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Making the Best Decisions for our Senior Dogs

Posted on 08/09/12 73 Comments

Some of us fortunate dog owners will, at some point in time, have the great honor of living with a senior dog. Senior dogs make me laugh. Our relationship develops in a complete different way then it did when these dogs where my “competition partners.” What defines “senior” I think is for each of us to decide. For me personally I think age is just a number. My birth certificate may read that I am 51 years old but I will not buy into that! I believe the same holds true for my dogs.

Baby Buzzy showing his intensity for life.

My oldest dog today “Buzz” (who will be 16 years old in less than a month) has always lived with such joy. He truly exemplifies living each day as if it was your birthday and he has been that way since the day I brought him home as a 7 week old puppy.

A few months ago I had Buzz’s “wellness” blood work done at my vet clinic. When my vet herself made the phone call about the results I was a bit panicked (isn’t that the job of a vet tech??).  Panic was replaced with relief as Dr. Kelly announced in a rather surprised voice that Buzz’s wellness profile looked very similar to a 5 year old dog. No values where elevated anywhere. Hurray for Buzz!

As Buzzy has aged he has developed a collection of “lumps” or Lipomas all over his body.  These are relatively harmless fat deposits under the skin that many dogs acquire as they grow older. A few years ago when crazy man Buzz knocked out one of his front teeth (and needed a surgery to remove a root) I decided to remove his biggest two lumps which hung down under his chest.

Great decision, life went on, Buzzy was unfazed.

Buzz’s body started betraying him as a 5 year old so over the past 11 years he has had to do a lot of “compensating” to get around. Still he will not be denied. When I set out to take the dogs for their “big walk” around our field Buzz always wants in.  Don’t anyone suggest he is “too old” for the hills (there are a lot of them). Even though it only takes 15 minutes to make the trip around, the hills and uneven surface of the field make it challenging for a “senior” dog.

“None are so old as those who have outlived enthusiasm”. ~ Henry David Thoreau

Pic taken last week, Buzzy ready to cruise in a '56 T-Bird.

Buzzy has certainly not outlived enthusiasm. However in the last month I noticed he has gotten much slower on our daily walks and decided it must have something to do with his latest large lipomas. Buzz didn’t have the best hips in the world as a 2 year old and now he had a huge fatty tumour hanging directly under his hips. It had gotten so big it effected the way he walked and the weight of it dragged him down. I decided to see if it was possible to “drain” the large unwanted protuberance without putting Buzz under a general anesthetic. The answer sadly was no.

However I woke up the next morning with a strong need to do more for Buzz. Yes he was almost 16 years old but his blood values where that of a 5 year old PLUS he was still crazy with joy for life. I thought today his body would withstand surgery but next year at this time I may not have that option and the size and weight of this tumor would be what finally ends his life.

Was I crazy? Should I be considering surgery for Buzz? I consulted my long time friend Dr. Leslie (who happens to also be a veterinarian) and she said even though I may in fact be slightly crazy my idea to help Buzz wasn’t. She said I could go to a clinic that performs “laser surgery” it will be a much faster surgery as they just “zap” the blood vessels and the recovery will be better because the laser is less invasive than traditional surgery.

I was intrigued because this nagging feeling that I could do more for Buzz just wouldn’t go away. My next concern was recovery. I didn’t want to put Buzz through days or weeks of pain. So I still hesitated, but I was interested enough to do some research. Dr. Leslie directed me to her friend Dr. Renee Fleming at Guelph Animal Hospital. As luck would have it on Dr. Fleming’s bio was this line that made all the difference in the world for me.

Her most avid area of interest is pain control – both surrounding surgery and for chronic conditions such as arthritis or cancer. She is currently working on her certification for the International Veterinary Academy of Pain Management

Bingo, it was just what I needed to read, I was game. I further read up on this laser surgery  and after an long conversation with Dr. Fleming made the decision to book Buzzy for surgery the day after I arrived home from the Canadian Nationals.

Buzz had his surgery on Tuesday and had not one, but three limpomas removed. The surgery itself was under 90 minutes. I brought him home 5 hours later. He is already much happier. Yes we have 2 weeks until the stitches come out but he hasn’t skipped a beat. He is moving so much better and I can tell he is happy with my decision.

I decided to share this experience with all of you to give you the confidence to make these tough decisions for your older dogs. It certainly wasn’t an easy decision for me. John said to me before, “only do this if you could be okay with the consequences of something unpredicted happening and Buzz not making it through the surgery.” I knew in my heart I could because success would make Buzz’s life so much better and doing nothing meant watching Buzz struggle the rest of his days carrying around at least 10 extra pounds of “lumps.”

Having a senior dog in the house can bring joy, but I think it is critical that we bring joy to them.  A few years ago I wrote about the importance of “Big Adventures” for our senior dogs

I really believe the small effort of these big adventures makes a mammoth difference to our dog’s longevity but it also can brings you joy as you take a few moments from your day to reflect on a lifetime. This blog is written in celebration of the senior dog, may every day of their “retired” lives be enriched and filled with many “big adventures.”

Today I am grateful to have Buzzy safe and sound recovering at home.


  1. Catherine says:
    Friday, February 16, 2018 at 9:52pm

    My almost 13 yr old dog has a 13 cm mass on his liver and small mass on his spleen.
    Do I put him thru surgery. They’ve done an ultrasound and CT scan to determine if surgery was even possible.
    If he was younger it would be so much easier.


  2. Jeanne says:
    Friday, January 19, 2018 at 3:25pm

    Hi all
    I have a 14 1/2 year old golden retriever
    He has a tumor in his chest and has started to get bigger over the past week.
    He’s in great form and I brought him to the vet to get it examined.
    He advises that he should get it removed as it’s growing very fast.
    If I leave it I run the risk of it getting bigger and getting it removed further down the track or to just do it now.
    Booked in for a week but I am soooo worried.
    I have to think of him and not me
    Fingers crossed it will all go to plan.
    I am a vet nurse but when it’s your own it’s a different story..


  3. Lynnette Pope says:
    Saturday, January 13, 2018 at 6:50pm

    My 13 1/2 year old pit has had chronic ear infections. I have spent thousands on treatment. It has gotten so bad that he now needs a TECA (total ear canal removal). He is strong as an ox aside from the pain and swelling the polyps in his ear is causing. The surgery is $3000. I am a working class gal. I’m going to get it done Thursday. Keep us in your prayers.


    • Lynnette Pope says:
      Saturday, January 20, 2018 at 10:18am

      Unfortunately his ear had progressed to an inoperable tumor. He is being euthanized tomorrow. Ear so painful and bloody with no solution. It has ateacher to his skull. My good Mister. So sad.


      • kim says:
        Monday, February 5, 2018 at 7:06pm

        I am so sorry…

      • Cindy says:
        Sunday, February 18, 2018 at 8:13pm

        I’m so sorry. It hurts so deeply when we loose our pets since they are family! I hope the memories of your beloved dog will help ease the pain. ❤️🐾

    • Terri says:
      Wednesday, February 14, 2018 at 7:22am

      I am sorry for your lost. I thank God for you. My 13yr. old Jack Russell has a large fatty tumor under his upper-leg leading down into his chest. It covers the entire right side of his chest. He needs surgery but it will be at least 3 months before I can raise $1030.00. I pray it doesn’t grow anymore. You have given me a different perspective. If you would not had provideed the surgery you would not had known just how much Mister was hurting and he couldn’t go on that way. You are brave. I hope I can be just 1/2 as brave as you have been. God bless you.


  4. Lissa says:
    Thursday, January 4, 2018 at 1:53am

    Thank you so much for this!
    My 15 year old maltese is going for teeth examination and possible tooth removal tomorrow. Her bloods were similar to your beautiful dogs, what you would expect in a much younger dog. We won’t know till she gets there if this is the problem and i admit it is somewhat of a gamble. She is however, losing vitality and like you i feel that we can help her regain it.

    A further thank you for the beautiful description of owning a senior dog, so accurate. It brought happy tears to my eyes.

    I am always surprised to hear of people abandoning senior dogs. A tragedy for the dog but also the human who will miss the best years of thier dogs life.


  5. lyanne says:
    Friday, August 25, 2017 at 8:19pm

    Right now my 12 year old yellow lab is recovering from a thoracotomy. They removed a 4 cm tumor from her right lung lobe and it was solitary and she is recovering well (still waiting for biopsy results). She’s eating, wagging her tail, testing all the beds in the house and sleeping lots. My question is this.. she also has a 5 cm mass in her spleen. We didn’t remove it all at once although she is a healthy girl, because it’s too invasive to cut open her entire body. The surgeon told me to give her two weeks to recover and then to remove the mass in her spleen. I’m having a hard time with the first one, apologizing to her for having made her go through such an ordeal and she’s such a tough cookie that she’s recovering.. But to recover twice? I just find it so hard, but I’ve heard the spleen can rupture.. so I’m at a loss. If it prolongs her life, and it’s a happy one, not one of recovery, I’m all for it… but I don’t know what to do.. 🙁


  6. donna says:
    Thursday, August 10, 2017 at 10:17pm

    If a dog is 16 1/2 with good lungs, good heart but had a lump removed in July from her stomach – we didnt send it off as we thought we wouldnt put her through chemo. Thought we were good to go but now she has a lump on her front top leg where it attaches to her body. Come up really big in a week – not much to work with if removed and she may have the concept of an open wound or have her leg amputated – wouldnt work as her back legs are going. She has licked it so much its gone pink. How much do we put her through.


    • Gee says:
      Tuesday, February 13, 2018 at 12:21pm

      My best friend is 15 1/2 husky. Full of love, energy and joy. Yesterday we found out he has a lump on the left side of his liver and they are having a hard time locating his stomach via ultrasound. Doctor recommendation is to do a CT scan and then surgery. My concern is he has had issue with antitheses in the past when he went to cardiac arrest.

      I do not want him to suffer as the lump spreads but not sure if he will survive the surgery. Should I let him live the rest of his month as is with pain medication monitoring or risk him dying during surgery. What would you recommend?


      • Terri says:
        Wednesday, February 14, 2018 at 7:27am

        Give it a shot. Try. God knows.

  7. Annie says:
    Friday, May 19, 2017 at 7:55am

    Please help. My dog had his liposarcoma removed surgically and even w chlorambucil it’s has regrown twice the size in the 3 months since his surgery. The location is making it very hard and painful for him to walk, get up and down. What do I do? The surgery cost was $1700 and the monthly cost of chlorambucil and subsequent blood testing is $300 a month. I’m at a loss and don’t know what else to do for him. He’s a 12 yr old setter, takes 100mg rimadyl (deramaxx didn’t do well), and tramadol.


    • Sandy says:
      Wednesday, June 28, 2017 at 12:36am

      If that is cancer, don’t let him suffer. You will know when it’s the right time to let him go.


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