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Hello there,

I’m looking for a little advice/support regarding my 10 year old golden girl, Athena, who was diagnosed with cancer, thought to be lymphoma, about 1 month ago.

She initially had a grand mal seizure one Friday night that sent me to our vet in a panic early the next morning. The vet did some blood work, which came back excellent, and instructed me to wait to see if Athena had another seizure. Six nights later she did. I took her to the emergency vet where they examined her and did a stomach sonogram/chest x-ray that revealed a “large and aggressive” mass in between her lungs, somewhat near her heart. The vet also said the cancer has spread to a tumor in Athena’s brain (the cause of the seizures), but suggested we not do an MRI due to fear that she would not wake up from anesthesia. The vet estimated that Athena has approximately 1-2 months to live and sent me home with a regimen of phenobarbital and prednisone.

To give you a little background on Athena, she is an energetic, loving girl who acts more along the lines of 4 or 5 rather than 10. Before all of this occurred, we went for daily 45-60 min walks with longer hikes on the weekends. Athena is also an award winning therapy dog who worked alongside me for years in my therapy practice with domestic violence survivors and at-risk youth. Athena was diagnosed with hip dysplasia at a young age and underwent knee surgery around the age of 2 for a luxating patella. That surgery, unfortunately, while repairing her knee left her with no feeling in her toes on her rear left foot and a good deal of knee and foot arthritis. This has never been a huge factor for Athena as she has been on mild anti-inflammatories and continued to be active, walking, running, swimming (her favorite), playing with horses, dogs, and children.

I give you this background because it highlights why the effects of her condition and the medication being used to treat it concern me so much. For the first two weeks on the phenobarb and prednisone, Athena struggled to walk, would often fall flat, needed aid in standing and going down stairs, and generally seemed in a daze. She also drank and ate a ton resulting in a need to urinate every 45-60 minutes . After the loading dose, most of her physical symptoms faded so that now she only has some difficulty walking (which isn’t helped by her previous dysplasia/arthritis/etc.) and the continued thirst and appetite although that has faded to a need to urinate every 2 hours or so.

My major concern has been the loss in her personality. She has seemed depressed and uninterested in all that once brought her joy. She was not rising to greet me or anyone else when we arrived home (she is being “dog-sat” all day by my mother), her tail did not wag, she did not play with toys or lick, and was disinterested in her walks we eventually began taking again. I spoke to the vet and voiced a concern that maybe I should put Athena down as she seemed to have no real quality of life, but she reassured me (“implored” me was the term that she used, after which I had to inform her that I actually truly do not want my dog to die and this is actually one of the most heart wrenching experiences of my life) that the effects would fade.

At this point many of the effects are fading a bit. Athena is still lethargic but we get an occasional tail wag and kiss now. Yesterday on her walk she actually rolled in the grass happily (!) and at one point last night she grabbed a stuffie although she quickly dropped it and settled in for a nap.
The vet told me the seizures will probably start up again soon (it has been 2 weeks since her last one), but that I shouldn’t worry unless they happen in clusters or are longer than 5 minutes. She also told me to be aware of Athena’s breathing as the tumor is pressing into her lungs and will quickly grow to obstruct breathing or may affect her heart. Her breathing does appear to be a bit more labored, but this may be a side effect of the phenobarb, which can cause excess panting.

I guess what my LONG entry (which I apologize for) is asking is when you all have known is the best time to put your dog with cancer down? I know it is an individual choice and everyone keeps saying I’ll “know” or Athena will “let me know,” but it certainly doesn’t feel that way and my main concern is that I do not want her to die in a traumatic way (heart attack, difficulty breathing, extended seizure, stroke, etc), which are all very real possibilities due to the placement of her tumors. Her quality of life is getting a little better from the past two weeks, which I am thrilled about, but this is a dog whose whole life has been about loving others and being silly and having fun and I’m not sure she will ever be quite there again. The vet told me once her seizures start getting worse we can play around with dosage of meds to try to get a few more good weeks, but it makes me kind of sick to my stomach to think of re-putting Athena through the depression, lethargy and ataxia she has had in the last couple weeks.

I know that none of you can tell me what to do and ultimately it is up to me, I guess my question (if anyone is still reading this novel) is when do you decide it is better to put your best friend down at the possibility that she will suffer? Is it when her breathing seems too labored or she has two or three seizures? Or after adjusting meds? Before things get worse so she can go out on a good note and be the most like herself she can?
I feel very unqualified to make life or death decisions for someone else, especially my very best buddy who I fear I would try to keep forever. Also, I should say I am driving myself a little mad sleeping in the living room with her and constantly having her monitored to make sure she does not have a seizure alone (also I picked up liquid valium, just in case-which my vet suggested I take).
Any advice or words of wisdom would be greatly appreciated. I feel very alone and lost as I’m trying to cope with the loss of a dog who has been with my almost every day (at work and school) for 10 years.

Thank you for reading.
 

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Athena

My Heart goes out to you. I can only share what we have done for our dogs.
When my husband and I feel that our dogs don't have quality of life, or that they are suffering or there is a chance that they will die suffering, we along with our vet, make the decision to send them to the Rainbow Bridge.
What has your vet said?
 
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I am so sorry for what you are going through. It is a super difficult decision and having been there, it is difficult to explain but you just decide that it is time and hope that you can go through with it (I tried once and returned home with her, not quite ready). I wish I could turn back time and have my gal back with me but knowing she is on to her next journey and awaits me when I begin mine makes it a bit easier. I can't tell you what to decide but just remember the best days of her life with you and don't dwell on the sickness. I still break down sometimes and it has been 6 months but I have two other dogs that need me and I have to move on and believe that Annie is at rainbow bridge swimming and having a grand time waiting for me.
 

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Love walks on four paws
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I am so very sorry for you and your girl! This is the hardest decision to make, and in my experience, you will question it no matter what! I wish that they could talk and tell us when they are ready! For me it was quality vs quantity...that may sound cold, but it really wasn't. Maggie was blind, deaf and in pain. She was confused and the pain meds made it worse! When she no longer would sit with us, her most favorite thing...we knew it was time!

I always hesitate when people ask the question as it is such a personal and heartbreaking time...and there are no simple answers....just know we are all here to listen, support and send prayers, wellwishes and cyber hugs.
 

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We went through this dilemma with our 6 year old lab/springer mix last year. He did not have cancer however he suffered from seizures for years. One weekend in May he just wasn't himself when we were camping and started walking sideways. It progressively got worse as the days went by and he got to the point of not being steady on his feet, falling all over and had this swaying, rotating of his head constantly. My husband thought he would snap out of it and the vet was trying everything he could think to do for him. I could just see in his eyes he was begging us to help him. He just looked at us with a look that said please make it stop, i can't do anything about it. when they say the dog will tell you they are right. He was telling us, my husband couldn't accept it until one day bobo was trying to pee and lost his balance and rolled down the yard. He broke down crying because he couldn't even pee it wasn't fair to let him go on. I had already reached this point knowing it was time the day before but had to wait for him to get there. He said the same thing, that the poor guy was begging us for relief. He didn't get upset going to the vet, didn't shake or get nervous like usual....just laid down and wagged his tail a small teeny bit for the vet (which he hadn't done for days) and closed his eyes before the vet even started the procedure....he knew and he was ready to go.

My point is listen to your baby and your gut. It is the hardest decision you will ever make but your dog will tell you, we have gone through it a few times in our lifetime and they always let you know. Its so sad.....and hard but you are the mom and know them best.
 

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Smooch

My female Golden Ret. Smooch had a chest xray and it looked like she only had 10% of her lung capacity-the vet said she was having trouble breathing (You could not tell it) and he would not let us take her home. They thought she had lymphoma, hemangiosarcoma, or a few other cancers. I would not have taken her home even if he had let us, as Ken and I were too afraid she would suffer.
You always second guess yourself, but Ken and I were so happy that she was free and waiting for us at the Rainbow Bridge. We had to put her first.
 

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Kate
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After everything we went through with our first golden (we kept him going for 6 months after N-stage renal failure diagnosis).... the primary questions I would ask yourself and base your decisions on - particular as you know she is dying.

Is she suffering? Is she in pain? Is she unable to eat or drink?

If the answer is "yes" to any of those, then I think you have to make that hard decision for her sake. I would never put a dog through a natural death from cancer, especially lung cancer.

If "no" to all, then you have time.

I would stop trying to walk her or ask her to do anything she doesn't want to do. If it's nice where you live, I would be taking a lawn chair and going outside to camp out while she can enjoy the fresh air and have as much golden senior time just "being" with her people and taking in the world around her. Within reason I would completely spoil her rotten and shower her with love. Encourage her to be underfoot and underhand at all times. This will help her feel safe and happy, and these are the memories you will keep close to your heart when the time comes.
 

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Discussion Starter #8
Thank you all for your kind words and shared experiences, it helps me to not feel so alone.

Another of the tricky aspects of this is that 6 months ago we just moved back to Massachusetts after 2 years in Colorado, so the vets here do not really know me or Athena very well. Our regular vet (the one Athena saw from 9 weeks-7 years old) who we began going to again said that with her condition they would understand at any point if I decide to put her down.

The emergency vet (who saw Athena once) is the one I talked to on the phone who made me feel guilty for thinking of putting Athena down. She "implored" me to give Athena another week on this dose of medicine and then said we could play around with decreasing dosage if her personality did not return, but that would exponentially increase her risk of having more seizures and since we can’t see the brain tumor (no MRI) she can’t tell how aggressive the seizures will be or if the tumor might be affecting her personality.

When I told the vet I was more concerned with the quality of my dog’s life since she has had 10 very wonderful, full years (beach time in Massachusetts, going to classes/work with me for years, and getting to be a cowgirl in Denver for two years?!) I was thinking of letting her go in a peaceful way with me holding her, the ER vet said she didn’t know if she and I could have clear consciences without trying every possible medical avenue for Athena. In her opinion, this includes increasing Athena’s medication when she begins having seizures again. When I expressed my worry about harmful extended or cluster seizures or stroke/heart attack, the vet stated that these are all possibilities but that would be “Athena making the decision for us.”

I am just not sure the ER vet and I are seeing eye-to-eye, but she is making me second-guess my decision to put Athena down so soon. I was thinking, since Athena is having a slightly better few days, I would go another week, hope it is a good week full of fun walks and kisses and then put her down next weekend before she deteriorates, but the vet seems to think it is cruel to not increase/adjust her meds first.

Honestly, the last thing I want is for Athena to die, but if she has to, I would like it to be peacefully with me next to her and her able to have some semblance of her personality. I also, however, do not want to feel as though I cheated her out of another few good weeks.

I know this is something many dog owners go through, I just hate to think I would make the wrong decision for Athena when all she does is look at me with trust and love.
 

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I am so very sorry you are going through this, what a difficult decision. I had to put down my first girl. I got her on my own at 16, put her down when I was 26. She had helped raise by boys with me, and was always a bright spot in my every day! She had osteoscaroma, and when she refused to eat, I knew it was time. She couldn't be coaxed into eating anything, that was 25 years ago and I am still wiping away a tear today.
I now have Bonnie and Clyde who are 12 1/2 and 12. I have been blessed with two more wonderful dogs in my life, who have always been there for me. I hope when I have to make that decision, I will, and they will not suffer. I will not put them through a lot of testing, or surgery at their ages. I want to die with dignity, and think they too, deserve that much!
This decision is a very personal one, and only you can make it.
My thoughts are with you, and I wish you the strength to do what is right for you and your girl. Give Athena a belly rub from me.
 

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I'ts literally a day by day situation ... doing the everyday things are important Peeing ,pooping,eating ... Depression was always on day by day ...sometimes hour by hour situation ! when I thought enough was enough ...my guy all of a sudden perked up and was happy and tailwagging guy again !!! as long as their was no pain and (seizures) don't get out of hand ...it's a wait and see situation !
 

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Amanda

Thank you all for your kind words and shared experiences, it helps me to not feel so alone.

Another of the tricky aspects of this is that 6 months ago we just moved back to Massachusetts after 2 years in Colorado, so the vets here do not really know me or Athena very well. Our regular vet (the one Athena saw from 9 weeks-7 years old) who we began going to again said that with her condition they would understand at any point if I decide to put her down.

The emergency vet (who saw Athena once) is the one I talked to on the phone who made me feel guilty for thinking of putting Athena down. She "implored" me to give Athena another week on this dose of medicine and then said we could play around with decreasing dosage if her personality did not return, but that would exponentially increase her risk of having more seizures and since we can’t see the brain tumor (no MRI) she can’t tell how aggressive the seizures will be or if the tumor might be affecting her personality.

When I told the vet I was more concerned with the quality of my dog’s life since she has had 10 very wonderful, full years (beach time in Massachusetts, going to classes/work with me for years, and getting to be a cowgirl in Denver for two years?!) I was thinking of letting her go in a peaceful way with me holding her, the ER vet said she didn’t know if she and I could have clear consciences without trying every possible medical avenue for Athena. In her opinion, this includes increasing Athena’s medication when she begins having seizures again. When I expressed my worry about harmful extended or cluster seizures or stroke/heart attack, the vet stated that these are all possibilities but that would be “Athena making the decision for us.”

I am just not sure the ER vet and I are seeing eye-to-eye, but she is making me second-guess my decision to put Athena down so soon. I was thinking, since Athena is having a slightly better few days, I would go another week, hope it is a good week full of fun walks and kisses and then put her down next weekend before she deteriorates, but the vet seems to think it is cruel to not increase/adjust her meds first.

Honestly, the last thing I want is for Athena to die, but if she has to, I would like it to be peacefully with me next to her and her able to have some semblance of her personality. I also, however, do not want to feel as though I cheated her out of another few good weeks.

I know this is something many dog owners go through, I just hate to think I would make the wrong decision for Athena when all she does is look at me with trust and love.
Amanda: This is a very personal decision and I am so sorry Athena and you are going through this. I hope this does not sound cold, but to my Husband and I, if a dog has a terminal illness and is having trouble breathing, doesn't want to eat, is having trouble standing, etc., we want to be with them when they cross to the Rainbow Bridge. Don't let the vet make you feel guilty-you are only trying to spare Athena pain. If it helps, see another vet.
Kisses to Athena.
 
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I feel for your situation, many of us here have been through similar circumstances and it is no fun. I understand too your moving back here and the feeling the vets really don't know her. Don't hesitate to get a second opinion.

We have a "sticky" here on GRF about seizure dogs that might help?

http://www.goldenretrieverforum.com...es/108429-seizures-101-basic-information.html

Cherish every day, Wish I had more words for you, but it is hard for me sometimes to know what to say.
 

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Dear Amanda, my heart goes out to you and I am so sorry that you and your sweet girl are having to deal with this. Every time I've been faced with such a difficult decision (as recently as a month ago with my best Golden boy), the 'better an eternity too soon than a moment too late' words guide me. For me, personally, when there's been a definitive diagnosis (and, in this recent case, merely a highly probable one) of a terminal disease with a short term/poor prognosis and the animal began showing symptoms (i.e. seizures, discomfort, trouble eating/breathing/bathrooming, etc) and we were at the point of treating manifestations of the disease and not the disease itself, I made those ultimate, agonizing decisions. It is a highly individual and you also need to take your own feelings and wishes into account and, though there never seems to be a right decision in these cases, look for the course you are most at peace with as possible. Please know that the feelings you are struggling with are completely normal and there is nothing wrong with you, at any point of your choosing, wanting to spare both you & your friend her potentially rough deterioration/passing, just as there is nothing wrong with wanting to give her as long as comfortably possible. Though guilt is naturally associated with either decision, no one should guilt you into one or the other.
 

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First let me say how sorry I am that you have to go through this. It is something that many of us have to deal with so I (we) have great sympathy for you. My heart breaks reading your posts. Our Cheyenne died of a brain tumor a year ago Feb. 24th. She started feeling bad right before Christmas and was diagnosed at the end of January 2012. Her tumor was located in a place that caused her balance to be off. Towards the end she could barely walk at times without falling down. The day before we noticed something was wrong she was out chasing squirrels. She was 15 when we helped her pass. You are never 100% sure of the timing, but she wasn't eating much and the night we decided she had started to tremble all over. Not actually seizure, but close. That night, two nights later, of a week really didn't matter because the end was so near and we didn't want to make her suffer any longer. By the time we got her to the vet she seemed better so there was that doubt, but in our hearts we knew it was time and to let her go with dignity. Good luck with whatever decision and timing you make. It is up to you and I would only say you know your dog better than anyone. You will know.
 

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Discussion Starter #16
thank you

I want to thank everyone for their advice/support today. I was overwhelmed by the outreach. Athena was doing better today, tail wagging and bouncing around a bit. Although not back to her normal self, it was uplifting to see. I took her to her favorite park where she was able to roll in the grass and swim a (very) little. She had that golden smile on her face. She did seem extra tired and a little sore when we get home so I don’t think this kind of walk will happen again (it was about half the length of our old walks). As of right now I have decided to take it day by day with her, with the intention of putting her down next weekend, barring any other big event (such as intense seizures) so that she has a chance to have a good week full of hugs and cookies and family time but so that she will not experience an overly painful or traumatic death or decline in health. I have no idea if this is the right decision, but it feels right for us at this point. Thank you all again, I appreciate it more than you know.
 

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Amanda

I want to thank everyone for their advice/support today. I was overwhelmed by the outreach. Athena was doing better today, tail wagging and bouncing around a bit. Although not back to her normal self, it was uplifting to see. I took her to her favorite park where she was able to roll in the grass and swim a (very) little. She had that golden smile on her face. She did seem extra tired and a little sore when we get home so I don’t think this kind of walk will happen again (it was about half the length of our old walks). As of right now I have decided to take it day by day with her, with the intention of putting her down next weekend, barring any other big event (such as intense seizures) so that she has a chance to have a good week full of hugs and cookies and family time but so that she will not experience an overly painful or traumatic death or decline in health. I have no idea if this is the right decision, but it feels right for us at this point. Thank you all again, I appreciate it more than you know.
Amanda

I am so glad that you and Athena had a good day at the park. We are praying for her and you.
 

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Amanda, I am very sorry for your situation with Athena. You know your dog best, so it is your decision to make, not an ER vets that you don't even know. There's a saying "Better a week too soon than a moment too late" when it comes to releasing your beloved animal from a terminal illness. Your plan sounds lovely, giving her a week of total spoiling before giving Athena her angel wings. A gentle kiss to your sweet girl from me, and a wish for peace for you as you give her this last, greatest gift.
 

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Discussion Starter #19
Update on Athena

Once again, I want to thank everyone for their support and shared experience. I wanted to give you an update on my Athena. She had the wonderful walk/swim on Friday afternoon where she frolicked and rolled in the grass and transformed into a younger version of herself for about an hour.

Saturday afternoon when I took her for a short walk, she elected to roll onto her back for an extended belly rub in the grass instead. I took her home and cuddled with her for a while, she seemed tired but content. I woke at 2:30 am to the sound of her having a big seizure, her first in two weeks. It lasted about 2 minutes, but this time she got a nosebleed. I called the vet and they said her brain tumor was probably growing and just to give her the medication like usual.

She slept most of Sunday, her head on my knee for a good portion of it. I took her to the park we went to weekly when she was a puppy and we sat on a dock and watched the ducks. That afternoon she had a focal seizure, where she remained conscious and just her face twitched and she drooled. I made plans to put her down at our local vet the next morning.

Then, last night while she was sleeping in the living room around 9:20 pm she had another grand mal seizure and big nose bleed. Someone drove us to the vet and she sat in my lap and stuck her head out the window for most of the way. I decided to put her down there so she wouldn’t have to suffer anymore. She fell asleep in my arms, quickly and quietly.

Although I knew this was coming for almost a month, this is already unbearable. All my days have revolved around this dog for 10 years, since I was 15 years old. What will I do with all this extra time? My apartment seems so barren and lifeless without her.

Anyway, I just wanted to let everyone know that Athena has passed and that she went as peacefully as she could. Thanks again.
 

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I'm so very sorry.
She was beautiful
 
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