Dogs with severe IVDD can leave their owner with a difficult decision. Spinal surgery is not an option for every dog and owner. Non-surgical treatment can be attempted but if this is also out of the question, or if this fails, then which other options are available? Some dogs live a happy life as permanently disabled, using wheels to get about. Whether this is an option for your dog depends on his general health, body shape and personality, and on whether you’re around during the day to care for him.
If your dog is badly affected by IVDD, and if there is no appropriate, realistic or effective treatment available, then you may unfortunately have to consider the last resort option of euthanasia. It can be a blessing to have the option of euthanasia available when needed.
It is worthwhile to discuss the option of euthanasia with your vet if you find yourself in this position. Think it through carefully and don’t be rushed into a decision. In deciding whether or not to put a dog to sleep, we have to weigh up all the different issues:
- If the dog is given treatment that you can afford, then what are his chances of returning to a reasonable quality of life? Your vet can work out how badly your dog is affected and can advise you on his chances of recovery.
- Will you be able to care for your dog throughout recovery and, if not, are there people who can be trusted to help you? Basic care and nursing skills can be learned and will soon become routine. However, some owners do not have the time to care for a recovering dog, e.g. due to long working hours. If you are physically unable to bend or crouch down to help your dog, then this may also present a major problem.
- If vets are convinced that your dog is not going to walk again, then could it be a fair option to manage him in wheels as permanently disabled? In this case, he may also have long term incontinence problems. Consider both your lifestyle and your dog’s personality when thinking this through.
There is one small group of IVDD dogs for whom euthanasia is always the best decision: A very small number of severely-affected dogs are unlucky enough to go downhill with PMM (progressive myelomalacia) during the first few days of their illness. There is no cure for this painful and unpleasant condition so, for dogs with PMM, euthanasia is the only kind choice and should be performed sooner rather than later.
In other cases, there may be several issues relating to both the owner and the dog that combine to make euthanasia the only kind choice. It may be that the dog is very badly affected and that the likelihood of recovery is very low, or that treatment has already been attempted , has failed, and there is no way forward. Perhaps the owner cannot afford either surgery or non-surgical treatment, or is unable to care for a recovering dog because they are themselves ill or are currently struggling to care for an ill family member. However, it’s obviously essential not to rush into making such an important and irreversible decision. Think it all through, explain your situation to the vet and ask their advice.