When the Love is Strong, But the Pain is Stronger: A Guide to Euthanasia for Dogs with Brain Tumors

🦴 Updated on July 4th, 2023


One of the most heart-wrenching decisions a dog owner can face is determining when to euthanize their beloved pet suffering from a brain tumor. 

Brain tumors in dogs can be incredibly invasive and life-altering, often leading to a decreased quality of life as they progress. It is critical for dog owners to observe their pet’s symptoms and make informed decisions based on their dog’s well-being and comfort levels.

In this article, we will explore the various aspects of dog brain tumors, including the signs that may indicate the disease’s progression and the factors to consider when deciding when to euthanize. 

Our goal is to provide guidance and support for those facing this difficult and emotional choice, ensuring that your furry companion receives the proper care and attention necessary in their final days.

As we delve into this topic, we will also examine the advice from veterinarians and experts in the field, helping pet owners navigate the complex and often overwhelming journey of managing a dog’s brain tumor. 

By providing relevant information and resources, we hope to bring comfort and assurance to those seeking answers during this challenging time.

Understanding Dog Brain Tumors

Dog brain tumors are cancerous masses found in a dog’s cranial cavity. These tumors can be categorized into two main types: primary and secondary. Primary brain tumors originate from the brain tissue itself, while secondary tumors result from cancer spreading to the brain from another part of the body.

Primary brain tumors in dogs include several different types of cancers, such as:

  • Meningioma
  • Choroid plexus papilloma
  • Glioma
  • Adenocarcinoma

Brain cancer in dogs accounts for 2-5% of all canine cancer cases. It develops due to the uncontrolled growth of cells in the dog’s brain. Symptoms of a dog brain tumor can be non-specific initially, making it difficult to pinpoint the issue as a brain tumor. Some common signs to look out for include:

  • Behavioral changes, such as increased aggression
  • Decreased vision
  • Panting
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Depression
  • General weakness and lethargy
  • Head tilting
  • Hearing loss

Signs and Symptoms

Dog brain tumors can manifest through various symptoms. One of the earliest signs is frequent seizures, which usually start after the dog turns five years old. Seizures that last for extended periods, or vestibular disease, may indicate that the situation is worsening.

Changes in behavior, such as increased aggression or anxiety, are common as well. Dogs may also become disoriented, confused, or even start head pressing. Pay close attention to your dog’s daily habits and demeanor, as these shifts can be subtle and easily overlooked.

Physical symptoms are not uncommon either. Dogs with brain tumors may experience difficulties in walking, stumbling, falling, and head tilting. In some cases, a tumor may affect their balance and mobility, making it more challenging to perform daily tasks.

Finally, the dog may suffer from weight loss, chronic lethargy, and anorexia. Refusal to eat for more than a couple of days or decreased appetite can be a clear warning sign that your dog’s condition is deteriorating, and it might be time to consult with a veterinarian on the next steps to take.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Diagnosing a dog with a brain tumor typically involves a CT scan, chest x-ray, and examination of urine, blood, or spinal fluid samples. The CT scan is particularly useful for determining the existence and extent of the brain tumor.

After a diagnosis has been made, there are a few possible treatment options for dogs with brain tumors. Neurosurgery offers the best outcome but isn’t always viable, depending on the tumor’s location. 

For eligible surgery cases, radiation or chemotherapy is often administered post-surgery to eliminate any remaining cancer cells.

When surgery isn’t an option, other treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy can be explored. These therapies may provide relief and extend a dog’s life, though they may not fully eradicate the tumor. 

In some instances, palliative care is chosen by dog owners to prioritize their pet’s comfort and quality of life during the remaining time.

Quality of Life Assessment

When considering euthanasia for a dog with a brain tumor, it’s essential to assess their quality of life. The Quality of Life Scale is a valuable tool that helps dog owners make this difficult decision. 

This scale, created by Dr. Alice Villalobos, evaluates several factors to provide a score that reflects the pet’s well-being.

Important factors to consider include:

  • Hurt: Level of pain and discomfort experienced
  • Hunger: Ability to maintain a healthy appetite
  • Hydration: Proper hydration and intake of fluids
  • Hygiene: Maintaining cleanliness, especially if mobility is affected
  • Happiness: Frequency of joy and engagement in daily activities
  • Mobility: Ease of movement and independence
  • More Good Days Than Bad: A critical summary of their overall well-being

By adding up the scores for each factor, you can determine if your dog’s quality of life is acceptable or should be discussed further with a veterinarian. 

According to Cesar’s Way, a score above 35 reflects acceptable quality of life, while a score below 35 may indicate it’s time to consider euthanasia. It’s essential to consult with your veterinarian throughout the decision-making process to ensure the best choice for your pet.

When to Consider Euthanasia

Deciding when to euthanize a dog with a brain tumor can be a heart-wrenching decision for pet owners. Several factors should be taken into account, one of which is your dog’s quality of life. 

If your dog’s quality of life is severely impacted by the tumor, and they are in constant pain, euthanasia may be the most compassionate option.

Keep a close eye on your dog’s behavior and overall health. Monitor for symptoms such as seizures, confusion, incoordination, blindness or difficulty walking. 

When these symptoms become severe and affect your dog’s ability to enjoy their day-to-day life, it may be an indication that it’s time to consider euthanasia.

Consulting with your veterinarian is crucial during this difficult decision-making process. They can provide insights into your dog’s condition, treatment options, and prognosis. 

Your vet will help you weigh the benefits of potential treatments against the possible adverse effects on your dog’s well-being.

Ultimately, it is important to consider your dog’s comfort, pain levels, and overall happiness in order to make the most compassionate decision. Remember that every dog’s situation is unique, and the best choice will depend on the individual circumstances.

Making the Decision

Deciding when to euthanize a dog with a brain tumor is a heart-wrenching choice for pet owners. It’s crucial to consider your dog’s quality of life and consult with your veterinarian throughout the process. 

Keep in mind that a severely impacted quality of life and constant pain can be key indicators that euthanasia may be the most compassionate option.

As your dog’s condition progresses, observe their daily activities, comfort levels, and overall well-being to help determine if their suffering has become too much. 

To aid in making an informed decision, create a list of factors that indicate a good quality of life, such as appetite, mobility, and social interaction. Regularly evaluate your dog against these factors to recognize any decline in their condition.

Collaborate with your veterinarian to discuss the prognosis and potential treatment options. They will provide valuable insight and advice, taking into consideration the specific details of your dog’s brain tumor.

It’s also helpful to involve close friends or family members to offer emotional support and additional perspectives during this difficult time.

Remember, the decision should be based on your dog’s best interest and well-being, and not solely on your own emotions. 

Euthanizing your dog can be an incredibly difficult decision, but ultimately, it is better to choose a peaceful and painless end for your beloved pet when they are no longer able to live a fulfilling life.

Preparing and Coping with Loss

When faced with the decision to euthanize a dog with a brain tumor, it’s essential to prepare emotionally and mentally for the loss of your cherished companion. Losing a pet can be devastating, but there are ways to help cope through this challenging time.

First, talk openly with your veterinarian about your concerns and your dog’s condition. They can provide advice, guidance, and support, helping you make an informed decision based on your dog’s well-being.

Next, consider reaching out to friends, family, or support groups to share your feelings and experiences. They can provide a valuable network of understanding and empathy during this difficult period. Allow yourself the time and space to grieve and process your emotions.

When it comes to memorializing your pet, consider creating a tangible tribute, such as a photo album, a shadow box, or a personalized keepsake. These mementos can provide comfort and aid in the healing process.

Lastly, remember that grief is a highly individual and deeply personal experience. You may find solace in different ways, so be patient and give yourself the necessary time to heal.

Picture of Sarah Alward | Doctor of Veterinary Medicine
Sarah Alward | Doctor of Veterinary Medicine
Our resident DVM helps review every article to ensure we always provide scientifically accurate, up-to-date information. She’s proud to help provide pet parents everywhere with the info they need to keep their pets safe, healthy, and comfortable.