I don't know whether it's time to put my dog down or not.
August 31, 2007 8:44 PM   Subscribe

I don't know whether it's time to put my dog down or not. Long, rambling, a few gross details - but your help appreciated.

My dear, sweet, 14 year old bichon friese, Chester, has had a host of health problems over the last several months. (This is kind of gross) Over the last two months, he's had a lot of issues passing bowel movements. He strains and strains, and usually doesn't have a lot of success - frequently blood comes out instead. At first he would have 1 or 2 bad days, and then 4 or 5 good days, and then a few more bad days, and so on. Then slowly there have been less good days and more bad days, and now for the last week or 10 days there have been basically just bad days, and in the last day and a half we've frequently returned home to find a lot of blood everywhere. The problem is clearly geting worse, and it probably won't get better.

From my understanding, the vet has treated him for a lot of different things - he tested him for cancer, but the pathology came back negative, so I guess they've tried treating him for just about everything else that it could possibly (with a bunch of different medications, food, etc), but nothing's really had much of an effect. The next step would apparently be to have a colonoscopy done, but most likely what they'll find if they do that is either nothing, or something untreatable (cancer, nerve damage, whatever).

The thing is - he (Chester) doesn't appear to be in a lot of pain all the time. Whenever he's not pooping all over the house or bleeding all over the house, he's running around in the yard, barking at his brother, begging you to pet him or to give him a milkbone - he appears fine. But you have to watch him every minute lest (he unintentionally, unwittingly) make a big mess, or else keep him locked in the kennel. I mean, not being able to poop and continuous straining can't be all that comfortable, but he's not in the kind of obvious pain that would make this decision easier.

It doesn't seem fair to put the poor thing through a colonoscopy and all that that entails only to find nothing, or to find that they need to even more invasive surgery, or chemo, or whatever it is. It doesn't seem fair for his quality of life to continue to deteriorating to the point where he has to sit on a towel in the kitchen every minute of his life so he doesn't ruin the carpet. On the other hand, cutting his life short when by all appearances he's not all that miserable also seems almost more than I can bear.

If I thought that things would just continue like they are at this moment, I would gladly take care of him and wipe his butt and keep cleaning him up for another 6 months or year or however long he sticks it out. But it looks like we're reaching the point where every time you leave the house for 2 hours or more, you return to find a mess and a dog that needs a bath.

Has anyone gone through something like this with a pet? What did you end up doing, and how did you know it was the right thing? And how did you get through it? Anything anecdotal is welcome.

I'm sorry - this is long, rambling, and possibly just confirming something I already know, but this is tearing me apart. We've had this dog and his brother since I was 6, and they were puppies. They've been around basically my whole life. Putting him down doesn't seem fair to him, and keeping him alive as he is (or will be) doesn't seem fair to him. My dad's talking about putting him down as soon as tomorrow morning (like, in 10 hours) before the vet closes for the holiday weekend.

This is so hard.
posted by Quidam to Pets & Animals (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Well, whether or not to put him down isn't your question, but I say pets are part of the family, and you don't put them down if they're not in pain.

Has anyone gone through something like this with a pet? What did you end up doing, and how did you know it was the right thing? And how did you get through it? Anything anecdotal is welcome.

I have put down a pet before, but only because she was in pain. I knew it was the right thing because I could see the look in her eye that she hurt, and there was nothing I could do to make it better. I got through it by a lot of crying, and writing about it.

That's not a plug to get you to read my stuff, it's sharing what it's like to put down a pet and the reasons why.

I don't envy you right now.
posted by matty at 8:51 PM on August 31, 2007 [1 favorite]

My dog is in a similar situation. Loki has cycles of about a week where everything will be fine then the mucous looking stuff with some blood will come out for a day or two. Last weekend this got much worse and she was leaving a bloody trail all over the house. We took her to the vet and they had her on IV for 3 days along with treatment for parasites. We have had her in a few times before and they never find anything. We've had Xrays, CAT Scans and ultrasounds and still no idea what is going on. She just came back home tonight and we've got her on a special diet to see if that helps along with a load of medicine. She's about 12-13 (not really sure as she was a rescue) and also has cataracts in one eye and arthritis in her hips. If this new medicine and diet doesn't improve her condition we are considering putting her down also. She seems pretty happy most of the time and plays with her brother Rufus very roughly. He was so heart broken when she was at the vets for 4 days that I think we're really keeping her around for his and our benefit. She has been such a sweet friend that it is really hard to let go, but I think we need to do so soon. It's not right to keep her around in pain just to make us feel better. If he is in pain you need to let him go.
posted by white_devil at 9:02 PM on August 31, 2007

Response by poster: More info I just thought of, possibly relevant (I hate when people add onto their posts right after they post, but, sorry):

Next week I go back to college (where I cannot take the dog). The care of the dog will then fall largely to my parents. My parents are more keen on putting the dog down than I am. And, for the bulk of the time this has been going on, they've been the ones dealing with it while I've been away. Everyone in the family loves the dog, but it's probably fair to say I'm more attached to the dog than they are. But I won't be the one largely taking care of him, cause I have to go to school.
posted by Quidam at 9:02 PM on August 31, 2007

I'm very sorry to hear what you and your beloved dog going through. Making a decision like this is awful.

I can't really advise you on whether to do it or not, because this is something that must come from your heart and your conscience. But with your dog's age, coupled with the discomfort that the continuous straining, and the blood and the loss of bowel control, I think it would be a reasonable conclusion if you decided to put the dog to sleep. My thought is that the recent decline, coupled with your dog's advanced age, does not bode well for the dog getting much better or having a good quality of life.

I just had my wife read your description, and she said, "I think they ought to do the colonoscopy, and figure out if it is something that can be managed by surgery or pain medication." She doesn't think you should put it to sleep yet.
posted by jayder at 9:05 PM on August 31, 2007 [1 favorite]

Has the vet ruled out IBD? Crohn's Disease can occur in dogs, as well as humans. I looked it up after thinking what you described sounded like (human) Crohn's.

My parents had a dog who suffered from incontinence and was in pain a lot of the time. We'd had the dog since I was in my early teens, but I'd moved away to college. They put him down without telling me. I felt that they had very poor reasons for doing so. However, now that I'm older, I note that there isn't really "home care" for dogs and that it must be wearing to care for a dog to such a degree for such a long period. It sounds like this care will fall to your parents, who aren't willing to provide it. If you aren't in a position to keep the dog, it's not really your decision. Would you be willing to change your college circumstances to accommodate having the dog?
posted by acoutu at 9:10 PM on August 31, 2007

I agree with acotu that not being your dog's primary caregiver, you should at least consider that maybe the best thing is for Chester to remember always being a great dog who never caused any trouble. I don't know how I would decide with my two puppies, but I hope that it's based on them, and not me. Is a typical day for Chester a good one, or is it a challenge? As his day gets worse, your decision becomes more obvious, I think.
posted by Gilbert at 9:24 PM on August 31, 2007

I'm sure you've tried tweaking his diet and have sought a 2nd opinion from another vet. If not, I suggest you do that before you leave for school or at least guide your parents through the process.

My dog had similar issues caused by my stupid decision to feed her what the Hippie Pet Store suggested -- apparently my dog really is a Pedigree Pup and needs to stick to whatever those mass-market kibbles are offering her. As soon as I switched her back to her old food, everything in her little system went back to running like solid, well-formed clockwork.

I know another dog that has serious digestive issues with any commercial food, even the health store stuff. His food gets made fresh on a weekly basis by his loving family who doesn't mind making up a big batch of beefy oatmeal mash concoction once in a while.

This is to say that dogs have weird little systems going on and that it sounds like Chester deserves another chance at a proper diagnosis.

Depending on the expense, colonoscopy doesn't sound like a horror show and might prove to answer a lot of questions. Turns out to be cancer, you'll know that it's time for him to move on soon. Turns out to be irritation or something more idiopathic, you could change his food or try various supplements for a few months and then make the choice after a month or two.

Really, I think you should ask your vet for a frank opinion and then reference it against a 2nd opinion. I think things will feel a lot clearer after that.

Good luck and much tenderness to your little guy.
posted by cior at 10:01 PM on August 31, 2007

I'd have the colonoscopy performed if you can afford it. Depending on the diagnosis and the amount of money you are able and willing to spend on treatment, you can decide whether to put the poor little guy down or not. If you won't be able to afford treatment and his condition will deteriorate and become painful for him, consider putting him down to spare him the pain. If you are able to pay for treatment and the prognosis seems good, give him another shot at life.
I feel so badly for you. There's nothing more heartbreaking than seeing someone you love inching toward death.
posted by HotPatatta at 10:35 PM on August 31, 2007

By the way, the Little Red Riding Hood look works for him!
posted by HotPatatta at 10:36 PM on August 31, 2007

Have they tried prescribing laxatives for Chester? My first French Bulldog had severe hemivertibrae that gave him a life long problem with constipation. Eventually, I had to give him what we referred to as his 'hors d'oeuvres' every morning. It was a prune with Petromalt on top of it. Petromalt is usually used for cat hairballs. It's OTC, and is made from molasses. It made life *much* easier for everybody involved, iykwim.

Unfortunately, as Willy the Frenchie aged, the hemivertibrae caused a degenerative neuropathy, where he lost the use of his entire back half of his body.

There were many times when we just weren't sure what to do. I asked my vet (who has become a good friend over the past 15 years) when I should help Willy out of his misery. Her very good advice was: find three things that your dog LOVES. The three things that makes him happiest. And when he's no longer in those things, it's time for him to go. The vet also said that one morning, you will wake up, look him in the eye and just *know* it's time. She was right. Sadly, I didn't want to admit it, and in retrospect, we waited too long to let Willy go. He was 11 when he died, and I miss him terribly. But we should have really put him down sooner than we did. He was my first Frenchie (I'm now on numbers 3, 4, and 5) - and there will NEVER be another one like him.

I hope you find peace in whatever you choose to do for Chester.
posted by dancinglamb at 10:48 PM on August 31, 2007

I've had to put two of our family dogs to sleep because of cancer. I feel your pain. Some quick research shows that the life span of a bichon frise is about 12-15 years, so Chester's getting up there. That said, I'd probably still recommend the colonoscopy just to make sure. I mean, dogs are pretty tough. Even if he *was* in pain, he might be just sticking it out. It can be hard to tell if something's wrong until it gets *really* bad. If nothing else, the colonoscopy might give you some peace of mind to make your decision one way or another.
posted by edjusted at 12:01 AM on September 1, 2007

Last year, my 11 year old cat started having very bad constipation issues. We did enemas consistently, and that was helpful, so I'd suggest that first. You can do it yourself or have it done at the vet. The vet and a subsequent specialist also checked to see if he had what they called "megacolon", which is, as I understand it, a sort of catch all term that means that the muscles of the colon have lost motility. The solution for that is to actually remove the lower intestine. The animal (and humans, for that matter) can live normally without it. In the end, he got much worse, was down to skin and bones, and did have to be put down, but if the surgery would have helped, I would have done it in a second (and DID do another major surgery on him the year before).

All that said, it seems awfully unfair not to do all you can and to put the dog down because it's an inconvenience to your parents with you gone. Your taking on this diagnosis and its treatment isn't easy, but that's the commitment you ALL made when you got the dog. That commitment includes the sometimes messy end of life.

Good luck - these decisions are awfully hard.
posted by FlyByDay at 10:00 AM on September 1, 2007

My beloved greyhound (a retired racer we adopted), Trai, suddenly started showing signs of his age when he hit 13. We'd adopted him when he was 2 1/2; the words "killl truck" had been scrawled on his muzzle, which is why we chose him. Took a while, but he eventually became a trusting, loving pet. And though he loved both me and Mr. Adams, it was obvious that he loved me best and he was my "baby."

All of the the research I'd done after adopting him indicated that large-breed dogs didn't live as long as smaller dogs, and that 10 was considered old for the breed. I felt blessed because Trai passed his 10th, 11th and 12th birthdays and didn't show any signs of senior citizenship. Suddenly, shortly after his 13th birthday, he cried out in pain every time he arose from a sleeping position. As the months went by, he had trouble negotiating the back steps leading to the yard, so he did his "toilette" on the deck instead. A few months later, he was noticeably unsteady on his feet, so I accompanied him outside and let him lean on me as he did his thing.

Sadly, a few weeks later, he needed help to get to his feet, and I would bring his food and water to him as he lay on his bankie. The vet said that it was arthritis of the spine, and that it wasn't going to get any better, and we had a decision to make. About four months after his initial problems with standing properly without assistance, he stopped eating when I brought his food, and I knew it was time to make the decision that every pet owner dreads. It broke my heart, but on the other hand, I had to consider his quality of life. Was he actually "living" anymore, or was he just existing? I won't kid you - when I kissed him good-bye, it was one of the most heart-wrenching moments of my life.

In Chester's case, they do make "doggy diapers", similar to those made for humans with incontinence problems. Also, puppy training pads left around the house while you're gone might help, too. When Trai was unable to hold it in like he used to, I bought a pack of those puppy pads on a whim, and even though he'd never encountered them before, he used them perfectly.

I wish you the very best.
posted by Oriole Adams at 11:39 AM on September 1, 2007

I'm so sorry to hear about your situation. You will know when it's right for you and your family. Talk with them so that everyone is in agreement about what is to be done for this family member. These are very personal and difficult decisions that only you and your family can know. Talk with the vet so you are well informed about what sort of discomfort a colonoscopy will be for Chester, what sort of things might be diagnosed from such a procedure, and what possible course of treatment would follow. It sounds like you're already doing that, but make sure you are informed as much as you need in order to make the decisions that are best for you and the family.

I would also talk with my vet about palliative care for my dog which is care that treats the symptoms that cause discomfort. Palliative is about comfort.

Oriole Adams's doggie diapers is a great idea as well. Just be sure they are changed frequently and disposed of properly to prevent infection.

As an oncology nurse (for people and not dogs) please be careful about making any changes that affect the bowel without consulting your vet first. Alterations in the diet or the addition of bowel stimulating drugs (laxatives or stool softeners) may put your dog at unnecessary risk for a variety of things that could cause greater pain or worse (especially if you're dealing with an oncology issue). Talk to your vet first.

As a dog owner who has made a similar decision I wish you all the best with these difficult choices. Give yourself the time you need as you traverse the before, during and after parts of grieving. It's very hard. It's very sad. But you are not alone. Best wishes and take care.
posted by dog food sugar at 2:44 PM on September 1, 2007

Once again we are sharing a difficult experience that we know others have or are facing too. We have had the pleasure of having our Canaan dog Roka, for 14 years. She had been a very healthy dog all of her life and most people where surprised to learn how old she was because she could still race around like a pup after she got over her morning stiffness. The last year though we saw that we were losing her, the vet said it was senility. She seemed to pace mindlessly and walk by us as if we were not even there. She was steadily moving out of our world. Eventually life just got too difficult for all of us and we were faced with the hard decision. As my sister pointed out it has to be about quality of life, your pets and your own. Our pets can't tell us when it's time. We are entrusted with the responsibility of that decision. And we do so with love and compassion.

There are many opinions about when it is time. Some think it is when the dog no longer enjoys life to the fullest, another thinks it is when there is more pain in their life than pleasure or when a dog can no longer eat. Some say it is when you look into your dog's eyes and they aren't there anymore, as if their soul has left them, the interest in their life; family, food, the mailman etc are all gone. When that happens it does seem as if your dog is already gone. When we have a pet we accept that we will outlive them and that we will be responsible to make that final decision for them. It seems it is always too soon and always too difficult. There is one good thing we have gained from this; Dean & I went through this together and supported each other in a way that has made us even closer, but we still miss out faithful friend.
posted by Alabu Soap at 5:03 PM on October 11, 2007

« Older Has anyone here used Earthlink's Feather WiFi...   |   Books to learn computer networking. Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.