Written by Melissa Zebley DVM
Edited by Dino Candelaria in hopes it will help a Bernese owner in need
When trying to track down the course of a pet's serious illness the questions to ask yourself are: is his quality of life acceptable? How is the dog taking it? Is his attitude good? Is he still able to do the things he enjoys doing? This means different things to different dogs. Some live for running amok and playing, while others want nothing more than to lay in their momma's or poppa's lap and be loved. It also concerns level of comfort or discomfort, again this depends on the dog as some dogs are more stoic and others are more sensitive. This issue can also be addressed with pain medicine. A dog with a poor attitude may be a dog in pain. Get the dog on some pain medication and you may have an entirely different dog. A related question to quality of life is "will to live". These are similar but not the same. A dog with the "will to live" may not be able to eat, for example, and will literally waste away in front of your eyes. This dog's quality of life would be unacceptable despite his "will to live". On the other side a dog with acceptable quality of life may be tired of fighting to live. This is something you can judge better than anyone outside your family.
If both these questions can be answered with a "yes" then the next concerns you and your family. Can you afford to continue, both financially and emotionally? A lot of people are afraid to admit no to either, but it is okay to say no to either one or both. After spending your limit no one can say you didn't try, or that you weren't prepared for the potential expense of a Bernese Mountain Dog (or other pet for that matter). This is far beyond the appropriate vaccines, worming and Heartworm prevention, so don't let anyone judge you for not being able to pay for extensive treatments. Only you can decide what is the maximum amount you and your family can afford financially, or withstand emotionally. It hurts watching a beloved pet suffer and there understandably comes a time when you just can't do it anymore.
As long as the answers to all of the above are yes, you keep trying, whether it's trying a new diagnostic to pinpoint the problem, or a new treatment that MIGHT work. Or going off the beaten path to holistic medicine, acupuncture, new diet or voodoo for that matter. Anything that offers any chance of helping, or buying him some more time.
On the other hand, if just one of the answers is no, and nothing can change that no (like medication to improve quality of life, or counseling to help relieve the emotional burden, or winning the lottery), then it is time to say goodbye. Realize, though, that saying goodbye is a process - different folks have different ways and speeds of saying it. It may take a few moments to be ready, or it may take a few weeks. That's okay too. You may want to keep the dog at home, letting the whole family love him and give them all a chance to say their good-byes when the dog's quality of life becomes less and less acceptable. When the time does come, you and your family may want to stay for the final moments with the dog. Not everyone may want to be present or feel they can handle it, for others it is a necessary part of saying goodbye. That decision is personal and must be left up to each individual.
As part of the decision to say goodbye you should decide before hand on doing a necropsy/autopsy. There are several options and you should consult with your vet on these, but they may include a quick look by your vet with the option to take the dog home immediately after (the vet will suture the incision closed). A more extensive necropsy can be done at one of the universities or state labs. Most vet schools can also do a "cosmetic necropsy" in which the dog is sutured closed before being returned to the owner. For many owners, the pain of having to wait to bury or cremate their pet is offset by having the relief of some definitive answers. This is a way you can contribute to the information that will in the long run help the future of the Bernese, whether you breed, show or have a companion dog.
In conclusion remember that this is a personal decision and what someone else besides yourself and your family think your answers OUGHT to be has no bearing on this difficult decision. Rest assured that your decision will be the right one for you and your family and your beloved canine friend.