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

Grief Can Be Complicated

Updated: November 5th, 2017

One of the problems in dealing with dog cancer is what to put your attention on.

Truly, there are so many aspects to a life chapter like this one.  The grieving process is no exception.  We experience sadness and pain at so many different times, and in so may different ways, while caring for a dog with cancer.

For example, remember getting the news that your dog has cancer? Many are so shocked that they feel only a numbness, with the sadness totally buried.  Some may have expected the diagnosis, and may experience a downpour of their worst fears come true.  Others are surprised, and then it hits them soon afterwards, realizing they have a dog with cancer.

This period of chaos can be tough to deal with, and getting support from counselors, family members, close friends or spiritual advisors can help.

As time goes on, the sadness can surface at different points in treatment.  Perhaps your dog has a hard time getting blood drawn, and you can feel every needle.  Maybe your dog is suffering from a drug reaction, and is sick and not eating.   This can be agonizing to see.  Perhaps your dog is recovering from a surgery and seems disoriented and uncomfortable, maybe even painful. There are few things harder than feeling your dog’s pain.

As time passes, we can start to wonder about what it will be like one day, when our dear one leaves.  The sadness can be quite sudden during times like these, and feel very sharp.  Often we push the notion away, busying ourselves with some chore or activity.

Almost all of us will outlive our dogs, and at some point will have to deal with their departure. This is usually more intense than we expect it to be. For the lucky few, there is, instead of intense and overwhelming sadness, intense relief.  Usually these are individuals who have had the opportunity and prepared themselves first. There are several techniques to help with this in The Dog Cancer Survival Guide.

Sometimes the grieving process can involve spouses, children, other family members, other pets, or just people who have been close to us.  There can be reminders and entanglements as time goes on that seem to make the sadness longer than one would expect.

Many have no idea the place that these four-legged family members actually hold in our hearts. And they have no idea what it is like to lose a loved dog.  Those with grief that lasts a long time may feel wrong or like they are abnormal.

Everyone is different, and everyone experiences life passages in different ways.  Just as we are different people with different histories, genetics, beliefs, and lifestyles, we have different ways of experiencing the passing of a loved dog.

Allowing yourself to go through your version of grief, at any point along the way, is absolutely critical.  Do not let preoccupation with treatment decision-making mask your honest feelings.  Do not spend all your time in your mind.  Take a few minutes here and there, and more if you need to, to experience what is really going on.

And don’t be afraid to ask for a helping hand.  You are not alone.

Best to all,

Dr D

Discover the Full Spectrum Approach to Dog Cancer

Leave a Comment

  1. Lucee on April 29, 2010 at 11:21 am

    I had my pooch who was almost 15 put to sleep yesterday and I can’t seem to stop crying. An enormous amount of guilt overcomes me and knocks me down. I feel perhaps it was too soon, the tumor on his thigh bled and ooze a great deal and he was uncomfortable but he was still alert and eating, walking, climbing stairs, we even walked to the vet’s office. Especially unbearable because it took 3 shots of sedative before he would go to sleep, first it took a long time before he buckled down from standing position and then longer before he stopped swaying his head and licking his nose, then horribly his muscle relax so much that he couldn’t get his tongue back in his mouth and once in awhile it would curl, then it would flutter occassionally when we stroke his head to tell him to ‘go to sleep’. I know its antropomorphic but it felt like he didn’t want to go yet and everytime we touch his head he would try to come back. And I saw his eyes watered and a tear run down, its irrational but it seems like he was crying. I research and read that canine tear ducts run to their nose, is that true. Do dogs cry tears?

    I miss him terribly and I regret not having the foresight to give him a donut or something equally devilishly forbidden before I sent him off and worst of all I forgot to give him one last big hug on the day of the procedure.

  2. Mary Beth C on March 8, 2010 at 5:33 am

    Luke had been doing so well, but in the last week, he’d weakened. I’d talked to the vet on Monday a week ago about coming out to the house on Friday when I have off to have him put to sleep. I wanted it done before he really suffered and as I said I could tell he was weakening. I guess Luke’s plans were different. Instead, he died this past week at approximately 5 a.m. Tuesday morning, in my arms, at home, with Tillie (our other rottweiler) and me beside him. Even that day, he was asking to go outside to go to the bathroom, eating well and enjoying his rides around town, sitting up on the back seat of the van looking all around. Around midnight, he asked to go outside and I followed watching him water a bush. Then he came back inside and went to sleep. He woke me at about 3:45 a.m. vomiting. After cleaning up his bed for him, he laid back down, but he couldn’t seem to get his breath. He had very labored breathing. I knew he was dying, and knew he’d rather be at home. I knew I’d never get him to the emergency clinic in time. And what for? He was safe and warm in his home and all I’d have to go through to get him there and it wouldn’t be in time and as I said, for what? God I love that boy so much. I hugged him and held him in my arms and kept kissing him and telling him how much I loved him. Tillie was laying right there beside us. He only lasted about an hour before passing. I can’t imagine how I’ll manage without my beautiful boy. He’d had a heart attack; he just couldn’t take anymore. I’m not sure how much I can take without him. This was such a special boy.

    • Dr. Dressler on March 8, 2010 at 2:02 pm

      Dear Mary Beth
      We are all thinking of you during this sad time of separation. You did the right thing, and I believe you will meet again one day somehow or other. Best,
      Dr D

  3. Mary Beth C on February 22, 2010 at 9:07 am

    Just before Christmas, we found out that my precious rottweiler, Luke had cancer. The diagnosis is mast cell cancer and it’s spread throughout his stomach, intestines and his spleen and lymph nodes. Surgery is really not an option since it’s spread so. We’ve started him on prednisone and cimetidine, tumeric and pounds of supplements in a vain attempt to stave off the inevitable and we’re spending the hours we have left together just loving him. This boy has been my life for almost ten years and I can’t imagine a life without him. I’m trying to keep all sadness, crying, frowning away from him . . . only enjoying each other, loving each other. It’s getting harder as this once strong beautiful boy becomes weaker and weaker.

  4. Kathy on February 21, 2010 at 2:53 pm

    Thank you so much. You’re so right (also looking for a job).

    Thank you so much for the e-book and your priceless information and encouragement. It made our limited time together cherished.

  5. Kathy on February 18, 2010 at 7:27 am

    We’re not alone, they’re still with us.

    Last evening I lost my 5-year-old cocker spaniel. He first had a lump removed (adenoma) from his neck earlier this month; and then after having him groomed, I found another one that seemed to be a sebaceous gland. However, at that same time I noticed something in his abdomen, but then thought it was okay. The first two vets were quite concerned, and I took him back to my own vet who did x-rays that looked “cloudy” and we scheduled surgery. I had a week to cater to almost his every whim — 15-20 minute “doggie” backrubs almost every day, playing ball, chicken liver for dinner, other gourmet meals with the cancer diet of chicken, liver, low-fat cottage cheese and a few green beans that I had to chop to keep him from spitting out (way too smart!). Even yesterday I thought he was going to be okay (denial, I guess) and told him yesterday morning, “I’ll be back.”

    He had a tumor the size of a grapefruit and besides the spleen, one kidney was well involved. I think dogs should be able to fill out DNR’s; it would be so much easier — I don’t like playing God, especially with my best friend.

    Although we tried to save him, he died in surgery and I can’t help but think that it was probably for the best — He was such a “macho dog,” and it would have been very tough — He hid it so well. Hopefully, his suffering has been minimized.

    My legacy for him is a revolution and call to action — perhaps a quiet one, at that — to restrict inbreeding and encourage stray adoption, fight long-ignored practices of toxins and carcinogens in pet food, and so much more — Greed and apathy have taken over common sense.

    • Dr. Dressler on February 21, 2010 at 12:21 pm

      Dear Kathy,
      This is such momentous time for you in so many ways, both in suffering and in metamorphosis.
      Sending you my best
      Dr D

  6. Kelly Kaliszewski on February 17, 2010 at 8:58 am

    Dear Dr. Dressler,

    “Grief can be complicated” is so adequately put. My dog Cain was diagnosed with a primary lung tumor in April 2008. I was fortunate that surgery extended his life and though cancer became very much a part of our lives for a year and a half; it pales in comparison to the emotional roller coaster I’ve been riding over the past few months. Cain lost his battle on November 12, 2009, and each day since then has been different. I thought I had prepared myself, given the time I had been afforded, but I have learned just how tricky grief can be; overwhelmed at times with its unexpected visits. Do not spend all your time in your mind is wonderful advise, as it so often can keep you “stuck” and slows down the process of moving forward. I, like so many, have kept a journal that I post on my blog at http://www.wishcuit.com/cain It’s not always happy stuff, just my version of grief and how I’m working through it. I’m going to create a link to your blog and this post in hopes that it will help someone suffering with loss. Thanks again for such a wonderful article.

    Have a wonderful day,

    Kelly K

    Beautiful boy who reminded us how to find joy in the face of pain and that every act of love returns to us magnified. Who taught us that every moment is a wondrous new discovery. Even though you have left us behind, we will listen for you in quiet moments and know that you are near. -Cain’s memorial at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary

    • Dr. Dressler on February 21, 2010 at 12:15 pm

      Dear Kelly,
      we are thinking of you during this hard time of departure. You are doing just the right thing.
      Here’s to bright days in your future
      Dr D

  7. Emma on December 14, 2009 at 8:46 am

    Forgive me if i spell a few things wrong as im crying as i write this, but like so many of you i too have today recieved the bad news. Firstly, 2 months ago my ‘eldest’ found he had bone cancer to his rear knee…shocking, heartbreaking all of the above. The ‘youngest’ stopped eating a few days ago, which i thought, was in sympathy. Not so, it turns out he too has cancer only a more agressive type. I reason that he doesnt want to be left behind. How do you get through and do the best for them??

    • Dr. Dressler on December 14, 2009 at 7:49 pm

      Dear Emma,
      I am so sorry to hear about this awful news. It is time to get support from those closest to you..close family, friends, counselors, spiritual or religious advisers, or anyone else who can listen quietly. This is your first step. Once you have allowed yourself to experience the feelings and let them pass through you to some extent, only then focus on the plan. The first step in this plan is information gathering, then defining what are your feelings, ethics, and priorities as your dogs’ primary health advocate. There is a large amount of information in The Dog Cancer Survival Guide that can really help if you would like more on this.
      Thinking of you,
      Dr D

  8. Mike & Barney on December 9, 2009 at 3:05 pm

    Barney was my beautiful Rottweiler companion. His heart stopped on the operating table. I was horrified, stunned, shocked. I asked they recessitate him, then decided to keep my promise, that I would accept when God decides it’s time for him to go. I did not want him to die twice. I let him go – with arms around him – just as promised. I layed with him for two hours with my arms around him, and would have gladly gone with him. I gladly bear the pain of watching him go, and spare him the pain of surgery, recovery, and dying a second time. So great is my love for him, yet his love was greater for me. Oh my heart aches, but better me than him. I will gladly suffer so he does not. May God open his arms to my dear Barney – the Budda of Barneys, Dahli Lama of Dogs, a Saint, Gentle Giant, Ambassador of Rottweilers, a Blessing, and Answer to my Prayer for someone to love. Thank You Barney for loving me. – Mike

  9. Sarah on December 5, 2009 at 4:34 am

    The grief of losing a dear member of the family is so severe. We lost our goldendoodle Ellie in 9/09 after nearly 6 months of battling hemangiosarcoma. We knew the cancer would return, but still – I am shocked even today that this happened. Ellie was a perfect member of our family and we will never be the same. I want to share how meaningful it has been for us to consult with an animal communicator. Not only are we able to better understand how our remaining dog is doing as he adjusts to being an “only child”, we are also able to find comfort knowing Ellie is watching over us. It was also extremely helpful for us to better understand how Ellie herself experienced cancer & the various treatments we tried. I was skeptical about paying for a session with an animal communicator, but once I found one on-line that I really felt comfortable with, I was so very very glad we did not just one but two sessions. I know we will do more in the future, too. Nothing can change the pain of loss, but this is one tool that did bring a bit of comfort.

  10. Linda on December 4, 2009 at 8:48 am

    Dear All,

    I too am struggling with canine cancer. A few months ago my beloved Westie, Caralie, was diagnosed with bladder cancer. Caralie has been the love of my life, my angel and my joy. After 13 years, I can’t imagine my life without my little white wonder dog. She was a thriving 13 year old – filled with Westie spunk and spirit. Then we got the devastating news and now we take one day at a time…some better and some not so good. My heart breaks every time I think about making the decision to let her go. I know it is the most unselfish and loving thing I can do for my dying angel but I pray each day for more time. I have shed so many tears for Caralie and I but I also share the tears shed for all of you. Bless you all.

  11. Barb on December 4, 2009 at 6:05 am

    Dear All-thank you for writing. Living with and loving our dogs is an amazing powerful force in this universe. We did fight through yet another day together, as we struggle with this huge end of life decision. He is tired, yet his eyes are bright this morning as he looks directly into mine. He, too, is one of the greatest loves of my life, canine or human. (Karen, you said this so beautifully and so truthfully)
    I’m comforted by the words from all of you here. Each day is another life lessson and another blessing with him.

  12. Karen Bender on December 3, 2009 at 12:21 pm

    Dear All – my heart goes out to all of you who are making and have made this heart-wrenching decision to let your best friend go. I, too, put to rest my Golden Boy, Mack, 4 months ago. Last Sept. we were given, after 3 seizures in 12 hours, the diagnosis of a brain tumor. He never seized again,as I was so afraid he would, and we had a wonderful eleven months of kisses, hugs, talks, and walks. I miss him so much and cry at any given moment just thinking about him. He was one of the great loves of my life, canine or human. Good luck and love to all of you, Karen

  13. Carolyn Oxton on December 3, 2009 at 8:45 am

    I just feel for everyone as I have just lost my beautiful, beloved, constant companion, Kiwi a whippet, at 7 years old from Lymphosarcoma. I was totally unprepared for his quick death. He was diagnosed in late April and began chemo immediately. He did very well until two weeks ago when he stopped eating. He had a slight infection and began being sick. My vet then took a blood test which found an inflammed liver. He was put on dandelion & milk thistle and other liver drugs but within hours he had passed away. lost his sight and was brain dead. I cannot believe it has all happened and wonder if anyone who has experienced lymphosarcoma thinks it does spread to the liver and or the brain. Any further information would help my in my grieving. I find everyone’s comments help a lot.

    • Dr. Dressler on December 6, 2009 at 2:56 pm

      Dear Carolyn,
      I am so sorry to hear of this brutal news. I wanted to let you know that yes, lymphosarcoma can spread to those organs. My heart goes out to you.
      Dr D

  14. Janet on December 3, 2009 at 7:26 am

    Hi All, am also crying as I write this message because I just lost my 11 years dog today to cancer. His was a rapid down the hill condition & though I was prepared to let me go, it hit me so hard that I still can’t accept it. He died when I was out of the house but I told him to go when he’s ready cos I know he will be going to a better place & not to worry about me.

  15. Lisbeth Gjetnes on December 3, 2009 at 7:06 am

    Dear Barb

    I cry reading your message, I have been there before and I know the pain inside. It is raw grief! I have a10 year old standard poodle who everyone loves and he loves everyone and every animal, he has not got a bad bone in his body. He had surgery 2 weeks ago for a giant cell sarcoma to his front leg. His abdomen is clear, his lungs are clear. I have him on k9 immunity k9 transferre factor raw organic chichen and seasonable veg. Omega 3 ++ also homeopathic remedies from my homeopathic vet. I pray daily he will be with me for many more years, he is so special as all my dogs have been. I can so understand how you are feeling right now, it is the worst feeling one can have. I send you so much love to your wonderful pet. I will never feed pet food again, I do not vaccinate after puppy jabs and I do not regularly worm or deflea. Our poor pets are suffering from the greed of veterinarians!!. Lisbeth UK

  16. Barb on December 3, 2009 at 6:48 am

    Amen to this one. Right now, today, I am in the throes of letting my 10yr old golden retriever go. He was diagnosed with acanthomatous ameloblastoma in his left cheek in July. It grew very rapidly. An MRI and consult with a veterinary oncologist indicated that only a radical surgery would get the tumor out. We were advised against surgery and felt that way, too. So these last months we lived life every day, giving him immune support and chinese herbs, and I do have a copy of your book which I used. It was a great resouce for me, as I tried to come up with a natural protocol to keep him happy and comfortable.
    But over two weeks ago, he began bleeding from his mouth and it’s increased. Not going into all the details, he is now becoming more lethargic. He is the kindest soul I have ever known, the truest friend anyone could have and oh so very special. As you must imagine, I’m writing this as tears stream down my face. I own a specialty business catering to dogs and dog lovers and my staff have been wonderfully supportive as have some of our family members. It’s even more tough since we are now into the holiday season with my retail store, since I really need to keep up with buying functionds as well as marketing and p.r. and paying the bills. He’s been our Official Greeter at the shop for over 5 years; he was there in the planning stages and opened it with me, always by my side greeting customers and helping me build my business. He’ll be the THIRD golden retriever my husband and I have lost to cancer since July 2008. Too much loss for the heart to hold, I fear. We’ll need to make THE DECISION very soon for him, maybe today. My grief is at times so overwhelming. I need to get to the place where I can offer him peace and comfort and the ability to cross over Rainbow Bridge. Right now he is resting peacefully on the kitchen floor…