My girl Lady was nine or ten years old, about eighty in people years. She had sat in the shelter for two months before I saw her on the website and went in to get her. She wasn’t very pretty and no personality to speak of, but us old chicks got to stick together. She had been a rescue from the Houston flood and although the shelter said she was probably a stray, she was housebroken. I had her for ten months and she never interacted with me or the other dogs except to snap at the puppy nosing into her food.
Then in August, she came out of her depression and was a changed girl. She barked when it was time to eat or take a walk or when I came home. She danced. She begged constantly for pets. She held up her head.
On September 13th, she was dropping her head again and following me around. I could tell she wanted me to do something, but I couldn’t figure out what. She was eating and drinking and doing her jobs, but something was wrong. The next day, she was having
trouble standing and walking. It was like she was drunk. She would just stand in the middle of the room and stare, like she forgot what she was doing. We had just been to the vet the week before, and he hadn’t said anything was wrong. In fact, he said she was pretty healthy for her age. So I put her bed in my office so she wouldn’t have to walk to come to me and prayed she would be better the next day. At night, I moved it back into the living room. The puppy would look and her and yip, and my Pitbull Bruiser rested his head on her side, something they never did. They knew something was wrong, too. I could see she was using her stomach to push to breath and her heart rate seemed fast when I held her chest.
The next day, she couldn’t get up. Since she was 65 pounds, I asked a neighbor to help me get her in the car. When he lifted her, she yelped. She lay on the seat and I petted her all the way to the Emergency Pet Clinic. The doc came right out and told me she had a painful mass in her lower belly and they were almost completely sure she had a cancerous growth that burst through into her abdomen. So I let my Lady go.
I “only” had her for eleven months, but for all her isolation, she had a place in our home and in my heart. This whole story is to tell you that sometimes your dog will die from “natural” causes. Veterinarians are trained to spot signs and symptoms of disease, but there may not be any, like with Lady, or tests are hundreds of dollars like with my beloved Buddy (which still didn’t show anything). Treatment can run into the thousands of dollars and often pet owners have to think about the prognosis for their dog and if there will be suffering and long-term disability.
I often watch videos on YouTube of paralyzed dogs in little carts and happy with three legs or abused ones with disfigurements that don’t seem to care. But diseases are something different. Your pet may be old like Lady was, or may have a heart defect or some genetic problem. There are often ways to tell if your dog is dying. I knew something was wrong with Lady and I told my son that she may have been on her last days. I just didn’t know it was cancer.
An article by the Michelson Found Animals Foundation suggests one of the first signs is change of personality. Lady lost her new-found pep. Your friendly dog may become grouchy, or your excitable pup might become lethargic.
SIGN YOUR DOG IS DYING
1.) Your declining dog may stop eating and drinking.
2.) Near the end, they may not have control of their body. Like Lady, they may not be able to walk. They may have bowel and/or bladder accidents. They may vomit.
3.) In old dogs, they are just telling you it’s getting to be time for them to move on. He may just want to lie around, not play with toys, or care about family members. He might have some health issue that’s curable, but it if last longer than a few days, it may be a sign.
4.) Another sign is lack of interest in food or water. One reason for this is that her organs are shutting down; another reason is that she just doesn’t have any hunger or thirst. This may be due to an upset stomach from eating something disgusting and the vet will tell you what to do (No, Sally, No! Drop that! EUWWW!). You can try to give them water with a turkey baster, but by this point, the handwritings on the wall.
5.) She/he may lose coordination like Lady did, having trouble getting up and down, standing, or walking. Disorientation is seen when they don’t have a purpose and just stand, or seem to forget what they were doing.
6.) Lady exhibited the classic signs of struggling to breathe and fast heart beats. People will do the same thing when they are in pain. The breathing may be uneven, with long and then short pauses between breathes.
7.) Even the best house-trained dog will lose control and mess himself. They just can’t help it. Keep them clean and of course, tell them it’s okay.
8.) Finally, stroke their head and reassure them. Dying is hard for anyone, but dogs seem to accept it as a normal part of living. Try not to become emotional and upset them, as hard as that is.
WHEN IT’S TIME TO LET GO
Beneath this blog is a Quality of Life chart. Uses you own standard to decide if it’s time to let your pet go. I never thought of putting Lady through painful procedures trying to prolong her life. However, some dog owners may be told that there’s hope and they decide to put every effort into trying to save their pet’s life. Maybe he or she is young. Maybe they’re just super loved. This is a decision that personal for each dog owner. When it gets near to the end, you will be able to tell that they’re suffering and you probably don’t want that. Some owners want their dog to die naturally while some, like me want the passing to be as easy as possible.
The vet will inject him/her with a drug that stops the pain and you will immediately see relaxing. Then another shot will stop the heart and lungs. And then it will all be over. The body may jerk or the bowels may empty or there may be a final breathe, but he won’t be alive any more. My other dog Buddy coughed twice at the end as his lungs expelled the air that was left when the chest contracted. I knew right away he was already gone.
The vet will offer cremation and let you take the ashes, if you want. I know one woman personally that did that, celebrating her dog’s life with an urn. But I wasn’t interested. I have my memories and some photos. I recommend planning ahead, especially if you have a senior. It cost me $180 for the examination, procedure, and cremation. Other services such as coming to the house, paw prints, and others may take the cost up to
$600. I had to have Buddy taken from my home, and trust me, you don’t ever want to have to do that. Know where you want to take your pet and know the signs of when it is time to go. Be prepared.
IN THE END
Some people say that when we pass over, our dogs will be waiting on “the other side”; a number of articles I read of people with near-death experiences say they saw pets and psychics state loved ones who had died were waiting with a pet. I certainly hope so. But take it from someone who has gone through this too many times (ONE time is too many), put aside your grief and remember the good times. Remember the look on your dog’s face when he was happy and healthy and loved you, not when he was suffering and on his last legs. We grieve for our loss, not for their release.
Spend more time with your other pets, if you have any. My puppy Sally and Bruiser were very restless when I left with Lady and came back without her. It got worse when I picked up the extra bed. Bruiser wouldn’t leave me alone, constantly looking for some sort of affirmation. Celebrate the life of your dog with a memorial, a video, or maybe even make a donation to a shelter in his or her name. When I move into my new house, I’m planning plaques for my guys in the garden to show they are still in my heart. My daughter was devastated when she lost her special cat last year. She asked me why we adopt animals when it hurts so bad to lose them. I told her we develop special bonds with pets of all kinds because we love them and they love us back. It’s as simple as that.
The Michelson Found Animals Foundation says dogs don’t live as long as we do because that way we can help other dogs. They recommend getting a replacement. The day after I let Lady go, I contact my local shelter for another old boy that has been sitting there a few months because seniors are often overlooked. I can give him good final days like I did Buddy and Lady.
I wrote this blog crying like a baby. This wasn’t a dog I lost; Lady was my companion and I loved her. I don’t regret having her put to sleep because it just hurried what was inevitable and saved her suffering.
But I sure wish we could have had some more time.