How to Cope When Your Dog Has Cancer

When your dog is diagnosed with cancer, you’ll have to make several difficult decisions about treatments, and possibly say good-bye before you’re ready.

My Dog Has CancerYou’re not alone. “I have a beautiful 8 year old Bernese mountain dog named Beans,” says Sam on How to Find Peace of Mind After Putting Your Dog to Sleep. “When he was just 7 years old, he was diagnosed with lymphoma-Stage IVA cancer. His disposition was great and we decided for him to receive chemotherapy treatments. Within the first treatment, he went into remission. He finished the protocol and did not receive any chemo for almost 8 months.

Then it happened, I had taken Beans to his oncologist and the discovered that his cancer had returned. Because Beans had such great success with the first round of chemo, we decided to do a “rescue protocol.” The first treatments were great and again Beans tolerated it and went into remission. Then he had to start a pill called Lomustine or CCMU.

After the third dose, Beans began to fail and his appetite was completely lost. His white blood cells went down and he developed pneumonia. Beans has lost a great amount of muscle mass and I am getting him fluids almost evey night at my local vet because he isn’t eating or drinking.

I feel it’s time to say goodbye but I can’t tell you the agony I feel inside. I never felt this way before and I am so scared to say “goodbye.” If you could provide me with some advice I would really appreciate it. Thanks so much.”

How to Cope When Your Dog Has Cancer

I’m so sorry your dog has cancer, and especially sorry that he isn’t eating or drinking. It sounds like you know it’s time to say goodbye, but you feel overwhelmed, heartbroken, and scared.

my dog has cancer

How to Cope When Your Dog Has Cancer

The most important thing to remember is that if you can spare your dog even one moment of pain and suffering from the cancer or chemotherapy treatments, then you have to let him go. As the veterinarian said in How to Know When to Put Your Dog Down, it’s more loving and compassionate to say goodbye than to keep him alive for your own reasons.

Coping with grief when your dog has cancer

There are two different things going on here. One is your sadness, pain, and feelings of loss at saying goodbye to the dog you’ve loved and cared for, for eight years. You’re his protector and caregiver, and he has offered you so much more in return! Putting him to sleep feels like you’re letting him down, doesn’t it? It’s like you’re giving up on his life, on him. I think that’s partly why saying goodbye when your dog has cancer is so difficult.

I love my dog with my heart and soul, and know that I will be crushed when it’s time to say goodbye to her. I will feel like I’m dying – and a piece of me will die when she goes.

Thinking about death

The second issue is the mystery of death.

We have no idea what it’s like, so we’re scared to let our loved ones venture forth. But, I challenge you to think of death in a positive, optimistic way – or at least with a curious perspective! What if death brings freedom, lightness, joy, and peace? What if our loved ones are actually happier and more content in death than in life? What if they’re watching us with love, and wishing we knew how peaceful and fulfilling death is?

my dog has cancerWhat happens after you say goodbye to your dog, and he breathes his final breath?

Read Animals and the Afterlife: True Stories of Our Best Friends’ Journey Beyond Death and explore the possibilities. This book provides enormous comfort and reassurance to anyone who has ever cherished a dog. It also offers food for thought for anyone who has ever questioned the place of our pets in the larger scheme of things, both here on Earth and beyond.

This is how I will cope when I have to say goodbye to my dog, whether it’s cancer, an accident, or some other type of loss. I do not want to hasten her death in any way, but I hope to release her into the mystery of the other side without burdening her with my fear, pain, and sorrow.

I realize this is easier said than done when we’re faced with the reality of saying goodbye to our beloved dogs, cats, and other creatures. I take my dog to work, shopping, to the library, on road trips, and when I volunteer. Her life is woven into mine at so many different levels – as your dog’s life is no doubt interwoven with yours. Saying goodbye to your dog isn’t about unraveling those braids, but about continuing your journey forward without your dog. It is heartwrenching, but it’s the natural order of things.

“If there is a heaven, it’s certain our animals are to be there,” says Pam Brown. “Their lives become so interwoven with our own, it would take more than an archangel to detangle them.”

Help Dealing With Guilty Feelings After Your Dog’s Death

how to heal after losing your petIn How to Heal Your Heart After Losing a Pet: 75 Ways to Cope With Grief and Guilt When Your Dog or Cat Dies, I share the most valuable, comforting advice I found when I was dealing with the loss of my own dog, Jazz.
I interviewed veterinarians, grief counselors, and pet experts for the best ways to survive the death of a beloved dog, and I included stories from real pet owners who coped with guilt and grief in sometimes surprising ways.

Your comments on what to do when your dog has cancer are welcome below. I can’t offer advice, but it may help you to share your experience.

For more information, read Dog Cancer – Signs and Treatments.


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20 thoughts on “How to Cope When Your Dog Has Cancer”

  1. I just found out last week my bichon frise has cancer. He was born November 11, 2005. I know I should be and am grateful for all the time I’ve had and still do with him. It’s just, I didn’t think after him being so wonderful that is is how it would end. I love him so much. I can’t stop crying. He’s still here, I keep telling myself. I’m still so sick with sadness. My head just won’t shut off. I’m almost 6 years sober. I don’t drink. I don’t do drugs. I’ve been joking that I hope when sedation comes that the vet misses and hits me first. I just don’t know how to cope. ?

  2. My Beautiful Baby girl Missy was diagnosed Wed with late stages of stomach cancer which had spread to her lymph nodes. I made the agonising choice to put her sleep wed although I was told I could take her home for a bit and spend some last precious moments with her. But that would have been two weeks max and there was a chance she would have more seizures and would die in agony due to the spleen bursting. But as much as I wanted to I just couldn’t. The thought of bringing her back and her picking up on us all anxious and upset I decided to put her to sleep the same day. It all happened so quickly and was unexpected. I kissed her and cuddled her to sleep telling her how sorry i was i couldn’t save her. It was so peaceful and I’m glad I braved it and went in. How I didn’t go into hysterics I don’t know. I rescued missy aged 7 she had been neglected by her previous owner and was run over and ended up with just three legs. She and I were very close we lived alone for two years and the last year we moved in with my parents due to me starting nursing. Now for the symptoms. I noticed she started to slow down on her walks, but she still loved going out but the vet and I put it down to her lack of one leg as she was nearly ten. She was also more quieter and withdrawn didn’t want to go for walks with her dog walkers on a Monday shed go with her tail between her legs she was only happy to see me. Me doing nursing changed our routine and I feel so guilty now. she was sick and I didn’t know. week before she died I went on holiday and couldn’t wait to see her when I came back. I was told she hadn’t eaten much and kept stopping for a rest on her walks. Again we put this down to her missing me. So spent sun with her, Monday with her, tues with her and had a final lovely walk. she seemed okay… bit quiet but happy I was home. Tues night she vomited three times and then had a fit. Well I ran up t her like a mother would a baby. Scooped her up took her to the vets to be told they found a lump. I just knew in my heart she was going to leave me. As explained above 24 hours later I was having her put to sleep. let me tell you I am devastated. I am so heartbroken. I feel guilt over not being there so much the last year and I feel guilty I didn’t see the signs. The vet assured me even he was shocked as he had checked her over a couple months before. He told me stomach cancer is a silent killer and most people notice it when its too late. and sadly even if they catch it at a middle stage they will only live another two months top. So my gorgeous girl would have died anyway. I just take comfort she found a happy home with love in me and my family. Will miss her always. And I’m not sure ill ever get over it. Love every moment with your dogs people. xxx

  3. Dear Tam,

    I’m sorry your dog has cancer. It’s such a difficult and sad thing, and there aren’t any words that will make you feel better. I wish our beloved dogs didn’t have to get sick, or die.

    Sometimes when the pain is unbearable, it’s a sign that there are other losses or hurts that haven’t been faced. For example, if I didn’t process or deal with the grief of my grandma’s death or my cat Fluffy’s broken leg and subsequent euthanasia, I wouldn’t be able to face the pain of dealing with my dog having cancer.

    I encourage you to talk about how bad you feel, even though it hurts so deeply. The only way out is through. The only healthy way to cope with the pain of your dog having cancer is to feel it, process it, and grieve. It is terribly painful and sad, but you will come through it. You will feel absolutely heartbroken, but you will heal.

    Talk with someone you trust, someone wise, someone who can hold you will you break down. Let yourself break down. You will fall into a million pieces…but those pieces will come back together.

    In sympathy and with prayer,

    1. Hello Laurie

      Thank you for your kind and wise words .. I faced a battle with cancer with my uncle/brother last year .. He is still alive and living the best quality of his life he can at the moment I know it will not be long before I will need to face the loss of him also. I am just finding the thought of loosing my cruiser also under these circumstances unbearable .. I do hope really well but when there is none it is such a heartbreaking road. Cruiser laid endleslessly with me when there were days I didn’t want to face and always waited with a dance for me to come home to when the garage door came up .. I know I need to accept his passing will come but I just don’t want to. You have been thru so much and your words resonate with me and I know soon I will take your lead and face the truth of what will come. xo Tam

  4. A week ago my 4 1/2 year old American bulldog was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. I can’t speak of it .. If I get asked a question about it I ignore it .. I am so sad i feel like if I talk about or speak the words aloud .. Oh I just don’t know how to cope . I don’t know what is wrong with me I feel so full of emotion that if I accept what is happening I won’t stop hurting and I am terrified.

  5. Coming to terms with the fact that your furkid has cancer is horrific and heartbreaking. Cancer is becoming a major health problem especially in large breeds of dogs. Thanks for sharing your stories. Your experience will certainly help others who are struggling with a dog diagnosed with Cancer. I heard an inspiring story of how a bernese mountain dog defeated brain cancer with holistic medicine, hope this will help some one in a similar situation. Thanks

  6. LuLu our 10 year old papillon was taken to the vet to get her nails trimmed and general check-up, then the vet came in and told me very quickly that she has lymphoma and will only live a couple more months. I felt the lumps and we decided against chemo. She was given a steroid shot and put on persidone. The lumps went down for a few days, but now are getting bigger. I am with her all the time and know when she is not feeling well. It has only been a week since diagnosed but it is difficult for her to breath and i can see she is not happy, even possibly beginning to suffer. If it where not my dog and someone asked me should I put her down, probably would say no cause she still seems well enough. That said lulu being my dog I know she will only get worse and find it very difficult to watch her be sick. I will just continue to love her and be happy to have some more time together. They say you’ll know when. I don’t want to lose her nor do I want her to suffer, very difficult decision to make knowing the end is near and there is no cure. Also read a second too soon rather than a minute too late, about euthanizing your pet. Even as I write this she seems to be getting worse, this is a very rapid type cancer. It is the owner responsibility to make the decision and as I watch her am thinking sooner than later. She probably could live another month or even two. Am I jumping the gun or should I just watch her die slowly.

  7. Dear D,

    I am so sorry to hear about your poor dog’s last days. Losing a beloved animal to cancer is hard enough, without having to struggle with the vet’s recommendations and bills. It’s terrible, and it sounds like your poor dog Pippy was put through more than he could bear.

    It also sounds like you were put through almost more than you could handle, too! My heart goes out to you — I have a love/hate relationship with my veterinarian. The tests, the medications, even the check up charges are overwhelming.

    Thank you for sharing here – I hope it helped! Please keep expressing yourself, let your grief out.

    Blessings and sympathies,

  8. Our beloved dog, Pippy, who has served us well during his lifetime. He was diagnosed with terminal metastatic liver/spleen cancer. He has internal bleeding. The vet wanted to put Pippy to sleep right away, saying he only has hours at most to live. But we didn’t want our beloved pet to die around total strangers. We wanted him to catch the ball one last time – his favorite pasttime. We wanted him to die around the things he loved most. We owed him that much.

    ‘lo and behold, Pippy lived through the night, and then another night. We made certain that he had pain medication so that he wasn’t feeling the effects of his disease. The first prescription of Tramadol ran out, and the vet gave him another prescription.

    Then ‘lo and behold, it’s now been two weeks since the day the vet was so sure he was going to die, and Pippy has been getting in all the ball playing that his poor body can stand.

    So here it is, the second prescription has run out, and the vet is saying, “Oh, no, we can’t give your terminal dog that has already run up a nearly $500 vet bill on any more prescriptions because we got to dig into your pocket just one more time for our profit margin’s sake. You need to drag that poor, hapless dog back down into our office, make him sit through the stress of being moved and being around strangers, which, well, will most likely mean his poor heart can’t handle it and he will finally keel over once and for all, oh, and then maybe we’ll be able to make some more money off the disposal of his body. Yeah, we need to see him so that we can make sure the medicine isn’t going to kill him, a dog that is terminal, oh, and we can’t do anything to change his condition, but we need to see him anyway.”

    So here is my dog who has just for the first time urinated on himself.

    Thank you, Dr. Strickland at Animal Hospital West, for putting my pet’s welfare ahead of your profit margin:

    Thank you for all the years you have overcharged us and talked us into doing three costly surgeries on a different dog that had metastatic cancer, a dog you already knew would die anyway regardless how much you ran up our vet bills.

    Thanks for nothing…..

  9. Thank you for your comments. I’m sorry you and your dog experienced cancer – it’s horrific and heartbreaking. But I’m glad you were here, and I know your comments help others cope with their dog’s cancer and chemo treatments.


  10. Hi Laurie, I just found your website while doing a little research. My 3 year old Golden Retriever has a growing tumor and we’re just devastated. The Vet says he’s never seen a dog so young with a tumor like this, but also so energetic and excited. I hope this means that he has a fighting chance since he’s not weak or sleeping his remaining days away.

    Anyway, I didn’t start commenting so I could mope around (as I have been for three days), but to look for inspiration.. and your website has done just that. Thank you for taking the time to create such a wonderful place.

    1. Hello, I know it’s been 3 years since your post but I just found out today. My 3 year old Weimaraner had a VERY fast growing tumor on her left front shoulder. We took her to 12 different vets and they all said it couldn’t be operated on unless we amps amputated her leg! She had the amputation surgery on Saturday and we are all horrified, devastated and speechless, as the test results came back as a high grade spindle cell cancer, likely to have spread. This all came about right after a rabies vaccine. Some of the doctors say it’s likely that the vaccine brought this very aggressive cancer on. Imagine my devastation that I was the one that brought her to get this shot?!!! I’m finding this simply impossible to deal with, I cry continuity and am in therapy as this has broken me to the core…… Signed, guilty and devastated

  11. I have been saying goodbye to Abbie since Monday. She is a 7 and 1/2 year old German Shepherd and my best friend. She had a mammary tumor removed back in October. The cancer was suppose to be a routine surgery and no big deal. I found out this past Monday that she would not make it much longer. Unfortunately, I was unable to afford any type of cancer treatment. The vet gave her some pain medicine and we discussed when the time was right to put her to sleep. I spent the past few days saying goodbye and trying to figure out when is the right time. Her pain has just really been noticeable today. I am able to keep her comfortable with her pain medicine tonight, but I am going to see about putting her to sleep tomorrow. I just think it is only fair to her. This is just one of the hardest decisions I have made. I sympathize with anyone who has had to do this.

  12. Thanks for sharing your stories. Your words will help others who are struggling with saying good-bye to their dogs because of cancer.

  13. Our 11 yr old black lab, Hunter, was diagnosed with osteo sarcoma in her left shoulder in July. My husband and I struggle each day to figure out when it is “time.” She still eats (as a lab I’m not sure that will EVER stop) and will go outside to enjoy the sun and roll in the grass. But it’s so difficult to watch her struggle to get outside, her left leg sometimes dragging on the ground. She sometimes whimpers even though she is on 3 different medications sometimes taking 5 pills a day. I’ve made my peace with the inevitable, but my husband (who spends most of the day with her) continues to find the “good” days and her smiles. It is true – saving your pet from one day of pain is better than keeping her alive for your own benefit, but does that the fact that still eats and enjoys the outdoors outweigh the pain and lameness? Oh, I forgot to mention she is blind from cateracts and has surgery on both hind legs (of course her left one 2x). I guess we all look for approval and validation when we are left to decide when to end life – but for us, as I’m sure like many of you, it is like deciding when to put your child down.

  14. We could never really figure out Max’s breed. The best we could guess is part Dobie, Black and Tan Coon Hound and maybe Shepherd or Lab. A handsome, 80 lb black and tan boy! He was underweight and very nervous when he chose me at the pound….brought his blanket to me as I stood before his kennel. I have never had such a wonderful dog and I say this with love and affection to all my other dogs. Max loved cats, other dogs (even dogs who didn’t usually get along with other dogs) and gentle and sweet toward all children. Max is probably 15 years old now; I’ve had him for 12 years. He is a love, devoted and smart. The hardest thing is that he isn’t diagnosed with cancer or other life threatening illnesses, which might make the decision to euthanize more clear. He is old, unsteady, on pain meds for a slipped disk and has problems sleeping, very restless and seems uncomfortable. The meds help and he recently was rx’d melatonin to help him sleep. I spend two days a week at my 88 yo dad’s house and the ride over there is hard on him (even with a ramp) and my dad’s dog tries to pick a fight with him; thankfully Max is fairly deaf and doesn’t hear the growls toward him. I am choosing to put him down in two weeks so that he doesn’t have to endure increased pain, being fragile and the fear I have of his really hurting himself, with a crisis visit to the vet. Yes, fairly preventative, and as my vet says, “better a second too soon than a minute too late.” Sigh. My boy has been faithful, loving, funny, smart and truly, the best dog anyone could have (and I know there are people who also feel this way). I cry daily, have puffy eyes all the time, have the support of my family and friends and yes, as others mention, Max has looked his best the past few days, making me question my judgement.My previous dog endured my need to keep her longer than she should have been alive……so much guilt for being so selfish. Now, I will not let that happen again, even with the agony I feel each day……I love my boy, Max.

    1. Hello,
      My husband and I just found out a week ago that our 10yr old pup has lymphoma. We’re so heartbroken & can’t imagine life without him. He’s been the best dog we’ve ever had…so loyal & kind. We can’t afford chemo, and have decided to give him certain vitamins to help boost his immunity. He’s also using prednisone. He’s doing well right now but I know that’ll change eventually and I’m terrified. I don’t want to see my sweet boy suffer. He’s my best friend & I feel guilty that this happened. I feel like I failed as his mother. I am also fearful of the mystery of death/after life. How will I get through this? My heart goes out to everyone dealing with sick pets/family. I know how hard it is.

      1. You didn’t fail as a mother. We’re in the same boat, but are doing the chemo. Our girl is 8 and it’s heartbreaking. Not everyone could afford the surgery and chemo we’ve done since January. Over $8000 and she had both ACL done in 2015, we are definitely dog broke. I’ve never been so sad and stressed, but all I can say is the chemo is helping. She’s like a puppy lately, but I know it won’t last. I’m sorry for your pain. You sound like an amazing mother who is all you can do. I feel the same as you. What happens after and how do we go on??