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

Is My Dog Still Happy?

Updated: December 22nd, 2021


So, is your dog happy? It’s not always easy to tell. But there are certain tell-tale signs that will help you know one way or the other.

When your dog has cancer, one of the biggest questions weighing down your mind might be, ‘is my dog still happy?’

When we humans have cancer, we’re not happy … so of course, we wonder if our dogs are happy when they get sick.

Here’s what we think at this point in the field of canine psychology: dogs do not fully understand they’re sick the way we do.

When we have cancer, we have an intellectual understanding of what it means for us. Research suggests dogs don’t.

But because we are humans, not dogs … it’s natural for us to worry about our dog’s happiness, and wonder ‘is my dog still happy’ when she has cancer.

In Chapter 18 of the Dog Cancer Survival Guide, Dr. Dressler discusses what he calls the ‘Joys of Life.’ These joys of life are things that ALL dogs enjoy, and monitoring them can help us to understand just how much life quality our dog is experiencing. Here are a few joys of life to track with your dog.

The Joy of Eating and Drinking

Yes, dogs find joy in eating and drinking, just like we do.

Dogs enjoy eating when they’re hungry and drinking when they’re thirsty.

When we’re hungry and we don’t eat, we start to feel uncomfortable and we aren’t happy. Same with our dogs.

When we have a stomachache and are hungry, but we can’t eat, we become irritable. Dogs do too.

Same as when we’re thirsty and we don’t drink. We become irritable, sluggish, and upset. Dogs do too.

Your dog might not show you in ways you understand how irritable they are, but not eating and drinking is one way to show you their misery.

So, if your dog is still eating and drinking, know that he or she is enjoying this part of their daily life.

There are many, many lifestyle adjustments you can make for your dog with cancer. They are considered part of Full Spectrum Care!

The Joy of Moving Around

Dogs enjoy movement.

Dogs enjoy running.

Dogs enjoy walking.

Dogs enjoy being silly in their play.

When your dog is not able to do these things anymore, their quality of life likely isn’t as high as it once was. Of course, everything is relative. If your dog was never really active, it might not hit them as hard as a dog who was once hyper and full of play. If your dog was a super-athlete, loss of mobility might be devastating.

The Joy of Social Interaction

Dogs are social pack animals, and they thrive in groups, whether it’s with doggie friends or their human families.

Your dog wants to talk to you. She wants to socialize. When she’s no longer able to interact with you, or her dog friends, her quality of life has decreased.

The Joy of Healthy Thinking

Healthy thinking is important to us, and to our dogs, too.

Depression, anxiety, stress, and chronic pain reduce your dog’s quality of life just like it would yours.

If your pup seems to be in a constant state of pain, or he is becoming depressed, this will take a toll on his mental and physical health… and his life quality won’t be as high as it could be.

What Happens When Joys of Life Decrease?

Track these joys of life, because if your dog can’t eat or drink, move, socialize, or feel good, that will impact his quality of life, and help you answer the question ‘is my dog still happy.’

If your dog is still enjoying the joys of life, he’s likely still happy. If you’re noticing two or more of your dog’s joys of life falling away, that might be really decreasing life quality for him. As life quality goes down, you may be nearing the end.

Keep in mind, focusing on comfort care or even hospice does not mean you’re giving up. Hospice can be a great way to increase your dog’s joys of life and get her feeling better.

Watch the Moments

In addition to the general joys of life, think of any special joys of life your dog has. Does she have a special toy? Special person? Favorite treat?

There’s not a ‘cookie-cutter’ approach to likes and dislikes with dogs overall. Each dog is unique and will have different likes and find joy in different parts of life.

Write everything you can in a journal to help you keep track of what she’s enjoying and what she’s not enjoying.

If you’re able to increase the joyful moments, you’ll notice your dog becomes happier overall. And often becomes healthier, both physically and mentally.

Understanding your dog is especially important now to make him as happy as possible. After all, you know your dog the best.

Remember, dogs don’t know they have cancer. They just know they aren’t feeling well. Watching your dog enjoy the joys of life and answering the question, ‘is my dog still happy,’ with a ‘yes’ will be comforting to you.


Amber Drake, EdD (ABD), MEd, BSc, C.L.A.S.S. Certified


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