Gone West

President Hap Philbin
President Hap Philbin
Today a client of mine and I, both lost our beloved older dogs. We had both faced terrible choices and then experienced painful loss.


Pet death is not talked about much between veterinarian and devoted pet owner, unless and until a health circumstance arises in which it is imminent. Until then, we prefer to celebrate the life and times of our animals, as if that life might go on forever. Oh, that it could be so.


My client is someone I’ve known just a short time. Their dog’s specific illness was unknown at presentation, but they knew something was wrong. Their dog’s appetite was off, the dog was breathing hard and was lethargic. She hadn’t been quite herself for perhaps 4 weeks or more. Unfortunately, X-ray images soon revealed what was very likely a cancerous tumor on the dog’s spleen.  Surgery and pathology confirmed the diagnosis. In a short time, the cancer spread and made a good quality of life impossible. This dog’s disease can be described as “an acute exacerbation of a previously silent, but chronic condition.” The tumor most certainly was present for at least 4 to 6 months, but was not apparent for all that time.


My own dog was almost 13 and had a known, complex and chronic disease. Hypertension with vascular accidents (bleeds) in the brain had required he remain on chronic use prednisone, to minimize behavioral changes due to those bleeds. Hypertension also induced kidney injury, which was a complicating factor in his treatment, as was his dependency on prednisone. As of today, it had become clear my dog’s quality of life had deteriorated. I can describe his condition as “an acute exacerbation of a known, chronic disease process.” I had long known this day was coming.


Both dogs had a chronic illness, with one presenting acutely, while the other had a chronic condition that had de-compensated.  Still, both my client and I experienced great sadness at losing our long time companions. Neither of us was ready, as it’s never the right time for such loss.


Neither scenario is easier than the other for caring pet owners.  The pain of loss at the end of life is just part and parcel of the joy we experience of sharing our lives with our pets. As a veterinarian deeply involved with the lives of my patients and clients, in addition to the lives of my own pets, I get to share in the joy that pet ownership brings. The cost of that joy is also sharing in loss.  I would have it no other way.

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