As dog parents, we get a lot of comfort from our dogs. So, it is only natural that as their life draws to a close, that we want to make them as comfortable as possible. Unfortunately, there are few resources on how to comfort a dying dog available for pet parents, so I have put together some information based on my own experience.
It Will Not Be Long Now…
In the weeks before my senior black Labrador went to the Rainbow Bridge, there were days when I held my breath only to have him rally around. This rallying happened a handful of times before that night that he looked at me, and I saw that his spark had gone. I knew what I had to do, although it did not make it any easier.
Jet was fifteen and a half when he passed away, but people would suggest that perhaps it was “time” to let him go for the last three years of his life. (Isn’t it odd that people have no qualms about suggesting you end the life of a pet, but if you suggest the same for their Aunt Nora…well…)
Anyway, this brings me to my first piece of advice.
Listen to Your Dog
Listening to your senior dog is one of the most important things that you can do to comfort them.
People tell you that you will know, and you will question their assertions, but believe me, you WILL know when your dog’s spark is gone.
- Your dog will have lost that brightness in its eyes
- They will show no interest in favorite foods or toys
- Their grooming habits may change
- They may either seek out excessive contact or seek out solitude
- You may also notice physical signs of decline, such as incontinence or labored breathing.
It is natural for you to be upset at the thought of losing your pup, but it is better for them that you remain calm and collected. Although remaining calm is very difficult, keep in mind that the more upset you get, the more anxious your dog is likely to become.
This control is something I have never been able to master, but I have discovered some coping techniques that can help.
- If you feel overwhelmed with emotion, go to the bathroom, and give yourself a few minutes to quietly let it out.
- Instead of talking about how much you will miss your pup, remember happy memories together, and you will be less likely to break down in tears.
- Focus on spoiling your dog rather than counting the hours until the end.
Allow Your Dog to Dictate Their Own Behavior
As I mentioned above, some dogs will seek out solitude when they know that they are in their last hours. Other dogs may become clingy and want to be unusually close. Allow your dog to do what is most comfortable for them.
It can be difficult to accept if your dog has always been a “Velcro dog,” but they seek out solitude during their final hours. As humans, we want to provide comfort and closeness, but forcing your dog to be close to you when they prefer not to be, can also force them to fight against a peaceful death.
Create a Comfortable Environment
Whether your dog passes in their sleep or you must call for euthanasia, make sure that they are at ease.
Passing at Home
If you notice signs that your older dog slowing down and suspect that “it won’t be long now,” I advise doing the following:
- Do not bring strangers into your home that could make your dog feel uneasy.
- Do not push your dog to do new things that could take a toll on them physically or emotionally.
- Do not be too busy to pet your dog or sit with them if they seek out affection.
- Do spend extra time with them in a quiet and calm environment.
- Do let them have that extra treat if it poses no risk to their wellbeing.
- Do adjust your schedule to be with them rather than leaving them at home alone.
If you make the decision to have your dog euthanized, you can choose to do this at the vet’s office or in your own home. Remember that keeping your dog comfortable should be your priority here, so here are a couple of things to consider…
- If your dog has always been afraid of going to the vet, consider at-home euthanasia. If at-home euthanasia is not an option, talk to your vet about tranquilizers, sedatives, or anti-anxiety medicines that you can have on hand for the day of euthanasia.
- If your dog has a close bond with another pet in the household, talk to your vet about whether at-home euthanasia is a good choice for you so that your pet can stay with their companion during their last minutes.
Again, the focus should always be on keeping your dog calm and comfortable.
Many pet parents opt for at-home euthanasia where a licensed end-of-life care veterinarian comes to the home and administers the euthanasia medications.
If you have a nervous dog, at home euthanasia can make your dog feel more at ease because they are surrounded by familiar sights, sounds, and scents.
You can also help your dog to feel more comfortable at home by
- Talking to your vet to find out if they perform at-home euthanasia so that you do not have an unfamiliar vet coming into your home.
- If your vet cannot perform at-home euthanasia, arrange for the mobile vet to meet your dog before their services are needed.
- Keeping your home quiet.
- Keeping everyone in your home calm.
- Making sure that your dog’s “person” is with them (if they are more attached to one family member.)
Euthanasia at the Veterinary Clinic
If your dog’s euthanasia appointment is at the veterinary clinic, the first thing you need to consider is how you will get your dog to the car. I was lucky enough to have a mobility harness on hand, but you can also fashion a stretcher out of a sheet or use a towel as a sling to support your dog’s hind end.
It is best to have someone go to the veterinary clinic with you so that they can drive while you sit with your dog in the back of the car. It is also helpful to have an extra pair of hands to help to open doors or assist with a makeshift stretcher if your dog is immobile.
When you arrive at the veterinary clinic, stay in the car with your dog while the other person goes into the clinic to let them know that you have arrived for your appointment. Your vet can then make sure that the euthanasia room is ready, and you can bring your dog straight through instead of having to wait in the waiting area.
- You may want to bring your dog’s favorite blanket or toy with them to their appointment just to offer a little extra security.
Most veterinary clinics have a courtesy sign that they post in the reception area when a pet parent is saying goodbye to a pet. The sign asks everyone in the clinic to be quiet and respectful while the sign is on display. This request is not just out of respect, it also reduces the chance of your dog being upset or distracted by noises outside the room.
Your vet may ask you if you plan to stay with your dog during their euthanasia, PLEASE STAY.
Your dog will feel much more at ease with you by their side during their euthanasia. Yes, it may be difficult for you to be present during your dog’s last moments, but the alternative is unthinkable. Your dog should not be looking for you as they take their last breath.
After your dog has passed, you will have some important decisions to make.
- Do you want your dog cremated?
- If you do want a cremation, do you want a private or communal cremation?
- Do you want to bring your dog’s ashes home, or do you want them scattered for you?
- If you are bringing your dog’s ashes home, do you want a specific holding vessel?
Once you have taken care of the final arrangements, it is time to turn your focus onto yourself. The next few weeks and months will be difficult as you mourn the loss of your pup and give yourself time.
Some people find that shortly after losing a dog, they are ready to adopt another dog, where other people find that they cannot bear to think about another dog for years following their loss. Both responses to losing a dog are normal, there is no wrong or right response.
As for me, it has been four years since I said goodbye to my heart dog, Jet, and since then, I have fostered multiple senior dogs. Comforting dying dogs have become part of my everyday life.
I cannot tell you that saying goodbye to any pup gets any easier, but there is something incredibly rewarding in making those last weeks and months of a dying dog’s life the best that they can be.