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A dog’s worth





Rocky was our first baby. Years before we ever had human children, he was our “child.” Yes, we were those people. The kind who refer to their pets as children. We treated him as well as you’d treat a human child, too. He had it made. Dog parks, long jogs, lots of love and affection. He moved with us cross-country two separate times. He’s been with us through thick and thin. Richer and poorer. All that stuff.

Having kids changed all that, to some extent.



He still remained our “child”, but now we referred to him as our “first born.” He was no longer the baby, having been displaced by two human babies. The trips to the dog park became less frequent. The jogs became shorter. And, in general, he realized he’d been replaced on the food chain. Our two new human babies came before him. He accepted his new position in the family like a champ. Never acting out or misbehaving. In fact, he rather liked having these two tiny humans running around. Although they were loud and he didn’t like having his sleep disrupted at night (omg, they didn’t reliably sleep through the night until they were nearly 3!!!), he LOVED all the table scraps he suddenly started gaining access to as the girls would drop things from their high chair trays (or purposely throw down food, on occasion).

Rocky turned 11 this year.

As a large dog, I know his days are numbered as it is. He’s starting to slow down, show signs of arthritis, etc.

We took him to the vet yesterday for his routine check-up. He needed updated vaccinations and I wanted to ask about the arthritis issue (I’d noticed he no longer jumps onto our bed anymore. This was a big deal to me as he’s slept with us for all 11 years of his life. Yes, I know that’s not necessarily healthy and all. Like I said, he’s our baby).

But that’s not how things went.

During the vet’s examination, there were some troubling things about Rocky. His ears looked yellow. His gums, too, looked yellow. I’d never noticed before.

The vet drew labs. $275 later we were headed home. We’d get a call the next day with some news.

We waited and waited and called the vet probably 20 times (“no, labs aren’t back yet.”). We finally heard back at 6:30pm this evening, after the office had already closed for the day. Rocky’s white blood count is perfectly normal (which is good), but his liver enzymes are off the chart. The vet referred us to an emergency vet clinic. She wants us to make an appointment ASAP for an abdominal ultrasound (estimated about $400, on top of the $100 office visit charge). If it’s not telling, we may be advised to have a biopsy done (estimated at $1000+).

I’m at a total loss.

After the expensive vet visit yesterday, I was thankful we already had some funds set aside for “pet expenses.” We had about $350 in the account, so husband and I joked that we still had about $75 leftover after paying for the vet. “The problem better be $75 or less. More than that, and he’s screwed.” Chuckle, chuckle.

But now this.

I’m a realist. I always have been. So I’m trying to detach myself from the emotions involved (he’s my baby) and think practically. Logically.

He’s 11 years old. He’s a large dog. He’s not going to live many more years anyway. Do we really want to spend up to $1,000+ just on diagnostics?? Then what if we find out he needs surgery? Are we going to shell out the many multiple thousands for that? And he’s so old, recovery would be hard anyway. No guarantee he’d even survive surgery. I don’t think we’d go that route.

But where do we draw the line? What’s the worth of this animal? This member of our family? Our “first born child”?


I’m grateful we’ve been building up an emergency fund. But does this qualify as an “emergency”? What would you do? How much would you be willing to spend on your dog to find out what’s wrong? How much would you be willing to spend on your dog to fix the problem (once an official diagnosis is reached)? What’s the most humane option? What’s the best option?

I’m leaning toward opting for an ultrasound so we at least know what we’re dealing with (at an estimated cost of approximately $500 including the office visit charge). If the ultrasound doesn’t give us any indication of the problem….then what? Proceed with biopsy? Decline biopsy and call it a day? Watch him suffer in pain until the end? End it early?

My heart breaks. Obviously I knew he was getting old. I knew this day would come eventually. But still. My heart breaks.

See another Rocky-centric post here.


  • Reply Stephanie |

    As I sit here next to my 13 year old dog who is recovering from having multiple teeth removed, with a total price tag of $2k+ for diagnostics and the procedure, I’m probably the last person who should offer advice. They really do become family. Our vet said when they get old, you should weigh what still makes them happy against what used to make them happy but doesn’t anymore. If they overwhelmingly have more things that don’t make them happy anymore, it might be time to let go. Our little guy is still pretty firmly on the happy side 🙂

  • Reply Sarah |

    I have two stories.

    We had an 11 year old cat who had a tumor on her side. They did a biopsy that came back inconclusive. They offered xrays to see if it had spread. I said no. Then flew to Vegas for a preplanned weekend of fun with friends. I felt like I had signed her death warrant. She lived another six months, became skin and bones and then we made an appointment to put her to sleep. She had been staying indoors until the day of the appointment and then we couldn’t find her. Had to cancel that appointment and wait til the next day!

    Last November, the Monday before Thanksgiving, our four year old dog, Rocky (a terrier/Chihuahua mix), was acting strangely. He ended up with a ruptured disc in his back and required a $7k surgery the day before Thanksgiving. I didn’t blink at paying. Just put it on the credit card and thanked God we had an emergency fund. I think if the doctor didn’t think she could have fixed him, I would have put him down but she said there was a really good chance he would be as good as new and he is. Six months later, he can now jump up on the couch by himself.

    I don’t know why I tell you both stories. I think the $7k was easier as he was younger and it was a specific issue. If the doctor told me he was going to be paralyzed, I wouldn’t have done it. As for the cat, we knew she had a tumor and I knew I wasn’t going to do chemo or anything like that if we actually found out what the tumor was.

    I’d say go for the ultrasound (paid out of your emergency fund) and if it comes back with a tumor, you take care of him until you know his quality of life isn’t any good anymore. I don’t think you would want to subject your dog to cancer treatments but maybe it is just a liver disfunction that can be cured by drugs. If you do the ultrasound, you will probably know what is going on and can make an informed decision. You won’t feel guilty about not knowing all the facts.

    Also, our dog’s MRI was $900. My husband’s was $350. Just crazy!

  • Reply Catherine Lyle |

    We’ve had numerous dogs through our rescue group. All big dogs, some lice to 15 and others fail quickly after 11. I like to know what is happening to my animals but I don’t like putting older dogs through traumatic surgeries, chemo, nor upsetting medications. Not all humanset choose that sort of end of life path and my dogs tend to live the extra car rides, yes bacon, and belly rubs. Then humanly send them over the bridge where they are happy so we can cry our eyes out but know the time we had was the best… Just us though, you have to do what’s best for your whole family…

  • Reply Mysti |

    We just went through this a few months agi. Our almost 17 year old cat, whom we had since he was a year old, and slept in our bed every night ….started losing weight. I stuck my head in the sand for a bit, too scared to know the truth. Finally brought him in, and he never came home.

    We spent 1500 on inpatient care, ultrasounds, a feeding tube (I tried to talk hubby out of this one, as the day it was placed….I knew in my heart he was dying). I cried nonstop for the week he was there. And when the vet called and I heard the change in her voice…I knew he was gone. He died overnight, alone…..which absolutely killed me.

    We moved 800 miles about 6 months ago, took on thousands of dollars in debt to move. I am still out of workload, despite my masters degree and 200 resumes sent out. We didn’t have money for this, but sometimes the heart wins over the logical. The economic choice would have been to say goodbye to our kitty the day we brought him in. But he was our firstborn….and we felt we had to try. He was family….

    Only you know what is best for your family. There isn’t a right or wrong answer. For us….I don’t regret trying to save him. I regret not taking him in sooner when maybe he would have had a better chance. Either way…love on your boy and let him know that he will forever be in your heart.

  • Reply Laura |

    OH boy this hits close to home. Our 9 year old dog was hit by a car recently and has a fractured pelvis. When I told my parents they assumed we had him put to sleep. No. We paid for x rays and pain pills and took him home. It will be several weeks before he can walk again but the pain is being managed so he’s alive and well at home being cared for.
    Back to your situation. I would do the ultrasound just to see what it is. $400 seems reasonable for an answer. Maybe it’s some kind of deficiency that can easily be treated with pills. If it is something more, like cancer, you can decide what to do then. If it is something terminal you can keep
    Him comfortable until
    It is time to same goodbye,
    You don’t have to do a lot of expensive treatemtns to prolong life. I personally would not have an older dog go through cancer treatments, though I completely understand those who make a different decision.
    Good luck to you. Our pets are our fur babies and the decisions we make regarding them are as personal as the ones we make for our human children.

    • Reply Walnut |

      Have you asked the vet what her gut feel is on why these enzymes are out of whack? You may also want to call around to a couple other vets in the area and find out what they charge for diagnostics.

  • Reply Cory |

    I don’t get overly emotional about pets. I have had to put dogs down. i would say don’t feel bad with whatever you choose. I never understand spending thousands to extend a pets life for a short time. So as cold as it is , if it was probably that all this expense is for nothing or for 6 more months of life, I would put him down.

  • Reply Cj |

    I am so sorry you are dealing with this. I have a similar issue with my 14 year old cat. She has a tumor on her back. My vet and I are talking about whether or not to remove it. If it is cancer, the treatment options are not good and I am not willing to put her through the torture of treatment to extend her life that would also keep her in pain. If the tumor can be removed before it spreads, and not need further treatment, and she would have a good quality of life, then I would consider the cost. My vet said she is in great shape for 14 so she could do well with the surgery. I am waiting on test results before determining next steps. I am also considering calling my old vet (relocated to a new city recently) to get a their opinion as well.

    My recommendation: find out what you are dealing with first. Then determine what his quality of life would be with and without treatment and decide if someone was making this decision for you, what you would want them to do.

  • Reply Den |

    I agree with Walnut to ask what the vet’s gut feel is…..if all the outcomes are bad, I would enjoy what natural time you have left with him.

    If there is a strong chance it’s something that could be fixed with medication, then I would go ahead with the next step. But personally I wouldn’t spend $1,000 on a biopsy or any further treatment…..especially when there’s no guarantee about what is truly wrong. What concerns me financially is that you could spend $1,000 + and still not get an answer or it could be fatal.

    Whatever you decide, know that he had a great life with your family!

  • Reply Angie |

    So hard to read this first thing in the morning! We went through this last year with our cat. She was fairly young, only 10, so we wanted to do our due diligence. Several trips, xrays, tests, and potential easy medication fixes and no result. My big thing was I wanted to know what was wrong before making any decisions. But that wasn’t possible without a cat stress and heart test (I did not even want to ask how much that cost!)

    What helped us is going through the options with the vet. Okay if you do xxxx test and it comes out positive what does that mean. If its negative, then what test would you do next etc. For us the two outcomes seemed to be: 1) will get progressively worse and there’s nothing you can do or 2) it was something that could be controlled with 2x daily pills but still could get worse.

    We decided her life (and ours) would be pretty miserable if it was a twice daily chase around the apartment for medicine. So we waited it out until she got worse and enjoyed the last few months together. The toughest part was not knowing what was actually wrong! Its so hard to make a decision on family when you don’t have all the information. But its quite unreasonable to me to keep doing tests that were coming out with more unknowns.

    Keep your head up and think of all the love you shared!

  • Reply Jean |

    I hate reading this. I’m sorry you have to make some tough decisions.

    I think everyone’s threshold is different when it comes to how much you would pay for a pet’s care. Some people think I’m crazy for buying grain-free food but then I look at friends who have paid in the thousands of dollars for their pets (children).

    If you’re open to alternative medicine, take a look at animaleo.info. There’s also a FB group for people using this brand of essential oils on their animals (they were developed by a vet, tested on her own animals). Recently in the FB group, a holistic vet treated her own animal with the oils, and the abdominal tumor that the dog had went away. Not saying that it will cure your Rocky, but it might be something to look at.

    Hope you come to a decision that you are at peace with.

  • Reply SAK |

    We are going through this now with our 16 year old germane shepard mix. We had decided long ago what we were willing to do. So we’ve had a tumor (benign) removed and the ACLs on both back legs fixed. All after she was 12. She now has some small growths on her spleen. We’ve done a couple of ultrasounds but refuse surgery – her ability to recover from just the anesthesia has gone done, she isn’t in pain (that we can tell) and the surgery would like kill her. So we wait and love and say goodbye. We would never do cancer treatment because she wouldn’t understand the pain and we don’t want to put her through that. I say do the ultrasound and see what is there. I, personally, wouldn’t do the biopsy, our vet said it wasn’t very reliable depending on what area you were looking at. Focus on quality of life and pain free – I think that is what we owe our babies.

    Also – look at a ramp for the bed – like the ones they advertise to help get pets in cars. Not that expensive (I want to say 50 to 75) although they take up a lot of room. But keeps our baby on the bed with us.

    Good luck!

  • Reply Denise |

    This is the question I always ask my vet when considering diagnosis options for my older pets – what are the possible diagnosis’ and what are the possible treatments. If all possible ailments are things that would require surgery/treatment that I would not put an older pet through (or that the pet would be unable to tolerate due to age/health) then I pass and let the animal live out their life with comfort and dignity. If a possible ailment can be easily treated (even if there is a chance the diagnosis could be something much worse), then I feel I owe it to the pet to investigate until a diagnosis is made. Money isn’t a consideration for me for my pets as I figure I am responsible for their well being – but their comfort and dignity are always my #1 goal.

  • Reply Hope |

    I am so sorry to hear this. Having been through quite a bit of pet trauma this year, I can fully relate to the very tough place you are in right now. I couldn’t write about it back in January when with Milo we learned that not only was he suffering fro arthritis but also cancer (which may and I will say was the cause for his sudden change in temperament toward other dogs.) I chose to put him to sleep rather than prolong his suffering and was so grateful that our vet would come to our home to do it. I got to hold him to the very end.
    It’s just now that I can think of him without tears. I can’t advise you, but I can tell you that no matter what your decision, it is the right for you and it will be alright. Maybe not right away, but it will.

  • Reply Christine |

    I’m so sorry you’re going through this with your furbaby! We have 2 cats and a dog. The cats are 12, and when they were almost 11, the one cat became very sick after eating some tulle (for our upcoming wedding). We decided to have the $1400 emergency surgery on Christmas Eve, and he’s now a very healthy and happy 12 1/2 year old. I think, as others have said, everyone’s threshold for this is different. The only opinions that matter are you and your husband’s.

    i think if I were in your shoes I’d definitely do the ultrasound and go from there. The $1000+ for biopsy I’m not sure I would do- I guess it would depend on what the vet thinks the chance of success if it comes back positive is…. If the bet says if it comes back positive there’s probably nothing they can do- I probably wouldn’t do the biopsy and just give him the best days (however many left) including lots of time at the park, lots of treats and lots of hugs.

  • Reply kate |

    So sorry to hear this. We often spend money that could be put towards loans on the pets’ health… I think the point about figuring out what the outcomes of the ultrasound might be makes sense. We just had a friend whose horse had a sudden change in behavior… the vets thought most likely brain tumor and wanted to do an MRI (for quite a lot of money). But… if they found the brain tumor there was nothing that could be done… so why pay for the test?
    (The horse is still alive in the pasture)

  • Reply Theresa |

    My heart aches for you Ashley. I would try to gauge his pain and take your cues from there. Faced with a similar situation with our cat I turned down diagnostic tests because I knew we would not treat her for cancer which is what they suspected. Lots of hugs dear.

  • Reply Susan |

    I’m so sorry to hear this – if it were me, I would definitely do the diagnostic testing. Sometimes liver enzymes are super elevated and all that’s required to fix the levels is a daily pill (we just went though that with our dog – her enzymes were stupid high and they did the sonogram, ruled out some more serious stuff and gave her a pill – follow up blood work, all levels were coming down and now it’s normal). If taking a daily pill can get you 2 years + more time with your first born, for me, it would be well worth it. Of course if they say it’s something not fixable, or very expensive to fix with no promises, then you have to discuss it together and make a decision. It’s so hard when they are sick. {{{{hugs}}}}

  • Reply Cheryl |

    A few years ago during her routine visit, our six year old cat had lost weight from the year before. When you only weight 8 lbs. to begin with, you really can’t afford to lose any. Had blood work done, was told her liver tests were high and they recommend a ultrasound which we didn’t do but started her on meds, hand feed her and redid her blood work a few times. We went on a mini vacation for three days and I didn’t know if she would be alive when we got back. My poor baby was jaundice not eating well and just miserable. When the jaundice came back we had all ready paid close to 1,000 that we really couldn’t afford. After paying to have her put down and cremated alone (more money for that), I found out her liver testes were through the roof and I should have just done the ultrasound and would have known how bad she was and especially not have put my baby through that torture. Never again for me. I would do the ultrasound and see where you stand. Cheryl

  • Reply Kerstin |

    oh man, this is tough stuff. I have gone through this many times both with my pets and watching my parents do it. My parents spend thousands to remove tumors and do treatment to preserve life only to watch the grapefruit size tumor come back. They then decided to spend more to have someone come to the house and put the dog down in their arms in the place she loved. That was important to her. I had to put two cats down at some of the most stressful times in my life. I racked up thousands of dollars in credit card debt because I didn’t have pet insurance at the time and kept ending up in the vet er in the middle of the night. In the end I knew I couldn’t keep paying for treatment and had to say good by. It took a while to pay off that debt. We now have two cats, both are getting older. During a routine dental cleaning, one of our cat’s heart stopped-this cat is my husband’s baby-when he was missing for 4 days 2 years ago, he stayed home from work and searched the neighborhood (found him locked in a neighbor’s garage!). When we were faced with the stressful emotional cost we knew would spend the money to find out what was going wrong, but would really have to evaluate how much after that, especially now that we have a new baby and expenses. I hate this part of life. Continuing living when the pets we love have to move on. Hugs. I would find out what you are dealing with and then decide how much money you are comfortable spending and won’t regret putting into it.

  • Reply Isabella |

    I think maybe I would do the ultrasound to see what you are dealing with. This is mostly for your peace of mind. If it reveals more problems, I would be inclined to put a dog down. Eleven years is quite a long life for a big dog. What I don’t always understand about these heroic measure is, what if your pet is suffering? We can’t be sure, even after surgery, if our beloved animals really feel well.

    I remember my neighbor’s dog had a leg amputated and then went through chemotherapy. I felt so sorry for that dog, and he died shortly after anyway. But I think he suffered terribly in the end. We were fortunate that our Westhighland terrier lived a long, quite healthy life and died peacefully at home of natural causes when she was 15 years old.

    And remember. A vet is always going to recommend lots of surgical procedures. It’s how they stay in business! Sometimes I think we just have to be grateful for all the happy years we have with our pets and let them go peacefully when the time comes. I feel for you! Both my husband and I cried ourselves to sleep for a week when our Westie died. One other thought. I know that when I lived in California, there were vets who came to your home to put the pets down, and it was really a loving family affair of saying good-bye. My friend did this, and she said they felt so glad to be with their dog at the end as a family.

  • Reply Judi |

    I wish I could give you a hug right now what a tough situation! As someone with a large pack of aging fur babies (2 cats aged 14 and 23, and 2 dogs aged 8 and 6) these are definitely questions looming for us as well. I would get the initial diagnostic work since liver problems can often be easily treated. I don’t know what type of dog he is but he looks to be a kelpie or Australian Shepard and liver disease is common in those breeds (and easily treated with a pill). If the diagnostic tests come back badly try and focus on all that you’ve given to him in life, you’ve definitely invested a bunch of love and time, that is worth so much more than life prolonging procedures.

    Also in the future you may want to consider getting pet insurance that could substitute for the amount you’re putting in savings each month for pet expenses.

So, what do you think ?