All sleeping dogs die.
June 29, 2008 5:37 PM   Subscribe

Dying dog. How do I make him comfortable?

The dog named in my previous question is clearly dying (he's gotten much worse ) and I suspect he will be dying in the next few weeks - thankfully, he will die while I'm visiting my parents. He is throwing up what he eats despite an anti-nausea drug, stumbling, and I can absolutely not walk him - he's too unsteady and can't even walk more than a few steps without stumbling because not only is he blind, he's weak. My mother absolutely refuses to euthanize him unless he starts struggling to breathe, and we're taking him to the vet tomorrow to see if they can do anything about his problems.

Help me make him comfortable with perhaps some situation-specific tips.
posted by kldickson to Pets & Animals (24 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I've gone through this with a couple animals. I can only suggest the obvious: a soft place to lay, affection, quiet, etc.

I can only hope the vet can explain to your mom tomorrow that this dog needs to be euthanized now, not in a few weeks. It's just prolonging suffering. If she waits until he can't breath, who knows when that will be? It could be in the middle of the night, and the dog suffering without her even knowing it.

Your mom is trying to be compassionate, but she is inadvertently doing the opposite. Please help her to see the bigger picture. I know how hard it is: she thinks she is deciding to kill her dog, and some people can't see themselves clear to be able to do that without feeling guilty. But, really, if it's as bad as you say, it's the only humane option. She will feel worse by prolonging it.

Good luck, and sorry for the loss.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 5:58 PM on June 29, 2008 [7 favorites]

Seconding Fuzzy Skinner. My dog was the same way and we had to put him down. The vet may explain to your mom why this is the best option.

Sorry for the loss as well.
posted by C17H19NO3 at 6:03 PM on June 29, 2008

Call the vet before the appointment and explain the situation to him/her, including that your mother is having trouble understanding the dog's situation. "Struggling to breathe" is not the hallmark of suffering, nor should it be the sole reason for euthanasia. We have a responsibility to our pets to care for them as best we can, including making the decision to allow them to go peacefully and with as little suffering as possible - not being able to walk, see or eat has basically removed all the joy from this dog's life, you need to talk some sense into your mother, this dog does not deserve to suffer and starve to death for no purpose other than your mother's inability to get past her own feelings about putting it to sleep.

I have had many animals in my life, and sadly had to euthanise most of them eventually (and in my work, I have assisted with the euthanasia of many, many more), I assure you that it's the ones you let go a bit too long that haunt you. Your mother needs to realize that she owes this dog a peaceful death, he's been her friend for many years, he deserves better than waiting until he's panicked and struggling for breath - that is horrifying, and not something a loving owner would do. The goal is not to squeeze out every last possible second of life, no matter what, animals only care about quality of life, this dog's quality of life has already deteriorated massively, there is not much you can do to make it comfortable, other than letting it go while it still has some quality of life.
posted by biscotti at 6:17 PM on June 29, 2008 [7 favorites]

My father kept his dog alive for six months longer than it should've been. By the end, it bordered on cruelty to the animal and it took a gigantic toll on my father to care for the dog as it became sicker. To be honest, my father's health declined from the stress he put himself through over keeping his dog alive. Sometimes the kindest and bravest thing we can do is take away the animal's pain sooner rather than later, even though it hurts us to make the decision.

I actually bought my dad this book when he finally had to put his dog down. He told me he really got a lot out of reading it.
posted by miss lynnster at 6:26 PM on June 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

Not to pile on, but if he's not eating your mother is essentially choosing to let him starve to death. In what way is starving to death humane? Compare this to the opportunity to be with him, petting him gently, talking to him, and comforting him while he drifts off peacefully.

I'm sorry for your loss. I hope you can make it as peaceful a transition for him as possible.
posted by i love cheese at 6:27 PM on June 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'm so sorry to hear about your dog.

I went through a similar situation 2 weeks ago with my cat. My only regret was that I wasn't able to let him go sooner. At the end, I came home to find him seizing on the bathroom floor. The circumstances made the trip to the vet and the guilt phase of mourning that much harder.

A valuable criteria to apply is this: can the animal still enjoy its three favorite things? If not, its value of life is severely compromised and it comes to the humans to make that final call with its very best interests in mind.

It is very hard to lose an animal, but as biscotti said, it is the ones you let go a bit too long that haunt you.
posted by Seppaku at 6:41 PM on June 29, 2008

it's the ones you let go a bit too long that haunt you

Quoted for truth, and I find that when it is put that way to people, it really hits home in a way pages of medical information cannot. A sling can help with walking -- a long, soft cloth slung under the hips that you hang onto from above (if he's a male, watch out for his genitalia).
posted by Rock Steady at 6:53 PM on June 29, 2008

My mom did the same thing with our dog, out of the same misguided compassion. You don't want to watch your dog die this way. Please encourage the vet to speak to your mom about euthanasia.

I'm so sorry you're going through this.
posted by Space Kitty at 7:33 PM on June 29, 2008

First, I too am really sorry to hear of your situation. I wish you strength.

Call the vet before the appointment and explain the situation to him/her, including that your mother is having trouble understanding the dog's situation.

I'm going to second this. It may be hard convincing your mother on your own, but a trained vet will be able to make a gentle and much better argument once s/he understands you're willing to have one made. At this point it may be entirely impossible to make the dog comfortable - everything is just prolonging the inevitable, and although he may still be breathing, every breath can be a silent suffering. If the only real comfort available will be the Long Sleep, I advise you to make every effort possible to end the animal's pain.

Not only will the dog continue to suffer, but the humans around him will feel awful about his condition throughout it. It's not worth going through for any of the parties.
posted by Bakuun at 7:35 PM on June 29, 2008

Rusty, The Wonder Dog, was the finest dog I've ever known, seen, heard of. She was even better than Shadow, and that's close to impossible, as Shadow was truly spectacular.

Just after Rusty turned 12, she got very sick. Began having seizures, lost control of her bodily functions when she'd seize, and she felt horrible about it. The poor sweetie; she thought she was 'A Bad Dog.' She got weak. Sick. Scared. Lost.

My vet posed The Question: Am I willing to help my beloved friend? She can't do it on her own, her spirit is dying, her eyes are showing heartbreak and terror -- will I help her?

I kissed her sweet, beautiful head, I hugged her, I told her I loved her, I held her as she died.

They give us everything they have to give, they lay their hearts out to us, for us. We owe them, we have a responsibility to them. It's only fair.
posted by dancestoblue at 8:08 PM on June 29, 2008 [5 favorites]

Damn you, dancestoblue. Now I have to go annoy my sleeping dog by waking her up and hugging her.
posted by miss lynnster at 8:49 PM on June 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

Struggling to breathe is absolutely terrifying, and I know your mom doesn't want that terror to be her beautiful Sheltie's last experience of life.

Perhaps you could let her read the responses in this thread.
posted by HotToddy at 9:33 PM on June 29, 2008

We would hold the cats so for her so she could have a smell and a bit of a lick of them. She loved kitties but they would always jump up high and run off on her... It was an awesome treat for her and mildly disgusted kitties look pretty funny stalking off to wipe their wet patch on somebody's stuff.
So when she just couldn't get up to lick her kitties no more, we knew that was no good. She was a 12 yr old Rotti and it was time.

I'm sorry to hear about your puppy, help your mum be brave. My mum was reluctant too. It's pretty rough, but not something you'll regret when you're thinking more clearly, it was and will always be the right thing to do.
posted by mu~ha~ha~ha~har at 11:05 PM on June 29, 2008

Our dog just turned 11 and is starting to have all kinds of problems. So far, he's got the cloudy eyes and is a touch deaf. He was recently found to have a heart murmur and is on medicine for that. He has a honking cough on occasion, which is terrifying to hear. However, he still thumps that tail when one of us comes home. And let's not talk about when he sees his Milkbone...

Mr. Arishaun, my mum (who lives with us), and I have already talked it out. We agreed that the minute we see this all go away, we will give him another couple days to pamper and spoil him. After that, we will take him to the vet and give him the rest he deserves.

I guess you just have to realize that doing anything else is a great disservice to the dog. I understand it can be hard. I have broken down in tears when I look at him and think of the eventuality. But I also know its what I must do for him. It's the least I owe him for all the years of love and devotion. Perhaps have your mum read these and see if that'll talk some sense into her? Otherwise, the vet will be a good choice for an intervention.

(I agree with misslynnster re: dancestoblue, btw)
posted by arishaun at 11:13 PM on June 29, 2008

The only thing I can add (assuming that between you and your vet, you manage to persuade your Mum that letting go is the right thing to do) is to suggest that you ask your vet to come to the house to perform the euthanasia. It will be far less stressful, for both dog and humans, than taking the dog to the surgery.
posted by Arqa at 3:08 AM on June 30, 2008


My dog had a heart attack this morning and absolutely refuses to even touch food or water, so my mother is now comfortable with euthanasia, but she wants to pursue more aggressive treatment first. I think this is sad and will only make him suffer more.

If we decide to euthanize him, how do I keep him comfortable in the intervening hours until the vet gives him a peaceful croaking?
posted by kldickson at 4:42 AM on June 30, 2008

I had a cancerous old dog a few years ago who was on a general downward slide (oozing blood from the tumor, refusing to come inside, putting her head down to drink but not actually able to swallow any water). My home family came home despite being flung across the country. The dog was very happy to see all of us and briefly seemed to improve. I got in a big fight with my brother since he thought we would be euthanizing her prematurely if we did it that day and that we could keep her going for another three weeks at least. But eventual he was overruled by the viewpoint that it's a dog not a human and the best thing we could do for her was make her last day a good day. I'm really glad we made that decision.

I doubt many vets would be comfortable with "aggressive treatment" for an animal his age and condition, so I hope and expect that he will prevail over your mother. For the intervening hours, I think a comfortable place to rest and your company will be the best thing for the dog. I don't think there is much you can do about the food and water.
posted by bluenausea at 5:06 AM on June 30, 2008

Like others I and my family have been through this same process of wanting to keep our pets, our family dog and later our 21 year old kitty, with us as long as possible and at the same time wanting so much to end any suffering that they might be experiencing. This must be one of the hardest decisions any of us can ever make, especially to someone that loves you and yet cannot understand what is happening and why.

I am sure that you and your mom will not be able to see your companion suffer any more than he needs to and you will help him to take that final step. The only help I can give you is that I saw only love in the eyes of our pets as I held both of them in my arms in the vets as they slipped into a peaceful sleep.

And right now I have tears running down my face at the memory of it, as I sit at my desk typing this.
posted by 543DoublePlay at 6:37 AM on June 30, 2008

Listen to dancestoblue . I had a ten year old English Mastiff (old for the breed) who did me the great favor of just suddenly dropping dead. I had been worried about having to make the decision to put him to sleep that I was sure would be coming in the not to distant future.
posted by Carbolic at 9:25 AM on June 30, 2008

Please take the advice and talk to the vet. This dog needs release, not aggressive treatment. Death can come as a blessing.

it's the ones you let go a bit too long that haunt you

This is so true. I could write more about this, but I'd end up tearing up at work, and that wouldn't do anyone any good. Please, talk to the vet and talk to your mom.
posted by canine epigram at 10:40 AM on June 30, 2008

Years ago I begged a neighbour to take her dying dog to the vet so she could be put to sleep, but she couldn't bear to do it. Later she told me that the horror of Pepper's final hours would haunt her memories forever.

Your mother's feelings are not the most important here.
posted by essexjan at 12:40 PM on June 30, 2008

The dog's kidneys have failed and his heart is enlarged. We're euthanizing him tomorrow .
posted by kldickson at 1:00 PM on June 30, 2008

I am so sorry for your loss.
posted by 543DoublePlay at 5:41 PM on June 30, 2008

My dog is at that point as well, for the past weeks he's been lethargic and going blind. This morning we had to carry him out to go to the bathroom, that is the point where you have to say, "we need to put him down". At least thats the point in our family.
posted by Groovytimes at 3:00 PM on February 18, 2009

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