You all know by now, I talk about my dogs a lot. They’ve been my “kids” for most of my adult life now at this point. Our relationship has changed over the years too. They used to be fun loving, energetic, playful little critters who were constantly under foot and ready for some kind of playtime. As they years have gone on, their energy and activity level has decreased, and we relate to each other in different ways now.
They are still a lot of fun to be with. They just sleep a heck of a lot more, and take a little longer to get from point A to point B.
I’ve been very fortunate in my life to have pets who seem to long outlive their normal life expectancy. I like to think that’s at least in part because I’ve been a good pet parent. But in all reality, I’ve just gotten really lucky.
At some point though, my luck will run out. My dogs are now very, very old. So every day we get with them is a gift. Every time one of them takes a little bit longer to get up in the morning, or doesn’t finish their dinner, I think, “is this the beginning of the end? Is this when things are going to start going downhill fast?”
The thought of our dogs dying is something that we pet parents have a lot of difficulty with. But the reality is that, unlike your children or anyone else you’ve helped raise and take care of, your dog will probably not outlive you.
Even more sobering, you may end up facing a difficult decision about when to end the life of this precious friend and family member. Some dogs do pass peacefully on their own, but in many cases, the will to survive keeps a dog going long past the point of experiencing good quality of life.
While recent advances in veterinary medicine are nothing short of amazing, remember that just because you can prolong your pet’s life doesn’t mean it’s in your dog’s best interest to do so.
Most of the factors around aging and death are beyond our control, but the one thing you are able to do for your dog is alleviate undue pain and suffering. Arguably, no other decision you make about your dog will be as difficult as the one to euthanize, but in so many cases, it’s the only humane option.
If you have elderly dogs like I do, you probably very regularly ask yourself, “How will I know when it’s time?”
If there’s ever a time to put your dog’s welfare ahead of your own needs, this is it. While the idea of living without your beloved pet can be devastating, the thought of them suffering should feel even worse.
So in considering what to do, ask yourself the following questions:
Does your dog have a terminal illness? Ask your vet what to expect at the next stage and then ask whether you’re prepared to go there.
Is your dog in the kind of pain that cannot be alleviated by medication?
Will more treatment improve your dog’s quality of life, or simply maintain a poor quality of life?
Can you afford treatment? End-of-life care can run into thousands of dollars, and people can end up prolonging their grieving while paying off credit cards.
Has your dog lost the ability to maintain most bodily functions? If they can no longer stand up, get down stairs, defecate, and urinate on their own, the quality of their life is pretty poor.
Do they still want to eat? Once a dog loses their appetite, they may be signaling that they’re close to the end.
Are their gums pink? When gums aren’t a normal pink, your dog isn’t getting enough oxygen.
Is it in their best interest to extend their life, or are you doing so for yourself? This last point is the most difficult one for most of us to sort out, but it may well be the most relevant.
Before your dog gets to the point where euthanasia is a consideration, and you’re still fairly calm, write a list of what gives them a good quality of life. Decide how many of those points they can be without in old age and still enjoy their life.
Eating. Will they still be able to enjoy food, or even eat on their own?
Play. Can they still play games like fetch?
Walks. Will they be able to enjoy fresh air or any form of exercise?
Petting and affection. Can they still enjoy pets from you or from strangers? Do they recognize people, or do they act fearful?
Going outside. Can they go potty on their own when and where it’s appropriate? Or are they unable to control their bodily functions at all?
Being social. Does your dog still like to be in groups of people and dogs? Or do they easily feel exhausted and defensive?
Car rides. Can your dog still get in the car and stay comfortable on a ride? Can they stick their nose out the window?
That’s seven points. How many points do you think your dog needs to enjoy life, even if they’re not in pain?
If you believe they can maintain quality of life with four of those seven, then you know it may be time to consider euthanasia if they lose the ability to keep three of those points.
Promise yourself that you’ll consider other factors, such as pain, the kind of senility that causes fear, and a lack of bodily function and control that may cancel out any items on the list.
Next, decide how much money you can afford to spend on veterinary care. Make a decision, write it down, and stick to your plan when your emotions are off the chart.
Now that I’ve sufficiently depressed myself and everyone reading this, let me conclude with this. For me, my old, crankly, beautiful dogs have given me years of unconditional love and affection. They have been there with me during some of the darkest, loneliest times of my life. They’ve brought countless smiles to my face and created enough laughter to fill a stadium. They have done nothing but show me love – so when the time comes, I will honor and respect them enough to put my own feelings and grief aside to make sure they don’t ever have to suffer unnecessarily. It’s the very least I can do for all they’ve given me.
And it better not happen for at least another 20 years, is all I’m saying.