Do they make peanut butter-stuffed steaks?
April 16, 2010 8:39 AM   Subscribe

My dog is probably going to die in the next few months. What can I do to make things really great for him during that time?

He has canine blood system cancer that does not respond well to chemotherapy and for which survivability is very poor, if you're of the heroic measures mindset. He is 9, and the prognosis is 6 months or less - probably more like 3 months. He is coming home from the vet soon after major surgery and we just want to do whatever we can to make things great and comfortable for him. Assuming that he has all the medicine he needs, what are some great things for him to eat, do or play with (or mostly relax and convalesce with for at least a week or so)?

If you have them, links to support resources for these situations would also be appreciated. I feel so stupid that I am so upset about this when there are so many people in the world with bigger problems, but he's been with me for my entire adult life and I just can't imagine what it is going to be like without him. Then I feel stupid because there are plenty of people in the world who have lost children and spouses, and he has lived a medium to long life for a dog and dogs die all the time.
posted by anonymous to Pets & Animals (29 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Give him lots of salmon and chicken liver (this is presuming he's an Alaskan malamute; it not, substitute your dog's favorite food). Spend lots of time with him, petting him and just hanging out. Do his favorite stuff with him (but give him space if he seems like he's not into it or isn't feeling well).

And for the love of dog, don't feel stupid about this. Yes, dogs die all the time, but so do people, and this dog in particular is your very close friend. You're supposed to be upset when a close friend is dying. That doesn't mean you're stupid; it means you're a good friend.
posted by infinitywaltz at 8:44 AM on April 16, 2010 [8 favorites]

I think you'll show your love for him more than ever, given the situation, which is probably the best and nicest thing you could do for him.

That's all I had to say really, but it's not the kind of answer you were after so I shall offer a suggestion of something my dad used to do with our dog before he died, which he absolutely loved.

Dad used to grip an empty toilet roll centre in his teeth, kneel in front of the dog, and growl. Dog used to grip other end in his teeth, and a furious tug-of-war would ensue. Dog just loved it and it was such a funny thing to watch too.

Hope that helps, in one way or another.
posted by greenish at 8:45 AM on April 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

On, and now that I've seen your post title, substitute peanut butter and steak for salmon and chicken liver (he apparently isn't a malamute after all). Oh, and people will probably send you the poem about the rainbow bridge, which is very popular among grieving animal lovers, but I have a different favorite: James L. Dickey's "The Heaven of Animals."
posted by infinitywaltz at 8:47 AM on April 16, 2010 [10 favorites]

I would lay in a steady supply of big raw beef bones from a trustworthy butcher, if you can obtain such a thing. My dog absolutely loves to chew on a big raw soup bone and eat all the marrow out of it. Other things that my dog really loves include beef liver, eggs, and cottage cheese.

Maybe get him an extra-soft dog bed to curl up in? Or if he likes to ride in the car, make a point of taking some long car rides out in the country. Even if he doesn't have the energy to run around or go for walks in the woods anymore, he would probably like to smell all the smells and hang out in the car. If he still has the energy, he would probably love to go for a hike in the woods.

Most of all, dogs want to hang out with their people, so the single thing you could do to make things great for him would be to make a point of spending a lot of time with him. All the peanut-butter-stuffed steaks in the world aren't as good as getting scratched behind the ears.
posted by kataclysm at 8:48 AM on April 16, 2010 [2 favorites]

First off my condolences, those of us that have been there understand your grief. Please don't fall into the mindset of considering yourself (or your situation or your feelings) "stupid". Don't apologize for the love you feel for your pet....EVER.

I'd advise against doing extraordinary things if it might rock his world and confuse him. Make him comfortable physically, give him snacks perhaps that might otherwise be ill advised (ice cream, a Big Mac, fatty bones and treats, etc.). Take extra time to just enjoy being with him at the park or back yard or wherever he likes to walk or play. Don't feel selfish about catering to his needs.

The Care Helpline here at the University of Illinois is a wonderful resource (and is not just for local folks, they have a toll free number).
posted by labwench at 8:49 AM on April 16, 2010 [2 favorites]

I don't have much in the way of actual advice, but like everyone else has said, your feelings are totally legitimate, and need no apology. Losing a pet is agonizing, and I'm so very glad your dog has someone who loves him so much. The very best thing you can do is fill his days with lots of love and attention; it may not seem like much, but it's probably all he wants at this point. My best to you.
posted by shiu mai baby at 8:57 AM on April 16, 2010 [5 favorites]

When our dog was dying I bought this spray at the pet store which was evidently meant to calm the animal and make them feel at home and less stressed. Some kind of pheromone cocktail. Anyway, I used it when she had to go to the vet, or do anything that might upset her, and even just at home. I have no idea if it worked, but I liked the idea of easing her stress in a painful and difficult time.
posted by Pomo at 8:58 AM on April 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

I would probably fry up about 5 pounds of bacon and steak. After cutting it store it in the freezer for treats.
I would also let him eat any human food he wants to (unless dangerous for him like onions, etc.). Making a steak for your self? Make sure you have one for him too.
Walks. Providing he can get around okay I would take him out to a few dog parks. Dogs just seem to LOVE to take a olfactory tour of interesting places. Take him off hours so no one else is there if he's still recouping for the surgery.
If he can't get around quite yet how about car trips. Let him hang his head out the window.
Does he sleep in your bed??? Lie with you on the couch? If not, why not now. And if he already does more of that.
I had to put my dog down recently. We were a team. Years of weekends at the beach and camping in Vermont. Men came and went and family members could be mean and disloyal, but not him. He was always there. Sweet and loyal. I sure do miss him. Don't feel stupid. It's not uncommon to hear someone say I cried more when my dog died than when I lost a parent. Dogs have a unique, uncomplicated love.
I'm really sorry and will be thinking of you guys. I hope you both enjoy those days together.
posted by beccaj at 9:02 AM on April 16, 2010 [3 favorites]

Yes, do take your own grief seriously. Make sure you have friends around so you don't totally fall apart, or in case you do.

I know a woman whose cat was (known to be) terminally ill for a couple of weeks. One weekend, she and her SO took the cat to a nice park on a Saturday, then another park on a Sunday. The cat didn't do much, but apparently he had a wonderful time.
posted by amtho at 9:03 AM on April 16, 2010

I'm so sorry about your doggy friend. The most difficult part about deeply loving our pets is that we tend to outlive them.

In addition to making his life really comfortable, as others have proposed, the most compassionate thing you can do for your buddy is realize when it is time for him to pass.

Make note now of the things he loves to do. Go for rides in the car? Take a vigorous assessment of the new smells around your property line? Bark at cats? Go for walks? Chase after tennis balls? Destuff stuffed animals? Greet you at the door when you come home?

When he ceases doing the things that he loves to do, one at a time or all at once, then you know that his enjoyment of life is diminishing. Though you may love him very, very much, and want to have him around, and feel guilty for making a decision about the viability of his life, remember, please remember, that it is the most gracious, compassionate, and generous thing you can do for your friend.

I once waited too long to make that call, and the experience still haunts me. Please, make his time remaining as delightful as possible, and be brave and selfless enough to recognize if he needs you to make an end. I wish you all the best during this difficult time.
posted by Seppaku at 9:04 AM on April 16, 2010 [10 favorites]

Also - the treat/food suggestions are great, but I've been told (and experienced) that cancer often suppresses appetite, so... don't expect him to be that into food later on.

Also - if you can learn to "give fluids" to your dog, that might make life better later on. Fewer trips to the vet, dog feeling better, etc. This is just something to ask the vet about. It's very easy (and painless, really) for cats, not sure about dogs, but it's simple in principle.
posted by amtho at 9:06 AM on April 16, 2010

I agree that spending a lot of time with him will reward him in the way that means the very, very most to the social, tightly bonded pack animals that dogs are. that's the greatest gift you can give him.
posted by Miko at 9:06 AM on April 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Here are some great, entertaining toys that don't require too much physical movement. Some require more than others, so you'll have to be the judge of what your dog can handle.

The Nina Ottosson games are lots of fun. The Dog Brick is probably the easiest one. It doesn't require anything more than standing over it and pawing or nosing the pieces to reveal the treats.

How much movement the Tug-a-Jug requires depends on how your dog plays it, but it's not that strenuous. Mostly just pawing it and picking it up by the rope and knocking it over.

The Buster Cube should be okay, too. A similar toy is the Bobalot, but that one might be a little more questionable depending on the type of surgery your dog had--it whacks back and forth and might hit him.

The Kong website has recipes for fun things to stuff your dog's Kong with.

And then when he's feeling better, I don't think there's anything a dog likes more than going for an off-leash walk with his human out in the woods or on the beach (obvs, only where it's safe and legal), then coming home and chewing a nice, meaty bone. It seems like my dogs feel most fulfilled in their dogginess then.

Are there really so many people in the world with bigger problems? It seems to me that losing a loved one is universally acknowledged as one of the hardest things we experience. To say "dogs die all the time" is no different than saying "people die all the time." It's true, but doesn't diminish our grief. Love is love.

I'm very sorry that this is happening. I hope you'll have as many happy times with your dog for as long as possible, and then a passing that is peaceful for both of you.
posted by HotToddy at 9:07 AM on April 16, 2010 [2 favorites]

Oh, that's so sad. I'm so sorry to hear it. This is the worst part of being a pet-owner, and everyone who has ever loved a pet understands what you're going through.

I would spend lots and lots of time with him, and let him do all the things he likes best. If you never let him on your bed or sofa, go ahead and let him now. If he likes riding in the car, or going to the dog park, or, or, or...all the little things he likes best. And lots of treats. Spoil him silly.

Think about quality of life issues when it comes to the end. Our beloved cat had mast-cell cancer, and was in his final decline, when he got a urinary tract infection. It was, of course, curable, but he was so weak and so close to his end. He had been through so much already, and I realized that more trips to the vet and more meds would just be a horrible imposition on his last days. So that's how we knew it was time to let him go. As difficult as this can be, please use these next few weeks and months to think about how far you want to go at the end, in terms of prolonging your pet's life at the expense of his quality of life.
posted by BlahLaLa at 9:21 AM on April 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm so sorry, this is hard and it's not stupid. Everyone has really good advice, and here's a little something for you, from experience: take photos. I mean you probably have all kinds of photos, but take some good ones, fun ones, with and without you, before he really starts to decline, and even after if you feel like you want to.

I just lost the last of three cats, and in their later years we just never took many pictures of them, and I have very few online anywhere. I'm really sorry about that, and am trying to remember to take more pictures of the dogs. We have tons from puppyhood, but there's just not as many "grab the camera!" moments when they get big.

For him, time with you is better than anything else, though time with you AND steak is probably a winner, too. If you have time off you can use, you might sprinkle some days or half-days to have some nice quality time together.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:24 AM on April 16, 2010 [2 favorites]

Dogster just posted a blog about a Doggie Bucket List. It might have some good ideas for you.

And I am so sorry you are going through this. It is so very hard, but you do get the chance to say goodbye. It is a difficult blessing, but a blessing still.

(if you have not made a videotape of your dog, you might want to. Something simple, like 30 seconds of him eating his favorite treat. It is not for him, but for yourself. You might really appreciate it in the future.)
posted by Vaike at 9:27 AM on April 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

When our dog was dying of lymphoma last year, we just gave her as much attention as we could. She didn't really have the energy for the walks and trips to the beach that she enjoyed when she was healthy, but spending time with us was always her favorite thing anyway. When she got too weak to want to jump up on the couch, we started hanging out on the floor with her.

We kind of suspended our lives, somewhat - stopped going on long bike rides or other excursions that took us away from her on precious weekend days. Some of our friends that had grown to love her too came by for visits and brought yummy treats.

When it was time, our vet gave her Reese's peanut butter cups while we said our goodbyes so she could finally have the chocolate we never let her have. She loved it. :)

I am so sorry for what you are going through. My heart still breaks, six months later, when I think about my girl. We miss her a ton and we are just now feeling emotionally ready to get a new dog (although life circumstances mean we'll have to wait a couple more months, unfortunately). I will be thinking about you and your pup and hope you have many more happy days together.
posted by misskaz at 9:27 AM on April 16, 2010 [2 favorites]

You'll get lots of great advice about how to make his last few months peaceful and happy. Personally, I would just spend some quiet time with him, hold him close and tell him what a good, good boy he is. His eyes and wagging tail will tell him you're doing a good job.

My own beloved JackJack died unexpectedly. If I had the time to prepare for his loss, I would have done the following in advance:

* Taken more videos of him - I still miss the sound of him "talking" to me, and seeing him in the few short videos of him I do have in all his wonderfully mutt glory playing and jumping and being himself made me wish I had captured more of that.

* Have someone take a casual portrait photo of the two of you together in one of one of your favorite outdoor places. It's something you will treasure long after he's gone.

I'm sorry you have to go through this, but treasure the time you have with him and just love him. That's all.

(And no, you're not stupid for feeling this way. You're a human. He's a dog. Human + Dog = Love.)
posted by HeyAllie at 9:29 AM on April 16, 2010 [2 favorites]

So sorry.

I've seen past pets get extra nervous/scared during their last weeks. So I second the previous comment about a soothing-spray. In addition to all the good advice already, simply keep things calm and mellow and make your sweet dog as comfortable as possible. That's about all we can do.
posted by smelvis at 9:56 AM on April 16, 2010

Your feelings about your dear pet are NOT stupid. There are indeed larger problems in the world, as there always are, but loving your companion animal and caring for him in his last days is part of restoring balance to the universe, as is every act of generosity and love. (Sorry to go all gooshy and Transcendentalist here, but I really believe that and feel strongly about it.)

Having said that, I can't really add to any of the marvelous suggestions fom other folks here. I just wanted to share my thoughts and offer my condolences. I hope that you and your pooch enjoy the time that you have left together. When he goes, he will know that you love him dearly, and that's what matters. (What Miko said.)
posted by blucevalo at 10:00 AM on April 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

When my dog was dying from a cancer on her spine, she pretty much gave up interest in eating anything. The major exception was chocolate biscuits, which she loved to eat if I was having one with my tea. Chocolate's bad for dogs, but...

Oh, and when he starts getting more run down, he will piss or crap when he didn't mean to, or without giving you enough warning. He'll feel really awful about it, so try not to get pissed about it. At 3am it's significantly harder to do than you'd think.

Don't underestimate the power of a cuddle.
posted by sodium lights the horizon at 10:14 AM on April 16, 2010

I know you don't want to think about this, but one last thing you might do for him, if it's practical, is let him stay home at the end. My regular vet let me know that there are vets that will make house calls when the time comes. I did need to call ahead, and give the traveling vet an approximate window of time, and then called when I knew it was the day. She arrived in a couple hours, and afterward she took my dog to have her cremated. I did this because my dog was scared of the vet's office, and it made the whole thing less awful, knowing she could was at home in her yard in her last moments, with her people around her, petting and whispering to her.

Don't apologize for being torn up about this. I couldn't type this without crying, even four years after the fact.
posted by tula at 11:03 AM on April 16, 2010 [3 favorites]

I'm so sorry to hear about your dog. I had a similar situation with a dog who was not expected to live much longer. We basically let him do whatever he wanted at the end. He was supposed to take it easy because of his health problem, but we figured if he was not going to live much longer anyway, we should just let him do what makes him happy, and if that included running, then fine. One thing to know is that your dog may want to be alone near the end, as many animals go off to be by themselves when they're about to pass. This is what our dog did, and it was really sad, but we just tried to make sure he was comfortable.
posted by ishotjr at 11:11 AM on April 16, 2010

Seconding the recommendation for human foods.

If your dog is anything like mine, it should be fairly easy to plan out meals that you both enjoy, and are dog-safe. My dogs are particularly fond of chicken and scrambled eggs (both of which are cheap and easy).
posted by schmod at 11:42 AM on April 16, 2010

My condolences. If you are like me, there is nothing you can do that would be enough for your dog, because you can't fix it. We care for them, love and protect them, then comes the day we can't, and all we can do is wait, watch, love them and make sure that the end is dignified and as painless as possible (and not too late). I don't care how old your dog is, it isn't fair and it is too soon.

Folks have great suggestions. Yes, by all means, do more of what your dog likes, feed him whatever isn't poisonous that he'll eat. But, please, don't forget to take care of yourself, and don't be ashamed of loving your dog. From personal experience, don't take that final trip to the vet then try to go to work. Very bad idea. And don't go alone.
posted by QIbHom at 11:52 AM on April 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Why, no, those aren't tears in my eyes while reading this post at all.... Human food, lots of love, running (if that's what he likes), and (the hard part) bring him to the vet to be put down once he's starting to suffer; don't make him live through pain because it's so hard to say goodbye.
posted by JMOZ at 12:28 PM on April 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

I feel so stupid that I am so upset about this when there are so many people in the world with bigger problems, but he's been with me for my entire adult life and I just can't imagine what it is going to be like without him. Then I feel stupid because there are plenty of people in the world who have lost children and spouses, and he has lived a medium to long life for a dog and dogs die all the time.

I think you're looking at this from the wrong perspective. Yes, there are "bigger problems" in the world... but not in your world. Your world has your dog in it, and soon it won't, and that is a huge problem for you, in your life. Other people can deal with their problems their way, and that's fine, but don't let their lives dictate the way you live yours.

I hereby grant you official permission to feel the way you feel about your dog, and damn anybody who says otherwise.
posted by vorfeed at 1:30 PM on April 16, 2010

You might want to give a listen to It's Not My Dog, from a podcast done by Stephen Tobolowsky. His new rescue dog is given a death sentence, so he decides to give the dog the best he can with the time the dog has left.

(Disclaimer: the ending doesn't go how you think it will, I don't know if it will trigger you or not there. But awesome story nevertheless.)
posted by jenfullmoon at 2:27 PM on April 16, 2010

By the way, if you have any second thoughts about whether you're reasonable to be upset about this...keep in mind that several of us will have teared up reading your account and we've never even met your canine pal. You're very normal!
posted by Pomo at 5:35 PM on April 16, 2010

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