What's next with my dog?
February 21, 2017 3:09 AM   Subscribe

Granted, you are not my dog's veterinarian but I'm still looking for thoughts from thoughtful people. Do we keep doing what we can to keep our dog alive or is it time to have end of life discussions with our dog's vet?

We have a 13-15 year old mutt I've known most his life and who we took in a little over five years ago. As a pup he was hit by a car and had his hip repaired. Several years later he had cancer and survived that quite well. About six months ago I came into the room to do our morning routine and found he couldn't stand at all. I rushed him off to the vet and they rehydrate him and tell me he'd been poisoned, likely by something he ate off the ground. His arthritis stepped up a bit after that (he is getting old, after all.) Any pain meds they give him seem to make him sick which results in yet another visit to the vet. Not too much later he got really sick again and was having several accidents a day in the house in addition to pacing for hours at a time. This time he was diagnosed with Cushing's disease, for which he's a textbook case. Meds for Cushing's have minimized the accidents and seem to enable him able to function well enough for the most part. He's losing hair that simply won't come back (part of Cushing's) and he still can't take pain meds without getting sick. He still paces several hours a day and if he's not moving he tends to fall and needs help getting back up (on the order of 10 ames a day). While he doesn't seem to exhibit much in the way of pain symptoms I hate seeing him have any pain at all but with pain meds making him sick that's no help.

He's been a wonderful family member so it's quite hard to watch him go through all this even while we do what we can.

He doesn't seem miserable but he's also clearly not in great shape between old age and Cushing's.
What's next? When? Our family knows we probably don't have much longer with him but what's our decision making point?

My dog's vet pauses at having this hard discussion and says it's my call and really won't give advice or even pointers. It's frustrating but I get it. I know it's my call but I'm looking for advice, some helpful points to aid thinking, and then decision making.

What would you do? How much longer do I do what I'm doing? When? How?
(throwaway email address: anonthrowaway@icloud.com, if needed)
posted by anonymous to Pets & Animals (14 answers total)
I am so sorry that you and your dog are going through this.
You've listed many things that are making your dog's days difficult. You haven't mentioned that he seems to enjoy his food, that he still grooms himself, that he is able to play, that he freely gives affection...
"Not being miserable" doesn't sound like good quality of life to me.
I 've found that when I've been in this tough situation , I have moved from feeling that "I love this animal so much that I can't possibly do this" to "It's because I love this animal so much that I know I have to do this."
It sounds to me like it's time.
posted by bookmammal at 4:15 AM on February 21, 2017 [7 favorites]

My family has had to put dogs down due to old age and illness before, and our general consensus is that if we think it's serious enough to consider putting down, it's time to put them down, dogs (and other pets) are good at hiding illness and pain, and prolonging things because it's not as bad as it could be still isn't a very good life for a pet. You don't have to feel bad about making that choice now, it's the right time to decide.
posted by AzraelBrown at 4:18 AM on February 21, 2017 [3 favorites]

Our elderly doggie had a pair of seizures last weekend and spent the night at the vet hospital - so we've been thinking about this quite a bit. Basically, is your dog still able to enjoy several of the things he's always enjoyed? Eating, snuggling, playing,walks, etc.? If the answer is no, then his quality of life is significantly diminished and it's probably time. This is really hard, and you have my sympathies.
posted by gnutron at 4:34 AM on February 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

You've been extremely dedicated to your dog's care. You know, he is not aware of having x number of weeks or months more or less. He is experiencing the days one by one. My feeling is it's more important to give him what good days you can rather than more days.

All my best to you in this. Having been there, I know it's hard but if you push on much longer, you may well see this as a time when you could very well have stopped.
posted by BibiRose at 5:28 AM on February 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

It is time to say goodbye.
posted by procrastination at 5:56 AM on February 21, 2017 [2 favorites]

My dog had a lot of the same symptoms you describe at the end, plus some dementia. But she mostly seemed happy. The vet said that as long as that was the case, to look out for either of two things: not eating for over a day, or not being able to get up even with help. I had about another week with her after that, until she just couldn't stand up. Anecdata, but in case it helps.

I'm so sorry.
posted by Mchelly at 6:23 AM on February 21, 2017

I'm so sorry you're going through this. It's the hardest part of owning a pet.

There is a standard quality of life scale to help with these decisions. It's called the HHHHHMM Scale. You might find it useful.

Re: pain, remember that dogs tend to hide their pain, so unfortunately, "not exhibiting much in the way of pain symptoms" does not mean that he's mostly pain-free. This guide might be useful.

Sending good thoughts your way. <3
posted by schroedingersgirl at 6:30 AM on February 21, 2017 [3 favorites]

This is a terrible thing that you are having to deal with, and I am sorry for that. We had to say goodbye to our German Shepard mix in December. Similar to your situation, we were slowly losing her to a degenerative disease -- in her case degenerative myelopathy. The last year of her life was very difficult, both emotionally for us and physically for her. She had many similar symptoms to your dog.

I feel like we were lucky to have a vet who offered us perspective. His main lens focused on quality of life. Does the dog continue to have dignity? Is she living the sort of life that her younger self would have wanted? Obviously these are human concepts that don't really apply to dogs, but they served as a useful framing device for us to help decide when it was time. I'm not sure that it made the choice easier in the end, but it has helped to make us confident that we made the best decision for her that we could.
posted by Joe Schlabotnik at 6:52 AM on February 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

I am old. I have outlived some great horses, wonderful dogs, and precious cats. You will never feel good about making the decision to put your dog down. I guarantee you that you will feel worse if you realize you waited too long. Don't wait for him to give you permission. The decision is yours, because the responsibility is yours.

You probably know that even though you may get another dog, he'll never really be replaced.

Last year we lost Bubba, the faithful feral cat that came to live with us: he was purring quietly in mrs mule's lap when we gave the vet the signal to put him to sleep. Old Bubba's demise affected us, it seems, more profoundly than most of our bygone animal companions. We had him cremated, and his small cedar box is on a shelf in the living room. I confess that I have had to release my grief in increments, because I was afraid to let it go all at once. We still miss him.
posted by mule98J at 10:17 AM on February 21, 2017 [5 favorites]

Looking back on the cats that we loved and had euthanized, we waited too long, every damned time. The last one that I took to the vet for the procedure, I was apologizing to, because all of a sudden I could see how frail and sad she really was. Our vet was very understanding, but she agreed that most folks wait too long. At home, your pet is a fixture, always there, and I think we become blind to the fact that they are ready to go. We are going to try hard to not make this mistake again.

That said, I would encourage you to see if your vet can come to your home when it's time. Our last goodbye was Junior, our 25 year old cat. Vet and a tech came to the house, made a huge fuss over the old boy, and waited til he fell asleep in my arms before giving him the injections. It was so peaceful and no distress on his part, very little on mine.This will be the way we say goodbye from now on.

Hugs to you. It's hard.
posted by LaBellaStella at 12:27 PM on February 21, 2017 [3 favorites]

It's time. I'm sorry.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:28 PM on February 21, 2017

Yeah.. sometimes it just becomes time. We found a service that will actually come to your home, and euthanize there, with the family, and then take care of everything. The kids and the other dogs were able to 'say goodbye' so to speak.

As LaBellaStella said, it's a peaceful process, and was really a welcome way to see him off.
posted by rich at 4:29 PM on February 21, 2017

Also, I am really angry at your vet! It is part of their job to help you make difficult decisions like this. If this were my vet, I'd actually consider finding a new vet for future pets.

Last year, we euthanized an elderly pet-- we were lucky that she was happy and affectionate right up to a day or two before, but we had been having discussions with our vet for months about how to manage end of life issues for her. (She had a slow growing tumor in her lungs for months, and then kidney failure quite suddenly.)

But yes, from what you've said, I do think it's time. I'm so sorry
posted by instamatic at 6:12 PM on February 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

From the OP:
“Thanks for all the thoughtful and helpful answers. Yesterday, 25 February, 2017, we had a going away party for our best friend attended by neighbors and friends who came by to say good-bye, play, pet, and to watch him eat ridiculous quantities of all the foods he most enjoyed. He partied pretty hard, eating an extra bunch of dog food for breakfast then about a quarter loaf of bread, a corn dog, five mini cup cakes, two regular cupcakes, and half an apple. Through the day he also indulged in a few naps and some short walks in the neighborhood before having one more mini cupcake just prior to his last nap in our laps after the vet arrived at our house. He was the happiest we’ve seen him in months, thanks in no small part to all of you. Thank YOU.”
posted by Eyebrows McGee (staff) at 5:30 PM on February 26, 2017 [8 favorites]

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