You’ve fed him good healthy food, kept his water dish clean and full, and kept him bathed, clipped and brushed. You’ve romped together, cuddled together, and taken him in for his regular checkups. You gave him medicine when he needed it, and over time as he slowed down, or perhaps became ill, you traded playing catch or going on a run for some gentler activities and extra pets & pats.
But time passes much too quickly it seems, and ultimately we dog lovers have to face the fact that our time together is winding down. The day will eventually come when decisions have to be made that are never easy. A little planning ahead now, while it won’t make that day much easier, might at least ease a little of the stress — for you and your family, as well as for your dog.
Unfortunately there’s no magic formula that will appear and make this decision for you. It’s up to you, and every circumstance and every dog is a little different.
Take it from me — over the years we’ve gone through this 7 times (8 counting the cat). Sometimes it was a no-brainer. Other times, it wasn’t.
When is the right time?
Your vet is a valuable resource, and while he or she probably won’t come right out and say “it’s time” (and shouldn’t, in my opinion), his or her input can really help.
This is especially true if your dog is ill, and treatment options are limited or have run their course.
Consider the dog’s age, and what he’ll have to go through. Is he strong enough? Is the potential outcome for a cure or vast improvement encouraging, or a long shot? Are you considering heroic efforts for the sake of your animal, or yourself? Is he in pain?
We’ve been lucky that most of our “kids” have lived a pretty long and reasonably healthy life. As they’ve grown older, we watched them for signs that their enjoyment of life was diminishing.
There’s no perfect way to judge this, as each dog is different, and I won’t presume to set limits for you. But with us, it’s more or less been when their quality of life has dropped to a level where we didn’t see them finding much, or any, enjoyment in their day — and the bad days far outweighed the good.
This has often (not always, though) gone along with loss of appetite or interest in food, even for the choicest dog treat. If they wouldn’t eat, and any underlying causes for that were ruled out — well, things weren’t likely to improve.
When the time does come, now what?
If it’s going to be hard to get your dog to the office, don’t hesitate to ask your vet to come to the house for this final service. We’ve done it both ways. Each way has its own benefits and drawbacks.
Should you stay with your dog during those last few moments, or walk out so your last memory of him is when he was alive?
This is entirely an individual decision. Many people can’t bear to be in the same room. Me personally, I can’t bear not to be in the room — with my arms around my dog (with my eyes tightly closed) and singing happy doggie songs in his ear, so the last moments are ones of comfort and love.
Yes, you bet it’s hard. But it’s the last, and least, thing I can do. I’ve always regretted more the time I opted to wait in the other room.
Your vet will discuss with you what options are available for after the fact — if their office can take care of the remains, or if your city will allow a backyard burial (some don’t). Most areas will also have a pet cemetery or cremation services available to those who are interested. We’ve gravitated towards cremation, as we seem to move every few years, and cremation allows us to take the ashes with us.
And when all is said and done, remember grieving is perfectly normal.
But rejoice in the fact that you had what time you did with your special pet, and that you gave him the care and love he deserved.
Celebrate your dog’s life!