I have a number of friends (and a family member) who have dogs who are nearing the end of their days. I’m noting and processing the events and feelings they are experiencing – and hoping it is several years before I’m in a similar situation (my heart dog, Otto, will be 12 years old in November).
My sister and her husband have a really old Schnauzer-mix named Beau. He might even be a real Schnauzer. He’s so old, it’s hard to tell! They took in Beau when a friend in distress couldn’t keep him. The friend had gotten Beau as a puppy when her son was 10 years old, and that son is in his late twenties now, so… Beau is old. He has limited vision, limited hearing, has had several strokes and can’t walk a straight line, and is growing increasingly incontinent. On his bad days, it seems almost cruel that he is being kept alive. He may stagger or not be able to get up, he acts like he doesn’t know where he is and is anxious, and he may just suddenly completely empty his bladder on the carpet while standing still, seemingly unaware he is doing so.
But on his good days, he runs up the hall with the rest of his housemates, eats with gusto, goes outside through the dog door and potties without assistance or a reminder to do so, and enjoys his time on the sofa and in bed with his human and canine housemates. So they are very much afraid that if they call the vet to make a euthanasia appointment on one of his bad days, and he’s having a good day on the day of the appointment, the vet may decline to euthanize, or the staff may make them feel like creeps! In fact, they feel sort of pre-emptively guilty about even just talking about “Beau’s time.” My sister and brother-in-law love Beau and want him to have a good end. But when is the right time?
Chaco and Lena
There is Chaco, one of my former foster dogs. She’s younger than Otto, but has two failing knees and severe arthritis, and her owner lacks the health insurance or budget to pay for two knee surgeries. Her declining mobility has contributed, it seems, to weight gain, which compounds her problems.
Another friend is in a similar position with Lena, Otto’s very first playmate and friend. She has had one ACL surgically repaired, and underwent “conservative management” when the second one tore; her veterinarian says her hips, too, are quite dysplastic, and would have benefitted from surgery. Both hips and both knees, too? Her very devoted owner, my friend, could not have possibly paid for four surgeries – nor could she have gotten or afforded insurance after the first knee injury and x-rays showed the hip problems. Lena is maintained on daily pain medication and various joint supplements, and my friend takes her for frequent drives to places where she can take short, gentle walks. My friend has also been shopping for some sort of wagon or cart she could use to take the 70-pound dog on walks, so she at least can enjoy the changing scenery and odors. Lena, like Chaco, is getting fairly crippled, but is in otherwise good health and appetite. How long can my friends maintain them in this condition?
How to know when to let them go
Super dedicated owners can provide hospice care for dogs, if they are physically and emotionally able and have an appropriate home and time to do so. We ran a great article about this in 2010; it holds up well today. But not everyone has a schedule and home that would permit, as just one example, helping a large non-ambulatory dog outside to potty several times a day.
Not unrelated: Between all my dog-loving friends, I am aware of exactly ONE DOG who died peacefully in his sleep.
I just went looking; here are some links for information on how to know when “the time” is right for euthanasia:
When it is getting close to time to make an appointment for euthanasia, we have some other helpful articles to read. This one is by a long-time contributor to WDJ, trainer Lisa Rodier.
Also, trainer Jill Breitner’s article on what to ask before making an appointment for euthanasia and the companion piece to that article by Dr. Sally J. Foote are excellent sources of information about what you should know in advance.
Hi Nancy Kerns,
Just want to let you know that out of 13 dogs I have had two who surprised me by dying in their sleep. What a gift! Otherwise, totally agree it’s the most difficult decision in life.
Absolutely!I had a Weimaraner that was 12 years and 3 months old when I had to put her to sleep. She would fall after a couple of steps and could no longer squat to go to the bathroom without falling over. Letting go is so difficult. I literally thought I was going to die, the hurt was so excruciating. I finally resolved that it was the humane thing to do and I was keeping her alive because I did not want to hurt.lI have loved all my dogs and the hurt never really goes away, but the joy that they give me will always win. It’s too bad they don’t live as long as humans.
I know exactly how you feel. My 2 Yorkies died within 2 weeks of each other. We kept them alive with Saline drips for months, but in the end it was because I didn’t want to lose them.
They were brother and sister. This was 4 years ago and it still hurts just as much today as it did when they went to the Rainbow Bridge.
I don’t think you need to worry that you may be doing it too early. Why wait until your dear friend is miserable most of the time and can’t even stand up? I’d rather make the call a week too early than a week too late when he’s suffering constantly.
Beau’s parents may want to consider finding a different vet. Ideally, their vet and her staff would know Beau and the family well enough to understand, guide, and support them in the decisions that have to be made.
Having two dogs that were diagnosed with cancer within a two month period was a bit overwhelming. One was 13 with an inoperable tumor in his nasal cavity and we even visited with a specialist. My vet is a wonderful person who helped me with my process and cried each and every time right along with me.
I think having a good relationship with your vet was the key for me to making the decisions when I did. Due to moving I had to find a new vet and although the one I chose was efficient I knew she wasn’t the one for me.
I have since found another caring vet who I know will be with me in the future and help me make decisions for my 13 and 9 year old dogs.
Im so sorry to read about your pup and hope hes doing well. We have a 11.5 yr old Golden who was diagnosed with a nasal tumor a couple months ago. We havent gone to a specialist but our vet is pretty certain that its a nasal tumor due to her age and being a golden. Can I ask how long your pup has had it and what the symptoms are? Our Molly has bloody noses (mostly brought on by sneezing which is almost daily. She is on her 2nd round of meds that is for fungal issues which stops it but then as soon as we go off of it the bleeding starts back up. Its not bad yet but just trickles down the nose mostly all day except for when she sneezes it goes all over the floor (sorry for the grossness 🙂 and we use epinephrine for those times that are hard to stop. Any help would be appreciated as were trying to figure out where about in her sickness shes at. Probably hard to say but any info may help? Thank you
Of the 5 dogs I’ve had in the past, I had to make “the decision” for them all. I am soon facing the decision again with my 11 year old Boxer whose hips are shot. It is NEVER an easy decision, and must be made with compassion for the animal above all else.
It’s often said that we’re kinder to our companion animals than to our fellow humans in that we can humanely end their suffering. But is there a harder decision in life for a pet lover?
With our last dog, Dilly, The last six months of his life were really dreadful. He had seizures, and they terrified HIM. He would just lie there, shaking, looking at me with desperate eyes. It broke my heart. I had been ready to euthanize him about two months before that because he was clearly having some significant pain. But my middle son, then 28, was vehemently against it. And he’s the one who lives here with me.
My other two kids, who live elsewhere, also thought the time had come. But not Michael. The fact that Dilly could still get around, Was not incontinent, and enjoyed his meals meant to Michael that it was too soon. After many arguments and tears and the stress of living in a house that was so fractured, the other kids and I came to the conclusion that Dilly had always been willing to walk into fire for the kids, to do anything necessary to keep them safe and happy, and that if more time was what Michael needed, that would be a gift that Dilly himself would have freely chosen to give. So we put it off.
I tried the best I could every day to keep Dilly comfortable, and we did have a number of pleasant afternoons just sitting outside and enjoying the breeze. But also increasingly more of the seizures.
Eventually he began to have trouble walking, and then Michael was ready to say goodbye. And I know Dilly was ready to go.
He was a great dog and I still feel guilty that we prolonged his suffering for the sake of family harmony. But I still always come to the same conclusion: that that is the choice Dilly would have wanted us to make. He was always the peacemaker, and he was particularly distressed by arguments within the family. My brave, sweet boy. I miss him so much.
It’s not selfishness, it’s called love.
How unfortunate, Melissa, that you felt it was necessary to comment on someone else’s family anguish and grant yourself the right to judge.
Melissa, I understand what you’re saying, but Michael is, and always has been, one of the most generous, compassionate, hard-working, and helpful people anywhere around. I myself am confined to a wheelchair and have very little use of my hands. Michael does all the cooking, laundry, dishes, most of the pet care, as well as working a full-time job. And he was doing all that at the time that Dilly was In his last years.
I think it was more that Dilly is the dog that we got when Michael was 15 and I had only recently become noticeably ill. Of the three kids, Michael was our rock: he stepped in and did whatever needed doing, uncomplaining and comforting all the rest of us. Dilly was there to give Michael the kind of unconditional love and support that Michael was giving all the rest of us.
Michael grew up, moved away, and then when I needed more help at home he was the one who moved back. And Dilly was there for him every day, just being a dog who loved him. Michael doesn’t talk a lot, but he and Dilly shared many companionable silences at the end of the day When work was over and the chores were done and Michael could finally collapse on the sofa and relax.
Yes, his resistance at the end was selfish. But I think it’s the kind of selfishness that many of us can understand, even from the most generous and compassionate people. He just wasn’t ready to face the world without Dilly, and he wanted a clearer, more direct sign that the time had come. In his mind, they had fought many battles together, and he wasn’t ready yet to give up hope for his wounded comrade.
I hope Michael would make the decision differently with a future dog in a future situation. But I understand why things played out the way they did.
Your son Michael sounds like an extraordinary guy! Kudos to you both for working it out.
Thank you. I think it is mostly because Michael so rarely gets involved in family arguments that we all realized how important this was to him. He just wasn’t seeing the situation the same way we were.
We had to make the decision for our 16 year old schnauzer when he wasn’t able to stand up very well or KEEP upright. There would be times that he’d lose his footing on the linoleum and couldn’t get back up. Our vet actually came to our house to do this for us. I was concerned with our other two dogs wondering what happened to him. This was actually a beautiful ending for our perfect buddy. Our vet thankfully knows how invested we are in the health and well-being of our furry family members. They even sent us a sympathy card when we had to take our Westie-girl to the emergency ER due to a bad seizure/stroke that resulted in having to say goodbye to her. (She was already having neurological issues.) Thankfully, we feel that SHE made the decision instead of of us having to. I still miss these too. Our two current pups are now 10 and 12 and I’m dreading this part… but thankfully both are in good health and I hope this is much farther off.
I think the right time will vary from person to person as well. I recently adopted a 15-year-old blind dog whose family brought her in for euthanasia because she was urinating inappropriately. She was lucky enough to cross paths with a very kind vet who worked with a wonderful shelter, and since she seemed in generally good health, convinced her family to sign her over, after which she was given antibiotics for a possible UTI and posted for adoption as a palliative case. I adopted her, finding out she was also deaf only a few days before picking her up, and we’ve been together 2 months now. Yes, she is occasionally unsteady on her feet and being blind, bumps into things, she has a wonky knee, she’s in early kidney failure, and while she does relieve herself very frequently, she is happy to use pee pads (although she thinks my area rugs are giant pee pads, but we’re working on that!). She also wags her tail when she smells me near, has a great appetite, loves sniffing the breezes outside, wandering around the backyard and rolling in good smells in the grass, sleeping next to the other dogs on the bed, and being stroked and massaged. Yes, it’s difficult to see her struggle sometimes with her physical disabilities, but I’m so happy to have had the opportunity to give her a bit more time, and I hope that when that time ends, the decision will be obvious.
Thank you L Hoyt!! I had one dog euthanized and it was dreadful. I have always heard when they stop eating you know its time, but I don’t know anything for sure. What I DO know is that it was THE HARDEST thing I’ve ever done and I never want to go through it again. My sweet Black Lab was 13, going blind and as she would walk around the house her poop would just fall out of her and it would humiliate her. She would look in my direction and hang her beautiful head. My sweet heart. Her breathing was bad, too. I went into the room with her and I was a complete wreck and my sweet, beautiful girl that I’d had since she was 10 weeks old tried desperately to stay with me because I was so upset and the Vet had to dose her twice. My Shadow’s ashes now have a place on the bookcase in my living room, but still, after almost 20 years, I cry thinking about that day. My current sweetheart – a 3 year old Black German Shepherd – will hopefully go in her sleep when her time comes because I will do anything and everything to help her as long as that tail wags and she can drink and eat. Much love for your dear pup.
Bless you for adopting a senior pup. I too adopted a 14 year old senior that was deaf and she added so much joy to my life. I also had a mother and daughter rescue pups (ages 8 and 5 years old) and my sweet Ellie fit in with them from Day 1. She was with us for 21 months, every day a blessing, and hard as it was to say goodbye to her, I never regretted adopting her.
The single most helpful and comforting thing for me in making this most difficult decision was learning the actual meaning of the word “euthanasia”. The word is of Greek origin, and means “good death”. We owe our beloved and faithful companions no less. While nothing can lessen the pain and heartbreak, this understanding of the act of euthanasia brings me some small amount of comfort in the decision.
Love this. I was there for my two huskies and aussie’s passing back in 92. I was there for my Nash’s passing in 2013.
I heard the term “terrible privilege” used to describe as being there when someone you loved died…and I think it’s a totally fitting description. I don’t understand people just leaving their dogs to die alone in the vets office. My babies have been there for me at my lowest…how could I even conceive of leaving them alone when they needed me most?
How could I leave them wondering, as they left this life, where I was, if I loved them? No way on earth.
When my Caesar wouldn’t eat his dinner and then wouldn’t come in the house from outside, I had to go looking for him after dark and coax him in. He drank because I asked him to but then threw up. I took him to the Emergency Vet and it was 24 hours before they gave me the diagnosis of cancer. I wanted to get him then and there and bring him home so he could be euthanized in his own bed but they wouldn’t let me have him back until he ate something. The next morning I got up at 5:30 am to go get him. While I was dressing they called and told me he was fading. He was gone by the time I got there. To this day I am convinced he thought I had abandoned him and waited as long as he could for me to come get him before he couldn’t wait any longer and just gave up. I blame them for not letting me come get him the night before. It is a trauma I still live with 17 years later. Thankfully my previous dog died peacefully with me in the bed. I now have a 9 month old puppy and will make sure that no one will prevent me from doing what *I* think is best for her.
I just hat talk of ‘putting down’ a beloved pet….that negates the whole relationship .Like you say , the word is euthanasia , good death, and it is the great ,unselfish gift of love and thanks our pets deserve…
I appreciated all of the comments posted for this. Peace be with you. If your beloved companions could communicate with you now, I am sure they would say “thank you for a wonderful life; I had a great time.”
I love this!
I’m a staunch believer that “they will let you know” . The problem is hearing them, or in my case, getting the rest of the family to respect it.
My dog Nash lived to a ripe old age of 16…not bad for a large mutt rescued at the age of three from the SPCA.
And if he hadn’t contracted bone cancer, I think he would have lived longer.
He was diagnosed in the fall of 2012. Started to fail in spring of 2013. Lost his appetite, control of his bladder, had very little bowel movements. In May, he walked up to me (he was very much a Mommy’s boy) and gave me that look….and I knew. The battle was my husband. Ours is a second marriage, and Nash was the first “baby” we had together, adopted in January of 2000. My husband is a redneck headbanger, raised on a farm until he was 10. Dogs were kept outside, and while he considered them companions, he didn’t really understand the concept of them being truly “family”. Until me. Nash was kept inside, and went everywhere we (especially I) did. He helped bring groceries in–would stand by the car and we’d put light bags around his neck. He’d go inside, we’d remove the bag, he’d go back out. He slept with us. And my husband learned what it was to truly HAVE a dog, and what it was like to be LOVED by a dog.
So, when I told him I thought it was time Nash crossed the bridge, my DH balked. And Nash didn’t help. He could tell DH was worried, so Nash would act like his old self when DH was there–bouncy, playful, happy. My DH FINALLY got it when, on Thanksgiving 2013, we got home from family dinner, went outside to let Nash in, and found him on the patio. I called his name a couple times, and knelt down next to him. I really thought he was dead–he was so still, and I couldn’t detect his breathing. I started freaking out, and finally Nash woke up. He tried to stand up, and stumbled. That’s when my husband finally understood.
We sent Nash across the bridge on December 27, 2013. That was the second time I saw my husband cry…and I mean ugly cry…and I haven’t seen him cry like that since.
We have another rescue, Brutus, a full bred Rottie, who’s 9 or 10; we got him in 2013. He’s got bad hip dysplasia, and is starting to fail. We already had one scare with him last year– he contracted a skin stap infection, lost a LOT of hair, and a LOT of weight. When we took him to the vet my husband told me flat out..”I’m not going through that hell again. If we have to put him down, I’ll have to wait outside.” Brutus recovered, but at the beginning of this summer, he started to slow way down. And he’s so laid back, so chill, so aloof, it’s hard to read him. He’s not, and never has been, as expressive as Nash was…not like our other two, either, they’re open books, very communicative.
Brut? He’s the very strong, silent type. John Wayne, Clint Eastwood..you know, stoic.
But, like Nash, he’s is definitely a momma’s boy, so it will be up to me to receive his message when he sends it. I just hope I’ll be able to understand it as clearly as I did Nash’s.
Sounds like Beau has dog dementia. Yes, its a real thing. Dogdementia.com has great info. The last dog of my pack is 13 & between the weight , hearing & eye sight loss, plus the dementia onset, it is hard to decide what to do.
She eats, walks long distances etc but some days are hard…
I plan to ease her suffering based on HER quality of life, not my need to have her here. & daily ask the Lord to take her in her sleep…
I gave my 12 year old female Akita BPC-157 injections, she has degenerative myelopathy and arthritis and had a tendon injury, this was in December of 2018 when it seemed I was going to lose her. I am happy to report my dog is 100% better and is able to hike and is no longer falling or tripping and almost no foot dragging as her myelin sheath has regenerated. I also give her Boswellia and msm for her arthritis. My dog’s Instagram page is shibuakita. I also recently got a male Akita puppy. Both dogs are on meat and vegetable diets with supplements. Shibu will be 13 in December and she looks beautiful, you cannot tell she is that old or has a fatal illness.
Kristin, I messaged you at Instagram. I would love to find out more about your supplements. Have an old guy with similar issues. Thanks, Sandra
Hi, I know this thread is a few years old but I was intrigued when I saw your mention of bcp 157. I tried to look up shibuakita on Instagram to reach out there but was not able to find any account… anyways I wanted to reach out and see If I could ask you a few questions about using bcp for your pup. I was curious if you were able to find a vet to help you or was this something you went about more on your own? I have a dog who had 2 knee surgeries and am wond3ring about using bcp157 possibly down the road if he/when he might develop arthritis. Anyways hopefully you see this as I love to hear about your experience with your pup as I haven’t been able to find much out there on peptides for our dogs. Really hope this message gets to you and we can chat. Thanks so much.
When asking this question before, our vet and good friend said to pick at 4-5 things the dog was known for loving. If they are no longer interested in those things, the time is near. They are no longer enjoying the life they live and may still be holding on because they know WE still need THEM. I have 2 who are 13. I know the time is not too far out. I love on them daily and tell them, on their struggle days, to go when they want to go. Thanks for the read and providing other articles!
I’ve had to have 3 of my babies euthanized and it never gets easier. The first, Flex, was a 14 year old Rottie mix with severe arthritis and steroid induced Cushings. He was having a wonderful day on the day we said goodbye, and I’m forever grateful for that. His bad days were far outnumbering the good and we knew it was time. Sonia, my 8 year old Rottie was in wonderful shape and so full of life. We left the dog park after a fun day of swimming and within hours she started losing the use of her front leg. The paralysis spread and her thyroid stopped working. The vet suspect a toxin in the lake, but my other dog was fine. We fought hard for her, and she started improving but then her organs started failing. It wasn’t a peaceful euthanasia as she hated drugs. It was the hardest goodbye ever. Well, maybe. I say that because my youngest, Coot ( Kujo) was diagnosed with congenital kidney disease at 3. He was the most loving dog I’ve ever known. He was 4 when I had to say goodbye. I miss him sooo much. My advice to anyone? I’d much rather say goodbye a day too soon than a day too late. We owe them that.
I appreciate your comment. I just said goodbye to my 12 year old Black Lab. My guilt for making the decision is unbearable. She had Cancer but was still eating and drinking. She was having some trouble walking and seemed to be panting all of the time, even just laying there. She had also started crying for no reason (although I think the reason was pain). My husband said, we just can’t let her live like this, she is suffering.
I of course keep telling myself, what if it was too soon?? What if she could have lived a little bit longer? I am awful for making that decision if it was too soon. 00 Reading your comment is a place I wish I could be. That she went out still OK. Maybe another week later would have been a different story.
Thanks for listening.
My beloved Lab/Golden Saffy was 14 1/2. She had surgery on both knees at age 8. She had arthritis, was deaf, had on-going UTIs, and then suffered from vestibular syndrome. We got her through the vestibular syndrome with cold laser treatments and eased arthritis with acupuncture, which gave her another year of quality life. Finally she could not stand or walk. She had always been a very clean dog and seemed distressed after she constantly peed on herself. She would eat if I brought food to her but she had no quality of life. When we got to the vet, she rallied and took a few shaky steps. I know I could have kept her going , but that would have been selfish. Putting her to sleep was one of the hardest things I ever have done. I still miss her but I know I did right by her.
We too had to put our beloved Cocoa down this past May and it truly was one of the most difficult things I ever did. My husband wanted to do it 6 months earlier but she was mama’s girl and I couldn’t
do it. My husband had to do most of things that Cocoa needed like carry her up and down the stairs because she couldn’t do steps anymore and I couldn’t carry her. she was deaf, was inontininant. peeing several times on our bed where she slept. she was senile, not remembering much of what she used to know and she snapped at my husband several times. She just wasn’t the dog we knew and loved any more. for 15 and a 1/2 years she was the best dog ever. I still cry every time I think of her because I miss her so much. We have a wonderful puppy now a miniature goldendoodle. She’s great but she’s not Cocoa but life goes on. I had this horrible idea that because Cocoa always followed me and looked for me always that she’d spend an eternity looking for me in death, too. At least until we met up again when I passd. My kids said that wouldn’t happen but who knows. Maybe some day I can think of just happy times with Cocoa and not dwell on the fact she’s gone but not yet. Intellectually I know we did the right thing but emotionally not so much. She was in pain, had bad knees and bad hips, her back legs would give out and she had a rough time getting back up. She had both her knees fixed years ago and had arthritis in them so I know we did the right thing but,,,,,,,,,,,
Keeping them alive for our needs is wrong. Keeping them alive with a lousy quality of life for them is wrong. Keeping them alive through compassionate care that extends their life while still allowing them, as much as possible, to be a dog and do what dogs do, is what we should strive for.
When it is getting close to time to help them pass, plan a GREAT LAST DAY for them. Spoil them like you’ve never spoiled them before. The sky’s the limit, no holds barred, and smile and have fun with them. Don’t dwell on what’s to come, they need to be ready to pass while they are in a good place, and they will be in that place only if you are there with them.
A dear friend who lost her dog got a new one within a week. She said she thought that was the best way to honor the one who passed, by now giving her love to a new dog, in honor of the old.
We lost Maggie in august of 2018, and Bella at the end of April 2019. We adopted Rascal in September 2018, not to replace Maggie, but because we had love to give to two dogs, and only had Bella. We adopted Brooklyn five weeks ago, not to replace Bella, who is irreplaceable, but to carry on her good work. For you see, Maggie & Bella were Therapy Dogs, and now Rascal is one, and Brooklyn soon will earn her Pet Partner Therapy Dog tags.
Maggie and Bella each could have had a few more days, but the quality of the days would have been diminished. We regret losing them, but we don;t regret the decision we made to let them go when we did.
Peace to all Pet Lovers.
Quality of life is key. They depend on you for everything, even knowing when to let them go they depend on you for that too! It’s always hard but they Depend on you until the end!
My Maltese lived to age 15. She had severe arthritis and dementia. The dementia was so hard to see. Brie loved life and she loved action. Big cities, lots of stuff going on, hiking, x/c skiing… she never wanted to be left behind (and rarely was). Her dementia started as sundowner’s syndrome, where she became extremely anxious when the sun went down. Part of that was vision related, but she could not be consoled. She would cry and just couldn’t settle anywhere. We took her on a trip to a favorite city, thinking that would make her happy. She cried when she was on the ground (and she had always been a super smeller), she cried when I held her, she cried in her carriage, it was awful. When the arthritis got so bad that she screamed if picked up, I knew it was time. We had used Doggone Pain successfully for many years, but even that wasn’t working anymore. Then she would have a good day. You know how it goes. My wonderful vet said, bring her in on a good day – don’t wait for a bad one. And I did. There’s never anything easy about saying goodbye. I got her ashes, which was comforting. The cycle of life and death is the hardest thing for those of us who choose to share our life with animals.
Last spring, my Chow mix started not feeling well. She was a rescue, but around 8-9 years old. Her vet ran every blood test and examined her thoroughly, she was diagnosed with uveitis, given antibiotics and steroids and bounced back to notmal – for about three months. She started being weak, and losing her appetite. Back to the vet. More blood tests, full body x-rays, and two vets examined her. Another round of antibiotics. Ten days later, she seemed worse. This time, her vet and I now feel the tumors in several places. The vet did a biopsy, and we had to wait for lab results. The next day she just wanted to lay on the back porch or in the back yard. She was miserable, and I was praying we could help her. Early the next morning , around 5AM, I heard her having a seizure in her sleep. The next 90 minutes were some of the worst of my life! I called the Emergency Vet, but they could do nothing unless I could bring her in. I was alone, upstairs, and she weighed 55 pounds. All I could do was pet her, talk to her and cry. After another hour and another seizure, she passed away next to my bed. Her vet was beside herself too. We got the lymphoma diagnosis from the lab two days later. If euthanasia would have prevented her suffering, I would have sadly done it.
A friend once later thanked me for telling her one thing when she was facing this issue. “Better a week too early than a day too late.”
Thank you. I’ve been struggling with such deep guilt for thinking our dear Jet was put down too soon.. His last day was a good day and I think that’s why I’m struggling so much- though his diagnosis was terminal and I knew we were on borrowed time with him. This comforts me knowing that he didn’t need to deteriorate any more than we allowed. He trusted us to make the right decision when that day would come. I hope someday I can believe not just in my head but also my heart that his last day was the right day to say goodbye. 😢
How timely of an article. I have a 12 year old Belgian Tervuren. She has degenerative myelopathy and most likely liver cancer. With the DM she’s been holding her own for about 5 months. Last Tuesday we went out to a river and she was happy. The next 2 days she was shuffling her rear feet much more than she had been. Friday she was not getting up on her own nor able to walk more than a couple steps. But, she was still happy, alert and eating as well as normal. She wasn’t fitting the criteria I’ve set for euthanasia. Saturday and Sunday she was somewhat better but I called my dear vet at home to just talk. She said she would call in to the drugstore a couple meds to try that might help and buy her time or they may not work. As much as I do not like steroids she was started on a high dose of it along with gabapentin and wow. Within 24 hours she was back to standing, walking and even able to hop up on the couch. I was surely thinking it was time for euthanasia but I was wrong. As long as these meds work she’ll be with me another day.
Years ago when I was in veterinary practice when clients would ask how to know when it was time I would tell them, “You’ll know”. And they invariably did. It was the point where the pain of watching a beloved pet suffer became greater than the fear and pain of losing the pet.
Hopefully it is a fast choice not a lingering one. I have had to do it with three dogs and assorted small pets. Always gut wrenching. If fortunate they and you have adjusted to them being an elder dog. In all three cases the end was sudden. And necessary. My dr says people are never making a poor choice if it is sooner rather than later. If your beloved pet suffers and you feel it was because you could not let go that is an awful thing to regret.
My dog died with me in the bed.
Was it peaceful. Well, he did have some sort of seizure or heart attack right at the end. But prior to that he was so happy to be with me. He snuggled with me. And I was stroking him and talking to him right before he spasmed. So I count it a peaceful death. He was where he wanted to be.
That said, we had an appointment to go into the vet for him to be euthanized on Saturday. He died the previous Thursday night. He was 14 and 9 months and had been diagnosed with bone cancer in his pelvis, had had a large mast tumor removed from his back, four vertibrae had extreme arthritis and the discs were pretty much worn away and his potassium levels were elevated and going higher. He was managed on pain meds and CBD but I could tell his quality of life was going down. It was painful for him to walk and he had lost bladder control twice not making it out the back door in time.
I am still grateful he passed on his own time and with me. It was a release for both of us.
I grieved but his death was not as traumatic to me as that of my forever dog, Caesar, who passed away at the vet’s office before I could pick him up to bring him home. He also had cancer and I never knew. He went so fast I am still traumatized by it.
My current puppy is 9 months and 84 pounds. I am already thinking about how I will manage her end of life should she become immobile as I cannot lift a 90 lbs dog. I will be in my 70s by then.
Over the years I have had several dogs that needed my help to relieve cancer symptoms by using euthanasia. I have 2 senior Great Danes at this time both female that I am in full time care of. Daisy has wobblers syndrome and has bladder control issues. They also found that she has heart problems. Daisy turns 11 years old in December. Lily cannot walk up stairs or get into vehicles. She has a hard time getting down to the floor to lay down and then when she wants to get back up she struggles to get back up. I need to be there for her. I have caught her several times from falling. This is 138 lb dog. I am catching. She is losing her eye sight and it makes it hard for her to walk on wooden floors. She does not trust them. Lily is going on to 9 years old.
I also have one male Great Dane 3 years old. He has pancreatis. I have him on a low fat diet and watch him very closely making sure that he does not get any table scraps at all.
I may take it to the extreme with my dogs and yes I have very large dogs and a lot of them. I made the commitment the day I brought them into my home as a puppy. It is my obligation to follow through with these dogs and make sure they are taken care of the best that I have the ability to do so. When it comes to their time to go? That is one of the hardest things we as the pet owners with all our love have to decide on. For instance my daughter just recently had to make that decision and it was one that she kept putting off after making the appointment with her pets doctor over a years time several times in fact. Maxx was a very special dog to the family and he to did not want to give up. But in the end he was in a lot of pain, lost so much weight and stopped eating. It was the right time. I know with the two Great Danes of mine I have been very lucky to have the time that I have had with them I hope to have more but not at the expense that they suffer.
I think I may be providing hospice care for my dog. He is a 20 lb dog who is about 14. He is not in pain and eats well and eliminates well. However he is deaf, blind and either incontinent (meaning a physical problem) or is just lost in the mists of time. He spent his first 6 years in a puppy mill and I think probably never learned a sense of guilt over pottying in the house. When he could see and hear and I noticed him sniffing around I could ask he he needed to go outside and if he did, he would run to the back door and I would let him outside. When he went blind he would still run to the back door but would not go out by himself. Now I cannot communicate with him. So we are in pee pad territory but mostly I use them to mop up followed by cleaning the spot. No rugs thank God.
In my long life of 70 years I have never out of 16 wonderful dogs,all breeds, mostly GSD, had one die in his sleep,and it has never gotten ANY easier….except I sure know what to expect,so very hard,and I have 2 now,a10 yr old lab and a 3 yr old GSD, but I must say an owner knows …when you live with a dog 24-7 you come to know them so well that when they need to go you know….
Wow! So many wonderful stories! Had to stop reading, as I started sobbing. I held onto my Rottweiler, and Boxer way too long, and a shepherd mix I lost due to a tumor. I couldn’t let go. It was bad. Then the guilt has never let go of me. I still can’t look at pictures, and it’s been 7 years. I have two little ones now, still pretty young. Isn’t it funny, all the things you will do to make them last as long as you can. They eat better than I do!
Where does Lena’s person live? I may be able to loan her a stroller if she lives near Chico, CA.
What a lot of intelligent comments to this post! There are no simple, easy answers to the euthanasia question. I think we often agonize because our social attitudes about animal euthanasia and human euthanasia are conflicted. I once thought I had the definitive answer to the question. Then another dog taught me otherwise.
Over the lives of six dogs our experience of end-of-life possibilities has swung from one extreme to the other. Our first dog developed cancer back in the day when cancers were much harder for vets to diagnose and treat. We held on to Lady, desperately hoping for a medical miracle. Just after midnight on New Year’s Eve, her liver shut down which affected her brain. She developed “blind staggers.” I spent our last hours together walking in front of her around and around our kitchen, gently guiding her away from walls and cabinets. Her teeth chattered, she could not see where she was going, and I sobbed to see her in so much pain until we could reach the vet . I vowed I would never, ever let another dog suffer at the end of their life again.
Then came a dog who challenged my “rational” decision. Tory was a 105-lb lab/shepherd cross with an exuberant, boundless love of life and everything in it. She, too, developed cancer. Toward the end, she needed help getting out to potty, her appetite was diminished, her arthritic joints made getting up and walking painful. She slept most of the time. As our annual trip to our extended family’s summer camp approached, we worried about what to do. Cancel? Find a dog sitter who could deal with her special needs? Could she manage the long trip? What if there was a crisis where veterinay care was several hours away? Was it time euthanize?
I called an animal communicator author acquaintance about the dilemma. Before I even said hello, the woman boomed, “She says she’s GOING!.” Not only that, but Tory was emphatic that she wanted to die a natural death, savoring every experience and moment moment on earth to life’s end. So much for my vow.
We honored Tory’s wishes. She went to her beloved lake one more time and passed as she wished a few days after arriving home. She left peacefully surrounded by caring family and friends
So as I read others’ stories and think of my own, if you asked me to declare euthanasia right or wrong, good or bad, I would have to say…it depends. It’s never an easy decision. Just make it from love.
Only 2 of our dogs went their own way…my soul dog Lobo just laid down and never got ip and my Tilo committed suicide by jumping or „falling“ into our pool. He never went near our pool but had lung cancer and was failing. He kep eating but became more and more withdrawn. On his last day he came up to me as he had on better days and wagged his big beautiful husky tail. To this day i am convinced that he said good-bye to me. That evening we found him in the pool….
Both of my great pyrenees probably staid too long because of their dedication to their duty of protecting us…..i still hurt to think how much these dogs gave while in pain….
I can’t help but wonder why so very many people feel they must euthanize their older dogs. I am 80 years old and have had several dogs in my lifetime – most often more than 1 at a time – however, every single one of them has died at home – we have never done a thing to speed up the dying process. Sort of like most most people want for themselves. Do all these people believe in so-called “assisted suicide” for their relatives, friends, etc.? If not, why your dog? Even if they are sick and dying, do you ever consider the natural process of life? Why do people find if necessary to play God?
@monnie levin, I hear what you are saying, and it’s a good and important question. And indeed if we left this up to nature, if these dogs were living wild in a forest somewhere, most of them would die in a few days. But as it is, we are providing them with food, water, a safe and comfortable place to sleep out of the weather, pain medications, antibiotics, and other supportive care.
It’s the equivalent of putting a person on artificial life-support. It often has great benefits, and the dog may get weeks or months more of a life very much worth living. But having stepped in to interfere with the natural process, it is left up to us to decide when to discontinue those services. When to “pull the plug.” If we no longer give the dog the option of the choice to crawl off and die on their own, we have already taken nature out of much of the equation. And at that point, many people would choose to do so in a way which means the least suffering for the dying dog.
There are no easy answers, and no one right way. But absent the natural process, it is not unreasonable to ask ourselves if we have come to the point where all of the many measures we are taking to prolong life are also merely prolonging suffering.
Very well said
I had to let my 13-yr-old Pembroke Welsh Corgi go 2 mos ago after a year-long battle with transitional cell carcinoma. She had chemotherapy to prolong her quality of life with no side effects, but her last scans a year after her diagnosis showed significant metastases and her oncologist said she had 2-4 wks left. I loved this little girl with all my heart and I was shattered, but I did my best to keep her going, tempting her with human instead of dog food. Four wks after our appt., I could see that my girl’s quality of life had deteriorated to nothing. In her last 2 days she lost the ability to walk, and she would no longer eat or drink. In that way, she let me know that I had to let her go ASAP, and could not wait for our appt the next day with our regular veterinarian. My only regret is that I did not release her at least a day earlier.
Sometimes the only question isn’t when – it’s also how. We had been fortunate enough to find a mobile vet that we used for simple issues for our cat,s and when we felt it was time to euthanize them, we were able to do it at home.
Also, you may want to plan what to do with your pets remains before the time comes. We are fortunate to live on a large property in a county that allows burial of pets. We had three elderly cats that we had to euthanize within the course of one year. Each time I found it comforting to bury them here at home. Each grave is marked with a lovely shrub to help us remember the joy they brought us. I found it comforting to work through the steps of burying them – digging, purchasing and planting the shrubs – it helped with the grieving.
My Uri was remarkably healthy his entire life and only in the last year of his life did he need medication four times a day to control his pain (he was fifteen). Then, when that stopped being enough and he started crying in his sleep because it hurt his hips to change positions, I knew it was time to say goodbye. He would never have left me voluntarily, whatever pain he was going through, so I felt that telling him he’d done enough was the last gift I could give. It broke my heart, but I have no regrets. He deserved a peaceful end and release from pain.
I heard a couple of veterinarians who specialized in helping people deal with losing their animals and making the decision to let go on the radio once. They said the people they interact with who have the most regrets are the ones who feel they let their pet suffer for too long. I kept that in mind when making the decision for Uri and, like I said, I have no regrets about the decision, though I miss my boy to this day.
To those of you that disagree with our so-called natural outlook – i’m sure you must realize that all our pets did not die peacefully in their sleep – most did not – however how do you all know for certain that your pet is suffering ? and if you feel he/she is, then isn’t there a type of medication that could assist with what you assume is pain? how do you know your pet wouldn’t rather spend their last days with you rather than at the vet or a mercy killer person…a stranger?
I knew for certain that my boy was suffering because he would wake himself up, crying, trying to move his back legs. For a year before he died, I gave him medications four times a day for the pain. It was only after that was no longer enough, and neither was the only other type of painkiller the vet could offer, and he was taking three days to eat what once was a day’s meal that I knew it was time. He did spend his last day with me: we spent the morning together and the the vet came in the afternoon – I don’t think he even knew she was there. He died in our living room with my husband and I holding/petting him. I felt, and still do, that our pets give us everything and the least we can do is ease their way. It was the last gift I could give.
This is my third comment – odd for me – i never comment. However this is so very important to me as i’m sure it is to many other dog friends – so important that i had to give my opinion concerning euthanasia just because it is such an important issue. And because it is i want you all to realize you do have a choice in this matter. Make is wisely.
It is never an easy decision. I regret making Danny suffer. I have tried not to be selfish with the next dogs. I do try to sit down and “talk” to them. I try and listen to what they are telling me. (Usually through tears which doesn’t help). I feel that it is humane to be able to let them go. They don’t have the ability to do the natural thing and go out in the woods to die. We can only do our best to alleviate their suffering. They would do anything for you.
I too have had the heartbreak of making that final decision for my companion. The last time it was for “Hercules “, my 15 year old Min Pin. He was being treated for an unknown illness and grew more sick with each day. Maybe it was just timing, but I tried something different with Herk. That morning I held him in my arms and gave him permission to go. I petted him, I told him how much he would be missed, but that he would always be in my heart and I would see him again on the other side. Within a few minutes his breathing stopped and he was gone.
This is a method used in hospice and other settings when people linger on so long. I believe that our furry companions may feel they still have a job to do. Maybe, letting them know that have fulfilled that obligation beyond all expectatons allows them to let go.
Elissa-I am so glad that you wrote this response. I so agree with that thinking…on so many levels. I have never been in a hospice situation so wasn’t aware of what you described. Never thought of it in those terms…how valuable…thank you for sharing that. Don’t know you or your little Herk but what you wrote moved me to tears. Who can explain these attachments but, then again, why try to explain them.
On a more personal note, on occasion I have chosen euthanasia for my dogs for just about all the reasons that I’ve read about here and I regret those decisions.
I havae had to make that decision more than I ever wanted. But on the day I made those choices. And my animals let me know. Usually by a very sad look that they couldn’t take it anymore. I spoiled my dog.
Play in the water, ice cream, car ride anything I knew they loved. Then we went to the vets And I made sure I was there for every minute of the procedure. They would pass knowing they were loved.
I have had friends just drop their pets at the vets and leave. I could never do that.
So when you make the decision. Stay with them. Let your face be the last thing they see.
Then go home and cry.
I will be facing this soon. I have 2 Doxie brothers going on 14. They are both blind. One runs into the wall now and the other falls down and is having mobility issues. A friend once told me why was I grieving ahead of time, they were just dogs. I told her she was wrong. My dogs are everything to me. They have made my life bearable when family dissapoints. All my dogs have let me know when it’s time. SCOOTER, POOTY POUNDERBUT, SASSAFRAS, GOOBER, CHEWY, PUDGE. I will be there when they cross the Rainbow Bridge and I will sing to them and hold them close as my heart bleeds out and their eyes dim. They will never feel alone. It’s the hardest trip you can take going on that (last drive) thinking you can turn around and go back but knowing you can’t. Everything has a price even love. It’s the most you can pay but the value is more than money could ever buy. Thank you all for loving yours. I hope when I die God puts me in a sunny green field with all the dogs who have been tortured and abused and I can give them all the love they should have had….
My dog has one focus in life retrieving, be that a dummy or a ball. The speed will get less and the amount he can do will get less but he can still enjoy the fetch. However, when those eyes lose their sparkle for the chase and his body will no longer aid him in the chase then I will know my boy is not enjoying life. Then I will ask the question.
I often wonder why humans feel this is ethical for animals but not for themselves or their loved ones. I’ve had to make this difficult decision for all but one of my animal friends and in all but one case I think it was the right decision. There were clear indications that the animals were ready…you could feel them withdrawing from life. In contrast I have watched several of my relatives kept alive in states of misery. My grandfather begged for someone to bring him a gun in the nursing home so he could end his life. The longer I live the more the line between human experience and that of my animal friends seems to blur. I think an observant caretaker will be able to listen and hear when an animal is ready and should feel no remorse for helping. I think we humans should be allowed to do the same for our human companions.
The author says she knows only 2 dogs that died peacefully in their sleep. She needs to include how many she knows that died suffering for an extended time. There is difficulty in knowing whether it it too soon or too late.