Ask a Vet: Should I Euthanize a Happy Dog with Cancer?

I took Kelly, my 11 year-old Labrador/Staffordshire mix, to the vet as her belly seemed to be dropping and her spine was sticking out more....


I took Kelly, my 11 year-old Labrador/Staffordshire mix, to the vet as her belly seemed to be dropping and her spine was sticking out more. The vet did an ultrasound and said he could see several spots on her spleen and liver, which indicated tumors. He suggested putting her to sleep earlier rather than later, as it is only a matter of time before one of the tumors could burst.

I am not sure what to do. Kelly still has a huge appetite and is wagging her tail. She also enjoys going for walks and swims, though she doesn’t last as long as she used to. Her legs seem a little weak. Should I take her to get a more thorough diagnosis (not just an ultrasound)? Many of her symptoms seem to point to Cushing’s disease, but I guess I am just being hopeful and there is no reason the vet would say she has cancer if he wasn’t sure.

If I do just accept that she has incurable cancer, I don’t know how long to wait. I don’t want her to be uncomfortable or get to the point where a tumour bursts, but I find it extremely difficult to think about putting her to sleep when she still seems fairly happy and energetic.

I’d greatly appreciate your advice.

Brisbane, Australia

Unfortunately, based upon your description I agree that cancer is the most likely diagnosis. However, if Kelly is happy I can’t sign off on putting her to sleep sooner rather than later.

You are correct that a sagging abdomen and prominent spine are commonly encountered in Cushing’s disease (a disease of the endocrine system in which blood cortisol levels are excessive). However, many other syndromes can cause the changes you describe. Cushing’s Disease usually leads to enlarged adrenal glands that are visible on ultrasound exams, and it sounds like your vet did not see these, although a vet must be an experienced ultrasonographer to consistently assess adrenal gland size.

If your vet found multiple similar focal irregularities in both the liver and the spleen, I am very worried that his diagnosis of cancer is correct. That said, an ultrasound alone is almost never enough to fully diagnose any condition. Basic blood tests and chest X-rays are a good idea if you have the resources to pursue further diagnostics. A repeat ultrasound with a specialist in radiology or internal medicine may yield more insight as well.

If the diagnosis, as feared, turns out to be cancer, then Kelly most likely will succumb to the condition at some point. Although the choice is yours and I would respect any decision you make, I do not agree that she must be euthanized any sooner than necessary.

Although Kelly may well have advanced terminal illness, it sounds like she is still enjoying her life. And, crucially, she does not have to live with one of the very difficult parts of a cancer diagnosis: knowing she’s sick. People with terminal illnesses often suffer depression because they know what the future holds. Kelly has no such issue — knowledge of the future no doubt is making you sad, but not her.

If she’s happy, why not treat each day as a gift and enjoy her remaining time with her?

If the diagnosis of cancer is correct, then one of the tumors may burst. Such ruptures usually lead to sudden internal bleeding, which causes weakness (due to low blood pressure and anemia) and sometimes difficulty breathing. When such a crisis occurs, it probably will be time to consider euthanasia. But if you act fast when this happens, Kelly will not suffer for long, and she probably won’t suffer very much at all. In my opinion, it does not make sense to euthanize her before she feels sick.

28 thoughts on “Ask a Vet: Should I Euthanize a Happy Dog with Cancer?”

  1. My dog has been diagnosed as having cysts in his prostate which is enlarged at 3.67 by 2.52. He is neutered . The vet suspects cancer but didn’t want to risk a biopsy. So I don’t know if it’s benign or malignant. It’s horrible living with the uncertainty. He’s is my life and I’m not coping at all well with this. He’s on metcam . Can this help with tumour’s at all. I would try anything to keep him safe and happy.

  2. Mary Anne FENTON

    My dog has a lump near his leg. His legs get sore and if you touch him in certain places he will yelp. I can’t pick him or he will yelp. he still eats good and will run around but prefers to sleep a lot. It is hard to get him to go outside but he will go out a few times a day. Mostly in the evening. He still barks when someone comes to the door and i guess he doesn’t really play with his toys as much as he used to. he has pain meds which help a bit but I just feel so guilty even thinking of putting him down. A couple of months ago the vet said he will be fine but he seems to be worse now. I really don’t know what to do.

  3. Laurie Howbert

    My 13 year o;d Schnauzer was diagnosed with prostate cancer about a month ago. I have him on the oral pills called Previcox. He had a scan a couple of days ago and the Urethra looked better then when the vet first ex ray and scan him a month ago? But the Prostate is a little more swollen the the first set of tests. I am set to fly out to Tennessee on vacation for 7 days in August and was going to board him at his favorite place, was also going to have him scanned and have his lungs x-rayed the first week of August to see if it has spread. He is playing and peeing and pooping eating and drinking everything is normal , how fast can this all go in the opposite direction?can it happen in 7 days when I am gone? Should I cancel my vacation? I don’t want him to have to die alone with some stranger. The vet cant really give me a certain time on how long he has. I just need to know can it move that fast within lets say 10 days?

  4. We started noticing signs back in October 2018 blood work was fine X-ray was fine but we knew something was wrong we had to be more careful about what he ate when he ate if we didn’t add chicken n rice to his kibble he would vomit after that we had good days bad days now March 2019 after he didn’t want to eat we did more blood work and it came back with very low palettes today we did an ultrasound And the doctor confirm our fears he has cancer in the spleen and liver at this point he is bloated uncomfortable breathing very rapidly he still has a big appetite but we have decided that today is the day we have to say goodbye to our angel ..we are a family of 4 and it’s even harder to having to explain to our lil ones 3 and 5 that our milky won’t be coming back home with us ..I’m writing this as I sit here in the park with my family in my dogs favorite park before we have to go to our vet office your pet,care for them and give them the best life ..

    1. My Yorkie was diagnosed with pancreatic, liver and spleen cancer in November 2018. The vet said he had maybe weeks. He has done well till last night. He threw up his food(baked chicken,) and is very bloated this morning. He would not come out from under the bed, I got him and gave him something for nausea. He won’t let me hold him any more, he runs from me. He will be 11 next month. I think his time is just about over. I so dread this.

  5. my eleven year old pittie was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer about 3 months ago. She had a lump on her tail. We had surgery to remove the tumor and amputated part of her tail. She luckily healed fine. They were not able to remove everything as it traveled up her spine. Now three months later its grown back and I am worried the stress of the skin in that area will eventually rupture. I would like to not be at that point. I want to know if there is any pre-warning signs to watch before it does rupture. Is that even possible to rupture? Otherwise she behaves normally, playing, eating, running around you would not even know she has cancer other than the growth. I am at a loss what to do right now.

  6. I have a 10 year old yorkie. He started to have difficulty with stooling. He strains and tries multiple times and poops little ribbon like poops or just a plop of goo. He did vomit 5 days ago but that had stopped. He is not eating much but will drink water. I brought him into vet and he has an enlarged prostate that the vet feels is cancer. Blood work, ua and xray done. The prostate is the size of a mandarin orange. The vet gave me 2 antibiotics for bowel and bladder infection. My dog wouldn’t eat anything for me to get the pills in. I gave it in cat food and he ate it. Now he barfed it all up, continues with little poops. (incontinent) I love this little guy. It seems selfish for me to put him through so much just to give me a few more weeks or months with him. I’m so sad. He is still attempting to chase the cat for a few steps prior to stopping. I don’t know what to do.

    1. We are so sorry to hear about your dog’s diagnosis. We suggest continuing to discuss this with your vet, and ultimately make the decision that feels right for you and your fur baby. We’re thinking of you!

    2. I’m going through the same thing with my yorkie.hes 8 and has prostate cancer. He takes his medicine but the bathroom is really an issue for him. We are taking it day to day. It hurts so bad and I feel selfish for not wanting to let go.

      1. We just were diagnosed with prostate cancer in my 9 year old Yorkie as well. Again, bathroom is an issue, he’s lost weight and is easily tired. However, still wagging his tail and eating food if I prepare it. It’s certainly a hard choice. We have chosen the day by day route as well. Do you notice your pup on any pain?

  7. I wish I found this website earlier I was uneducated on dogs illness and my dog had weight loss fluid in belly and otherwise was ok walking eating drinking playing took to vet because blood in the fluid they suffered removal of spleen my dog would be ok well my dog died and I wish I just let him be until he at least had pain I feel horrible like I made a terrible decision

  8. I have a chow lab mix. She’s turning 12 this year. I got a tumor cut off this year that they told me was cancerous. It had burst. She was pretty sluggish but after it was cut it was like she was brand new. That was in Oct. We are in January and she’s got another cancerous cyst. It’s huge. I’m not home to care for her (she lives with my parents) I live 4 hrs away and I don’t want to put her down. She’s scheduled to get it cut off tomorrow but I’m scared it’s pointless if she doesn’t get the correct care afterwards. She still seems so healthy. Why would I put her down earlier than I should? I just don’t know anymore but I’m thinking into the future. I don’t want her to suffer.

    1. Hi there,
      So sorry you are experiencing this. Thinking of you and your dog at this time. We suggest continuing to consult with the vet and doing what feels right.

  9. My staffie has an oral malignant melanoma. I wish the vet cd just excise it, but they say it’s inoperable. I feel helpless that nothing can be done. Don’t want to lose my little girl. She’s 12.

  10. Pingback: When to Euthanize a Dog with Cancer – Pet Memorial Australia

  11. Pingback: When to Euthanize a Dog with Cancer – Pet Memorial Australia

  12. My King Charles cav has a solid lump on his side close to hind leg it’s been slow growing it’s nor attatched to his skin have been to vets today she said it’s not a fat lump but problem is he has heart trouble and cannot go under anaesthetic and she agrees he also has chronic pancritas he is happy in himself and got a good appetite he will be eleven in February next year
    Could this be cancer

  13. We just put our German Sheppard down yesterday we notice over the past 3 weeks he couldnt go to the toilet propley and he had lost that happy spark in him he was still eating and drinking fine, but i notice that his left leg was draging his spine looked out a bit.
    So We took him to the vet on Monday vet said he was going well but on thursday morning he went down hill again so they opened him up and found a big tumor on his stomuch, they said it has been there over 6 months so Mum decided to put him to sleep and stayed with till the end, thats our second German Sheppard that has gone because of a stomuch tumor now.

  14. Our dog has been diagnosed with tonsil and throat cancer. The vet said he might have few months but he is only 7. We are not sure when to let him go. He seems to be panting more and you can hear wheezing. He is eating if we puree his chicken and he runs to the door when someone comes over. He is a very sweet little guy. We don’t know want him to suffer… not sure what to do.

    1. Hi Mia,
      So sorry to hear that you’re dealing with this! Please reach out to your vet to determine the best course of action. Thinking of you.

  15. Samantha Castillo

    Hi, I am writing to you all because I am in a similar situation about 3 months ago I found out my 11-year-old Labrador has lymphoma (cancer of the throat) we were told she had a couple then that changed to a couple of months. She was given steroids to help keep the lumps on her neck to a minimal but unfortunately, her body has become immune to them and the lumps are becoming larger. She still eats and LOVES food and treats, she wags her tail to greet us and although she is losing some weight and won’t get up as often as she used to she still seems happy. The only thing that worries me is that it sounds like its hard for her to breathe it sounds raspy and she pants a lot any suggestions or insight? I don’t want to let her go too soon but I also don’t want her to be suffering.

  16. Sheryl L Johnson

    I worked for a couple Vets who were very much “quality of life not quantity”. When you know your baby is close to crossing over, he said always look for signs of pain but dogs hide pain, so that may be tough to do. Than pick 3 of your baby’s favorite things…like chasing a ball, eating, going for walks, snuggling in any lap available, chasing the cat, etc. When your baby stops doing the things he loves or is reluctant to do them, it is time to talk to your Vet about Helping them to cross with live and dignity. If your baby is showing pain…not able to lie comfortably, whimpering when standing or moving, aggressive towards you, etc. Or stops eating, see your Vet immediately. One other thing- some, but not all, dogs and cats will hide when it is close to time of crossing. Love them while you have them. Thinking of you during this time!

  17. Stacey Munzenberger

    Hi my blue cattle was diagnosed Friday week ago with cancer of the spleen I feel it’s time to let him go as he isn’t eating much has lost a lot of weight but is drinking not a huge amount but a bit. He isn’t active lays round sad looking is constipated and his pee is blood stained.

    Would you recommend letting him go my husband refuses to let go it’s taking a toll looking after him as I have to come home every 2 hours to take him outside to the loo and hope he is still alive. Please help

    1. Hi Stacey — So sorry to hear about your dog’s diagnosis. Please contact your vet to determine the best course of action. Thinking of you and your family at this time.

  18. Hi Gloria, I just saw your post and that it was a couple months ago. I wonder if you have done anything. I was on here because I found out today my Pug has cancer spreading fast. She too has a lump hanging down from her belly but she seems happy and hungry as ever. We are taking things day by day. When she seems to be in pain and not herself anymore I guess we will make the decision. I’m so sorry for you and us, but I try to focus on how happy we made our dog and how fun she has been for us.

  19. My dog was diagnosed with cancer tumor 14 months ago. The tumor has grown really big and is hanging. When she lays down her leg does not reach the floor because of the tumor. Her day consist of eating drinking ,sleeping and going out to pee.. she follows us where ever we are.she limps when getting up or jumping off the furniture. Is it tine to let her go?

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