Pet Health

5 Common Terminal Dog Diseases

Most dog diseases are treatable, but sometimes they can become terminal. Here are five common terminal dog diseases and what to expect.

February 16, 2023
5 Common Terminal Dog Diseases

Just like humans, dogs might get sick at some point. Whether it’s an infectious disease or a chronic illness, most common dog diseases are treatable. However, others can be severe — even terminal.

If your dog is diagnosed with a terminal illness, you may have a difficult time ahead. Dealing with your pet’s prognosis can lead to intense emotions like helplessness, guilt and grief. One of the most difficult things a pet parent can face is caring for their companion during the last stages of their life. From beginning to end, terminal illnesses can take a huge emotional toll on pet parents.

It may help to familiarize yourself with the most common terminal diseases your dog might face, as well as what steps to take next. A poor prognosis doesn’t mean there’s nothing left to do. Depending on how advanced the illness is, you may still be able to enjoy the time you have left with your beloved companion.  

Common Terminal Dog Diseases: Progression and Key Considerations

Although a veterinarian may not be able to cure a terminal illness, they can help you make your dog as comfortable and happy as possible. With supportive care, also called palliative care, you can provide hospice for your dog through a dedicated program or at home under a veterinarian’s guidance. This can be a good option for dogs that can still enjoy a good quality of life through pain management and other intensive care and monitoring.

As the illness progresses, you must eventually decide what to do next. When all options for treatment and palliative care have been exhausted, it may be time to make the most compassionate choice: euthanasia. When a dog isn’t enjoying a good quality of life — due to pain or other illness-related symptoms — euthanasia can bring a peaceful end to suffering.

Here are five common dog diseases you might encounter throughout your dog’s life.

1. Cancer

It’s not uncommon to find lumps and bumps on your dog during a physical examination. However, these can also be a sign of cancer — a disease that causes approximately half of all deaths in dogs over the age of 10.

“Cancer” is a blanket term for various diseases involving abnormal cell growth spreading into the surrounding tissue. Not all cancer is malignant.

Some of the most common and terminal forms of cancer for dogs include lymphoma, hemangiosarcoma, oral cancer, and osteosarcoma.

As cancerous cells spread, they can start to impede how a dog’s body functions. To test for cancer, a veterinarian can use one or more of the following: blood samples, needle aspirations, ultrasounds, and biopsies.

Although it’s a common disease in dogs, many forms of cancer are treatable. Others, however, are incurable or terminal.

2. Congestive Heart Failure

Congestive heart failure occurs when a dog’s resting cardiac pressure increases enough that fluid in the veins and capillaries begin to leak out into the surrounding tissues. As a result, fluid builds up in a dog’s lungs or other cavities like the chest or abdomen.

This condition can have many causes, from disease of the heart valves to heartworm disease, but ultimately is the result of significant heart disease, whatever the underlying cause.

The most common sign of congestive heart failure is shortness of breath. It may include persistent coughing or fluid buildup in the abdomen (ascites) with or without fluid buildup in the tissues (edema). This condition represents severe heart disease and can’t be cured in most cases, but treatment and medications can help improve a dog’s quality and length of life.

Related content: What to expect from pet euthanasia

3. Chronic Kidney Failure

Chronic kidney failure is a common cause of death for older dogs. When the dog’s kidneys stop functioning and lose their ability to filter waste, the rest of the body is also affected. 

Many dogs with late-stage chronic kidney disease are good candidates for at-home palliative care as their condition progresses. However, the condition is almost always terminal.

4. Liver Damage or Failure

Chronic liver disease can sometimes be treated to prolong a dog’s life. However, liver failure is the last and final stage of liver disease. Viral diseases, bacterial infections, acute poisoning, neoplasia (cancer), storage disease, or physical trauma can also cause liver failure.

When the liver damage reaches the point of failure, the body begins to shut down. At-home or in-office supportive care can make dogs more comfortable as the liver failure progresses. Still, eventually, euthanasia may be the best choice to relieve suffering.

5. Severe Pain From Arthritis, Poor Mobility, or Incontinence

A dog’s joints can stiffen or weaken as they age or due to a chronic condition like arthritis. While arthritis isn’t a terminal illness, it can create severe chronic pain that can diminish their quality of life.  

There are many at-home treatment options to manage the symptoms of arthritis or incontinence, but if the pain advances to the point where they can no longer walk or urinate, euthanasia may be the kindest option.

Making the Compassionate Choice for Your Beloved Pet

Whether they’re in a hospital or you’re making them comfortable at home, watching your best friend deal with a terminal disease can be devastating. Euthanasia might be the last thing you want to think about, but it can be the most compassionate choice and truly a gift for a dog that is suffering.

You’re not alone on this journey. Contact us for a phone consultation if you need help with your decision, or schedule an appointment with a CodaPet vet when you’re ready.

Dr. Bethany Hsia

Dr. Bethany spent 10 years in clinic life before beginning to offer in-home pet euthanasia.

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