Aging and Aching Dog... How do you know it's time?

spacificSeptember 15, 2010

Lots of knowledgeable dog lovers post here... I need your advice. Elsie is a nearly 14-yo yellow lab that we rescued when she was 11. Her long-time owners took her to the pound because they didn't want to deal with her aging issues. We rescued her, but decided before even getting her, that we would not do any "heroic" surgeries should the need arise as she would most likely not survive the invasion. She came to us with some stage of laryngeal paralysis, many fatty tumors, and probably having had mild strokes as one side of her face shows the same signs you see on a person with the features drooping. Oh, and she's deaf and mildly arthritic. And came to us with mild separation issues and some incontinence.

Fast forward a couple of years... everything is continuing on the path of degeneration. I'm home during the day, so I can get her out a couple of times each day, though she "leaks" constantly. If I leave the room and she doesn't see me go, she keeps barking until I get her and show her I haven't really left. She still goes for a walk every day, but between the wheezing from the paralysis and the hobbling from the arthritis, she can't get too far, but her tail wags happily every step of the way. Though more and more, her legs just give out on her after a very short time. She's been to the vet regularly for checkups, is only taking Glucosomine Condroitin (not sure if it's helping much at this point) and once last year, the wheezing got so bad (like a really bad cold), they gave her antibiotics and steroids and that brought things back to normal. She has a wonderful appetite (of course, she's a Lab!), has no weight issues, and blissfully sleeps a very large part of the day.

I've never had to euthanize a pet. What do I look for to know if/when it's time? I don't want her to suffer just because I can't let go. Mostly, as long as she seems to have a good appetite and breathes reasonably well and the wagging tail keeps going, I figure she's doing OK.

What else should/could I be doing at this point? What signs should I look for to tell if she's in too much pain? I just need advice, thanks.


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Oh Dear, Ann. If you've posted this, you know the time is coming. I'm sorry you may have to make such a decision.

I learned my lesson with our first dachshund, Tammy. She died on my lap on Christmas Even and it was not pretty. For two weeks before she'd been unable to gt up and down the steps of the porch so I was carrying her outside, then back in and the girls fed her with a spoon. We should have made the loving and responsible decision then.

With the WonderWeiner, I knew. When he was visibly uncomfortable, when he stopped drinking, when I spent a couple of nights sleeping on the floor with him because he was too uncomfortable to sleep, that's when it was time. I loved him too much to let him suffer.

I agree, as long as she is eating and drinking, can breath and is not visibly in pain, she's just happy to be with you. The "leaking" isn't really a problem for her, LOL, only for you, so as long as you are willing to put up with the inconvenience, it's not a health issue. The barking is similar, although if she's clearly in a panic, then she's afraid and that could be a problem for her.

Poor old lady, she's lucky to have you.


    Bookmark   September 15, 2010 at 8:13AM
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I'm so sorry Ann.

Most of our dogs have had to be put down suddenly because there was no other choice. Our last one, however, was different - she was 13+ and had a brain tumor, so it was a matter of waiting and knowing when the time was as right as it could be.

With Goldens, as I imagine it is with Labs, the not-eating "rule" doesn't always make sense. Chammi ate like a champ right up until the end.

We knew it was time the day when we had to give her "real" pain medication. I looked at her and she drooled, and her eyes told me that it was time. She was an elegant old girl, and I wanted her to die with dignity. It was one of the hardest things we've ever had to do because she was still able to walk well, and her tail was still wagging.

Another issue was knowing that because of the nature of her illness, she was likely to eventually have a seizure and either die on her own or simply not be able to get up. We didn't want that to happen. I still question whether it was a little too early, but I've resigned myself to the fact that a little too soon was better for her than a little too late.

I have so much respect for you because recognize that you don't want to hold on because you can't let go.


    Bookmark   September 15, 2010 at 8:43AM
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We had to go through this with our Brittany about 4 years ago. She had hip displasia and suffered with it for several years. Towards the end, she was panting alot, a sign of pain the doctor said and then one evening she went to step up our little step from the breakfast area to kitchen and she whinned and immediately laid down. Turns out she had a mass in her tummy. Since she was 14 and in so much pain from the hips, we decided surgery wan't an option. We kept her on meds for a week - she actually seemed better and we considered surgery - she had a way of playing with me with her paws, like a kitten might do, she hadn't done that in a long time and that Friday night she did. We talked about taking her in the next Monday and seeing what the surgery would be like for her. That Sat. morning we got up, she was in the same spot we left her in the night before - she couldn't get up. The look in her eyes told us - it was time.

You will know - she will too.

    Bookmark   September 15, 2010 at 9:32AM
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Ann my heart breaks for you, but I understand what you are faced with. As it goes, we will be faced with the same decision soon ourselves.

As the others have said, they have a way of letting us know when it's "time". I wish you all the strength and courage necessary to do the right thing for Elsie when it needs to be done.

How fortunate for her to have found a loving family that would care for her in her later years. I can't understand how her first family could give her up just because she was aging. Love for our pets should be unconditional just like their love for us is.


    Bookmark   September 15, 2010 at 5:26PM
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Ann, I'm so sorry that you are going through this. You will know when the time comes.

All of the issues Elsie is having are the same issues that my Captain (Bassett Hound) was having. He lived to the ripe old age of 17. We kenneled him while we went on vacation and when we got back I couldn't wait to go pick him up. As I was walking out the door to get him from the kennel the phone rang. It was the vet's office calling to say that he didn't wake up that morning.He knew it was time to go. I felt so sad that I wasn't with him...Don't let it go that long. Elsie will love you for that!

Take care Ann. I'll be thinking of you and Elsie.

    Bookmark   September 15, 2010 at 7:45PM
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Ann, I too know what you are going through. My yellow lab Duke is almost 14 (Nov.13) and is having some issues. That wheezing you describe might be laryngeal parylsis which my doggie has...rasping for breath mostly when excited or when it is very hot/humid outside. At 14 there is nothing really to do about that except keep her calm as much as you can. Duke can't go for car rides anymore would push him over the I had a mobile vet come out for his checkup and vaccinations this year.

For the pain my vet has prescribed Tramadol and that works very well. I would see if that might help Elsie. Get a large quantity if you can. 20 pills cost $18.00 at my regular vet wheras I got 500 from my mobile vet for $50.00.

The 'leaking' can be corrected by a doggie diaper. I change one of my clients' dogs daily and it isn't a big deal. It wraps around the midsection with velcro and the inside pads are disposable. Consider yourself Duke sometimes doesn't know he has to go #2 until it's too late. I took a stool sample in and he had bacteria in his stool so hopefully that will be mostly resolved after his latest batch of antibiotics are done with.

Give Elsie a hug and loving every day. I personally don't think she is ready to go yet. If she is happy and eating and sleeping most of the time she is probably okay for awhile. They have a way of telling you when it is the right time. Bless you for taking on an aging dog. Not many people would do that so I know you truly have a heart of gold.


    Bookmark   September 16, 2010 at 11:30AM
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Thank you all for your notes. I do hope I will know when it's time. It's not today. The sun is shining. Both furballs are sitting at my feet while I type this. Elsie is snoring. Jett, the 4-yo yellow lab again gave up her spot so that Elsie could be closer to me.

I appreciate that you all shared your personal experiences. It really helps.

Duane, yes, Elsie definitely has laryngeal paralysis. That scares me the most. I don't want to face watching her not being able to breathe. And as she gets more panicked when she can't find me, she starts the wheezing and barking. Other than that, I think she could live quite a while. It sounds like Duke and Elsie are much alike. Thanks for the suggestions about the pain meds and diapers. I'll check into both.


    Bookmark   September 16, 2010 at 12:01PM
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My friends just went thru this same thing. Very difficult. Obviously looking for signs of pain that can't be easily controlled. However, I will say that the last year of my friend's dog's life was really no picnic for him or them. For both the good and bad, every day is a new day for a dog. It's up to us to decide how much good will be left in that day for the dog.

    Bookmark   September 16, 2010 at 12:08PM
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This subject is very very close to me right now...
Have you tried easing her aches with asperin or rimidyl? my daughter gives her elderly golden something she calls magic elixir...a nsaid for dogs and she now occasionally gallops like a teenager.
How would you like to face the arthritic aches without an advil or some such pain killer?
Get her on something to ease the aches....she may surprise you.
Linda C

    Bookmark   September 16, 2010 at 12:24PM
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Linda, the Tramadol is a pain reliever although yours might help as well. Duke is and has been on Meloxican for several years which is an arthritis medication. That might be something to check into as well. Aside from everything else love Elsie and appreciate her everyday. None of us live forever but the unconditional love given by our animals makes it extra hard when they start fading. I know Linda just lost Chabby and it hurts like hell. Sometimes there is a fine line between keeping them with us for our sake and selfishness and just not knowing if truly it is their time to go. Very hard. Trust your gut and give that special girl an ear rub from me. Labs are wonderful and loving dogs. No wonder they are the number one dog in the USA.


    Bookmark   September 16, 2010 at 4:26PM
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My 10 year old girl (Yellow Lab) has gotten delicate. She had bouts this summer with pancreatitis, a bladder infection, and rat poison. She has some arthritis but still has a bit of spring in her step. I will probably ask the vet for some pain meds soon. Her digestive system seems to work much better on an easy-to-digest grain-free food. Anything with corn gives her awful gas and other troubles. All the grocery dog foods are mostly corn. Right now I feed her Nature's Recipe Salmon, Sweet Potato, and Pumpkin. It seems to be a good choice.

She has never been anxious. And is happy to sleep most of the day. She stays close to me and I am home most of the time.

    Bookmark   September 16, 2010 at 5:21PM
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Thanks all for the suggestions for pain meds. I'll check in with the vet on the topic. Up to now, she had not recommended any meds, and in general, as we do for the humans in the family, we first try to find non-pharmaceutical solutions, but it might be time for something stronger. Barnmom, we use Natural Balance limited ingredients dry dog food - no corn products. I'm really happy with them.

Here's a picture of Jett (front) and Elsie (back)

    Bookmark   September 16, 2010 at 8:46PM
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Ann, thanks for the picture, I just want to give both dogs a hug. Oh, and you too, for being such a good doggie mama.


    Bookmark   September 16, 2010 at 9:41PM
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Ok, the girls got hugs all around. (That's one thing they're not lacking around here!) As for adopting an aging dog, I'd do it again in a heartbeat. Jett, we got as a puppy. Zeke (DS) named her and they are growing up together. She's a great dog for a kid, but a puppy's energy is a different kind of hard work. An older dog doesn't have to prove anything. Elsie is just happy to be around us. Mostly she just likes to keep my feet warm while I work. Do you all remember Aunt Clara from the "Bewitched" TV show? She always had that slightly bewildered, but happy look on her face when things didn't go quite right... that's Elsie.

By the way, here's the rescue organization where I found Elsie. You can read about her in the "Happy Endings" section.

Here is a link that might be useful: Fetching Companions

    Bookmark   September 16, 2010 at 11:46PM
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Just checking back on this original thread... your comments and thought and care that came through helped me more than I can express.

On Thursday night, Elsie had a terrible time, she woke up a number of times through the night whining in pain. I ended up sleeping on the floor with her much of the night. In the morning, she couldn't get up. Her legs would not hold her. She took a couple of token bites of food. She was so listless and had that look that just said "I'm so done."

I called the vet. We spent our last couple of hours sitting together out on the front porch in a patch of warm sunshine. Thank goodness the rains had stopped. DH, DS and I all were with her at the end.

    Bookmark   January 1, 2011 at 10:39AM
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Ann, your post brings Stetson's last days right back to me. I'm so sorry for your loss.


    Bookmark   January 1, 2011 at 10:46AM
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Ann, you're up early on this first day of the year. I'm just sitting here, staring at the screen. Everyone else is still sleeping. It doesn't seem quite real. The pain doesn't easily go away does it? Thank you for posting. Stetson's a good name.

    Bookmark   January 1, 2011 at 10:56AM
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Ann, I'm so sorry you're starting the year this way, but at least Elsie got to spend her last years and days with people that loved and cared for her as much as you all did. My heart goes out to you as you miss your dear sweet Elsie.


    Bookmark   January 1, 2011 at 11:05AM
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Oh Ann, I am so sorry. But she did let you know the time had come, didn't she?

She was beautiful and a very lucky and much loved girl.
RIP Elsie....


    Bookmark   January 1, 2011 at 11:08AM
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Oh Ann I wish I had seen this earlier. My heart goes out to you and your DH.

I know only too well how hard this is. Elsie was just as lucky top have you as you were to have her.


    Bookmark   January 1, 2011 at 1:59PM
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(((spacific and family)))

Bless you guys for taking in Elsie. WTG!

    Bookmark   January 1, 2011 at 9:18PM
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My heart aches for you, and we have been there too. Elsie was very lucky to have you for her family in her final years. I've sent a thought message to O.D. Hoover and Brockley to look for her. They would all be good friends.

Oliver sends licks of comfort to Jett and we send hugs to all of you.


    Bookmark   January 1, 2011 at 10:05PM
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Ann, it's always such a sorrow to lose a part of your heart. May the memory of her always keep you company.

It is hard to express myself, a lot of people have lost their dogs recently, and I never know what to say.

Just my deepest sympathies.

    Bookmark   January 2, 2011 at 12:13AM
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Ann - I'm so sorry to hear about Elsie. You gave her a gift in letting her go. Thinking of you and your family.


    Bookmark   January 2, 2011 at 10:24AM
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I'm so sorry. We had to put two dogs down in 2010. The decision is not easy, but I think you did the right thing (the right thing usually isn't the easiest.) Give lots of love to Jett!

Take care.

    Bookmark   January 2, 2011 at 10:53AM
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beachlily z9a

Elsie was one lucky dog and I think she knew that! Hopefully there were no children in her first family. The parents taught a lesson that could backfire on them--when someone gets old, dump them if they have medical problems.

Ann, you and your family deserve a medal! Not many people will adopt a old dog. You loved her, took care of her and in return, she had a wonderful last few years! Her love for you was evident, also.

Bless you! I hope the pain passes and that you only remember the grand old lady that lived with you for a short while.

    Bookmark   January 2, 2011 at 11:19AM
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Oh Ann, I am so sorry to read this. It has been 3 months since we lost Cleo, and I still cry about her frequently. She sounds like she was a wonderful, faithful companion. Thoughts and prayers for you and your family. It is a rough time.


    Bookmark   January 2, 2011 at 12:03PM
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I so much appreciate all the kind words and thoughts. Elsie was a gift to our family. If you ever have the opportunity and space in heart and home to adopt an older dog, I highly recommend it. Whether they're our human or fur families, it's so hard to say goodbye.

(((CF friends)))

    Bookmark   January 2, 2011 at 2:12PM
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Ann, I'm so sorry for your loss. It never feels good, helping them in the end even when it's the right time/thing to do. ((Hugs to You.))

    Bookmark   January 2, 2011 at 3:26PM
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