End of Life
When your dog is nearing the end of his/her life, the emotional weight that falls upon you can be tremendous. The endearing habits, the joy, the unquestioning devotion your animal gave you fill your heart as you confront the expected loss.
Many of us view our dog as a beloved member of the family to whom we have made a commitment to care for. Unfortunately, there may come a time when this honorable commitment takes a different path. The medical options may be exhausted or the continued care might be unmanageable or too expensive and the best you can do for your dog is to let go.
The hardest decision you may have to make is determining when the quality of your dog's life is compromised to the point where it's not worth going on. It's especially difficult to determine when is the right time with dogs because we just don't always know when they are suffering and ready to leave this life. I have been faced with this decision three times. My veterinarian always told me that I would know when the time was right, but I'm not sure that's necessarily true in all cases. You may second guess your decision - did I wait too long? Was my dog suffering and I didn't know it? Could he have had a few more weeks? As long as you do not allow your dog to suffer, you've made the right the decision.
To help you objectively assess your dog's situation, a helpful tool is the veterinarian Alice Villalobos’s “Pawspice” program, which directs pet owners to assess their pet on a 1-to-10 scale on seven measures — hurt, hunger, hydration, hygiene, happiness, mobility and “more good days than bad” — with the lowest number being the worst. This Quality of Life Scale, contained in the section below, is presented to help guide your decision. I hope it will provide you with peace and comfort at this most difficult time.
While we all hope that our dogs will pass quickly and peacefully at home, this is often not the case. Many dogs with cancer will face a slow decline and at some point a proactive decision may have to be made. Some dogs will exhibit obvious signs that it is time to let go such as whimpering, crying, the inability to move or eat, vomiting and other symptoms of distress. Please do not let your dog suffer. Your veterinarian will be able to help you decipher if these symptoms are just temporary and can be controlled with medication or if it is the beginning of the end.
When the decision is made to euthanize, you will need to decide if you or anyone else wants to stay with your dog. Neither decision is right or wrong, it depends upon the individual. I have always stayed with the dogs I had to euthanize because of cancer and found an element in peace in being there with them. Knowing that they were surrounded by love and not with strangers as they took their last breath was important to me. I also saw that they died very quickly and peacefully and that also was a comfort to me. However, I know many people who just can't bring themselves to deal with the emotional aspects of watching their dog die, and that's ok too.
Euthanisia is nothing more than the administration of an overdose of intravenous anesthetic. The vet will insert a fine needle into a vein (usually in a foreleg) of the dog and push the anesthetic through the veins. The dog will often take a deep breath, lose consciousness within 5-15 seconds and quickly thereafter, the heart will stop beating. It usually goes very smoothly and quietly, however there have been cases noted where not enough of the drug was administered the first time and a second dose was needed or the dog's body seemed to jerk in a uncontrolled manner. This is a rare occurrence.
When you make the appointment for euthanasia with your veterinarian, it is often recommended that you request a time late in the day or at off-hours. This will allow you to spend some additional time alone with your dog for the last time. You will also need to consider what you what to do with your dog after he or she passes. Options include mass cremation, private cremation, a burial at a pet cemetery or a private burial at your home if allowed in your municipality.
When your dog passes, it can be a time of overwhelming grief and sadness. It can take weeks or months to even begin the healing process. We never forget our dog friends, but time helps to lessens the severity of the pain.
In an effort to make you feel better, some people may say to you that 'it was just a dog". Clearly, these people never had the opportunity to open their hearts to the love of a dog and understand the tight bond people have with their dogs. For them, I feel sorry. They have missed out on one of life's great joys.
However, I believe they are attempting to help at this difficult time so don't be overly distraught if some people just don't understand why you are so sad or why it's taking so long to get over your grief. There are many of us who have been through this and do understand that it takes a very long time.
We hope that the memories you have of your dog will fill you with comfort in times of sorrow. If you need to talk with someone, we have listed some pet loss hotlines below and encourage you to call one if you need to talk to someone.
Also, please send us a photo of your dog and we will post his/her picture on our Memorial page, along with anything you'd like the world to know about your cherished dog. Many people find great comforting in doing something positive for another dog in need to honor the spirit of your dog even though a bright
light in your life has gone out.
Other ways to help deal with your grief include:
- Holding a small memorial service
- Lighting candles in honor of your dog's spirit.
- Creating a memory box or photo collage with pictures plus objects like collars,
- tags or small toys that were part of the dog's life.
- Making a contribution to pet-related charity in honor of your dog's memory.
- Volunteering at an animal shelter.
- Planting a tree in honor of your dog's memory.
- Writing a memorial tribute and posting it online.