Tag Archives: dog wellbeing

Making the best dog decision

One of the most profound responsibilities we take on as dog owners is, literally, life and death. How do you know you’re making the best dog decision? 

We’re not talking about euthanasia today. Instead, it’s the incredible uncertainty of making treatment decisions that not only impact your dog’s longevity, but quality of life as well.

Faced with choices

A friend of ours is going through it right now with her dog. The dog is nine years old, and just had surgery to remove a lump that, unfortunately, turned out to be her third mast cell cancer. Now our friend is facing some tough choices.

The veterinarian who’s a surgical specialist wants to do another surgery to make sure all the cancerous tissue is removed. A general veterinarian did the initial surgery and did get “clean margins.” 

Another veterinarian who’s an oncologist wants to use both radiation and chemotherapy to treat the dog.

To make matters more confusing, my friend’s daughter is a veterinarian. She told her mom that radiation is often very hard on dogs and affects their quality of life.

Of course none of them can predict a positive – or negative – outcome of their recommended treatment. 

Even more complex

Added onto all this, our friend is also into natural health and wellness. She’s a yoga instructor and conscientious in her diet and lifestyle. 

Not to mention that with the resources available today, she’s been researching all the possibilities of treatment, including dietary supplements, additions, and possible triggers for this type of cancer.

It can get overwhelming. What’s the right thing to do for her dog? All of the professionals she’s consulted are making recommendations based on their expertise and interest in helping her dog. All are acting in good faith. And all of them want to cure her dog. But all of them advocate for what they know best. 

Step back and breathe

Picture of two French bulldogs in the sun to illustrate dog decision.
Our dogs enjoying the sunshine at our shop.

Our friend really just needed an opportunity to talk things out, think about her choices, and her sweet dog. We’ve been friends a long time through our mutual interest in dogs and dog training. There is no “right” answer that will guarantee her dog’s longevity or health. When we first started to chat, she sounded pessimistic, as if she was expecting her dog to die any time. And then she looked over and saw her dog happily snoozing in a ray of sunshine, and realized there’s still time.

We talked over lots of options and our friend has pretty much decided what’s right for her and her dog. She’s decided to do everything that will do no harm. The supplements she’s trying may not help, but won’t hurt. For now, she’s ruled out additional surgery and radiation. Her dog has had one chemotherapy treatment and dealt with it well, so she’ll stay the course as long as that holds true.

Results not guaranteed

With our dogs unable to tell us how they feel, all dog owners take their cues from the dog’s attitude and behavior. It’s up to us to read the signals and figure out what’s going on with them. It’s not easy, especially since we never know if we’re making the “right” decision. It boils down to choosing the best you can. And living with the consequences. 

When faced with difficult choices, step back and breathe. Talk to friends and family as well as the experts. Do some poking around reliable online sources – but make sure those sources are reliable. And then make the best dog decision you’re able. 

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How to know your dog’s in pain

Animals try to hide symptoms they don’t feel good. In the wild, it’s a survival trait. When it’s our pets, we have to pay attention to know when a dog’s in pain.

There are some obvious signs. The most notable in our experience happened years ago. One day when we got home from work, our Boston Terrier Daemon screamed when we touched him. The shrieking was terrifying. Off to the emergency vet we went, in a blizzard. It turned out Daemon had gas. We’re grateful that’s all it was. But it was one of those moments when you really wish dogs could talk and we could have handed him a Tums.

Subtler signs

Most of the time, the signs your dog’s in pain will be much more subtle. 

Within the last few weeks, we noticed that Torque (Hope’s French Bulldog) had some muscle/skin twitching when we petted him along his side. If we hadn’t been watching at the time, we may not have noticed. We weren’t too bothered by it – we’d noticed him slip on the melting ice and figured he probably had a bruise or strained muscle. When we checked again the next day the twitching had stopped. 

With a fleeting pain signal like the twitching, watching it over the course of a day is probably safe, according to most veterinarians. If it persists, at least give your veterinarian a call and get her recommendation. 

photo of a bandaged stuffed dog in pain

Physical symptoms of pain in dogs, other than the muscle twitching may include: holding their head low, shaking or trembling, arching of the back, and panting.

Mobility issues can also be signs that your dog’s in pain. Reluctance to lie down or get up, limping, walking slowly, or sitting abruptly, could all be caused by pain.

Behavior changes that may indicate your dog’s in pain

One pain indicator that may be misinterpreted is restlessness, or an inability to calm down. It’s such a vague reaction that you may think your dog’s just being annoying, especially if you have a high-strung dog. 

Other signs may include: reluctance to eat, avoiding touch, constant licking or whining, and even aggression. 

The other day at the shop we had a customer come in to talk about her 16-year-old Yorkie. Her dog used to be wonderfully-behaved for grooming, including nail trims, tooth-brushing, and hair-trimming. But now the dog is cringing and even growling when the owner tries any of it. It’s quite likely the dog is suffering some pain, probably from arthritis at her advanced age, and the owner is going to talk to her vet about getting some relief for her dog.

Help with the diagnosis

If you think your dog may be in pain, one of the most helpful things you can do is keep track of what’s going on. These days, when many people are still unable to accompany their pets into the veterinarian’s office, a journal of symptoms may be extremely helpful in making a diagnosis. 

If you note that your dog is having trouble getting up after a nap, the vet may know to look at a specific part of the body. Same thing if your dog now prefers his/her bowl raised up off the ground. Or, like our customer with the Yorkie, something that’s changed over the last few months. With an issue like arthritis, the changes may be gradual over time and your observations can help.

Treatment options

There are many possible treatments for pain in dogs. These can range from watching for a day or two, to pain medication, to physical therapy and/or massage, to acupuncture, to surgery. But the first step to relieving it is knowing the signs when your dog’s in pain.