When is it time to put a dog down?
Original Question: Ridley our Portuguese water dog has a low appetite and is not very interested in her food. She has lost about 15% of her weight in 3 months. She also has increased chronic diarrhea over the last 3 months and sometimes with blood in her stool. Her tummy rumbles a lot. There also seems to be an effort to pee. She has had 2 or 3 recent "poop" episodes in the house and then she seems embarrassed. She is currently being treated for intestinal parasites. A vet has her on meds to try and solidify the stool, but it does not seem to be working. She has lower energy and has lost interest in her 3 favourite toys. She is also sleeping more than normal and seems startled or confused at times (we think her eyesight and hearing are also deteriorating). Is it time to let her go, without the huge expense for more medical testing and treatment? - Dave & Sue
Hi Dave & Sue,
Thanks for sending in your question. No matter how many times I hear of a situation like this, I always feel for the clients going through it. This is a very common question you’re asking me.
The first thing you need to do is determine why this is happening. Please understand that these symptoms can be caused a broad range of issues. Some of the diseases that cause these symptoms are treatable and others are less so. I think you need to base your decision on good information and the only way to get that is by working closely with your vet to confirm the diagnosis.
For example, what if your dog has diabetes? This disease can result in some of the symptoms you mention and it is completely treatable. I would suggest that you allow your veterinarian to perform a thorough physical examination and based on the findings and the history of symptoms, they will be able to suggest some diagnostics to identify the underlying cause of the symptoms.
I have some suspicion that you may think that things are coming to an end based on all of this and you may not be interested in performing expensive diagnostics given the seriousness of the recent and persistent decline you describe. If that is the case, I would have you consider the value of diagnosing the problem just so don’t ever have to question whether you made the right choice or not if you say goodbye. Even if the diagnostics confirm a terminal disease, at least it will confirm your decision and allow you to proceed with the resolution of knowing it’s the right decision.
If you find a terminal disease, then you have to start to consider the idea of euthanasia. The first thing to say is that as much as we would like to see our pets pass away peacefully overnight, this rarely happens. If you actually wait until this happens, you’ve probably waited too long and your pet has experienced too much discomfort leading up to it. So to address your question about when the right time may be to say goodbye, which is a very subjective one, we have to make it objective.
Here’s one strategy that I tell clients about. You can start to look at the number of good days versus the number of bad days. You can even use a calendar to do this and mark them down. We know that our dogs like to walk outside, eat their meals, interact with us and have a mental brightness too. If they have these qualities throughout the day then it’s a good day. If these things are not present throughout the day, then it’s a bad day. When the bad days come more often than the good, you know that the option of euthanasia is realistic and humane.
There are a few more points that I think are really important. You have to remember that you have provided so much love and care for your dog throughout its whole life. Try not to make this experience bigger than it is. Do not let it become the sum total of your feelings about a lifetime with your pet. Scheduling the euthanasia is a difficult thing to do. It means that you’re the designer of this event which is supposed to be a natural process but now you’re actually planning it. Recognize that this is going cause feelings of guilt and sadness. It is extremely important to realize that these feelings will happen but that you don’t deserve to feel them. Performing euthanasia for a pet that is a lean and uncomfortable is an act of love and not selfishness. You have had a wonderfully rich life with your pet, full of love and enjoyment, you need to find a way to celebrate this and not dwell on that final process. So in the evening of the day that you say goodbye, I want you to pour a drink, raise a glass and celebrate Ridley who shared a part of your life and that you gave so much of yourself too. You should be proud of yourself.
Dr. Clayton Greenway
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