How much is your dog worth?

Priceless, most of us would say. But what happens when you have an old dog and an unknown illness, like an abdominal mass? Your vet runs through several scenarios:

  • Run multiple tests to try to identify the problem. That would cost of over a grand, and not involve treatment. If we’re lucky, the problem can be determined from only one or two tests. Plus the cost of treatment, whatever that may be.
  • She could do exploratory surgery and remove the mass, but if there were multiple tumors, then she would euthanize your dog.
  • Or she could just make him comfortable, which may last only a few weeks.

How far do you go down the rabbit hole?

Chipper was my mom’s cocker spaniel and I inherited him and his ‘sister’ Buffy in 2013. Now he’s 12 ½ and has an enlarged spleen—not slightly enlarged, two to three times its normal size.


I know my mom would have said, “Just put him down. He’s old anyway.”

But I can’t do that.

I’m wrestling with the issue, even though my long-term plan is to get a springer spaniel puppy (my preferred breed). When I first inherited Buffy and Chipper, I also had Cassie, my springer spaniel. But trying to walk or travel with three dogs was very challenging, so when my springer passed, I decided to wait until both cockers died, or possibly only one, depending on the health of the remaining dog. I don’t think it’s fair to stress an old dog with a crazy puppy.

But Chipper was my mom’s dog—so by association, a part of my mom.

Chipper started having diarrhea several days before his scheduled semiannual senior exam. Both cockers get this every few months to the extent where they need strong probiotics and maybe an antibiotic to clear it up. My dogs eat a mix of high quality kibble, homemade dog food and leftovers, and it’s usually the leftovers that cause the problem—but they love my husband’s cooking—especially pot licking—their favorite time of day. I also walk them around the neighborhood where they frequently gobble things up before I can get them to drop it.

On hindsight, Chipper had a couple of other symptoms, like becoming a fussy eater the last few weeks. He just didn’t seem to like breakfast anymore, but would eat dinner and snacks. Normally he would gobble up everything, as is typical for cocker spaniels.

He also dragged on walks around the block and was hesitant with stairs. But these are typical for a dog that has arthritis. I figured I would mention these things during his senior exam.

The money question—the start of the rabbit hole.

I was shocked when my vet said Chipper had an enlarged spleen and she asked how I would like to proceed.

The spleen filters blood and removes abnormal blood cells from the body. It is also part of the immune system. Although it is an important part of the body, dogs, and people, can live without a spleen, although they are at a higher risk for infections.

An enlarged spleen is often a symptom of an underlying problem, which could range from an infection to cancer. Injuries can also cause an enlarged spleen, but Chipper hasn’t had any major injuries.

To date, Chipper’s course of action has included:

Step 1: First, my vet put Chipper on antibiotics, the simplest and easiest thing to do. Then she ran a blood test, which was part of his regular senior exam. An infection would have shown an elevated white cell count, which he didn’t have. He was slightly anemic, which could indicate internal bleeding. Antibiotics and blood tests $170.

Step 2: My vet thought he might have cancer, and that we should determine if it has metastasized or if he was a good candidate for a splenectomy. I didn’t know how far I wanted to go yet, so I approved the initial tests, x-rays to see if Chipper had tumors in his chest at a cost of $110. The x-rays didn’t show any obvious signs of cancer.

Step 3: Then she recommended an ultrasound, which required a specialist. I hesitated for a day as my husband, my sister, and I discussed whether it was worth putting Chipper through the stress of multiple vet visits and which direction we wanted to proceed. We concluded that we should not proceed with the $400+ ultrasound, which might not show anything.

When my vet called the next day, she urged me to get the ultrasound so we would know how to proceed with Chipper’s illness. She convinced me that it was necessary. So the next day I traveled 1 ½ hours each way to a specialty vet for the ultrasound and consultation at a cost of $500. The results were inconclusive except that Chipper doesn’t have any obvious tumors on his spleen or the surrounding organs. Great that he doesn’t have any obvious signs of cancer, but we still don’t know what is causing his enlarged spleen and how to treat it.Dog at vet

Step 4: My vet recommended a urinalysis and additional x-rays (which the specialist also recommended). She also re-checked his blood counts since Chipper no longer had diarrhea. Another $210, for more inconclusive results, except that his red blood cells have dropped a bit further, but his protein levels are up.

Step 5: There is still the possibility of cancer, but only inside his spleen, so my vet wants to confer with the specialist to see if a fine needle aspiration of his spleen should be performed with ultrasound guidance. This would involve another trek to the specialist and a cost of about $400.

So, I’m a grand into it before we decide if we want to go forward with step five. But it is looking like Chipper might have a difficult time with a splenectomy if he is already anemic with a lower red cell count. A splenectomy would range from a $1,000 – $1,500 if it is not complicated.

When do I call it quits?

I know I don’t want to do chemotherapy if it will add only a few months to his life. I also don’t want to have him suffer through a splenectomy if he has to have weeks of recovery, only to die within a few months.

Some reports say he could live another year after his spleen is removed if he doesn’t have cancer.

But he is 12 ½ years old—the average lifespan for a cocker spaniel.

I’d be willing to go through the surgery if he had a year—but should I put him through the trauma?

Or should I let him be?

Maybe I’ll let Chipper decide. Once he shows no interest in food for more than a couple of days, I’ll know it’s time.

Blogpaws wordless Wednesday


20 thoughts on “How much is your dog worth?

  1. Jana Rade

    Depending on what is going on with the spleen, taking it out is usually what is done when there are problems. It can really extend life when the problem is benign (hemangioma) or extend it a least a bit when it’s cancerous.

    1. Post author

      Yeah, I was thinking about it, but I’m afraid I’d make what time he has left very painful. He is at the typical lifespan for a cocker. If he was much younger and if he wasn’t anemic, I’d definitely remove his spleen.

  2. Beth

    My thoughts are with you and Chipper as you try to figure out what is the best option for him. My best advice is to go with your instincts. Whenever I second guess myself, I end up regretting it.

  3. Sweet Purrfections

    This brings back memories of when my previous cat was diagnosed with cancer. She was almost 16 years old and the vet told me that even doing a biopsy may be harder on her than the cancer. She was only given 1-12 months to live. I chose to keep her as comfortable as possible. To be honest, I couldn’t afford all of the tests and possible treatments to just prolong her life for me by a few months. I lost her 1 month later. It was a difficult decision, but I did what I thought was best.

  4. Debbie

    I’m sorry to hear that you’ve both been going through all of this. It can be so hard to determine where to draw the line, what tests are necessary, and what is best for your pup. Only you can decide all of that. I will keep your family and Chipper in my thoughts.

    1. Post author

      What I should have asked my vet early on was what kind of chemo would be required if he had cancer. I did ask, but she said it would depend on the type of cancer. Once I found out that if Chipper had cancer, it wouldn’t involve just pills, I decided I didn’t want to put him through chemo or surgery. He’s too old and weak for that at this point. We are just making him comfortable now.

  5. Shayla

    We had to make the ultimate decision for our first dog just a few months ago. It’s so hard, I know exactly how you’re feeling, and likely had the same conversations with myself as you are/will for a good while. It was the last visit to the vet that made my choice for me really. It’s hard not to be selfish, I wanted him to stay forever, but it just can’t be that way. It’s so hard for your heart, but you know inside what is the best choice for you and your pal.

  6. The Dash Kitten Crew

    The issues of an older pet are a real challenge. We lost Dusty in May 2017 and we knew the time had come to say goodbye BUT as I sat beside Dusty as he laid on the sofa, I was sure he maybe couldn’t see me but I kept talking and suddenly, he was gone. On his own terms, at home where he had been safe and, I dearly hope, happy for his last two years. His call, and I am deeply grateful to took the decision with both paws.

    Sometimes they tell you, sometimes you know, but you will not let the pup suffer. I reckon Chipper will let you know.

  7. Heather Wallace

    This is the toughest decision we all face. I’m sorry to hear about Chipper. My client, Jaxson, had a very similar experience. His was an abdominal mass affecting the liver and a resection couldn’t be guaranteed to be successful. They were looking at more than 5K and didn’t even know if it would be successful. Ultimately they chose to maintain his quality of life as best they could and a month later he passed away. He let them know when he was ready. Letting go is the hardest decision to make of all.

  8. Kate

    This is such a hard decision. Especially because there is no right or wrong answer, it is all shades of gray. Especially with splenic issues, as the long term results of splenectomies vary so widely depending on the cause of splenic enlargement. I think the most important thing is that he is loved and not suffering! Good luck with your decision.

  9. Debi @ RescueDogs101

    This is really really hard to answer. On one hand, I’d say my dogs are worth everything to me. But I have to be realistic and think about how much I can really afford. We’ve gone through these scenarios too many times with our dogs, and it’s never an easy decision.

    You need to somehow balance out what you can afford to pay, AND what is the quality of life for your pup going to be even after all these tests and procedures. I do believe our dogs can tell us when it’s time. My heart goes out to you!

  10. Golden Daily Scoop

    I am so sorry to hear about Chipper. Such a hard decision to make on behalf of your furry love. We are keeping our paws crossed for your all and I think the both of you will know when the time is right and the decision that is best for all. Hugs to you!

  11. Lori Hilliard

    I’m so glad you’re willing to honestly discuss the pros and cons of extensive testing and procedures for senior dogs. I often hear from other pet parents who would do anything and spend any amount of money for a few more months or even weeks with their cherished pet. But the reality is that in many cases, dogs who go through all that at an advanced age don’t really have the chance to enjoy those additional days or weeks – they are too tired and sick. And pets don’t understand why you are putting them through what seems like torture to them. It’s a fine balancing act between what is best for them and what your desires are as a pet parent, but it seems like you’re walking that line successfully. Good luck with Chipper – I’m sending comforting vibes his way!

    1. Post author

      Thank you. I’ve decided to do only non-invasive tests like x-rays, ultrasounds, and blood tests. I’ve skipped the fine-needle aspiration after hearing over and over that the vets don’t know what is causing his enlarged spleen. We’ll just let him enjoy what time he has left.


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