“Is he going to die?”
That’s one of the toughest questions I get. And strangely, one of my favorite to answer, usually. The answer is always the same.
Yes. Your dog is going to die.
But usually I follow that up with “But not today.”
It’s a classic existential dilemma. Usually I get the question when we’ve diagnosed diabetes, kidney disease or congestive heart failure. All of those things can shorten life spans or even lead to situations where the quality of life necessitates euthanasia. But only rarely do they mean what the owner is implying.
Yes, your dog is going to die. Just like he was the first day you brought him in 10 years ago or when I gave him his first vaccines.
Yes, your cute canine is going to die when he came in after eating your trash and had diarrhea.
All of those times, your dog was going to die.
But I don’t want you to focus on that. Remember, every dog dies. Their physical existence here with us is limited just like ours. Eventually, time wins and the body can’t hold up.
So maybe the owner really wants an idea of how much time is left.
Based on statistics, I can usually offer a rough idea. But with biology, nothing is written in stone.
One of my favorite patients is Cuddles. She was about 9 years old when I diagnosed her with widespread mammary cancer. She had tumors from her front legs to her back legs. And the biopsy results revealed it was the worst kind of tumor.
Few dogs with her specific situation live three months. Given the prognosis, her family decided not to put her through chemotherapy or radiation following surgery. I couldn’t really argue.
Cuddles is 14 now. Apparently she isn’t good with numbers. I like that about her.
So when I get asked that question, I always answer yes. All dogs die. Just like humans die. But unlike us, most dogs live every day. There’s a lesson there.
Matthew Sisk is a practicing veterinarian from Habersham County. Have questions about your pet? He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.