Both my young dogs died. Is it my fault?
December 13, 2018 7:13 AM   Subscribe

I have only had two dogs in my life, both died soon after I got them and both were young. Why did this happen, is it my fault, and how do I learn to accept it?

About a year ago I got my first dog ever, a retired racing greyhound. He was 5 years old and an absolute angel- a perfectly behaved gentleman. After we had him 3 months we took him to the vet as he was limping. He was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer. We made the last few weeks if his life very happy ones with plenty of steak and treats and days out. When he was clearly suffering at the end we got the vet to come to our house to have him put to sleep.

A few short months later we got another dog, a 19 month old rescue greyhound whose owner was retiring from racing. This dog was a handful, very active and anxious. We got her a wonderful dog walker to take her out for off-lead runs in the country every day when we were both working (3 days a week). The other days we were home with her all day every day and took her for lots of walks, to the park, etc. We got her housebroken (finally!) using treats and positive reinforcement. The one issue we struggled to solve was her barking and whining in the middle of the night wakingus and the neighbours up.

As a last ditch solution we bought a collar that made a noise when she would bark - NOT a shock collar just a noise and if she kept barking it would vibrate. She hated it but we only put it on her for 3 nights and she learned not to bark at night anymore.

Then the following week when I got home on the Tuesday I found my dog on the floor in severe pain. She was flailing around panicking and unable to get up. The dog walker confirmed shed been dropped off 3 hours ago absolutely fine. I rang the vet immediately and persuaded them to come and pick her up (I had no way of transporting her as my husband was away with the car). It took them 30 minutes to arrive during which time I comforted her and told her I loved her.

They kept her overnight and I insisted they gave her as much medicine for the pain as they could. The next day we transferred her to the specialist neurology vet at the local university. She said our dog was paraplegic and would probably not survive surgery and the prognosis was very poor. She didn't know what it was but she thought a spinal cord injury or possibly bladder? We chose to end her suffering as she was clearly still in a lot of pain and had her put to sleep.

The second dog is the hardest to accept because we don't know what happened and why? There was nothing for her to fall from, we had a baby gate on the stairs. We don't really have a diagnosis. And how could this have happened again - the loss of two young dogs in less than a year?

We have decided not to get another dog. But I am struggling to process my grief and feelings of guilt. It would help me to hear from more experienced dog owners- have you heard of anyone else losing two young dogs in less than a year? What could I have done differently? Thank you.
posted by anonymous to Pets & Animals (25 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Honestly, the common thread there is that they were rescued racing dogs. You don't know what their treatment, feeding, or quality of life was before you got them. There may have been factors there that affected their later health (especially in the second case, I'd guess) and there may not. Dogs get cancer - it's not controllable, and while there are some known breed-linked common cancers, most of them are just... cancer. Which sucks.

It's totally understandable to search for something you might have had control over, but this honestly sounds like two bad rolls of the dice in a row. Which is very hard, and not your fault, and you have my immense sympathy.
posted by restless_nomad at 7:21 AM on December 13, 2018 [78 favorites]

Neither of these unfortunate events was your fault. Please don't blame yourself. Rescuing greyhounds is a dicey proposition at best, and you did your best to give them good lives.

What you describe is just terrible luck, and based on what you've said you are dealing with the trauma by looking for anything you could have done differently that might have changed the outcome. There isn't anything. It's not your fault.
posted by dbx at 7:22 AM on December 13, 2018 [19 favorites]

Once the hard work of house and bite training is done in puppy hood, a dog only needs food, exercise and affection. If you gave your dog those three things you did your best. Sometimes dogs just get sick and die. I think you've had very bad luck. You should absolve yourself, you did nothing to cause these dogs to die.
posted by dis_integration at 7:24 AM on December 13, 2018 [11 favorites]

It isn't your fault. At all. I'm sorry for what you're going through, it sounds so painful.

It was not your fault. You couldn't have given a dog cancer, and you didn't give the other dog a spinal injury. My parents have lost two dogs in a year before. One was quite traumatic for my mom because he was getting dementia and only had one eye... he got spooked, escaped a leash and ran off. My parents felt that it was their fault, but it wasn't. It was an accident.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 7:24 AM on December 13, 2018

I've had a similar story with cats many years ago I lost 2 young cats in a year. It broke my heart & I still feel guilt about it. But here is thing I've had other cats live long full lives one until 22 one until 20 since then and I still feel guilty when they passed away. Did I put them down too soon, too late, did I let them suffer because I'm selfish or rush it because I didn't want to see them suffer? Hell my mother passed away earlier this year and I'm racked with so much guilt about that and she died of 75 of issue and I know logically I could do nothing about, but part of me beats myself up about all the woulda/coulda/shoulda things. Guilt sucks. I also think it's a pretty normal also part of the grieving process.

In neither of the instances you describe can I see any sign anything you did caused a problem. You did all the right things, you took them to vets & got expert advice. You loved them & did the best for them you could. You did the brave thing & ended their pain because you loved them so much.

Greyhounds are bred to race, not for longevity and you don't know anything about their lives before you had them. Maybe the second dog had an old injury, that's why it was retired so young. My mother told me about her dog growing up, she was playing fetch with him and he was running down a slight slope, tripped & rolled & had the same thing happen to him as happened to your dog. Just playing fetch with him in the park. Sometimes shitty accidental things just happen. Be kind to yourself, neither of your dogs would want you to be unhappy because of them, that is the wonderful thing about dogs. Love yourself as much as they loved you and be kind to yourself while your heart heals.
posted by wwax at 7:27 AM on December 13, 2018 [13 favorites]

This is not your fault. This is bad luck and you did nothing wrong.

Generally, greyhounds have long lifespans, but they do have a slightly higher instance of osteosarcoma. Sometimes dogs get cancer, and it has nothing to do with you or anything you did.

The second dog was likely a random accident. It's so difficult to process a loss like that when you don't know what happened. But whatever it was, it wasn't your fault. I have two retired greyhounds who run around like crazy in our yard and haven't been injured. But accidents happen, and there is always that possibility that they could step or twist the wrong way and one could get hurt.

You did more for those dogs then most people would have. Having someone take her for off-lead runs and working through all her issues really shows that you cared for her.

I'm so sorry this happened to you, especially knowing what special dogs greyhounds are. I'm sad that you decided not to get another dog. I can understand not wanting to feel that pain again, and I respect that. But please don't make that decision because you in any way think you aren't an amazing dog parent. Any dog would be lucky to have you.
posted by thejanna at 8:02 AM on December 13, 2018 [10 favorites]

Cancer is common in greyhounds, you can't possibly have caused it. Its just a thing that happens.
Your second dog was retired at only 19 months, in the UK they can't even start racing until 15 months.... I suspect that there was something wrong with the dog when you got it, injuries from racing are common.

I would suggest that if you ever decide to get another dog, don't get a rescue greyhound.
posted by missmagenta at 8:02 AM on December 13, 2018 [4 favorites]

I'm so sorry for your loss. You did not do this.

I wanted to speak about your second dog. This happened to my dog. One day I came home and he couldn't walk. The vet said he had a spinal injury. There was no cause. The vet said it just happens sometimes "maybe he turned around too fast." My dog never did anything too fast in his entire life. Around the same time, a colleagues dog died more or less the same way.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 8:05 AM on December 13, 2018 [5 favorites]

I have a retired racing greyhound and I know quite a few people who have adopted them. As much as greyhounds are bred for health and strength, bone cancer seems to be very likely with this breed. I have heard of a few passing away very suddenly.

A friend of mine had a greyhound for less than a year before it was bitten randomly by another dog, developed some kind of infection (despite going to the vet for wound cleaning/antibiotics) and the dog died of a seizure within 12 hours of the bite.

They had done EVERYTHING possible for this skittish, fearful dog and had made wonderful strides in a short period of time. They invested so much and lost it all. It was just shitty luck. I think they comfort themselves by thinking of what they were able to give to the dog while they had him. A few months on a comfy pillow in a warm house? That is a great gift to give a race dog.

Dogs don't think about the future and "what could have been"... they just live in the moment and it sounds like you gave them both a wonderful home.

missmagenta: "I would suggest that if you ever decide to get another dog, don't get a rescue greyhound."

I understand why this is being said... but rescuing a greyhound is OFTEN a more emotionally fulfilling experience than what you've just been through. They are really deserving, lovely dogs and although you've had horrible luck, please don't let it taint your perception of the breed.
posted by cranberrymonger at 8:08 AM on December 13, 2018 [8 favorites]

My heart goes out to you OP. I adopted a small flock of budgies last year and within two months, one had passed away and the other was quite sick soon after the death of the first one (he survived). The experience absolutely wrecked me. I have had pet birds for over 30 years and I was just stunned that this happened. It made me question my bird keeping skills and was a huge blow. I console myself with the thought that when you adopt pets, sometimes you just can't have any expectations at all for their health. You did your best and you went above and beyond <3
posted by Calzephyr at 8:21 AM on December 13, 2018 [2 favorites]

Greyhounds in particular are really fragile, extremely prone to osteosarcoma and similar cancers, and even dogs that didn't race long can have athletic injuries that eventually manifest in critical ways. I had one of my own (died at a ripe old age, but in fact did wake up in the middle of the night with some kind of pain - maybe back? - that rendered him unable to walk and we put him down that day), we went through a series of health issues so weird I've never seen anything like it with dozens of other breed fosters and dogs of my own. I did transport and fostering too so I knew a lot of people with greys, and the worst thing was the fear when they suddenly started limping because everyone was like "did we just lose the osteo lottery?"

I do sometimes warn people away from greyhounds if the health/fragility is going to be an issue. They break legs easily, and because they have no fat and taut skin it's a nightmare if they get cuts or wounds, they are not terribly agile at slow speeds. They're not great in environments that are rough (mine broke a leg stepping in a small hole in a pasture), they can't always withstand rowdy canine companions because of the thin skin, they require a lot of climate control. They are lovely dogs, but they are not the hardiest dogs.

I don't think you did anything wrong. What you've experienced is still traumatic though, and is worth trying to process as such to give you a little more peace.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:23 AM on December 13, 2018 [8 favorites]

OP, you are the victim of terrible luck and nothing else. For what it's worth, we too lost a dog to sudden paraplegia. It absolutely happens. Without a necropsy, there is often no way of knowing the cause. The causes are varied, but unless there is obvious evidence of trauma, none of the usual suspects are things you could have avoided.

To give a rescue dog a loving home, kind hands, good food and responsive medical care means everything to the dog. If you can only give that to a dog for it's last days, it's worth the world to them. You were able to provide those things for so much longer. Thank you.

I'm sorry for your luck, and for your losses.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:27 AM on December 13, 2018 [3 favorites]

Totally not your fault; and it's not wrong of you to feel like you don't want to adopt another dog. Your feelings are your feelings.

You did the best any dog owner can do - that's enough. Again: not your fault.

And it's okay to feel a deep sadness and be upset about it - you wouldn't be human if you didn't.
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 8:59 AM on December 13, 2018 [4 favorites]

I also lost two young dogs just a couple months apart. It is a great trauma and even though the second death was more than 18 months ago I still think about both situations often and feel very sad about it. Neither was my fault, but both feel like something I should have been able to somehow, see the future, and prevent.

In the beginning I felt -- not so much guilt as shame, really. Embarrassed. It didn't seem reasonable that one family should have so much misfortune and bad luck so it felt like it must be my fault, somehow. As I wrestled with that I found it was really a reflection of my own subconscious view that the world should be relatively fair. I knew on some level that if I'd heard this story about someone else, I would judge them and decide they must be somehow responsible for what happened, even if they weren't admitting it. And I understood that I would have told myself that because I wouldn't want to believe that something like that could happen to me. I would want to protect myself emotionally by saying "well, I'm responsible, I would somehow make sure the bad things couldn't happen."

So I learned something about myself and I was forced to let go of a defense mechanism that had previously kept me safe, emotionally, from the terror of the fact that the worst things can happen and there's nothing we can do to stop them. Which was a whole new thing to tackle, but that's another story.

The habit of saying "but why didn't you just..." is strong and it's hard to break, but you've got to let it go. You practice that compassion for yourself, so you can extend it to others, and for others, so you can extend it to yourself.

The only thing that really helps me when I'm feeling sad is to remember that dogs have no sense of time and their lives are already so short compared to ours. My dogs lives were shorter than most but they would never grieve that. The important thing is that they were so loved and cared for during the time I had them. I'm sure that yours were too.

You didn't know when you got them that you'd be spending their last days with them, but you were still able to give them a great gift by allowing their final days to be loved, safe and happy with someone who cared about them.
posted by the turtle's teeth at 9:12 AM on December 13, 2018 [8 favorites]

I'm so sorry for your loss. And I would like to underline that for animals, it really does mean the whole world for you to give them a caring home, even if their lives are short. They want to live, but they don't really know what it means to die. What they do know is what it feels like to be loved: to be fed, to have somewhere safe to live, to bond with the people they live with and to know that their owners' voices mean kindness and bounty. Your dogs, who had not always been treated with that gentleness, knew that at last they had that security. And for them, a few months meant just as much as a few years. You loved them, and comforted them, and looked after them in every way that you could. Let yourself be sad, but please also let yourself think of the times when they were happy - when they played with joyful abandon, when they flopped on the rug, when you gave them treats and they acted like it was the best thing in the entire universe. Because for them, in that moment, it was. And those moments can't be erased, ever.
posted by Acheman at 10:23 AM on December 13, 2018 [13 favorites]

From what I know about greyhounds, the first one was bad luck, but the second one was broken (in a manner of speaking). The greyhound family is lazy as shit, Whippets and Italian Greyhounds are some of the very best of "apartment dogs." I'd assume an anxious and skittish one was overbred or otherwise living against type.
posted by rhizome at 10:29 AM on December 13, 2018

Animals are just like humans, some things are totally random and unpreventable, some things are.

Losing a pet to sudden unknown causes and cancer falls in the first category. Part of it is bad luck. Part of it may be breed, also buying older dogs with traumatic history's doesn't help.

If you lose multiple dogs to vaccinatable diseases, such as parvo, it would make you a bad onwer. Parvo is incredibly contagious and incredibly dangerous, but a good dog owner can vaccinate and clean any infected areas. But I have met people who buy puppy after puppy and put them in the same area who all get parvo and die. It is a predictable, and infuriating pattern.

You had bad luck. I feel you. I lost two unrelated cats to a rare and often fatal disease years apart and not from the same family. (It was IMHA, an auto immune disease that destroys red blood cells). We also had a cat that came to us semi sickly, and he became paralyzed and had to be put down. Cause unknown. But we also have three healthy furbabies the oldest is 15.

Our animals can be a source of great joy and comfort, but they also do pass. It's up to you if you want to take that risk. I do and I think in happier for it, because I have had such a positive impact from my cats.
posted by AlexiaSky at 10:48 AM on December 13, 2018

I'm so sorry. It's so painful to lose beloved dogs. Neither of these were your fault.

I adopted a terribly ill, untrained, neglected dog in 2011. I had never really had a dog before and my husband and I worked so hard together on the dog's health and his training. It took a year before he stopped having huge health emergencies, and I did most of the training myself with him. We were lucky to have him until 2017 when he died suddenly of suspected cancer of his internal organs, about 3 weeks after a very successful surgery for cancer in his throat.

I'm still devastated, heartbroken, wrecked daily about this dog passing from my life. Rescue dogs come to us as unknowns. There's something about rescuing a dog, loving them, and watching them open up in a loving family that creates an incredible bond. But there's also always risk of unknown health conditions or propensities for illness.

Please be gentle with yourself on this subject.
posted by Squeak Attack at 11:48 AM on December 13, 2018 [3 favorites]

What you describe are the actions of a loving forever host who did all they could for two little fur people even when up against some really shitty luck. You cared, you helped, you put their needs first, and you acted to reduce suffering. When you are ready, please open your home again to more fur friends with my blessing.
posted by seanmpuckett at 11:49 AM on December 13, 2018 [5 favorites]

On a very small scale, I adopted a cat who managed to injure herself, a gash in a hind leg, and we never figured out how. Animals may jump to investigate a sound, light, smell, or just be rambunctious, and sometimes they manage to hurt themselves. As an adult, I have had 2 dogs and a cat who had to be euthanized. It is painful; I miss them and remember them with love. I'm so sorry you've had so much hurt, but I think you gave these dogs love and good lives. I hope you will adopt again, if you feel up to it.
posted by theora55 at 12:00 PM on December 13, 2018 [2 favorites]

It is not your fault. But I understand how it feels that way.

After my ex-wife and I had lost a rottweiler mix to osteosarcoma (this was even after a last-ditch leg amputation) we eventually adopted a new rottweiler. She was an absolute doll, but within days we noticed her whining and having difficulty moving. We discovered she also had osteoscarcoma (bone cancer) in her spine. There was nothing we could do. We had her put down after a week. It absolutely destroyed me. The consolation was that she got to spend her last days with love in a warm home instead of a concrete pen. And as painful as it was, I have no regrets. I wish we'd gotten her sooner, because she had been at the shelter for months.
posted by O9scar at 6:42 PM on December 13, 2018 [2 favorites]

Not your fault.
Not the breed's fault.
Rotten luck.

Retired racing greyhounds are, more than any other breed, bred for function. They have fantastic health, great hips & knees, no hip dysplasia or ACL ruptures. The specter of osteosarcoma usually doesn't arise until age 10+. Please don't be disheartened.

We've had 3 rescue greyhounds.
#1 : goofy, friendly, gets his own poop on his toes and DGAF, best dog in world, made it to 14 years old, kidney failure.
#2 : stubborn, cuddly, regal, made it to 13 years old, lymphoma
#3 : combination of 1 and 2, currently 6 years old and going strong, gets everything she wants, and she wants it now.

The sudden pain and paralysis -- in a young dog with no trauma, it could have been a Fibrocartilagenous Embolism (FCE), which is absolutely nobody's fault.

You've had a run of really bad luck. There's lots of greyhounds that need love, especially since Florida just banned racing. I hope you'll let one race into your heart.
posted by dum spiro spero at 10:08 PM on December 13, 2018 [3 favorites]

Chiming in as a greyhound owner to say you did NOTHING wrong and it sounds like you are a wonderful and caring pet owner. Greyhounds are weird alien dogs that do have some differences (like the thin skin and light bones) but I don't think they are like "omg never get a greyhound they are always sick/injured" level of different from other breeds. You just had some really awful bad luck.

You will never know what happened to the second dog, and that is so hard but it will get easier. I don't think it's worth speculating about what it might have been. I lost my beloved Blink Dog about a year ago at age 10 to sudden, acute kidney failure that came out of nowhere. He was already having regular blood tests for monitoring to make sure a blood pressure med he was taking wasn't adversely affecting him. Everything had been going fine for nearly a year, and then one weekend he went off his food completely and wouldn't even eat treats, so we took him in and his kidney values were "he'd need 3 days in ICU for a 50/50 chance of recovery" bad and that was without knowing the proximate cause of his kidney problems. So we had to say goodbye, without really knowing what the hell happened.

My first greyhound had lymphoma, also around age 10. Cancer is a thing in lots of dogs and it just sucks but there's nothing you did to cause it.

I think you are smart to give yourself time to let your heart heal, but be open to feeling differently in the future. Even a long-lived dog is with us for such a short amount of time and saying goodbye often involves difficult decisions and guilt and sorrow no matter how much time you had before that moment. I hope you find peace and that the answers to this question bring you some measure of comfort; it sounds like you did all the right things.
posted by misskaz at 7:15 AM on December 14, 2018 [2 favorites]

Oh goodness, I can both entirely empathize with this question AND assure you that, no, you aren't doing anything wrong! Those dogs were lucky to have gotten to spend the time they had with you, and to have someone caring about them up until the end.

I lost my senior cat, Nikki, to cancer this past June, and I still have to struggle not to ruminate on what else I could have done. She beat an aggressive mammary cancer (against all odds) a few years prior, but what killed her was a totally unrelated intestinal cancer (vet said it was a primary tumor, not a metastasis). Basically it never even occurred to me that a pet could end up with TWO cancers occurring independently of one another. And now one of my other cats, Shadow, is about to undergo radiation for a massive sarcoma on his ribs. So we spent the first 6 months of the year dealing with one cat dying, and now right before Christmas, we find out we have another cancer patient. It's totally devastating and I am hoping with every fiber of my being that we caught Shadow's cancer in time to save his life (he's only 9 and very strong, so he has better odds than a frail 17-year-old kitty). But I love them so much, and I keep trying to remind myself that no matter what happens, the world is better for having had them in it, and nothing can ever take that away.

There is infinite joy in having pets, but there is also deep sorrow that comes as part of the package, and there's only so much you can do to identify medical issues (and do something about them once they arise). Pets can be very stoic and will often try and act as normal as possible until they physically can't, and you are NOT to be faulted for not being psychic. Plus, sometimes things happen randomly. The very fact that you're asking this question means that you're doing the opposite of wrong in your approach to caring for them. Be kind to yourself.
posted by aecorwin at 9:58 AM on December 14, 2018 [1 favorite]

I lost a beloved cat last February. He was 18 months old. He had feline leukemia virus, so we knew when we adopted him that his life was very likely to be brief. When he started exhibiting the relentless symptoms of end-stage FeLV, I wondered if I had done something wrong, even though I knew that we had taken good care of him and he was succumbing to a brutal, incurable disease. It was horrible.

All this to say that when one loses a well-loved pet, particularly if that loss happens when the pet is young, it seems natural to assume that the animal's demise was somehow preventable. As human beings, it's hard to accept that nature sometimes appears capricious and even cruel.

I don't think you did anything wrong at all. In fact, I think you did a wonderful kindness by loving your two dogs while they were here. Because of you, they knew love and compassion, and that is so important. You made the lives of two living creatures better, if only for a little while. I know you probably aren't ready now, but maybe someday you'll find the right dog, and you'll be able to love him, too.

Be gentle with yourself.
posted by easy, lucky, free at 4:11 PM on December 14, 2018

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