Letting go..

jill1273November 7, 2012

I'm sure this topic has been covered many times on this forum, but I just don't know what to do.. My lab is 14, and is suffering from degenerative myelopathy. Her back legs just don't work. She can't stand on her own, she falls all the time and we have to constantly pick her up just to get from one room to another. We are giving her rimadyl, tried the steroids for inflammation, tramadol does nothing. I have built ramps, tried therapy and gotten assistive devices and that she will not go anywhere near. She has no control over bodily functions. It is like caring for an elderly loved one. Our vet is pushing us to let her go. We know that she will not get any better in terms of this disease. Our reluctance stems from the fact that she is healthy in every other way. Her sight, hearing, brain, lungs, other organs, etc are fine. Her eating habits have not changed. She doesn't get excited about too much these days, but then again, she was always pretty mellow. Caring for her is now a full time job, one that I am more than happy to do for all of the love she has given us all these years, but it is getting harder. Everyone talks about her "quality of life", but how can base this decision just because she is "handicapped"? I certainly wouldn't do that to a person.. If I thought in any was she was in pain or suffering(this disease is not painful since she can't feel her legs) of course I would reconsider.. She looks a little tired and frustrated, but not really showing any signs of "giving up".. She could probably go on for a while like this. Sorry this is so long, but I think about this decision all the time, so if anyone has any advice or similar situations I would appreciate it...

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You have described exactly the situation one of my adult children and his wife went through. Their female lab was also fourteen, they did what you are doing, and her symptoms were exactly the same. I wish I could give you a simple answer but I can't. I'm surprised your vet is suggesting euthanasia..........our vets will discuss everything they see, whether they think the animal is in pain and answer any questions, but won't give us any indication one way or another whether we should or shouldn't, other than to agree after the fact if we do make the decision and appear self-doubting.

It's an agonising decision and I'm sorry you are going through it. It's seldom easy or cut and dried as it is when pain or obvious misery is involved. I seldom know until after the fact whether I've waited to long. It's a much easier call with hindsight. The situation is, you are the one who would know more than anyone else, unless the vet has knowledge you don't or haven't shared. It's easy to let guilt play into it when it becomes a full-time job because you don't want to do it for your own sake. Also don't let your decision be all about how you will miss her when she's gone and not wanting to face the pain. You are already grieving he before the fact, constantly playing it out in your mind. Please enjoy her presence now, however long or brief it may be. Don't waste this time. Sooner or later you will have to make that decision and the last time I went through this, I had to set a trigger point in the future when enough was enough for the dog's sake and dignity. When that point was reached, I knew I had made that decision beforehand with a mind not clouded with whatever event was playing out. It wasn't easy when that time came, but it allowed me to enjoy his last days without the torment of indecision and he was still functional enough to enjoy his last ride in the car and know I was holding him when he went to sleep. I'm crying.

    Bookmark   November 8, 2012 at 1:39AM
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Thank you for your kind advice. It's true I am dwelling on how life will be after she is gone. I cry when I go to buy dog food not knowing if this is the last bag I buy, I cry every time she struggles (and she ends up comforting me, then I feel worse!). I swear she knows we're talking about it cause every time we do she seems to rally back for a day or two. We did set trigger points, like when she started to lose control of bowels we said we'd take her in if she loses control of urinating. Now that has happened and we said we'd take her when she can't stand on her own. Now were saying maybe when she can't even get up at all. Like I said before, it's hard to take an otherwise healthy dog in for euthanasia. My husband said maybe take her in when she finishes this round of medicine, giving us about 2 more weeks and I stare at the calendar with dread counting down the days. As for the car ride there, I just don't know how I'm going to be able to even start the car, plus she hates the car so it won't be a peaceful ride. I am really trying to think about what is best for her and the good life she had, but so afraid to make a hasty choice cause there is no way to take it back. I'm not really crazy about our vet. I like the other dr's in the practice but always end up with the one that doesn't really seem to want to look at all the options (based on her age I guess). She mentioned an MRI, but told us that is $$$, said it could be this or that, but yet didn't do any bloodwork. I'm glad I didn't listen to her though cause we've gotten about 4 extra months with our girl. I'm sorry I made you cry too :) and that your family had to go through this. Did they end up taking her in because of her legs? Thank you again for listening.. :)

    Bookmark   November 8, 2012 at 12:13PM
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I'm sorry about your girl and all the thinking you have to do. My dog was a lab mix, so know how they can be.

I've been through this decision process a couple times in the past few years. Repeatedly I've been told, "You will just know." And each time, that has been true. You love your dog and you will know when it is too much- for her, for your family, etc.

This is JMHO, but I would not try to set a time frame. I would not say, "when this course of meds is over..." or anything like that. This is a time to take it day by day and judge each day as it comes- while taking each day as the gift it is.

When my boy cat was nearing his end, the criteria I used was about his "quality" of life. In his case, quality equaled pleasure and enjoyment. As long as he was able to derive some joy out of life, and he was comfortable, I kept on keeping on with him. I would take him outside and set him in some soft grass under a tree, he seemed to enjoy being out there, smelling the air, watching the birds, etc. Then one day, he stopped enjoying it, and I knew.

When I lost my girl cat earlier this year, the vet told me that the sign she generally uses is when they lose interest in eating. If you are okay with caring for her in her condition and she is otherwise enthusiastic and comfortable, then it is okay for you to decide to keep her going- it is not up to anyone else. But by the same token, if her condition is not something you feel good or fair about managing, you should find some peace with that too. I believe strongly that this is an evolution and day by day you will get to where you need to be psychologically.

My girl cat was sick for several years (though not handicapped), but sometimes the care and management of her became overwhelming. In those times, I reminding myself that this could not go on forever, and to just take it day by day until I had the knowledge that enough was enough.

It's never an easy decision to make. It is always a case by case basis. I wish you all the peace and strength through this journey.

    Bookmark   November 8, 2012 at 12:54PM
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Sorry you're going through this, it's def the hardest part of pet ownership. We had an english pointer mix Callie. As she aged, her legs began to give out & she was frequently incontinent. She could barely walk towards the end. I could tell she was in agony getting up.

When I realized I was watching her chest for breathing while she slept, I knew it was time for her. We often remarked that one day she'd just drift off to sleep & not wake up. When the vet went to euthanize her, the 1st injection didn't do it, they had to give her a 2nd one. Her circulation was that bad. I wish now we'd gone through with it a month or more earlier but we had a hard time parting with her. I wish you peace on your journey with your lab.

    Bookmark   November 8, 2012 at 1:11PM
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I'm concerned when you write your vet is "pushing to let her go." A good vet should be there FOR YOU as much as for the patient - pushing does not fit into this!

If everything else is fine you are right I think to pause and ask what's really best - sometimes people (and yep, that may include vets) push euthanasia out of their own projections and fears. The truth is, a lot of times pets adjust quite well to lameness or even losing one (or more!) legs - have heard of animals adjusting to having wheeled carts instead of back legs. So, I hope you will trust your own judgement and your intimate knoweledge of your dog over what the vet is saying.

You will know when it's time - being so in tune with her and her body language you will know. O rquite possibly - your beloved dog will make the decision herself and pass peacefully (as happened with two of my cats in the distant past). Sometimes, it doesnt hurt to consult another vet on end of life issues (as wonderful as your vet may be for most other things).

I can relate- I have a 22 year old cat who is arthritic, may be almost blind, looks a mess because she doesn't groom, basically sleeps 24/7 except for 2 meals a day and she still uses litter box faithfully. Hardly ever does anything, but last weekend I found her out on the back balcony sleeping in the sun. It made me smile - she is still getting pleasure out of life. Still being a cat! Every now and then I wipe down her whole body with a warm damp washcloth which makes her purr like mad. I know she won't be around forever- thinking ahead I want to know I did the best I could for her.

Can you find some things you and she have loved doing - can she walk at all even if very slowly? Find ways to be with her while you still can.

    Bookmark   November 8, 2012 at 2:03PM
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My viewpoint has always been this question:

"Would I want to live in the same condition?"

When the answer is "No", it is time to do for a pet what you would wish be done for you.

I'm a pretty tough guy, but tears still come when thinking about some of the dogs and horses I have had to have euthanized. I once broke the law and shot one of my horses(shattered leg) when the vet was hours away. It was a couple hours before I could safely drive home and I am tearing as I type now.

It is part of the responsibility we should assume when becoming the caretaker long term for an animal.

One consolation has always been the promise of a new relationship afterwards that will start a whole new chapter.

    Bookmark   November 8, 2012 at 2:51PM
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Lost my mixed breed the middle of this year. He was whining in frustration of not being able to get off the ground. He could still take a short walk, but finally he could not rise even from the yard.

In talking to neighbors about their experiences, it seems that as owners look back, they most often express opinions that they waited too long to put the animal down.

    Bookmark   November 8, 2012 at 4:34PM
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i'm so sorry, jill. this is an agonizing decision, for sure. i lost my little corgi boy to DM. he was my heart dog, never will there be another like simon.

i'm with handymac on this one. it's never easy but i've always said, i'd rather do it one day too soon than one day too late.

make a list of 10 things your dog loves or loved to do. as you cross off the ones she is no longer able to do, you will see that her quality of life isn't what it used to be and maybe it's time to let her rest.

my heart truly aches for you. (((hugs)))

    Bookmark   November 8, 2012 at 8:03PM
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I sympathize so much with your situation. It's completely normal to feel conflicted since your dog is healthy except for the problem with her legs. Can you use doggy diapers to make her messes easier to clean up? How about one of those carts which help rear-paralyzed dogs get around? Would her front legs be strong enough to manage that?

    Bookmark   November 8, 2012 at 11:49PM
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Thank you all for your support and suggestions. I am now trying to stay upbeat and take things day by day. I am making a mental list of things she loved to do and will see how that goes (good idea-thanks).. I have tried diapers, but that makes an even more mess cause I have to clean her off in the shower (sometimes 2-3 x's/day) and she HATES getting a bath! Any time I get an assistive device she won't let us near her with it. I did find a brace that might help..anyone heard of the Biko mobility brace?? It's designed for dogs with DM.. it's big $$, but my husband thinks it won't do her much good at this late stage in her life. I told him at least we'd have tried every available option, then I wouldn't have any regrets. Thank you again everyone for all of your comments, I really appreciate it.

    Bookmark   November 9, 2012 at 11:45AM
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I truly feel for you. Its one of the things I think of first whenever we adopt a 4 legged human---but I know the happiness they bring us--is so worth it. I'm surprised the vet is pushing his feelings on to you. My mother passed away this past June due to a AVM (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0001783/) and the DR more or less told us the options and we had to make the decision, they didn't try to sway us in either direction. Some people want direction, others just want options, as a RN, I think knowing the options is the better route as we don't know how one truly feels about certain situations.
Everyone above has given great advice, but of course we are not there to see the whole situation! Much easier for us to give advice in this situation, so I truly feel for you. But its obvious your a very good animal owner as you are brave enough to ask this question! You mentioned that high priced BIKO mobility equip....Not to sound negative--but could prob get some of that $$$ back by selling it on Ebay...or donating to someone else that can use it (after yrs and yrs of use from you)
One thing to keep in mind, I do think animals do have a higher pain threshold than us simple humans, not sure if that's to their benefit or not. We currently have 1 dog, 2 cats (and fostering a dog) and I know the day I have to make this tough decision is in the horizon. Take pride in that you have provided a loving home. All the best.

    Bookmark   November 9, 2012 at 6:45PM
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Jill, my husband came across this product. Looks quite easy to use for handicapped dogs.

Here is a link that might be useful: Walkin' Wheels

    Bookmark   November 10, 2012 at 1:19PM
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Thanks for the link petra..I have a really small home and not sure if she would even be able to turn the corners with a wheelchair, she would have to be in it all the time since she is so old and has a hard time getting around the house even (and she wanders around in circles all the time..). And thanks afguy..I just like to get other's opinions in case someone who has gone through this had some suggestions or ideas. I would get her ANY device if I thought it would help her walk, no matter the cost,(and I would totally donate it, love the pay it forward idea!). But it would probably only give us a few more months not years with her. Plus I still have the uncontrolled bodily functions and other issues to deal with. Not that those few extra months wouldn't be worth it..for us..just wish she could let us know how she's feeling :(

    Bookmark   November 11, 2012 at 12:23PM
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Something is striking a familiar chord and that's the remark she is walking in circles. You do know, don't you that dogs can get dementia. I had a dog whom I'd find standing in a corner, looking at it. As he wandered around he'd 'get lost' and literally could not find his way out of a corner when it stopped his journies.

    Bookmark   November 11, 2012 at 3:37PM
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No advice but I will tell you I had a wonderful cat that lived to be 21 1/2 years old. She did become deaf and had arthritis but other than that, seemed pretty healthy. She died a natural death but to this day (and that was 15 years ago) I regret not having her put down. I just watched her get thinner and thinner and one day when we couldn't find her, we looked under the deck and there she was, gone. I would have rather been by her side and watched her go gently and peacefully. It's a choice we have with our animals and I think when the time comes it's a kindness to them no matter how much it hurts us.

    Bookmark   November 11, 2012 at 8:22PM
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i agree, the walking in circles is concerning. that is usually a sign of diminishing mental capacity and it's very hard to see it happening in our beloved pets.

i tried a little wheeled cart with simon. i could not, for the life of me, get him to use it. i tried everything from high value treats to make him move, to putting him in the cart outside and completely ignoring him. nothing worked. he would take a step or two for a treat but that was about it. one day, my son and i took him and the 2 dane girls to a big park with lots of room and lots of pavement. i put simon in his cart and walked away with the danes thinking for sure he would follow us. we walked and walked and walked and when i looked back, simon was standing right where i left him. NOTHING would get him to move. i tried different things for weeks and finally gave up. i could not bare the thought of him "seal walking" and when he began to have trouble getting up, i knew it was getting close. he would struggle out to the end of the deck and just lay down, watching the girls play and run. he made absolutely no attempts to join them. it broke my heart and i can honestly say i know that he felt sadness. that's when i decided he had fought long enough.

i know this is a tough decision and much of that comes from the fact that she isn't in pain as DM is a painless disease. even the sores on the tops of simon's feet didn't bother him in the least. that's another thing with him...i couldn't keep socks or booties on him, he would just pull them off.

i wish you the best as you struggle with this decision but rest assured, you have done absolutely everything. i always try to think of it as the last gift of love we can give our pets.

    Bookmark   November 12, 2012 at 8:53AM
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How does your vet know if She's not in pain?
I had a dog with a similar problem and I believe she was in pain.

I as a person have 5 different things wrong with my back and I can tell you that my personality has changed. I have neurological issues in my legs, feet, back. I won't go into detail. I am in pain and don't want surgery. Although, I'm not elderly like your dog, I can relate to back problems.
As far as back problems go, you CANNOT compare 1 person's problem with another. Back pain/issues are individual. I have another family member with a back issue and we have totally different symptoms, type, and duration of pain. I have days that I wish I wouldn't wake up. My pain is permanent and getting worse. Having REAL back issues is a strain on life and existence. There is nothing wrong with me otherwise, just like your dog.

My guess is that it's similar with dogs.

Letting go is the hardest thing to do, but it's the humane thing to do. Keep in mind that you will meet up with him/her again.

    Bookmark   November 12, 2012 at 10:44AM
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One thing I've observed in my personal life and in the 2 or 3 years I spent as a regular on the Feline Diabetes Message Board - second-guessing oneself seems to be a symptom of grief sometimes, no matter what choice is made. As some of the above posters indicate, people may regret not acting sooner. But then again - sometimes people who chose euthanasia feel they should have allowed the animal more time to go through its own process of letting go. Particularly heartbreaking were the people who didnt know how easy the insulin needles were and it was just dawning on them that they had acted way too prematurely. It sounds like you are exhausting all the possibilities (within reason and within your capabilities of course) which is exactly the right thing to do, the right approach to take.

Whatever you do - whenever, if ever. It will be done out of love and respect and even though you may go through some regret as part of your process, ultimately you're left with nothing but the love - that never dies.

    Bookmark   November 12, 2012 at 11:06AM
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My heart goes out to you.

This is a guideline I have learned to use when faced with such a decision:

Am I keeping her alive for me or for her?

    Bookmark   November 13, 2012 at 7:16AM
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I know how hard it is to make the decision for euthanasia when your pet, while having serious problems, does not seem to be suffering. I took care of my dog with severe dementia and profound muscle weakness for many months even though he could only walk after being carried outside and didn't know where he was most of the time. Finally, as winter approached, I made the decision to have him euthanized because even when he was young and healthy he did not like bad weather. One day, about a month later, as I was out in the freezing rain with a different dog I knew I made the right decision.

The important thing to remember is that it is the disease process that is ending the life of your pet; euthanasia is ensuring that the inevitable end is pain-free.

    Bookmark   November 13, 2012 at 12:08PM
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Talk to your vet about her coming to you rather than adding more stress by traveling to them. When the time comes, it's much easier to manage in your own home. And yes, the guideline for me is, "Would I want to live in this condition?" I have a 17 year old cat right now who's in the early stages of dementia. She often gets "lost" in the house and cries out very loud and distressingly----probably more to me than here, but still. When I go to her and comfort her, it takes here a minute or two to "come to herself". And that's getting longer. And she can no longer get on the perch that she loved looking out the window at the birdies. So, that time is coming for me as well.

    Bookmark   November 13, 2012 at 4:22PM
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Jill,((((hugs))),my heart goes out to you. I had to make the MOST difficult decision in my life in June. My 15yr. old beagle seemed suddenly to go down hill. He had some trouble with his bowels and was given meds and special food,his hind legs were shakey and weak. blood tests were done, his liver count had skyrocketed. He seemed to be getting weaker, and could only take a few steps at a time. I made appointments to have him put to sleep, he would perk up a little and I would cancel them. I went through hell for almost three weeks and he looked at me one day and we just knew that it was time. You are a great mom and you are doing all you can. I really wish I could help you but you will know and she will too when it's time. God bless you and your girl.

    Bookmark   November 19, 2012 at 6:18PM
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