When to put a dog to sleep
September 1, 2015 6:24 PM   Subscribe

My 15-16 year old dog is just around the corner from a turning point. Circumstances are not ideal. I am hoping to hear opinions and experiences and feedback about the timing of euthanasia, and if it seems wrong to put a dog to sleep "early." Details below the fold.

I have been friends with this wonderful guy for 14 years, and he was ~2 when I got him. He has had a pretty great life and has always been active and very loved. I cannot begin to articulate what he means to me and has meant to me throughout his life. Over the last year, he's begun to decline and was diagnosed with kidney failure 5 months ago. Our vet gave him 3-6 months to live, and said that dogs of his breed usually only live until 13. His recent lab work shows the kidney failure has progressed to a sub-critical point. It's impossible to predict exactly how long he'll live, but it is likely weeks or a few months.

In the last couple of months, he's become less interested in regular food (so is mostly eating hamburger and bacon--not good for kidneys, but okay per the vet), is more clingy, and a bit senile. He's not in pain or unhappy, and is getting lots of tummy rubs and dog ice cream. In the last week, we've had to coax him a bit to eat even the good stuff.

Under most circumstances, I would wait to put him to sleep until it seems he is having bad days, uncomfortable, sick, not eating, etc. However, we are moving overseas in a couple of months. The vet said that he likely wouldn't make the trip due to his health, or it would push him over the edge. I am also traveling in a couple of weeks overseas for a job interview. I am worried about leaving the dog and having him deteriorate while I am away, because I wouldn't want him to think I abandoned him and have to be put to sleep surrounded by people he doesn't know. (He'll be staying at our house with a dog sitter that he knows, but not the way he knows me). I would also feel horrible for the dog sitter. Our vet also advised us to make very explicit plans for when we are gone as to what treatments and interventions would be acceptable, and to be prepared to say goodbye from afar, which makes me think that she suspects he may go quickly.

The nature of dog kidney failure is such, I guess, that dogs tend to compensate well, but there is a sharp inflection point at which they become toxic. I would hope that my guy wouldn't go through that without me, or for very long. He is also such a strong and wonderful guy that it seems his body will go long before his spirit, so I don't want to rely on him giving any signs of fatigue. He also still enjoys, if passively, some of his favorite things, like going to the beach. He is also continent and not in any obvious distress.

I've been wondering whether I should put him to sleep soon, before I go, and before he deteriorates to an uncomfortable point--to prevent him from having any bad days or suffering--or if I should wait until I come back and let him have a few more good weeks. So, I guess my question is--is it a horrible thing to put a terminally ill dog to sleep before he reaches a point of discomfort or sickness or suffering? I am looking into shortening my travel, although it may be impossible due to cost, and even then, I would need to be away for at least one week for the job interview, and I would worry about him dying while I am away.

I'm sorry if this is scattered, but I have a lot of trouble organizing my thoughts around this. I love this guy like nobody's business, and will never stop missing him when he goes. I would appreciate anyone's experience with euthanasia decision-making. Thank you.
posted by stillmoving to Pets & Animals (42 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
This is tough. You could make this decision a couple nights before you travel, though. Just communicate with your vet that that's your plan. You may know more then. I'm so sorry your dog is ill.
posted by Miko at 6:33 PM on September 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

I waited until it was pretty blatantly obvious that it was time for him to go. My dog did everything short of saying, "Hey! I'm ready to die!"

That having been said, if I'd done it earlier, I would have saved him some pain. But we wouldn't have had those good weeks. There's no right or wrong answer.

Before my dog died, I was supposed to go to my cousin's wedding. I cancelled at the last minute. I didn't want to leave my dog alone. I had to put him to sleep three days before the wedding.

These things are unpredictable.

I highly, highly recommend doing the euthanasia at home. The best money I ever spent.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 6:33 PM on September 1, 2015 [7 favorites]

I believe it's an act of love and courage to ensure that your dog has a peaceful death in your arms.

I'm so sorry. I'm crying right now, remembering the death of my beloved cat. We were so lucky that he died naturally in my arms.

Big hugs to you and tummy skritches to your friend.
posted by ottereroticist at 6:33 PM on September 1, 2015 [8 favorites]

And yes, you can make this decision with very little advance notice. That's how euthanasia happens, for the most part.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 6:34 PM on September 1, 2015 [2 favorites]

Oh man. This question just makes my heart ache for you. I'm really sorry that you're having to go through this. Tough stuff.
While I don't have any experience in this specific situation, I don't think it's "wrong" to put him to sleep before he's in real pain or distress. As long as you act with love, you can't make a wrong decision in this situation. Im sorry I don't have any more concrete suggestions but wanted to share that whatever you decide will be the right choice for you and your dog.
posted by Ms.Pants at 6:35 PM on September 1, 2015 [5 favorites]

We're dealing with the same thing right now, except without the time pressure of imminent travel. Our Maggie of 18 years has been slowing down for a couple years, and two days ago stopped eating anything. I lean towards the side of do it earlier rather than later, but would like to hear if there are any ethical or legal issues around that.
posted by intermod at 6:36 PM on September 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

I've never heard anyone say it was too soon. If your dog isn't enjoying life, I give you Internet stranger permission to euthanize him. See about doing it at home.
posted by k8t at 6:40 PM on September 1, 2015 [10 favorites]

I am so sorry about your dog. This is a difficult choice. I can tell you that if I had a do-over with my beloved pet, I would have euthanized her sooner than I did.

Consider that the time leading up to the move would likely be stressful even for a healthy animal. Your pet is already declining to eat. I'd not want him to be pining for me when I'm gone on a trip or passing away without me there. I think I'd want my pet's last days to be stress-free, in the home the way he's always known it, with the person he loves most in the world. I wish you all the best in your difficult choice.
posted by Klaxon Aoooogah at 6:41 PM on September 1, 2015 [31 favorites]

is it a horrible thing to put a terminally ill dog to sleep before he reaches a point of discomfort or sickness or suffering?

I don't think so. If you can postpone your trip, then I think it would be a kindness to him for you to do that. If not, then schedule a day to have the vet come over and let your dog go in peace.

Honestly, the dog won't mind. Thats the thing about dogs, they set all these expectations on you without ever saying a word. I think it will go better for both of you to do it on your terms instead of by happenstance.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 6:44 PM on September 1, 2015 [4 favorites]

I am so very sorry.

There is no right or wrong answer here. I have done both - waited and acted quickly. With both, I had my doubts that I was doing what was best. It's such a hard decision to make, the doubts and questions are normal. But, if I were in your shoes, I think I would euthanize him before you leave for your interview. Give him some great last days and give yourself a few days to recover before the interview. You'll both be able to move on a bit easier that way. He won't wonder where you are and you'll know that he's not wondering where you are. Hugs to you and your fur guy.
posted by imbri at 6:48 PM on September 1, 2015 [6 favorites]

I'm so sorry you have to go through this. My heart goes out to you and your dog.

That said, if it seems more than likely that your dog will need to be euthanized while you are out of the country, I would recommend having it done before you leave, at home if possible. For all the love and companionship your dog has brought you, you should be there to say goodbye. I wish my family had done it that way with our dog when I was a teenager. She deserved better than to have pass away in a room full of strangers.
posted by KingEdRa at 6:54 PM on September 1, 2015 [3 favorites]

Speaking from the experience of euthanizing two cats, I recommened "too early" over "too late."
Early is hard, late is awful.
posted by SLC Mom at 6:55 PM on September 1, 2015 [21 favorites]

I put my dog to sleep last Tuesday. She had been hacking more than usual for a day or two, and when I got out of bed that morning, she was having trouble breathing. After hours at the emergency vet in an oxygen cage, she was diagnosed with heart failure. She was so miserable. It was awful. I wish I could have spared her that distress. I wish you peace in your decision making.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:03 PM on September 1, 2015 [7 favorites]

stillmoving: "So, I guess my question is--is it a horrible thing to put a terminally ill dog to sleep before he reaches a point of discomfort or sickness or suffering?"


I can tell from your question that you have considered this question deeply from all angles and examined the ethical implications of all your choices. Any choice you make will be out of love and compassion, to limit your pet's suffering. We can never make a "perfect" choice in these situations because we simply don't have foreknowledge of how such an illness will progress -- and therefore you shouldn't beat yourself up afterwards going over "what ifs." But any choice you make will be an ethical, loving, carefully-considered one, because all of the choices you have presented here are ethical, loving, carefully-considered ones. None of them are unethical or horrible, and none of them are bad choices or suggest you're a bad person.

You're a good person who is taking upon yourself to weigh, in all its painful permutations, the potential suffering of an animal who isn't able to understand his own suffering or think about the past or future, and in doing so you're suffering yourself in ways that he won't and can't. This is a good and right thing to do for the people and animals that we love. Don't think that you or your dog has to suffer a certain amount before it's okay to give him a compassionate end; the answer to suffering is always compassion, and you know that he is terminally ill, which means euthanasia is, ultimately, the last great act of compassion you can give him. Whenever you do it, it will be compassionate. And your dog can't mourn the past or hope for the future, so he isn't afraid or worried; he entrusts all of that fear and decision-making and compassion to you.

Any choice you make will be an act of love.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:16 PM on September 1, 2015 [82 favorites]

My parents-in-law just had to make a similar decision a couple months ago with one of their cats that was dealing with an inoperable nasal tumor. The cat's health would get better for a week, then worse for a week, and repeat. During the good times he was eating, wanted attention, and seemed generally pretty happy. During the bad times, he would hardly eat at all, and didn't want to be around anyone.

In their case, the trip was a 2 week vacation. At the time they had to make the decision before they left, he was having one of his better weeks, so they went on the trip.

Within a week or so, he had gotten so bad that my brother-in-law had to take him to be put down, and they never got to have their proper last moments with him. If they had to do it again, they would have done it before they left.

It's an agonizing decision to take a single minute away from a loved one as long as they're not suffering, but it's even more agonizing if they do end up suffering and you're not there to be with them at the end.

Peace to you whenever the time comes to say goodbye to your friend.
posted by tonycpsu at 7:17 PM on September 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

I don't want to favorite Eyebrows McGee because her response would show up in my Favorites and make me tear up later, but... she's right. As SLC said, early is hard, too late is awful.

You have our permission to give your beloved dog a peaceful sendoff.
posted by canine epigram at 7:24 PM on September 1, 2015 [5 favorites]

We put down my 16 year old collie after having him for 13. So, I feel for you.

That said, I don't think you can be sure that he's not already in pain, sadly. My collie had horrible arthritis and could barely walk but acted super happy. If you couldn't flat out see that he would wobble when he walked and couldn't do stairs - you would have other signs that he was probably in pain. He didn't "complain" or whine or anything. But it was time for him, because we knew it was painful and his quality of life was going down. I think kidneys shutting down are probably causing pain or discomfort of some kind.

I'd like to plan and be there for my animal before it got to a breaking point where they're very unhappy. That can take a turn quickly. My opinion would be to do it sooner before you leave.
posted by Crystalinne at 7:37 PM on September 1, 2015 [3 favorites]

When my dog was slowly deteriorating due to congestive heart failure, I had to board her for about a week to go on a once-in-a-lifetime family trip. At that point she had occasional bad days, but mostly didn't seem to be suffering and the end didn't seem imminent. I was worried about leaving her, afraid that the stress of being away from home and familiar people would kill her. And that's basically what happened. She took a big turn for the worse while I was away. When I got home, she was at the vet's, barely hanging in there, very weak, panting to breathe, unable to walk without help. I took her home and she spent one last night with me, but it was clear that she was past the point where she could enjoy life and she wasn't going to get better, so I had the vet come out to the house to euthanize her.

Having had that experience, if I were in your position, I think I would be leaning towards euthanizing my dog before the upcoming trip. In a recent conversation about our own (hopefully far off) deaths, my sister and I agreed that dying when you're still enjoying life isn't the worst case scenario - it's the best case scenario.
posted by Redstart at 7:41 PM on September 1, 2015 [6 favorites]

I think it's time to say goodbye to your friend. This sentence stood out for me: "In the last week, we've had to coax him a bit to eat even the good stuff. "

I'm so sorry. Ask your vet if they will make a house call to put your dog to sleep; if they can't, they should be able to recommend a vet that provides this service.
posted by mogget at 7:41 PM on September 1, 2015 [7 favorites]

You know that the uncomfortable point in the end of your dog's life is coming--there's no stopping it. You're making his remaining time as comfortable as possible, and giving him lots of love. It seems to me a very merciful and loving thing to take on the burden of losing him sooner, before he experiences real pain.
posted by Meg_Murry at 7:51 PM on September 1, 2015 [3 favorites]

I am a firm believer in not playing Good Days/Bad Days roulette. You might put him down with 27.3 good days wasted, but in that time frame there might be 40 bad days or 10 or 1 very, very horrible day.

Not all "natural" deaths are quiet or painless, and I'll never risk waiting too long again. That one time still wakes me up in the middle of the night sometimes.

He will not know he is gone, or if it turns out I'm wrong, he'll know you did it out of compassion.

When they stop eating with enthusiasm, it's time.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:53 PM on September 1, 2015 [8 favorites]

Shit. This is terrible. But I agree with SLC Mom. Late is awful.

If I were in your shoes, (which I will be someday with my beloved Griswold) and had very important upcoming travel (and not just a vacation), I would go ahead and do it. When the time comes, I would rather my boy know that I'm here, and that he's loved and comfortable, than have the situation deteriorate with a sitter and have him go in the arms of a stranger.

If the travel is something you can put off without having massive repercussions on your life, I would give him a few more weeks, until shit goes really downhill.

But if he only has weeks or months anyway, and a lot of that is dealing with job/move logistics, I wouldn't want to put him through that kind of stress.

But then again, you know your dude best, and any decision you make will be the right one.

My heart is really with you.
posted by functionequalsform at 7:57 PM on September 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

As an occasional cat sitter who was put in the position of having to arrange euthanasia for someone else's cat while she was away, I would also say: do not risk leaving this decision, and this moment, to someone else. You need to be sure you'll be there. And my sympathies.
posted by zadcat at 8:01 PM on September 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

So sorry to hear about your dog. I have heard about the principle of three As: affection, appetite, activity. When two of the three are gone, then you should seriously consider putting your pet to sleep. I hope this is somehow helpful as you make your decision.
posted by Slap Factory at 8:01 PM on September 1, 2015 [2 favorites]

My old dogs have always crawled under my bed to die after playing like a puppy the night before. The last one spun my son around in an office chair for a while and dragged him around the house by his pants leg after being confused and incapable, mostly blind and deaf for more than a year. That was my 7th dog of the same breed and I knew what that last burst of exuberance meant.

I don't know if it is more painful to wake up and pull your dead dog out from under the bed or to hold it while it is euthanized. I've also never had travel pressure in those situations. Do what you need to do. Dog is Love.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 8:13 PM on September 1, 2015 [4 favorites]

Give yourself ample time to grieve before your interview. It's clear how much love you have for your companion. He's already trying to go. That's what it means when they won't eat anymore. Let him go with love and compassion for yourself and him. I am so so sorry. Nothing will make this easier, including more time. I'm shedding some tears for you, and sending love and compassion. I'm so sorry it's his time.
posted by stoneweaver at 8:24 PM on September 1, 2015 [3 favorites]

Speaking as one who went through this with a beloved cat, I'd say let him go now, while you can plan it and he'll be the most comfortable. You know he won't be getting any better, even if he has good days. Plan a time and do it at home. Your old buddy will thank you, and you'll have a much better memory of his passing. So sorry you're losing your friend.
posted by Koko at 8:50 PM on September 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

Oh God, I'm so sorry you're going through this. It is so emotionally difficult and no one can really tell you what to do.

We have had to put two of our beloved elderly pets to sleep in the past year, our cat and our dog. Our other cat had died peacefully in her sleep, thank God, because I don't know how much more euthanasia decision-making I could have taken. With our dog, we knew, KNEW it was time and we rushed to have him euthanized before he was in actual pain. He was in discomfort, not pain yet, and the vet was able to sedate him enough so that we had that last half hour with him while he was comfortable and knew we were there with him to hold him until he got the final injection and passed peacefully.

With our cat, we had a lot of warning. She was not going to get better but her decline came over several weeks. After a few good weeks of cuddles and lots of loving, we took her in to the vet. She was still mobile, happy and affectionate, so it was hard to know we were doing the right thing. We put her to sleep before we left for an out of town trip, and I will never regret that we took her in before we left rather than leaving her with a cat sitter. She probably could have made it through the few days we were gone, but we didn't know for sure if she would and we did not want her to die without her favourite people being there. She didn't have very long left--just like your dog--and we chose to control when and how she died. Just like with our dog, we took her in, cuddled her, and held her till she got her final injection and passed peacefully.

Animals don't feel the same way we do, where we might think, oh God I could live a little while longer! I don't want to go yet! Instead, they are only concerned with their physical comfort and whether their beloved people are there with them when they die. That is what matters to them. (Frankly, the more I contemplate my own mortality, I've realized that's actually of primary importance to me, too, when my time comes.)

If I were you (and actually reading back over my story, I sort of was you, except our trip was shorter and not overseas), I would take your dog in before you go and have him put to sleep while you and his other beloved people can be with him. He will have a happy death. You cannot really control whether he dies; your vet has advised you it will likely happen soon. But you can control whether he has a comfortable, happy death with you and his loved ones there. That is all that will matter to him--and after some time has passed, it is all that will matter to you, too.

I still miss our dog and our cats. In fact I am crying as I write this. But I am able to comfort myself that we did the best we could to ensure the end of their lives came with no pain and with the happy sensation of being held by the people they loved most.

I wish you and your dog peace and comfort--it's so hard and I'm so sorry.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 8:56 PM on September 1, 2015 [3 favorites]

Our beloved old dog was put to sleep a couple of weeks ago. We didn't have travel plans, but it was otherwise a very similar situation. He had dementia and spinal degeneration, and his ability to stand or walk without support was deteriorating. The thing we noticed was that he had stopped trying to pull himself up when he fell any more. We would come in during his last week and find him just laying on a mat where he had fallen, looking exhausted. We decided we didn't want him to go one day like that, having fallen, scared and alone, not knowing where he was. So he got a peaceful death at home instead. He was asleep and didn't even notice the vet giving him the injection.

What helped us in making the decision was realizing that what we were dealing with wasn't a problem of money or effort. I would have gladly picked up his poop and washed him off for decades, but that wasn't the thing standing in the way. It was just time, that was all. The night before we called the vet, he had a seizure, and this made it clear that the end would be getting close whether we chose it or not. With degenerative illnesses in dogs (kidney failure being one), they don't necessarily stop eating or showing signs of life before the pain and hardship for them is unbearable, so you end up having to make the call.

It is hard. It always is, losing your pet. I will tell you what our vet told us, which is that you love your old guy like crazy and he trusts you, and any time it feels right is the right time. I have cried a lot these past few weeks and I miss him but I don't regret the decision.

I'm so sorry. I'm glad your dog got to be with an owner who clearly loves him so much.
posted by thetortoise at 9:16 PM on September 1, 2015 [5 favorites]

I'm sorry your time with your companion is coming to an end. It's incredibly hard.

Given what you've written, I would do it before you go. If possible, have a home care vet come and take care of the euthanasia. (We did that for our beloved cat and his final moments were peaceful in his favorite place.)

Spend some extra time with him. Treat him to his favorite things. Then let him go peacefully with his most favorite person right at his side.
posted by 26.2 at 9:26 PM on September 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

Animals don't always 'tell you' the way people say they will. Dogs can hide pain and also, my vet says, some will eat until the bitter end (mine did), so you may not be getting clear signs that he is still having decent quality of life. Sometimes, you have to decide with not as many clear signals as you'd like. And that's okay.

Also, after the fact, it's common to second guess yourself and worry that you did it too early, so be prepared for that and know you are doing him a kindness by doing this hard thing and not letting him linger.
posted by Ink-stained wretch at 9:36 PM on September 1, 2015

I always go early when a dog is terminal and death is inevitable. Dogs hide their pain, so it is impossible for humans to accurately guess the things we hope we are guessing right in these circumstances.

Please remember that you are not trying to make this decision against some Great Moral Compass of Absolute Rectitude. You are trying to manage the dog's end of life care against overall quality of life. You have a pros and cons list; the dog absolutely should not move overseas and to me, the risk of his having to be put to sleep while you are away is horrific.

The end is inevitable. You are fortunate to be able to arrange it. Don't undervalue that.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:30 AM on September 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

My deepest sympathies to you. We waited to euthanize both of our aged, ill dogs (thankfully years apart) when we were in the thick of their illnesses. In hindsight, we agreed that in both cases, we waited too long. Sometimes its hard to see the forest for the trees. You will be happier (eventually) in the long term, remembering your friend when he was healthier and happier than waiting until things turn for the worse and thinking that you should have done something sooner. Please also give yourself time to grieve your loss before your interview.
posted by sarajane at 5:30 AM on September 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

Also, highly recommending in-home euthanasia.
posted by sarajane at 5:31 AM on September 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

This could have been us last week (but with a cat, not a dog). We're anticipating an overseas career move and our old, hyperthyroided cat was clearly not going to make the trip. We took him in, and while it was hard to do we're glad we did it when we did. Most importantly, he isn't suffering. But also, by the time we're getting on the plane we can be looking forward to the adventure and not mourning our cat, which is what we'd be doing if we waited until the week before our departure.

Our vet said she was comfortable euthanizing animals once it's clear they are in terminal decline. She doesn't expect people to extract every last moment of contented existance from their pets and thought it better, as others have said, to error on the side of earlier than later.

From what you've said, it sounds like he's ready when you are. It's not easy. Good luck.
posted by the christopher hundreds at 6:14 AM on September 2, 2015

If the dog is comfortable with your vet's office, then I don't see a problem with taking him there. We tried to go the at-home route (through a service) but the fellow who showed up had a sketchy vibe and we changed our minds. As others have said, better sooner than to have him take a bad turn in the middle of the night.
posted by bonobothegreat at 6:23 AM on September 2, 2015

Our girl, Rosie, was diagnosed with a very aggressive spleen cancer in Mid-March. We had a very big trip scheduled for the very next week. Before we knew how aggressive the cancer was and how much she was bleeding internally, we were going to cancel the trip and stay home. The Friday she came home, my husband and I discussed the situation and decided we'd let her guide us. Although she seemed mostly normal, it became apparent that she was hiding a lot of pain and trying her best to be well.

So we decided in the morning that the only thing we could do was to give her the best day possible and then see how she felt. She had pancakes for breakfast, went to her favorite spot in the park, laid in the sunshine and chewed on a stick, had ice cream and steak for dinner, curled up on the couch with us and watched TV. There were signs throughout the day that she was not our healthy Rosie, a little less spring in the step, getting winded much more quickly, and in the night, a terrifying cough.

That Sunday morning, she dashed out the back door to the car, and damn near bounded into the vet's office. When she jumped up on the scale to be weighed, we both nearly lost it, but in the end it was the best decision. The vet told us when she was diagnosed that dogs don't have very long term memories for pain and good feelings. We decided it was important to us to be there with her and to let her go after a great day and a fabulous morning, rather than holding her here to be in pain and alone if it happened while we were on our trip.

It hurt like fire, but the trip afterwards gave us distance from the empty house and the lack of toenails clicking. It let us heal a bit and be less raw so her loss was still a great loss, but less of a hole.

None of this is easy, but slightly too early is way, way easier than too late.
posted by teleri025 at 6:50 AM on September 2, 2015 [5 favorites]

End of life decision-making for pets is something I have had to deal with quite a lot because I maintained a household with multiple ferrets for around twenty years and ferrets typically life around 5-8 years, with shorter lifespans being more common in my experience. Eventually I decided I couldn't do it any more because it was just too heartbreaking for me to lose one of those little guys every year or so. Anyway, here is a bit out of a post I wrote in a similar thread several months ago:
IMO, the key thing to remember is that your beloved pet doesn't really have any conception of "tomorrow" and wanting to stretch things out to get more time. What he has is "right now." So it's your job, to whatever extent possible, to make sure he doesn't have any truly bad days. It's far better to pull the trigger early rather than late, because he would never blame you for missing a few future walks in the park. This is a highly personal decision, so I can't tell you when will be the right time -- except that I would encourage you not to take it down to the last possible moment. If you get a bad report from the vet and the vet tells you your dog is already feeling pretty poorly, it wouldn't even be inappropriate to do it then. If you make a different decision, understand that the rest is borrowed time and make peace with the fact that every day could be "the day." This thinking, for me at least, has made a lot easier for me to make the best decisions for my pets at the end of their lives. It's the last great responsibility of pet ownership and the best gift you could ever give him.
In my opinion, weeks too early is far better than a single day too late. Your dog won't know the difference if it's too early, but he will know the difference if it's too late. From what you describe, I wouldn't think that any day starting as of today would be too early.
posted by slkinsey at 7:04 AM on September 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

You’ve already gotten so many good answers, but I will just add my voice to the chorus saying that sooner is better than later.

My dog had been in a slow and steady decline (degenerative myelopathy), and while I knew the end was coming he was still sort of OK… until one day he suddenly wasn’t. That day was dreadful. It’s one of my worst memories, and it’s one of my biggest regrets that I didn’t put him to sleep before he had to experience that. In retrospect, too, it was clear that even his OK days hadn’t been good.

Especially with your upcoming vacation, I think it would be a kindness to do it now.
posted by Kriesa at 7:15 AM on September 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

One of the things I felt worst about my last dog, is when she'd already lived 6 months after an initial diagnosis of heart failure with "weeks" to live, is I said she wasn't going to spend more than an hour at any time at the vet's because it stressed her out so much.

At one point the drugs to help remove fluid from her lungs were no longer working at their highest allowed dose, and I was bringing her in likely with the thought that this would be her last vet trip. I ended up having them extract fluids from her abdomen (to help with breathing) along with keeping her on an IV drip of some better drugs. At first it was going to be a few hours, but then the vet's called and said that her lungs needed more time to finish clearing fluids, so she ended up spending 8-9 hours in total there. When I picked her up she could barely walk because they had to give her lots of anti anxiety drugs. I'm unsure if she could even recognize me.

Four minutes in to the car ride home, she uttered a horrible yelp/whimper, voided herself and her breathing shifted to some awful shallow gulping like a fish out of water. I turned around and went straight back to the vet's to have her euthanized. While I was there with her for that, after whatever event that was, she seemed to be even less there than the meds allowed. Even worse, while she liked me, she loved Ms. nobeagle, who was still at home expecting me to be home soon, and letting the kids know that we were down to "days" and just how spoiled she was going to be.

It was likely a horrible last day for her. And yes, it's "only" one day late on a tough decision, but 1.5 years from then and I'm still kicking myself over this. And it pops up periodically in my head at least once every two weeks.

Your dog's had a great life it sounds like. If he already needs to be coaxed to eat some of his favourite foods that sounds like you're getting pretty close to time. If I were in your uncomfortable shoes, I think that I'd euthanize him before I left over seas for the job interview. Your absense in his senile state will be noticed and might affect his will to keep on, making it more likely he turns the corner while you're gone.
posted by nobeagle at 7:32 AM on September 2, 2015

Just another vote to do it now. I recently had to say goodbye to my sweet boy and his decline was so very fast. Even under the best circumstances with pet sitting, the animal doesn't understand what's happening and will be stressed and missing you. If the animal is also sick, this extra stress and disruption can contribute to decline. Dogs are so bonded to their people, it's hard for them to be separated. It would haunt me terribly if I left my sick animal in the care of someone else and they declined and had to be euthanized without me there to comfort them. He's showing that he's close and it's a mercy to not push right up to the line where it's urgent and obvious. It's so hard to make this decision and I wish you peace as you say goodbye.
posted by quince at 1:22 PM on September 2, 2015

You've already gotten a lot of great answers, but in case one more vote helps, I agree with everyone else that the best thing for your pup would be to euthanize him before your trip. Although he may be eating some and not in horrible constant pain, it definitely sounds like his condition is deteriorating, and you know that your time together is certainly reaching its end.

If personal anecdotes help, I can say that one of our dogs lived until the ripe age of 15 (quite an old age for a lab/retriever mix), and although he didn't have anything particularly diagnosable, he was definitely struggling to get around, losing interest in food, whatever. But then a family emergency came up and he had to boarded for a few days, and the stress of that just caused him to completely break down. As soon as he was picked up from the boarding place, after basically being carried out to the car, we had to take him to the vet to be euthanized.

If we could have known what was going to happen, I would have been so much happier if he hadn't spent his last few days with other people, away from us. The thing was we didn't have any diagnosis aside from old age, so it was harder to predict to a certain extent.

It will never really feel like the right time to say goodbye to your friend, but at this point, I think you should plan on giving your fluffy friend as much love and attention as you can in the next couple weeks before your trip, and then if possible, have the vet do a house call when you're ready for him to be euthanized. We have twice been able to do it that way, and it really is the best way to go about doing one of the most painful things possible. However, even if you have to go to the vet, I still think the most important thing is that you're able to be there with him for his last moments. I think it will give both him and you the most peace.

I'm really sorry that you're going through this. Having to say goodbye to a beloved doggie companion is so, so incredibly painful.
posted by litera scripta manet at 6:29 PM on September 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

« Older Help me decide on a possible (medical) career   |   Tea me up Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.