Important Note: This article has been checked and verified by a professional veterinarian for accuracy. However, you should always seek advice from your own vet before making any decisions on euthanasia as there are never black and white answers for this decision.
My mother in law’s dog was diagnosed with lymphoma last year. It was a very upsetting time for her, as she wasn’t sure how much time she’d have left with him. In the end we had to take our vet’s advice on when the right time was to put him down. Euthanasia is never as an easy choice, but it was in the dog’s best interest. Here’s what we learned…
When to put a dog to sleep with lymphoma? If your dog has lymphoma but has not responded to any treatment, or if they seem like they’re in intense pain each day, you might consider putting them down. While this is never an easy decision, it’s could be in the best interest of your dog, but should be made in consultation with a vet.
I know this an intensely difficult position to be in, and it seems like there’s no right answer. If you’re feeling confused and hopeless after having your dog diagnosed with lymphoma, I encourage you to keep reading.
I will provide some real-life experience and support for owners in your predicament wanting to know when you should opt to euthanize your dog with lymphoma.
What is lymphoma and what are the symptoms?
Lymphoma is a disease that both people and animals can have. In the case of dogs, it’s called canine lymphoma. This cancer affects the body’s lymphocytes. These are white blood cells that are part of the immune system and keep people and pets healthy from infection.
At least 30 varieties of canine lymphomas exist, and they are categorised into four types. These include:
- Extanodal lymphoma: If the dog’s central nervous system, lungs, kidneys, eyes, or skin are targeted by the cancer, this type of lymphoma is extranodal lymphoma.
- Mediastinal lymphoma: The mediastinal lymph nodes as well as the thymus swell up due to the presence of high-grade malignant T lymphocytes with this version of cancer. Mediastinal lymphoma occurs much less often than other types.
- Alimentary lymphoma: Intestinal symptoms will manifest if a dog has alimentary lymphoma.
- Multicentric lymphoma: Most cases of lymphoma, up to 85 percent, are multicentric lymphoma. The lymph nodes are impacted with this type of cancer.
Canine lymphoma leaves some dogs asymptomatic, or without any symptoms, for a short time. Others may have breathing troubles, behavioral changes, weakness, excessive thirst, no appetite, lethargy, diarrhea, weight loss, and vomiting.
Depending on the type of lymphoma your dog has, you may notice more symptoms like seizures. With cutaneous lymphoma, a type of extranodal lymphoma, the dog may have lesions on the mouth or skin, often with a scaly texture.
What are the causes of lymphoma?
Unfortunately, if your dog develops canine lymphoma, it’s unclear where it came from. It could be due to such matters as being exposed to magnetic fields or phenoxyacetic acid herbicides. The cancer can also develop due to other environmental factors. It’s tough to pinpoint any one cause, and hopefully one day, we’ll have more information to share. Until then, the cause doesn’t matter so much as treatment does.
What treatment is available for dogs with lymphoma?
Since a dog can develop lymphoma in multiple areas of the body, many veterinary professionals recommend chemotherapy over surgery. According to the Center for Animal Referral and Emergency Services or CARES, most dogs that undergo chemo for canine lymphoma will enter remission, up to 90 percent of them. This remission may be complete or only partial. Through remission, the dog may stop having symptoms if any existed before. However, the lymphoma is not totally gone and could come back someday.
It’s only when any and all lymphoma is gone that the dog would be considered cured. CARES says 15 percent of canines will be completely cured of lymphoma. This doesn’t mean that a dog can’t enjoy the rest of their time with their favorite person even if they’re not cured. They still have cancer, though.
If you’re worried about how your dog may handle the chemotherapy, know that dogs do not usually have the same side effects that people develop. While people can get very ill and experience hair loss during chemo, dogs generally don’t. If you have a bichon frise, an old English sheepdog, or a poodle, hair loss can occur. Make sure you talk with your vet about what may happen to your dog before they begin chemo.
Some of the same chemotherapy treatments that people receive are suitable for dogs with lymphoma. For instance, the UW-25 chemotherapy protocol will be used when trying to treat multicentric lymphoma. This involves several different chemotherapeutic agents given over the span of several months. Lomustine or CCNU is commonly used for cutaneous lymphoma patients.
As your dog goes through their chemo regimen, they may not have as much energy. Thus, they won’t do as much as they usually do. Their appetite may decrease as well, and there’s a chance they’ll have diarrhea and vomiting.
When to euthanize your dog with lymphoma
You’ve done everything you can for your four-legged friend since they got diagnosed with canine lymphoma. Your vet has walked you through the treatment options, and you’ve decided that chemotherapy is the best choice for your pet. But when should you put them to sleep, what is the right time, and how do you know it’s time to put them down?
Perhaps your dog goes into remission, but it’s only a partial remission. You might wait several months more, maybe even a year, and try chemo again. Once more, your dog isn’t entirely cured. You’re beginning to wonder if they’ll ever be cancer-free.
The question now becomes: should you put your dog down? If so, when?
It’s important to keep in mind two points we brought up in this article. The first is that not all dogs with canine lymphoma are symptomatic. The second is that even when in remission, a dog can still have an amazing life. This is true even though they’re not totally cured of the lymphoma.
If your vet has given your dog a good enough prognosis and the lymphoma hasn’t seriously affected their health, there’s not necessarily a reason to consider euthanasia yet. You should still see your vet often, but your dog can otherwise lead a normal life.
There are cases in which it may be more appropriate to put your dog down. If your dog has many uncomfortable symptoms associated with their canine lymphoma, such as diarrhea, vomiting, and no energy, and the cancer has also become painful, you might want to start thinking of euthanasia. If your dog’s quality of life has dwindled to almost nothing, it may not get anybetter. You love your dog more than anything, but you don’t want them to suffer anymore. You also don’t want to put your family through watching your dog in misery day in and day out.
Another time in which you may put your dog down is if the lymphoma treatments have not been effective. You may have tried chemotherapy for your dog, even more than once, but you’re not happy with the results. The cancer just won’t go away, giving your dog very short partial remission periods.
If you are thinking of putting down your dog with canine lymphoma, we recommend you talk it over with your veterinarian or a veterinary oncologist. They may recommend another treatment you haven’t tried yet. They could also agree with your decision and point you in the best direction to get the resources you need in this very difficult time. They can help you create a checklist that will objectively help you decide when to consider humane euthanasia.
Coping with the loss of your dog
It’s been one of the worst days of your life, but you know euthanasia was the best choice for your suffering dog. The only problem is now you have a giant dog-shaped hole in your heart, as do the rest of your family members. How do you possibly go on? Here are some tips for dealing with your pain:
- Let yourself grieve. If you’re the head of a household, you may do this in private, but it’s important to let your feelings out rather than hide them or bottle them up.
- Consider having a memorial for your pet with the rest of your family. It can help you all say goodbye.
- Don’t pretend your dog never existed. Let yourself and others in your family talk about your pet, recalling their favorite memories spent with him or her.
- It’s okay to feel guilty, especially because your dog died via euthanasia and not natural means. It’s never easy to choose to put your dog down, but you have to remind yourself that you did what was best for them – which vets call “death with dignity”.
- Have a support system you can talk to in the first few weeks or months after the loss of your dog. Getting your feelings out in the open like this can help you work through them.
Canine lymphoma is a type of cancer that can occur in any breed of dog. There are different types of lymphoma that can appear in various areas of the body, leading to different symptoms. While no one is sure why dogs (and people) get lymphoma, chemotherapy is the preferred treatment.
If the chemo doesn’t work or your dog is in a lot of pain, you might decide to put them down. This is undoubtedly the hardest and most painful part of owning a dog.. Hopefully, this article will help you as you decide what to do for your beloved furry family member.