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Pet 411: Making the right decision for an ailing dog

By Dr. Cathy Meeks

This month I got a note from a reader which really touched me, because it focuses on something we can all relate to as pet owners. Let me share:

My dog has several large Lipomas with a massive one on his shoulder growing under his armpit.

Dakota is an American Staffordshire terrier and is 13 years old. After researching the lifespan of this breed which is 12-14 years, I’m not so sure whether to remove them.

My vet tells me I would definitely have to have a specialist do it. She also told me there were no guarantees it would not grow back.

This surgery would be extremely expensive and I don’t know what to do at this point…He has very bad arthritis from getting run over by a truck years ago.

My thoughts are to just keep him as comfortable as possible without the surgery as I’m not so sure he would recover easily.

Can you share your thoughts?  I’m desperate.  

I would just like to say to this reader, wow, your question is such an important one. As loving pet owners, most of us eventually have to ask: When is it right to give my senior pet more medical care, such as surgery? And when is it right to decide against further treatment?

Of course, there is no wrong or right answer to this question. In fact, if you asked three different veterinarians what they would do if Dakota were their dog, you would probably get three different answers. This is because there are so many things to consider.

If I had a dog with one large lipoma and no other health concerns, I would lean toward having it removed, even knowing that it could grow back.

But you mentioned Dakota has multiple lipomas and arthritis. So in this case I might be asking myself: If I remove one lipoma, would the others grow large also? Even if I remove all the lipomas, how badly will he suffer from arthritis? Overall, do I believe these medical procedures will improve my dog’s quality of life?

Sometimes the answer to that last question is no. If a course of treatment is not likely to improve my pet’s quality of life, I might very well decide against that treatment.  Instead, I would focus on keeping my dog healthy, happy and comfortable for as long as possible. This is a humane and ethical option that in some cases is truly the best for your pet.

But this step can be difficult. For example, if the lipoma got so big that my dog couldn’t walk, that might be the point where I realized my dog no longer had a good quality of life. This is a sad thing to consider, but almost every pet owner gets to this decision point sooner or later.

Also, we all want to do everything possible for our pets, but these procedures can be costly.  The financial impact is also something most pet owners have to take into consideration and this will be different for everyone. You have to make the best financial decisions for you and your family as well. (Sometimes assistance programs are available and pet insurance also can be beneficial.)

I hope these thoughts help you as you make your own decision about what to do with Dakota, and there is another point I want to make.

Let me just say that your love and devotion to Dakota really shines through. In just a few sentences, you have really conveyed how much he means to you, and I’m sure he is absolutely devoted to you as well.

And because of this, I am 100-percent sure that whatever decision you make, it will be the right one.  Sometimes it’s best to choose surgery and sometimes it’s best not to. But for a caring and thoughtful pet owner such as yourself, I know the decision you make will be the appropriate one for you and Dakota.

Editor’s note: The excerpt from this reader’s question was slightly shortened and edited for clarity.

Do you have a question about your pet that you’d like answered? Write to Dr. Cathy Meeks at pet411@bluepearlvet.com. She’d love to hear from you, and your letter may be picked for an upcoming Pet 411 column.