In a world full of uncertainties, one sure thing is that we can lose a loved one sooner or later. With that in mind, our pets may be different from us, but that doesn't make them any further from the realities of death. How should you spend the last days with a dying dog?
Life is a gift to every one of us, but it is also temporary. The pain that it gives, once it ends, is entirely normal; thus, grieving is necessary.
Bittersweet they may be, it happens with any fur owners, not just in movies but in real life as well. The last days with your beloved pet is always be something that you'll hold dear before they pass on.
Scientists have explained that grieving over a pet's end of life is significant in causing depression and emotional distress to dog owners. However, it could help condition their minds that their dogs will be finally at peace if they prepare towards them in advance.
It may be challenging, especially if your furry friend became a significant part of your life because their presence is irreplaceable.
Therefore, bonding in their final moments must always start when you soon discover that they're going to close that chapter in this life.
This moment, if it comes, might be the chance for you to finally say goodbye before the end of your dog's life.
It's also an opportunity for you to ease it into your system and gradually become ready to move on.
5 Signs that Your Dog is Close to Death
It's a common stance that a pet owner takes their dog to the veterinarian if they observe something wrong with their dog's health.
However, due to several factors such as old age, terminal illness, or some unknown causes, most pet owners cannot help but think about their dog's passing.
Nonetheless, not all dogs with these conditions are automatically dying; however, it may be a symptom of an illness you don't know about.
There are a few things you may still have to know before jumping to conclusions. Here are five common signs that indicate that your pets might be close to passing away.
Failing Bowel Control
As your dogs grow older, they will frequently experience problems related to their bowel movement. It is usually due to the poor functioning of their digestive tract, particularly the intestines.
In some cases, your dog may have reservoir incontinence, where their rectum fails to hold their stool, causing them to defecate quite quickly.
It happens especially when they're weak and lying down, as the pressure will cause their bowels to act up and involuntarily defecate.
As pet parents, if there are times that they soil their beds, understand that they cannot voluntarily control their bodies anymore. Thus, you must expect that this will be a regular occurrence so you can clean them up afterward.
Loss of Bladder Control
Urinary incontinence is a common occurrence and a sign of urinary tract and kidney failure that your dogs lose control of where and when they urinate.
A sign of urinary incontinence is that they involuntarily pee, with their urine dripping from their behind. The skin around will look red and swollen because of irritations.
Poor Appetite and Lethargy
Your dog's weakness and appetite changes are an indication that they might be highly ill or, worst, experiencing a life and death situation.
They will either avoid eating or would only want to eat certain foods that they like.
Alongside their food intake, they might experience lethargy, extreme fatigue, rapidly changing body temperature, and the weakening of their muscular system.
Furthermore, your sick dog will frequently sleep more and always want to be alone. Thus, you might find them not wanting to bathe or freshen up.
Loss of interest
As dogs reach a certain period where they feel weak and immobile, your furry friend may lose interest in several things they used to enjoy before.
Such as playing with their toys, cuddling with you, or digging a hole in your garden.
Understand that this is something that will happen, especially when they avoid moving at all. Your dog's loss of interest only means that they're trying to hold on to their energy left.
When dogs are dying, they get odd breathing patterns that indicate that they are not breathing well.
Along with this symptom, they might also experience a quickened heart pace due to palpitations and lung pressure.
The more signs a dog experiences, the more likely it will pass away soon.
15 Ways to Spend Last Days With A Dying Dog
The end of life is no joke, but it must always be celebrated with happiness because your ill pet wouldn't want to leave the world in sadness. Listed below are 15 ways and suggestions if you're going to spend your time well and celebrate the end of your pet's life.
1. Measure the Cost of Medical Interventions and Tests
Love can't be measured, but when a dog is suffering because of an illness or old age, you must consider certain costs before making medical decisions.
There might be a treatment or test available, but it might not be worth it.
I'm not talking about money, but about the emotional and physical costs to you and your dog. You might be able to get more time or more knowledge, but if it doesn't add to the quality of your lives together, you might regret it.
2. Do the Quality of Life Check-List
There's something called the HHHHHMM Quality of Life Scale for dying dogs, or what pet owners casually call “When to Put Down Your Dog Checklist.” So think about ways to improve these issues for your dog, and ask your vet for advice:
- How much pain is your dog in?
- Can the dog breathe normally?
- Can the dog see and hear normally?
- Are hygiene and grooming needs being met?
- Is the dog able to perform its favorite activities?
- How much control does the dog have over its body and mobility?
- Is the dog able to eat and drink normally?
- Does the dog seem comfortable and content?
- Are you both able to sleep? Is the dog sleeping all the time?
- Is the dog able to socialize normally, or are they isolating themselves? Are they visibly anxious or depressed?
- Is the dog able to think, communicate and behave normally, or do they seem disoriented, confused, or stressed?
Answering these questions will help you make a decision that's best for your pet.
3. Deal With Your Shock, Denial, and Grief
You will probably go through several emotions as you say goodbye to your beloved dog and all of them are understandable and natural.
The process of grief begins as soon as you hear your pup's diagnosis, not just after your dog dies. It might not even seem real.
Guilt, anger, and depression are everyday things to feel. You might even start to bargain and look for ways to control what's happening.
4. Explain Things Carefully to Younger Children
The upcoming death can be even more devastating for a young child, but it's better to tell them honestly what happened and let them say goodbye in their way.
Just explain the situation in an age-appropriate way.
Young children often don't fully understand death, so they'll have many questions that you'll probably have to answer repeatedly.
- Dog Heaven by Cynthia Rylant
- When A Pet Dies by Fred Rogers
- Jasper's Day by Marjorie Blain Parker
- Toby by Margaret Wild
- Lifetimes: The Beautiful Way to Explain Death to Children by Bryan Mellonie
Tell your child that it's no one's fault and that the death of a dog is a natural part of life.
Be careful about describing what will happen because children tend to take things literally or maybe too impressionable.
For example, if you tell your kids that their dog will have to put to sleep, it could make them afraid to go to sleep themselves, or if you say their pet has to go away, they might think their dog will come back.
5. Let Older Children Get Involved
Older children can understand the illness, age, and dying process better. By allowing them more participation, you can give older kids a chance for closure.
Let them talk to the vet and ask any medical questions they might have.
Be open and honest about any decisions you're going to make about treatments, tests, or euthanasia of a family dog.
It's unfortunate, but learning how to handle sadness and difficult situations like this is an essential part of growing up.
6. Know When to Reach Out
You don't have to deal with all of this by yourself. Sometimes, the pain and grief over a loss of a pet can be overwhelming to bear by yourself.
You might only feel better when you have someone to talk to.
Ask your veterinarian about local support groups or telephone hotlines, and tell your family, friends, and the people who love you what's going on, including your minister, if you attend church or get grief counseling.
Even going online to talk on dog forums or places like Reddit (/r/dogs and /r/DogAdvice) where you can reach out to other dog owners with experience in pet loss can help you deal with stress and mental anguish.
7. Accept that Some People Around You Won't Understand
Not everyone is lucky enough to experience the kind of bond that you have with your dog.
Sometimes, other people say comforting words, but they don't think of animals as actual family members.
Don't let others make you ashamed of your feelings.
Grief over a loss of a dog is genuine and very common, and you should allow yourself to experience those natural emotions and not feel bad about it.
Again, reach out to people who may be more understanding.
8. Compassion and Understanding over Changes
Severe illness and old age sometimes bring their humiliations, and incontinence in seniors is prevalent.
It can be difficult and shameful for a dog to lose the ability to control its bladder and bowels or throw up. The dog might even expect some punishment for “misbehaving.”
Be gentle and compassionate when you explain to your dog that it is okay and a natural part of what's happening to their old or ill body.
Please do what you can to make the dog comfortable by covering furniture, using dog diapers, and putting out pee pads, but don't let your pet hide alone with a feeling of guilt during their last days of life.
9. Use Rituals for Comfort and Plan Ahead
If you prefer to bury your dog instead of cremation, you'll need to determine where. If you are a religious person, incorporating your beliefs into these final days and afterward might be helpful too.
There are pet funeral homes and cemeteries, or you might want to look into cremating your dog.
Funerals can help everyone in the family process their grief, but while your dog is still with you, you might want to give them a formal goodbye, giving everyone a chance to express their love and sadness out loud or in a letter.
If you choose to bury your dog so you have a place to visit your pet in the future, you will need a different set of arrangements, so plan for that. You may want to get a pet memorial stone and/or bury the dog in a special casket.
Finally, some people make memorial donations to express themselves concretely as well. Just having a plan like this, with some answers to these difficult questions, can bring its type of comfort when dealing with the last days of a dying dog.
10. Help Your Dog Say Goodbye, Too
It's easy to focus on the human side of things, but this isn't just happening to you and the two-legged members of your family.
Your dog probably knew something was wrong before you did. Even if that isn't the case, your puppy is sensitive to its owner's emotions and feelings.
You don't want your dog to think that it's their fault that you're sad or that the dog has done something wrong. Any pet lover knows how much animals can understand.
Talk to your Fido, and let them know it's okay to let go. Tell your pet what's going to happen and that they will always be in your heart.
11. Live Together in Those Last Days
When you know it's the end, make the most of the time you have left together. Use it to celebrate your bond. Make your time about living together with your dog while you can, not about a dying dog.
Maybe it's the final time, but it's also a good time to do your and your pet's favorite things together: spoil your pup a little and make plenty of new memories for the future, something to carry with you that's not just about death.
12. List of Final Things You Want to Do with Your Dog
Speaking of things to do in the last few days, create a family bucket list.
Let everyone in your family and even your friends who love your dog brainstorm a list of final things to do together before saying goodbye to a dog.
Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Visit a favorite place together one last time
- Give your dog treats or favorite foods, and spoil your pup
- Surround the dog with favorite toys
- Do a cherished activity together or cuddle
- Make an exceptional bed help ease your dog's last days
- Take photos or spend some time looking at pictures of the good old days together and reminisce with your pet
- Comfort yourself too by creating a relaxing atmosphere, playing music, lighting candles, whatever helps you personally to deal with the situation
- Remove unneeded distractions like the telephone, TV, and the Internet
13. Learn About Euthanasia and Hospice
The last days of a pet bring with it some of the most challenging decisions a dog owner has to make.
The good news is that in many places, there are more options than there used to be. We can find ourselves just praying for our pet to pass away peacefully, so we won't have to do anything.
Sometimes, however, the only thing we can do is ease our canine companions' passing and end the dog's pain.
However, you decide to deal with your dog's last hours, emphasize to everyone in the family, especially yourself, that this is your final act of love as you explore your options.
Ask if the vet makes home visits for euthanasia or if hospice care is an option, so the dog can pass away naturally but still be pain-free.
If you can do nothing else, arrange for an appointment after hours or at the end of the day, so you don't have to worry about facing other people in the waiting room, and you can take some quiet time to deal with your emotions.
14. Realize That Our Loved Ones Never Really Leave Us
It's important to memorialize and celebrate our love for our pets, not just right after they die but for the rest of our lives.
The pain will become less sharp over time, but it's okay to continue missing your dog.
It would be best if you focused on when your dog was happy and healthy, though, which is why it's essential to have a plan on how to deal with the last days of a dying dog – so you can have more pleasant memories rather than sad ones.
15. Find Your Ways to Cope with Your Dog's Death
Everyone in the family needs to have the freedom to deal with things in their way, especially at their own pace. Here are some things that might help you deal with a dog's death:
- If you find yourself wanting to talk to your dog again – do it, and don't feel silly about it if that eases your pain of grief;
- Find a special place for your dog's photo;
- Make or buy a grave marker or special memorial for your home or garden;
- Buy your child a stuffed toy that reminds them of their beloved dog;
- Holidays, anniversaries, and birthdays can be tricky – find a way to honor those feelings and incorporate your dog's memory into your celebrations;
- Talk about your feelings as a family or to a professional;
- Discuss any decisions about getting a new pet in the future, but don't do anything anyone isn't ready for – don't be pushed into anything by other people, even if they have good intentions.
Although it's a hard time, being able to take your dog home for the last few days of life can be a blessing in disguise.
It gives you time to calm your pet and help them feel loved and appreciated before passing away. It allows your dog to spend their last days with the family that they love.