief. Today marks a week since my Moolah took her last breaths and died on Fri Dec 7, 40 min before the scheduled euthanasia appt that made to help her. I watched her die, she was scared and she yelped like I never heard before as she took her last breath. I’m very very sorry for your loss, God bless you and give you strength, Laurin

          • Gavin on December 15, 2018 at 4:04 am

            Hi Laurin,so sorry to here about Moolah and sorry for your loss.I believe this page found me aswel to help with the grieving .Its been a week today and not one day has gone by i havent cried my eyes out and other dog lovers know how your feeling.I have know doubt Moolah had a great life with you and 15 years of been blessed with such a lovely girl.It was the way she went that has hurt but i have been beating myself all week for the same things .It was not your fault and i can tell you are a good person and her unconditional still holds strong.Keep your head up laurin she had a great life and you will see her again please believe that.love GAVINx



          • GAVIN on December 16, 2018 at 8:53 am

            Thank you Laurin its been a long hard week.So sorry to hear about Moolah and i feel your pain.You had a good 15 years with her and that uncontitional love bond will live on forever.So sorry for your loss.Dogs dont live long enough but we need to cherish the time we have with them.Lots of love GAVIN



  • Laurin on December 11, 2018 at 11:15 am

    My husband and I just recently lost our beloved Moolah of 15 years on Fri Dec. 7, 2018. Our baby was very sick the last 2-3wks. We went on our last hike on 11/25/18. The day after, she no longer was able to get up or walk. We took her to the vet 11/30/18. Vet did test on Moolah hind legs, there was no sensation. She had paralysis due to her spine. Vet also mentioned she may have infection(due to blood in urine). They withdrew blood from my baby’s back hine leg, and discovered her liver counts were really high. Vet sent us home with a pain med & antibiotic. My baby’s worst day( day she died) was Fri Dec. 7th. We had made an appointment with vet technician to euthanize our baby. They only had a 4pm appointment. My Moolah died about 3:20pm that afternoon. She yelped loud arched her back as she yelped in pain and exaled 3 breaths before her chest stopped moving. We did notice her deteriorate more after she had blood taken out for bloodwork. Her leg where blood was withdrawn, started to swell terribly. The day she passed, she was also having blackish foul smell liquid diarrhea ongoing from morning to when she died in the afternoon around 3ish. I can’t stop crying, eat or sleep. I keep thinking she was in pain and I didn’t help her in time, that breaks my heart:(

    • Dog Cancer Vet Team on December 12, 2018 at 7:29 am

      Hello Laurin,

      Thanks for writing, and we are so sorry to hear about the loss of your girl. It sounds like she was very ill, and like you did the very best you could.

      Keep in mind that when we mourn the loss of our dogs, we ALL go through a stage where we wonder if we did the right thing, if we could have done something else, and if we somehow “gave up” on our dogs. The questions you are looking to answer are never going to be answered, because none of us have a crystal ball that can see what never was.

      So we gently offer you this advice: when you start wondering about what did or didn’t happen, remind yourself that those are thoughts that signal you are in mourning. Then, treat yourself that way. Be gentle with yourself, and feel the pain– because grief cannot be avoided, only moved through.

      Talking to a pastor, or a counselor, at this time may be very helpful, too.

      We hope this helps, and please accept our most heartfelt condolences.

      • Laurin on December 12, 2018 at 11:37 am

        Hello Vet team,
        Thank you for your response to my previous comment. My heart is in a lot of pain, and your kind words mean a lot. Thank you for taking time of your day to respond to a grieving pet parent. Much blessings to all, Laurin

  • Alex Tarantino on December 1, 2018 at 4:15 am

    Dear Molly,

    I found your article (or your article found me) during a very difficult time. My sweet old girl, Luna, is coming to the end and it’s been and still remains utterly devastating. She recently has begun having extremely labored breathing and is showing signs of increasing discomfort, along with shaking uncontrollably at times, and it breaks me to my core. She’s a fighter, though, and I just know and can sense she’s giving life everything she can, while she can – but it’s not easy. Her 18 year old body is catching up to her.

    Thank you for writing this article and for reminding us as humans to be compassionate with ourselves, and ensure that we provide as much love and comfort to our fur babies in their end.

    With love and recognition of all my fellow pet parents out there who are experiencing, or have experienced, the loss of their baby(-ies) – my heart is with you.

    Alex

    • Molly Jacobson on December 3, 2018 at 3:55 pm

      Alex, thank you for your kind words and sweet heart.

  • Mary Moore Salem on November 30, 2018 at 12:32 am

    I recently lost my dog Scruffy. We still have our 2nd dog Chase. I believe that my dog Cassie led me to Scruffy after her own death from cancer. Cassie had been my heart for close to 15 years. We traveled together. We got lost in the mountains together & survived. She helped me with my parents deaths & the death of a dear Aunt. She was my rock in those turbuoant times. After we had tried everything including surgery , acupuncture… I knew she was suffering & had to let her go. The next 2 weeks our dog Chase ate little & I was miserable – crying & pouring my heart out on paper. There was a hole in my heart.i told my husband that our dog Chase needed a friend, but really we both did. We found Scruffy in a shelter. Chase had already turned his nose up at another dog that was very pretty. However, when I was able to introduce Scruffy to Chase, they immediately started to play. Scruffy was very affectionate & loved all people. My husband who had talked at getting another dog was gradually brought into her circle of love. She worked wonders for me & the hole in my heart was healed We had her a little over 4 years. She was littleb- 22 pounds of love. She had hurt her back over a year ago & a pain in her back came back. We treated it with left over pain pills & muscle relaxants, but then she started to drag her back legs. She needed immediate surgery to save them .I sped 2& a half hours to a surgeon. All went well but then her spine took a turn for the first & started to disintigrate. I was told that she would soon lose feeling in her front legs as well & them her lungs would be affected & she would sufficate. I brought her home to say goodbye to my husband. He is a man who does not cry, but he broke down several times. I was able to spend hours with her & cuddle as she was healing in intensive care. Same thing at home. She had a smile on her face & love in her eyes throughout.
    We took her to our vet & she agreed with the assessment. I held her as her life force ebbed out & told her that I would love her forever & always…forever & always.

    • Dog Cancer Vet Team on November 30, 2018 at 7:18 am

      Hello Mary,

      Thanks for writing, and for sharing your story. Sending you our most heartfelt condolences xo

  • Elizabeth Combs on November 24, 2018 at 8:24 am

    I would like to join the Facebook dog cancer survival guide page. My pit bull has lymphoma and is heavy gurgling breathing that is painful to watch and he is 10 years old. I would like to find a support group for my husband and I.

    • Dog Cancer Vet Team on November 26, 2018 at 7:30 am

      Hello Elizabeth,

      Thanks for writing, and we are sorry to hear about your boy. The Group is a community forum for dog guardians who have read The Dog Cancer Survival Guide by Dr. Demian Dresser and Dr. Susan Ettinger. Even though the Dog Cancer Support Group is for book readers only, we will accept your request and grant you a provisional membership to talk with members and give you time to get the book. Here’s the link to the Facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/dogcancersupport/

  • Nancy on November 23, 2018 at 6:56 pm

    Thank you kindly!

  • Gine Oquendo on November 22, 2018 at 7:34 pm

    Thank you for sharing this. When my dog died I thought I can accept his loss, after his pet cremation in Seattle WA I found hard to cope and to move on. I’m glad that I can say, I’m okay now and not crying every time I remember him. I’m thankful that he’s been a part of my life. Please refer to this link: https://thepetlosscenter.com/our-locations/seattle/

    • Dog Cancer Vet Team on November 23, 2018 at 7:08 am

      Dear Gine, thanks for writing, and we are sorry for your loss.

  • Linda Rodriguez on November 19, 2018 at 7:18 pm

    This helped me understand better that we saw all the right signs when our dear Diesel was passing 🙁

    • Molly Jacobson on November 20, 2018 at 1:58 pm

      Dear Linda, I’m so glad this was reassuring. Please accept our heartfelt condolences.

  • Angie on October 21, 2018 at 2:12 pm

    Dear Molly
    Thank you for your article. My beautiful chocolate Labrador named Marty was diagnosed with Prostate cancer. Doctors given him a month to live. A month has gone passed and now he’s starting to loose his appetite. He’s medications maybe helping him. I’ve been crying for days but accepted the fact that soon Marty will leave me. Marty’s great companion, good friend although I have 2 grown-ups. My husband is very supportive and my family and friends too. It is hard after just loosing my mother 2 months ago my beloved pet will leave me. I don’t want him to suffer and be in pain but giving him the best of what I can. Thank you

    • Linda on November 19, 2018 at 7:20 pm

      I feel your pain…..we love our fur babies .. my Mastiff was only 4 1/2 and passed from Lymphoma

  • Janet Jose on September 30, 2018 at 6:24 am

    My beloved dog Lassie died on February. She was only 5 year old. For no reason she became sick, she has a lot of black diarrhea and then a ulcer in her anal rectum, we took her to vet who hospitalized her but she continued sick and worse day by day. We took her to the Vet Hospital in Gainesville, the doctor told us the she has sepsis in the bloodstream due the infection, and the best decision is to let her go. We put her down and since that day my heart is broken. I miss her so much. She was my best companion and friend. I cried every day for her, I am on depression since she passed away.
    Regardless that I know that is for her best to put her down, I still feel so guilty because I accepted the doctor recommendation. My precious little dog died in front of my eyes, I cannot express how much pain I feeling in my heart since that day. Is normal that we feel guilty to put our beloved dog down? how I can move on? it’s heartbreaking because I love her so much.
    thank you for listen me. Have a blessed day

  • Thank you this was wonderful I read it through my tears on September 3, 2018 at 9:10 pm

    I’m pretty sure my most beautiful dog buddy in America is nearing his departure. He is a precious lil Angel a lil Yorkiepoo peepopaluma. It’s a feeling then the symptoms add up not interested in water lethargic wanting to cuddle weak fast shallow breathing. Leakage. He seems as comfortable as possible rt now sleeping peacefully. But sometimes panting . By the way as s Yorkie lover along the way when he had breathing issues I kept fresh peppermint , peppermint oil and when out even Vickd on a Kleenex almost 24/7 it really seem to help and my vet was very supports of it. To me he seemed to breath more easily. He seemed to draw towards it. Careful of his eyes I even thought about putting any thing I use in a tea ball with a lid on it. That which you use for loose tea brewing. I love him to pieces he is 21. Just the other day some one said oh your
    Lil puppy is so cute. I agreed and said this lil puppy is 21 yrs old and holding. I’m gonna miss him. Most precious relationship I ever had with a doggiecuns

  • Thank you this was wonderful I read it through my tears on September 3, 2018 at 9:07 pm

    I’m pretty sure my most beautiful dig buddy in America is nearing his departure. He is a precious lil Angel a lil Yorkiepoo peepopaluma. It’s a feeling then the symptoms add up not interested in water lethargic wanting to cuddle weak fast shallow breathing. Leakage. He seems as comfortable as possible rt now sleeping peacefully. But sometimes panting . By the way as s Yorkie lover along the way when he had breathing issues I kept fresh peppermint , peppermint oil and when out even Vic on a Kleenex almost 24/7 it really seem to help and my vet was very supports five if it. To me he seemed to breath more easily. He seemed drawer toward it. Careful of his eyes I even thought about putting any thing I use in a tea ball with a lid on it. That which you use for loose tea brewing. I love him to pieces he is 21. Just the other day some one said oh your
    Lil puppy is so cute. I agreed and said this lil puppy is 21 yrs old and holding. I’m gonna miss him. Most precious relationship I ever had with a diggiecuns

  • VTheBrave29 on August 1, 2018 at 2:12 pm

    I just read this. I’m glad I did.

  • Janie Lanea on April 24, 2018 at 10:19 am

    Thank you for this article.
    My 12 year old goldendoodle has a cancerous tumor under her eye.
    We found out 3 weeks ago. It has been so hard. I am trying to enjoy every last moment I have with her. She has been the best dog and companion. I will forever miss her. We are going week to week now, but I will not let her suffer. So far she is still good, eats and drinks well and plays with our younger dog.
    God Bless you for your work.

  • Patty Smith on March 13, 2018 at 7:01 am

    Molly, thanks for this article, I myself is struggling with the decision as to whn to say goodbye to my beloved 10yr old dog Morgan. A little over a month ago he was diagnosed with Lymphoma, and due too not being able to afford the cemo. elected to give him prednisone. And as i was told the prednisone will eventually stop being effective. He has lost weight, due to not eating like he should and sometime whn he does eat he throws it up. He had some trouble sleeping at night, due to the gulf ball size lymphnodes, he pants a lot. I sleep with him sometimes but end up wanting to cry and I leave and go to my room. The vet. said that it is probably time, that he will end up starving him self, “the mind wants to eat but the body is rejecting”, and the other organs will be effected. My problem is do I want to see that happen, or is it best to let him go now, U see, he still wants to go for his walks and runs (well not so much) around the backyard chasing the squirrels with his 3yr old sister. She knows there is something wrong, she smells him a lot, and laze with him whn he naps.
    I know the inevitable, ur article will help my in my decision and answer the question “when” . I have been scurrying the internet for just this information and I thank u.

    • DogCancerBlog on March 15, 2018 at 10:12 am

      Many warm thoughts to you and your Morgan, Patty. You will know when the time is right. Peace.

  • Karen Mullen on February 18, 2018 at 5:20 am

    Well said Molly!

  • Nancy Walker on January 30, 2018 at 5:32 am

    Great article Molly!