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

Grief Can Be Complicated

Updated: August 27th, 2019

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

Leave a Comment

  1. 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

  2. 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

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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

  7. 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

  8. 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.

  9. 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

  10. 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…

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