Dog Needs Expensive Surgery.

Updated on November 07, 2011
A.K. asks from Minneapolis, MN
23 answers

Our Golden Retriever is 6 years old. He is REALLY tall and pretty much a moose. A couple months ago he started limping and now he won't even walk on his back leg. He gets around fine on three legs, even runs. We took him to the vet and she thinks it is a torn ligament in his knee. She put him on anti-inflammitories for 4 weeks as a last ditch effort before we have to do xrays. It didn't work, he still won't walk on the leg. So now we are supposed to bring him in to get xrays ($$!), and she will probably say he needs a surgery that will cost somewhere between $2,500 and $3,000. she gave us the info on the surgery at the last visit.

He's a good dog, he's pretty good with our 5 year old, but he has growled at the baby lately (when she crawls towards him when he is laying down. I'm sure its because he doesn't want to get up because it is hard for him to get up with 3 good legs and it probably hurts his knee). I have always been a responsible dog owner. I have even worked at the humane society and preached at people who get into situation like this one that "it's not cheap to have a dog but you should have thought of that before".

We are the poorest we have ever been right now. We borrow from our dwindling savings acct almost every 2 weeks because we don't have enough to make it until payday for necessities like gas and food. Even getting the xrays and another office visit will be painful to our budget. We don't even have the kind of money in our savings acct it would take to do that surgery.

What would you do in this situation? Does anyone have any advice?

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answers from Dallas on

If it's in a lot of pain, I would have the dog put down. If it's not very painful or there is a chance it will get better on it's own in time, I would just try to manage the symptoms with medication. I loved my dog as much as anyone else. But I love my kids much moe. I can't see taking away from my kids to give to a dog. That's why I choose not to take on any more pets. I've never been in that situation, but Iknow in a heartbeat what I would do.

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answers from Washington DC on

We had a moose, too. She just died unexpectedly on Oct. 19th and I miss her with all my heart. She went through the same thing years back. I won't sugar coat it. Once one ACL tears, usually the other tears soon after because they are putting so much strain on the "good leg" and obviously they are prone to it. You need to be willing to put time and effort into her recovery, also. We also went through hip displasia with both sides when she was a puppy. Our dog cost us a fortune but was worth every penny!!! We skipped alot to have these things done and looking back she gave us much more than we ever gave her and she was part of our family.

Being that she is so young, if you find an experienced surgeon your dog will actually be better than new. We were given many happy years with our dog after her operations. As far as money, for one of them we opened up a no interest credit card to cover that cost. Maybe your vet could offer a reasonable payment plan?

My feeling is that you don't want to, or feel you can't have this done. Please don't let it go too long. The dog is in alot of pain. And yes, keep the baby and your 5 yr old away! If you can't afford it, find someone to take her that can. Maybe check with a Golden Retriever rescue group. Please don't put her down for something that is a routine surgery and VERY correctible for a good surgeon.

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answers from Dallas on

go in and see what the vet has to say, maybe the surgery won't be as expensive as you're thinking. see if she'll work out a payment plan for you. look into care credit - it's usually 0% interest for a period of time. i totally feel your pain, we are in a similar predicament with our 8yo doberman. she was fine on friday, then she was suddenly paralyzed, laying on her side and couldn't even roll to her belly :( contacted our vet, he is 99% certain she has wobbler's disease - we started steroids and she was moving within an hour, thank God, but this will likely happen again and cause her to deteriorate. she will have to see a neurosurgeon if this progresses, and the neuro surgery is approx $10K, i can't put her through that type of a surgery(fusion of vertebrates) at her age, nor can i justify $10K when she is an older dog - i love her with everything in me, and the best i can do is make sure she has the best life possible, and when the time comes that she is suffering without hopes of getting better, i will do the kindest thing i can do, i will not selfishly keep her around to prevent my own suffering. you sound like you love your animal - go back to the vet and see what you guys can work out. hope your baby is better soon!

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answers from Salinas on

I LOVE my dog, he is treated like a member of our family, spoiled and loved by all. If he were in this situation at this time we could afford to fix his leg and would probably do so but if you cannot afford it I would not judge you for making the decision to put him down after exhausting all others options.
I cannot beleive people think you should go into debt to the tune of thousands of dollars hoping the sugery works and he will be OK. How much is too much? If the sugery was $10K would people still think you should pay up. At what point is your family's security and your children's future more important than a dog? It's things just like this that are pushing families all over America over the financial edge into poverty, homelessness and a a diminished future. I would be thankful you are not faced with medical expenses for a human being as that is the number one cause for bankruptcy in the US.
Also, I'm not sure what others are talking about when saying putting a dog down is painful for them. We had to put our beloved dog down a few years ago due to old age and it was a very peaceful experience. Her vet made housecalls (if you have to go this route check your area for a traveling vet). We were able to pet her outside on the grass while he gave her the first shot which puts her under. She went to sleep in our arms and then he gave the shot that stops the heart. Just because you need to put him down doesn't mean you should surrender him to the pound. It might cost a couple hundred at most. I'm so sorry you have to make this choice but in my book people trump dogs every single time.

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answers from Chicago on

My friends dog had this surgery -- twice actually. It is quite expensive. They used something called Care Credit, which paid for the surgery and then they made payments to pay them back. You can probably ask your vet or google it. Also I would talk to the vet and explain your situation and ask if you could make payments. Sometimes they will let you, depending on the situation.

I googled it for you.

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answers from Charlotte on

Can I be honest? I absolutely HATE the remark "it's not cheap to have a dog but you should have thought of that before." The Humane Society and places like that have NO business having this attitude. I think saying that to someone is cruel. What would we do with all these dogs that need homes if all of us thought there was a possibility that we'd have to pay for an expensive surgery down the line? Thinking of stuff like that makes it so we have a guinea pig instead. (I had lots of guinea pigs, so I'm not just throwing a noun out there.)

I know this doesn't help your dilemma. I just hope you never say such a thing to anyone else ever again.

My advise to you is to either find him a home with a family with no kids, who won't mind his disability, or really work hard to sequester him away from the baby until she grows enough to know not to bother him.

Just because he can't use one leg doesn't mean he can't be a viable member of A family. I have a friend whose dog doesn't walk with either back leg. They fashioned a type of gizmo for her that makes it so she can walk with it being her back legs. And the dog is perfectly happy to do that. She pulls herself around without it, as if she has forgotten that she was supposed to have 4 legs. Yeah, it's a shock to see her, but after a few minutes, you realize that this isn't much different than a person in a wheelchair who can't walk anymore.

You cannot take food out of the mouths of your children to change the way things are for this dog. It doesn't work this way. So either find him another home away from little kids, or change things around in your house to protect your baby.

Good luck,

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answers from Dallas on

Retrievers are prone to hip problems - per my sister an avid Golden owner. BUT my advice would be - get the x-ray to confirm issue and get a clear outline for treatment and clarify with the vet that this prescribed treatment will fix the problem. Just like a surgery for a human - doctor may say - "get back surgery" but it may only help for a year or two and more surgery is necessary, etc. If same thing with your dog, you may want to explore other options (like physical therapy - yes, they have that for dogs - lol).
If the surgery is only option, I would ask the vet if they offer any kind of scholarship or fund deferment or if there are any "angels" out there who would help fund this.
Also, I would go to the animal shelters you worked at and see if anyone would help you fundraise for the surgery.
Good luck, such a difficult situation.

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answers from Albuquerque on

Surgery for a dog is not a mandatory expense like food and shelter for your human children. Sometimes in life you have to make really hard choices, and this might be one of them. You'll feel awful if you have to put the dog down because you can't afford surgery, but you'll feel more awful if you can't pay your bills or can't provide quality food for your kids.

I do agree with everyone else, though, that it really seems like your dog is in pain. You are responsible for him, and you need to fix that pain so he can either live a quality life at your house or someone else's, or you need to help end that pain. And until you address the pain, please keep him away from your baby! Babies and dogs aren't an amazing idea, but a hurting dog and a baby is especially not good.

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answers from Washington DC on

If I were in pain, I'd growl a little more, too.

I would talk to the vet about prognosis and payment options. Be honest that you don't have the funds, but want to do right by your dog. Does that mean he should have an amputation instead? Do they ever do lower cost or charitable care for people? Could you do something like clean kennels for part of the bill? Can you get credit?

If it's truly not an option to do the surgery, does the vet suggest any options, either for medical care or rehoming?

In defense of rescues and shelters, many see dumps from people who run from the responsibility of their pets at the first sniff of a problem vs dealing with it. People who "can't" get heartworm meds for their dog then drop off an infected dog whose care will be very expensive should the shelter/rescue take it on. Or animals with mange or mites that could have been treated that will now potentially infect the whole kennel. It's not easy to work in a shelter or rescue.

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answers from Detroit on

The cheapest route would be to maintain your dog on pain meds which can be taken long-term on a daily basis - your vet can discuss your options (non-steroidal anti-inflammatories +/- Tramadol). He sounds like he could have torn the cruciate ligament and the resulting instability within the knee joint could be causing some arthritis. Sometimes a glucosamine supplement can help too.

You can also try applying for Care Credit, which works a lot like a credit card, but is used for paying for medical expenses, including veterinary care. Most vet hospitals offer it and accept it, so you can probably talk to one of the staff members there about it. Then you might be able to just make small monthly payments until the balance is paid down. Sometimes some specialty vet hospitals, including teaching hospitals, have a special fund for cases like yours that they can tap into (not sure how close you are to U of Minnesota but you could look into it).

As difficult as it might be, you could also consider relinquishing ownership to a golden retriever rescue - they might be able to pay for the surgery he needs and then find him a new home.

And just because someone else mentioned it, usually amputations are NOT significantly cheaper. Sometimes the difference between amputating a leg, and just repairing it (knee surgery, fractures, etc.) was a few hundred bucks. Most surgeons I know would rather knock the difference off the cost than perform an amputation when they have the skills needed to actually fix the leg.

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answers from Tampa on

I am an animal lover, and dogs are my animal that I just adore. I have 2 of my own. Honestly, if I could afford it, was in better health myself, and my kids were grown I would have many more dogs. They love us unconditionally and are always happy to see us. I know that they require lots of attention, and more physically than I can give with my physical limitations now, so I will not get anymore. I really shouldn't have the 2 I DO have, but we have had them forever, and I will not get rid of them because they are family. We do the best we can and I get them as much excersize as I can manage to, and all of my kids and hubby help with that as often as they can too.
All of that being said, I also believe that the people in your family have to come before the dogs. I have had medical things come up personally that we couldn't afford, and I had to put them off for ME. (a human not a dog) You need to ask yourself a few hard questions about your dog and your situation. First, is your dog in pain all the time? Is the pain something that can be controlled with a less expensive medication since you said yourself that the dog is managing to get around quite well. Second, what are the actual costs of the dogs procedure and follow ups going to be. There will be additional costs other than surgery and xrays, like meds, follow up appts, and sometimes even an overnight stay at the vet. You need to know EVERY COST, so you can make a very informed choice. Third, what would it do to your family's finances if you chose to go ahead with the medical procedures for the dog? WOuld it cost so much that you would deplete your savings, or would this actually mean that other bills wouldn't get paid on time, that you wouold need to "juggle" bills to keep utilities going, and buying needed items for your family would be a hardship after? This is very important, because one of your jobs as a parent is to make sure that you can provide for your family and protect your family. What would happen if your child or even you got sick after the dog had the procedure done? Would you have the money to take care of yourself or your child properly? Could you buy any and all medications that may be needed? I know that you may have medical insurance, but they don't cover everything.
If you are lucky and SMART enough at this point to have some savings set aside, will using that possibly jeaporidize your security in the near future at all? What if your husband/ child's father were to get sick and be out of work for even a week? How would that effect you financially. I am not talking about really horrible illness, but even just the flu. It is coming into the flu season, and I know a lot of families who would be devastated by even a week or 2 without their normal income. If you currently have money set aside and could use that in a situation such as that, I would be inclined to say leave it there so you have that security. THese are the things that you need to ask yourself BEFORE making a choice, (probably quite an emotional one at that) about your beloved dog.
Also, I would look into the costs, and the what if's if you didn't have the procedures done. (I would want to know if there was any way the dog could live COMFORTABLY without doing the surgery. ) Maybe an alternate treatment? Then I would call around to other vets, and look for other opinions. You don't need to even go in and incur a charge, just explain over the phone what they (your vet) told you was needed and the cost. ASk if they did that procedure and for how much? I would look into vets in the community who do volunteer work at vet clinics. (We have one called Pet Luv) They usually only do shots and spay/ neuter, but in this situation you may find a vet who would be willing to help you out. Call the shelters and rescues to see if any of them have or know of any type of fund to help out. Explain to them that you don't want your dog to have to suffer, but you simply cannot afford the treatment. You may find that there is some type of help available, even if it's the vet they use who is willing to do the procedure for half the cost or less.
This is very hard. You love your dog, but NONE of us expect that we will be faced with vet bills totalling in the thousands when we get a dog. (at the most hundreds, but thousands, no) It does NOT make you an irresponsible pet owner. IF you have no option than to have your dog put down to keep him from being in pain, well then as difficult as that will be, it is the least selfish thing you could do. AT least you are not just saying hey, he is fine with 3 legs........ we don't need to do anything! You love your dog, but you love your family too, and you need to be able to take care of them as well. If you are paying off a huge vet bill, will you be able to afford to take care of your child or children? Well, I am so sorry that you are going through this. I know how much it stinks! I wish you the best outcome. Maybe you will find a vet who will work with you on the cost and take monthly payments. Good luck! I know how hard this is! You are a great dog owner, and you didn't do anything wrong! Best to you!!

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answers from Columbus on

Sounds like a cruciate surgery. Care credit is an option for helping to pay. If you live near a vet school maybe they can use surgery as a teaching experience and the students can do it making it cheaper for you. Also some regular vets do ortho surgeries cheaper if that is the price of a specialist. Ask your vet about payment options and call around. I would at least have the xrays done if you can so you know for sure. Has your dog been on strict rest and a diet if needed, both may help.

I would be careful around your baby then. Good luck to your family. You can call pet insurance companies and see since you have not done xrays yet if there would be coverage.

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answers from Minneapolis on

sry this is the exact reason we do not have any pets. We just can't risk the possibility of having to pay for a surgery....let alone getting teeth cleaned. We also don't want to have to face the time when we would have to choose this decision.

I am a firm believer is helping flesh and blood before another...this may sound bad...but if I had to choose between my children and husband and my dog my "human family" comes first"

Can you find someone who is willing to take him in as theirs.$3,000 is what we paid for our last car I can't imagine paying that for a dogs surgery let alone all the bills that will come after the surgery :(

Again sry you have to make this decision

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answers from Atlanta on

This is a tough dilemma! He's a relatively young dog, so my biggest concern is -is he in pain? Many dogs survive on three (even two!) legs, so if he's NOT in pain, I wouldn't worry about it until you can do something for it. IF he's in pain and you feel that something must be done, try contacting the Golden Retriever rescue society and ask them what they suggest. I'm betting they've dealt with situations like this before. $3000 is a chunk of change! I spent $3500 on a surgery for a beloved cat years ago. It was worth it to me at the time, and it bought me 4 more fun-filled and healthy years with him (before children). I'm not sure if I would do it now. Because our children DO cost money, many of us find ourselves with less discretionary income than we had before, and while I would WANT to do it, as much as I love(d) that cat and his loss still hurts to this day, I don't know that I could spend that money for that surgery right now -and we're actually in pretty good shape financially.

Ultimately, if the dog is in pain and if no one can help with the cost of the surgery or anything, you will have to make *that* decision none of us wants to make. To me -bottom line -if an animal is in pain that cannot be fixed (for whatever reason), then it's only humane to euthanize the animal.

Do be very careful with the dog and the children. He may be growly because he is in pain or uncomfortable, or he may just have an "attitude" with the baby. Either way -keep them apart and look into your options TODAY, so you can make a decision very soon. Try not to feel too guilty! You know the ads that say, "Having a baby changes everything." Well, it's true ACROSS THE BOARD! For me, it hasn't changed my love of animals any less, but it has definitely changed how much I'm willing to tolerate and spend with pets. I can tell you right now -we have an awesome cat we got at the beginning of the year, and the two dogs who have become the bane of my existence. When they go to that big dog house in the sky -it will be a VERY long time before there's another dog (kids must be much older, dog must be smallish, etc.). Make sure to give yourself that break if this dog winds up not staying with your family.

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answers from Madison on

Just wanted to add on to the other poster who suggested having the bad leg amputated.... I wanted to add that, since he isn't currently using/walking on the leg, can the vet 100% guarantee that, once the expensive surgery and post-op time is over with that the dog will even WALK on it? If the dog thinks something's wrong with his leg and won't/hasn't walked on it, what's to guarantee that once the surgery is done that he will? He might still insist on not walking on it.

Also, by not walking on it, is the leg atrophying? We had a friend who's beagle got kicked in the leg/maybe even broke the leg. He refused to walk on it, and how he just has a useless leg that he drags along behind him. I would say that if the dog is getting around well with three legs, then I would think about amputating the leg so that the pain from the bad knee is gone (that might be another reason he seems short with the little one; not only does he have to get up on only three legs, but he probably is having pain in the knee as well).

However, depending on how bad the problem, issue is, you might want to think about giving your pooch some natural medicine first and see if it does anything to help.

My dog (a miniature Schnoodle (half poodle, half Schnauzer) hyperextended the knee of her back leg (it was awful; I've never heard a dog cry like she did). In humans they call it a trick knee. Anyway, the doctor wanted me to give her all these expensive pharma meds and give her a cortisone shot and feed her this expensive vet pet food and... well, the price, every month, was going to be just totally expensive. I already give our cat a special natural/herbal/organic medicine for his Feline Gingivitis/Stomatitis Complex (an auto immune disease that attacts his teeth), and that's kept his disease (which has no cure) away for a couple years now, so I went to the same company and found a medicine for dogs that helps the ligamins/tendons, etc.

It's been over a year now and she's doing just fine. No more problems with her knees (she still licks her front paws, though; we haven't been able to figure out what she's allergic to). If you want to know the company, contact me. The same stuff will probably work for your dog. We mix it into our dog's food; half wet, half dry. The price is pretty reasonable, although I suspect a big dog will use more than a small dog. We would much rather spend $75-$150/year on the dog and cat and not have to worry about vet bills, surgery, pharma drugs, and all that stuff.

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answers from Phoenix on

Oh I feel your pain. When my dog was just a puppy (6 months old) she hurt her hip and the vet said she'd have to have surgery. We had just bought a house and had a baby and couldn't afford unexpected and expensive surgery.

She was only a pup and I wasn't about to put her down at such a young age, so we explained our situation to the billing department at the vets office. They were somewhat understanding and we ended up having to work out a payment plan with the vets office since we had no other options. The day of the surgery they had us make a down payment and then a few months of payments after that.

Can you see if you can put your dog on some type of pain med until you can get some money together for surgery?

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answers from Dallas on

I feel for you. We had a Cocker Spaniel at age 3 with a surgery that costs us around $3000. Frankie came through it and lived to be 15 and a very special part of our family. We are dog lovers and have paid vet bills through the nose to keep them healthy, routine as well as the occasional sickness. That is a part of being a pet owner, bottom line.

As for the costs, is there any way the Dr. can adjust pricing, have some organization help, etc. What is the percentage of this dog regaining good health and a good life with the surgery? What type of rehab, etc will he need? Is the $ quoted for surgery only? There will be a lot more follow up visits, etc to ensure he is in the best care and healing.

It sounds like you want to help the dog but in your 2nd paragraph, I hear you trying to justify getting rid of the dog, either by euthanisia or sending him to someone who will care for him. Any dog, sick or not, does not need a baby crawling toward him. That is asking for an issue.

The dog needs to be separated from the baby especially and maybe the 5 yr old as well until he regains his health. Can you do this at your home?

I know what I would do... I would find a way to get my dog healthy again if he had a good chance to live the rest of his life without pain.

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answers from Orlando on

I would also recommend "Care Credit" - I applied during an emergency surgery for my doggies too. They also sometimes have the 0% interest offer.

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answers from San Antonio on

My parents had a cat that had knee problems and the surgery to fix it was very expensive. What they ended up doing was amputating the bad leg and the cat doesn't even know that she only has three legs. They talked to their vet and this was a viable option for them. Check and see what your vet thinks. Most animals will adapt very well to missing a limb and since he is already getting around pretty well on the three good legs it might be something to consider.
As for the growling he is going so most likely because he is in pain.

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answers from Washington DC on


I'm sorry about this!!! It's hard to see your dog in pain!!!

Talk to the vet and see if you can do a payment plan with them. If not? Talk to a Golden Retriever rescue/society for help. You may have to give up the dog in order to help him.

After this? I don't know what to tell you. I would love to help but our budget and savings took a huge hit this year with my husband's unemployment.

The growling at the baby? it's because he KNOWS the baby might touch his bad leg and he KNOWS he can't really defend himself. So the growl is a warning to YOU. help me. please.

In regards to money:

You can have a garage sale and sell things to get money. If you have collectibles that you know are worth something - list them on Craigslist or ebay to get the money together - not just for the dog but for your family as well.

Have your husband update his resume and look for a better paying job. If you own the home and are having trouble making the payments, look to refinancing it or selling it...

Get your resume together and keep it current as well. Apply for jobs and see what you get out of it. You never know until you try!

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answers from Chicago on

Very sad situation. I agree don't let the baby bother the poor dog, for his and the baby's sake. He is an animal in pain, and it would not be his fault if he bit your child. I think it would be the best for all if you found him a new owner that had no kids and could afford to pay the bill. It won't be easy though. 6 is middle aged for a large dog.


answers from Biloxi on

Talk to your vet and see if she would work out a payment plan for you. Find out if there are any organizations out there that help pay for vet bills - gosh knows there is an organization for everything. I found this site -

I am in the same horrible budget situation as you. I had a cat pop up with renal failure 2 weeks ago and while I thought it was time to euthanize her, my vet wanted to try treatment. I told him outright that I don't have 100s of dollars for this right now. So, I pay him what I can, when I can, and will eventually catch up and get it all paid off.

I have been seeing this vet for over 6 years - so that has a lot to do with our relationship. Oh, kitty is doing better also.

Good Luck
God Bless



answers from Cleveland on

You've gotten good advice on options to make the surgery cheaper etc. If all that fails though, I personally think it's kinder to put a dog down than give him/her to a shelter, rescue society etc. I really really love dogs. I'm stupid about them. But I'm not so stupid that I don't remember that they are dogs, not people. Your kids need to come first and I've also volunteered at the Humane Society. As part of our training, they had us watch a video of animals being euthanized. We'd all be lucky to go so quickly and painlessly. The dog has no idea what is going to happen and then it's done in less than an instant. I'd much rather that than wonder if he/she got a good home, is sitting in a cage at a shelter wondering what happened to me and what he/she did wrong to end up there etc. That's more heartbreaking to me. Realistically, most likely we're all going to outlive our dogs anyway, no matter how much we love them. Unfortunately there are cases where the dogs go prematurely but it's speeding up the inevitable. I love our Lab so so much. I bend over backwards for him, use my little free time to take him for runs every day etc. But I know he'll be gone some day and if it was a matter of him being in pain and me not easily having the money to fix it and putting ourselves in debt or something, I would put him down. It would break my heart but putting my family in debt to buy some more time wouldn't be the right choice. This isn't a child who should live another 80 years... Best wishes.

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