Losing a loved one is never easy and the fact that it's a pet doesn’t make it any different. Knowing that the end is near is a dog owner’s worst nightmare, but in some ways, it can be bittersweet too, because it gives you time to say goodbye and ease the transition for yourself, your dog, and everyone in the family.
Table of Contents
- 15 Ways to Spend Last Days With Your Dying Dog
- 1. Measure the Cost of Medical Interventions and Tests
- 2. Do the Quality of Life Check-List
- 3. Deal With Your Shock, Denial and Grief
- 4. Explain Things Carefully to Younger Children
- 5. Let Older Children Get Involved
- 6. Know When to Reach Out
- 7. Accept that Some People Around You Won't Understand
- 8. Compassion and Understanding over Changes
- 9. Use Rituals for Comfort and Plan Ahead
- 10. Help Your Dog Say Goodbye, Too
- 11. Live Together in Those Last Days
- 12. List of Final Things You Want to Do with Your Dog
- 13. Learn About Euthanasia and Hospice
- 14. Realize That Our Loved Ones Never Really Leave Us
- 15. Find Your Own Ways to Cope with Your Dog's Death
Scientists today say that grieving after losing a pet can be just as painful as after a loss of a human life, and can be devastating for a pet owner's mental health. Preparing for the last days of your dying dog can help you deal with a coming loss of your pet.
Give yourself permission to feel exactly how you're feeling and time to process what’s going to be a big change in your life. The sadness associated with a loss of a dog we feel is due to how much we love ours pets.
Although it's a hard time, being able to take your dog home for their 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 they pass away. It gives your dog the opportunity to spend their last days with the family that they love.
15 Ways to Spend Last Days With Your Dying Dog
1. Measure the Cost of Medical Interventions and Tests
Love can’t be measured, but when a dog is obviously suffering because of an illness or old age, certain costs have to be taken into consideration before making medical decisions. It’s possible 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 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 their favorite activities?
- How much control does the dog have over their 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 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 honestly 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 a number of 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 common, as well as bargaining and looking for ways to control what’s going on. This is to be expected.
4. Explain Things Carefully to Younger Children
The upcoming death of a dog can be even more devastating for a young child, but it’s better to be honest, and let them say goodbye in their own way. Just explain the situation in an age appropriate way. Young children often don’t have a full understanding of death, so they’ll have a lot of 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 death of a dog is a natural part of life. Be careful how you describe what’s going to happen because children tend to take things literally or may be too impressionable.
For example, if you tell your kids that their dog will have to be 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 are able to understand illness, age, and the 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 important 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 get overwhelming and too much to bear by yourself. You might feel better having 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 mean to say comforting words, but they just don't think of animals as real family members.
Don’t let others make you ashamed of your feelings. Grief over a loss of a dog is very real 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
Serious illness and old age sometimes brings their own humiliations, and incontinence in seniors is very common. It can be difficult and shameful for a dog to lose the ability to control their bladder and bowels, or to throw up. The dog might even expect to be punished for “misbehaving.”
Be gentle and compassionate when you explain to your dog that it really is okay and a natural part of what’s happening to their old or ill body. 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
It might be a difficult and uncomfortable subject to discuss, but decisions will have to be made about your dog’s final arrangements. If you prefer to bury your dog instead of cremation, you’ll need to decide where. If you are a religious person, incorporating your beliefs into these final days and afterwards 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 where to visit your pet in a 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 in a concrete way as well. Just having a plan like this, with some answers to these difficult questions, can bring its own 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 pooch is definitely sensitive to their 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, and not about a dying dog.
Maybe it's the final time but it's also a good time to do yours and your pet's favorite things together: spoil your pooch 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 to brainstorm a list of last 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 a favorite foods, and spoil your pup
- Surround the dog with favorite toys
- Do a cherished activity together or just cuddle
- Make a special bed to 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 difficult 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 peacefully pass away, so we won't have to do anything.
Sometimes, however, the only thing we can do is to 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 nothing else can be done, 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’s better for you to focus on when your dog was happy and healthy though, which is why it's important 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 Own Ways to Cope with Your Dog's Death
Everyone in the family needs to have the freedom to deal with things in their own way and 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 difficult – 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.