Terminal Illness Diagnosis and One’s Pet

The horrible news that one’s dog or cat has a terminal illness or a lethal disease is horrifying.  Upon visiting a vet clinic, one is already anxious.  The drive to the clinic, the waiting and the visit itself can make one extremely anxious.  As lab results are completed, nervous optimism is quickly replaced with the dread of the diagnosis.  Upon hearing that one’s pet has a health issue, one is left with numerous questions.  What are the options?  What is the cost?  Is it terminal, and if so, how much time if left?  Are there any treatments to give more time?  What are options to reduce pain?  These questions all emerge in a whirlwind as one is left with the car ride home realizing that one’s pet has a serious condition and time that was once thought to be guaranteed is no longer a reality.

The terminal diagnosis of a beloved pet can be earth shattering and heart breaking. There are options and also things to consider with the little time that may be left.


While already extremely painful, this is even far worst when the dog or cat is within the prime of his or her life.  Far from the average life span, a pet who is diagnosed while still young is a horrible pain to face.  The robbery of years only complicates the pain of the loss.

The article, “Tears as Owner Makes Memories With Her Dog After Pet’s Fatal Diagnosis” by Maria Azzurra Volpe relates a sad story of a Golden Retriever who faced a fatal diagnosis and a younger age and how the family grieved and coped.  She relates how the dog owner tried to enjoy the few days left.  The man who lost the dog remarked,

“Photographed him as much as I could. Took him to see his best friend. Had a photoshoot of the two of us. Facetimed when I was away. Received lots of loving gifts. Celebrated lymphoma awareness holidays. Got to spend one last holiday together. He still joined me for morning coffee. And snuggles. He enjoyed his last holiday with all his family.”

“Tears as Owner Makes Memories With Her Dog After Pet’s Fatal Diagnosis” Volpe, M. (2023). NewsWeek

To read the entire article, please click here


For some, the terminal diagnosis of a dog, cat, horse, or even smaller rabbit, or hamster is within the life span of a pet.  A dog that lives 12 to 14 years within a medium size breed is a good life.  One can rationalize and remember the better days but still be grateful for the company and time spent, while those who lose a dog as a puppy or around 3 to 7 years of age may very well feel robbed of golden years.  Like any person taken in their youth or prime, there is a sense of not just loss but a sense of robbery of time.  This is not to dismiss the pain felt when one loses a fury child at a far older age, but it does add more lamenting to the equation when one dies younger.  Terminal illness can change everything.

For those who can afford, sometimes surgeries or procedures can be done to try to save the pet, or alleviate pain, or give a few more months or even a year or two, but many things need to be considered when deciding upon treatments.  Will the treatment cause more pain?  Is the treatment effective or experimental?  How old is the pet and would the pet survive treatment?  Unfortunately those without pet insurance, many cannot afford the treatment all together.  The only alternative is keeping the pet comfortable and showering him or her with love.

Obviously for our pet children, price usually is not an issue.  If anything is within logic or has some success rate, many will pay the necessary amount and hope for the best, if the procedure has a high rate of success, the pet is healthy enough to undergo it and it does not create more harm then good.  Some cancers can be removed with a high rate of success, while others are not or do not have conclusive results.  These cases need to be considered upon an individual basis.

One important thing to consider is prevention.  What is the case history of your pets parents or grandparents?  How did they pass?  Also, it is so important to ensure your pets receive regular vet visits and receive the proper blood work.  Many diseases can be prevented or caught early by simply giving your pet the best healthcare possible via regular visits to the vet.  It is truly disheartening to see how many individuals do supply their dogs or cats with the necessary preventive medications.  Dogs should be on heartworm pills monthly, but so many owners do not spend the money or give their dog the proper the care they need to live long and healthy lives.

When Only Time is Left

If only time is left and no options remain, one needs to be strong for the pet.  One needs to keep the pet pain free and comfortable and enjoy the final days.  It is important at this time to also discuss with any children within the family what is occurring, so they can understand the nature of death and what is happening to the beloved fury family member.  In this time period, one should definitely express grief and prepare oneself but also to spend time.  Make the final months or year special.  Do special things that your pet loves to do, shower him or her with affection and special treats.   Also take pictures, videos, and share them with family and friends.

When little time is left with a pet, make the best of it. Please also review AIHCP’s Pet Loss Grief Support Program


When the day comes, if planned, try to make the final day a special day.  Give your pet his or her most favorite food or treats and be there to the final end.  Do not send him or her alone to be euthanized but remain at the side.  This is not about you but about him or her at this moment.  It is about keeping him or her calm and peaceful.

After this loss, memorialize, keep ones’ pet fur, or ashes in a special place,  The time of grieving will definitely occur but more than likely, one has experienced a type of anticipatory grief and the grief may be intense at first or dulled but do not shy away from the emotions.  The loss will , as any loss, stick with you and come and go.  Pet loss is true loss as any other grief.  Do not let others diminish the loss or make you feel crazy for grieving the loss of a pet.  Do not let others discredit the loss because it is not a human being.  Instead grieve and allow the bereavement process to take its path.  When later you are able to smile at pictures and remember the good days, then do so, but do not rush the process.


A terminal diagnosis of a pet can be heartbreaking.  Understand the options and utilize the time you have left properly.  Never allow anyone to diminish the loss or make it seem not significant.  Grieve and grow and always remember the special love shared between you and your baby.

Please also review AIHCP’s Pet Loss Grief Counseling Support Certification and see if it meets your academic and professional goals


Please also review AIHCP’s Pet Loss Grief Support Certification and see if it meets your academic and professional goals.  The program is online and independent study and open to qualified professionals seeking a four year certification.  The Pet Loss Program is a specialty program within the American Academy of Grief Counseling that primarily focuses on the unique grief of pet loss.

Additional Resources

“End of Life Care for Pets FAQ”. WebMed Contributing Editor. (2023). WebMed.  Access here

“When to Put a Dog Down: 8 Signs it Might Be Time”. Pendergrasse, J. (2023). GreatPetCare.  Access here

“How to Cope When Your Dog is Dying: 19 Tips”. Vasquez, A. (2023). Cake. Access here

“End of Life Care”. ASPCA.  Access here