When to Say Goodbye

Will there come a time when you need to help your dog with dementia leave this world?

Book: Remember Me: Loving and Caring for a Dog with Canine Cognitive DysfunctionI can help with that. My book has a whole chapter on the difficult question of whether and when to euthanize a dog with dementia. Because dogs with cognitive decline are sometimes still physically healthy otherwise, this question, which is always difficult, can be even harder.

I let my little Cricket go on May 31, 2013. Here is an article on how I made the decision. I tell the story in full in my book, and two other people generously shared their stories of how they made the decisions for their own dogs.

 

Other Resources on Euthanasia

Here are some resources on end-of-life care for your beloved friend and some articles that can help you assess your pet’s quality of life.

I highly recommend the following book. It was a real comfort to me as I assessed and reassessed little Cricket’s quality of life.

 

Facing Farewell: Making the Decision to Euthanize Your Pet, by Julie Reck, DVM

 

 

Facing Farewell is a comprehensive guide to making the hard decision, but in addition describes the euthanasia process in detail and helps you know ahead of time what to discuss with the veterinarian and what to expect.

Helpful Articles about Decision Making

Grief

Finally, here is a piece by a physician on grieving for a dog. I think he makes some very wise points.

Lessons from Zachary: What a Physician Learns from the Death of his Dog.

An old black and white rat terrier is lying on a bed with her head on a pillow. She is staring off into the distance

                               My last photo of Cricket

 

384 Comments

  1. Dina says:

    I just put my dog down after 3 years of slow progressive dementia that took a huge turn to the worse 6 months ago I regret not putting him down sooner it would have been the right thing to do I kept holding on till he got alot worse and he suffered and i suffered too 6 months my average sleep was 3 to 4 disruptive hours which took a toll on me and my job and i even snapped at him few times which I would have never ever done but lach of sleep and 24 hr care took its toll ..now I have tremendous guilt about it ..dementia is a cruel monster and the best thing to do is to put them to rest b4 it completely takes over and torments the pet and the owner ..I kept hoping he will get better he had a rough year teeth surgery ..got out and the ppl who found him kept him the yard in the sun in a 90 degree weather he got a 3rd degree sunburn. Then we moved and it was hard on him I just wanted him to have a few good last days i was selfish he didn’t have last good days he suffered..he was like my child and I should have done right by him..

    • Sommer C. says:

      Currently going through this to a T Dina! Tortured daily if I should let him go, but I hold onto hope. I’m so very sorry you both went through such suffering. I know what torture it is each and every day & night. I think I need to find the strength from deep within and let him go this week. Bless you both. 💔

      • Nancy M says:

        Hi Sommer C.
        I’m so sorry you and your fur baby are going through this. I just released my fur baby ‘Bruno’ of almost 15. (3 months shy). I wanted so much for him to make it to his 15th birthday, however his dementia started progressing. He began pacing more and wouldn’t settle. He was lost most of the time. I struggled with knowing when the right time was until I read something very interesting. I would like to share with you and everyone else that may be struggling.

        Someone once wrote;

        There’s a big difference between existing and living.
        Dogs can exist with dementia for a long time, but that existence is without joy, eventually is filled with fear, and can’t be called living in any true sense of the word.
        When your dog losses his or her sense of identity that’s serious business. Dogs function on an intuitive level most of the time and their sense of who they are as dogs is important to them. Their sense of identity gives purpose and joy to their lives and when they become confused about who they are, that sense of purpose and joy is compromised.

    • Lisa says:

      I have a 15 year old rat terrier with dementia. He had a seizure 2 years ago, and about a year ago started showing signs of dementia. He cares about food and knows exactly when it’s time to eat. He wants to go on his walk but only a block or less. He sleeps a lot during the day and walks a circuit in and out of our home in the afternoon and evening. He often stands with no purpose. We are afraid to leave him alone as he may wander outside and not know how to get back in or become prey. When we have to leave, we keep him inside. During the night, he circles and scratches trying to get comfortable. He is having some difficulty with his hind end. He still knows me but startles easily. I carry him a lot as he has spatial difficulties and some loss of sight. He still spins for a treat but can’t figure out shake or sit. ,He does not appear to be in pain and he knows to go outside to urinate I am struggling with the euthanasia decision as he is not outwardly suffering. I think I am more afraid of harm to him. Any thoughts are appreciated.

  2. Sandi Neuman says:

    I was so relieved to find your website Eileen, thank you for all you do. My 10 year old lab Tao has had anxiety in his later years but the last 6 months have been intense. He’s up most nights and is so fearful he scratches at the walls or bedside table until he tires himself out and lately has just wanted to get out of the house so badly.. he goes straight to the car, I think he feels safe in there. I’m at a loss of what to do as the last few days he seems to be spiraling fast. He’s not just anxious at night, now he’s also not wanting to be in the house during the day. It’s so sad when I go out there he looks so scared and really sad too. The vet said because of his repetative scratching at the bedside table ect, that it sounded like CCD, we’ve done exrays and blood work and everything else came out clean? If anyone has any suggestions or insight I would so appreciate. Have you ever heard of this extreme fear as a symptom of CCD? If this carries on I don’t think I can let him suffer in this way for long. He was on alprazolam and that stopped working so now he’s on trazadone and that doesn’t seem to be helping much either… sigh. My heart is breaking for him and I can’t watch him suffer..

  3. Rita says:

    Our elder Cubby will be Sweet 16 next month. He has always be an independent dude and just enjoyed his person (me) but he has always had one or two rescue siblings around. He has 1 3/4 cataracts, and can’t hear. He is in early stages of dementia, physically he is doing well. Acupuncture every 2 weeks to help lower back/hind quarter weakness. He does the stairs, takes walks just fine. Our biggest challenge is the incessant barking at times for hours. It is stressful to the humans in his life and heartbreaking at the same time. We had a family sedar Saturday night and he barked from the time everyone arrived until they left! I gave him some anti-anxiety med and rescue remedy to his water. It was not a good time for anyone. This is a first for us and we have lost many a beautiful furry child to old age, as life goes. But this is a tough situation for his people as I am sure it is for him at times. Any suggestions for a good calming treat for him. It is definately worse at night. Sundowner for sure. We feel his quality of life is still good although his needs are minimal now, food most important. He sleeps most of the time. He has had a rescue sister for a few years now, she is almost 4 and has gotten into his routine, she would like him to play with her, but when she isn’t sleeping she amuses herself, luckily she is a great fit, very chill.
    Thanks for the support.

  4. Eileen Anderson says:

    Dear Paula, William, Cristin, Marti, Becky, Dan, Melody, Lisa, Dina, Sandi, and Rita,
    I am so sorry that I have not been able to publish or respond to comments for the last few weeks.

    Some of you had already said goodbye to your dogs when you posted; some are probably still wrestling with the question.

    Your dogs are the lucky ones, to have owners like you who love them so much. Take care, and feel free to respond; I will be more active in responding again now.

    Eileen

    • Lauri Julian says:

      Eileen, your little Cricket was precious. I too have a Rat Terrier named Cricket. While she is doing fine, I have a 17 year old Chihuahua named Chloe who is not. Very similar symptoms as Cricket… loss of back legs, then pacing, then seizures and now constant circling. She eats well and usually sleeps through the night. I’ve consulted with 3 vets and they all say the same… neurological and not much we can do. When she circles, I redirect, pick her up, give her a treat, put her in her dog bed, hoping the sedatives will work or she will be tired enough to rest. As you know, this is heartbreaking every minute of the day. She looks so peaceful sleeping (just like your last photo of Cricket), but when she’s circling or whining, it takes its toll. You hit on a good point, it’s harder to consider putting them down when they’re still eating and getting up each day. But, even on all the meds we give them, we will never truly know how much they may be suffering. You don’t want to let them go, yet it’s the kindest thing you can do. It takes so much strength. You don’t want to wait until they are so sick that there’s no other choice. But, you can’t bear the thought of ending their life one minute sooner than necessary. You wrote very eloquently about this process. I don’t know how I am going to handle this. It truly is different than any of the other dogs who had very obvious physical decline. The cognitive issue is a tough one for sure. Thank you for sharing your story and experience. I love Rat Terriers, you and Cricket were lucky to have each other.

      • Eileen Anderson says:

        Your Chloe and Cricket are lucky to have you. I’m so sorry you are going through this with dear Chloe. I am so late in responding that I don’t know if Chloe is still with you, but I am sure you are doing or have done just the right things for her. Hugs to you.

  5. I don’t get much sleep now my dog is 17 at the end of the year and strating to wet her bed walk into doors looks strees most of the time and can’t sit still for a second it’s as if she has forgot she was out..I am at the stage when is the right time for her to rest.

    • Eileen Anderson says:

      Carol, I’m so sorry you are at this stage with your dog. A lot of us here know what you are going through. Hugs.

    • William says:

      There is never going to be a right time just a point when you have to decide are they happy ,are they only existing and is it ok to live like this.the answer will be different for everyone.you will always wish for more time so dont be too hasty,but also be sure they of course are not suffering.if they eat drink and are not in pain ,if you can still keep them entertained all be it in there own world hang on.if diapers and pads help hang on .if they seem scared and truly sad not just old and distant this is the time to question.i do feel i let my boy go too early and it pains me ,but you cant go back he was not in good shape and was mostly just existing,but i feel now i was able to make his life better by keeping him busy showing him new places and things .was it a bad time to let him go?no but i could have waited for me and for him it is a mixed bag i think most would agree,and for some it is better to let go than to hang on.every situation is obviously different.having gone through this i say if you can give yourself and your dog 2 weeks time to decide ,and think can they handle this then think can i handle this and then think can they handle this if i can handle this.its the most thoughtful and painful decision to make so go slow, dont think how hard it is on you but how hard is it for them and then think can i make it better for them,ask and answer all questions before you make your choice because when they are gone there is no going back ,but they will always love you no matter what you decide that is what they do.

  6. Valerie says:

    I have my Lil’Bit, he is 18 and was actually my fathers dog. We call him, “our inheritance “ . I love this boy, and want to do the best for him, i know my father would have wanted the same thing. He brought my father great comfort in his last weeks, and I only want to do the same for him.
    Obviously, by my being on here, reading this, I’m looking for answers to an impossible question….
    I will take the next two weeks, regard him seriously, and make a decision.

    Tonight I have had to give him drugs to get him to relax. This is something I have not had to do for a few weeks now. I don’t like doing it, but I know it’s better for him than pacing all night. Poor lil guy….

    Let’s see how tomorrow is, and I’ll look for the light in his eyes.

    • Eileen Anderson says:

      Yes, the impossible question. I’m so sorry you are facing it. I wish for you peace and a clear path, and for Lil’Bit some of what he loves the most.

  7. Anne Smith says:

    I am asking myself the question daily – am I allowing her to suffer, selfishly? But how can I, who am I to make that choice for her? My mom is 92 with similar symptoms, it would be the same for her, not?
    My Peke, Angel, is almost 16. She still looks beautiful, internally is fine and eats well but the Sundowners is very sad with her loosing eyesight and hearing She paces continually from about 5pm, very restless, her legs slide sideways when she stands still or eats, stares at the wall corners and forces thru under tables etc. rather than walk round. She is OCD about it. I have to steer her in another direction to help. She tries to push thru tiny areas, lands up getting stuck and yelps for help. I keep furniture either away for the wall or right against it, in the same place all the time, large water bowl always fresh, and every one watches out for her when she goes to toilet outside. She got out last night, I drove around looking for her in our complex and found her wondering lost under our Willow trees – all sticky, I think from tree sap, black dirty paws and leaves stuck all over her. Bathed her at 11:30pm, blowdried her, put a drop of lavender essential oil on her neck to ready her for bed. But night time is very restless, waking up pacing, getting stuck and tripping. Am going to try Alzam, a light dose, at night for rest. At least, I think, she doesnt have pain, she doesnt yelp or moan, but a slight silent grunt sometimes when I hold her at night.
    I see her bravely hop and bounce and run a little when I whistle for her to eat, walking down to passage to my room, which I close up for her to eat at her pace. She only hears a high-pitch whistle, and knows I am looking for her. And she if she realises I arrived home, she’ll walk in my direction and try find me with those clouded eyes but if Im not quick enough to pick her up, she looses interest and turns away.
    Thanks for listening. It has done me a lot of good reading your posts… thank you.

  8. Wendy Adams says:

    I ran across this wonderful page about 30 minutes ago. What a God send. My sweet furbaby, Lobo, was diagnosed with dementia just a few months ago. I was my parents fulltime caregiver for 8 years; both passed from complications of Alzheimer’s and dementia. Lobo had the sundowners look in his eyes; I saw my parents. It brought tears to my eyes immediately. I knew he had this horrible disease. He’s on 400 mg of trazodone daily; and beginning to have more bad days than good ones. Lobo’s 13 yrs old, golden/lab mix, I rescued him when he was 1.5 yrs and my protector. The sundowners has become worse. Praying for when to make the final decision for him. Thanks for your shoulders

    • Eileen Anderson says:

      Dear Wendy,
      My mother had Alzheimer’s and my dog had CCD, so I know a little of what you have been through. And I know the look you mean in the dog’s eyes. I hope you can make a peaceful decision and know that you were/are the best “mom” for Lobo ever. (I’m sorry for the delay in responding. I know a lot can happen in three weeks.)

  9. Ginny Hedges says:

    Our 11 year old dachshund mix Rocco has just been diagnosed with CCD. The vet just started him on Xanax 3 days ago and it has seemed to help some. He still has times when he doesn’t seem to know who we are and he trembles with fear. When he goes out to potty, he sits out in a corner and doesn’t want to come back in the house and acts scared. Will he keep getting better with Xanax or will his symptoms just start to get worse as time goes on? Thank you for your help. This is all new to us as we have never had a dog before with this problem.

    • Eileen Anderson says:

      I know I am almost a month late in answering your post. Addressing a dog’s fear and anxiety can be very helpful. No one can say (and I’m not a vet!) how the meds will work. But I know some vets prescribe different meds at different times. I hope you can keep in good touch with your vet about Rocco’s condition. I’m sorry he’s got CCD but glad he is in your hands.

  10. Jill says:

    I have read the comments and I see that a lot of your fur babies are much older than my 11 year old rough coat collie. I just don’t understand why this is happening. She is so young still. But I noticed a few weeks ago that she couldn’t hear much. Actually nothing at all. I started using hand signals to get her to come inside. Then at night we would catch her standing in our bedroom just staring at the wall. Recently she is pacing back and forth and sticking her head in every nook and cranny and whimpering. We have to physically lay her down and rub her head so she can go to sleep. I had an appointment to euthanize her yesterday which I cancelled. I know I am being selfish by letting her live this way. But it was just last week she was running around in the yard playing with the kids. And now this. I keep thinking if I get her the best food and vitamin C she will come out of this. I haven’t taken her to the vet as of yet for fear of hearing that “it’s time”.. I have even contemplated CBD oil. This is horrible. I just wish if she wasn’t going to “snap” out of this, she would just go to sleep and not wake up. Thank you for letting me comment and thank you for all of your stories.

  11. Debbie says:

    I just came across this and I feel so less alone suddenly. My dog is almost 15. I have noticed small symptoms, getting lost in my small house, growling at nothing, etc. Last week he started peeing in my bed at night. I got belly bands and he takes them off. I am torturing myself as to when is the right time because by looking at him he is otherwise healthy for his age.

  12. My miniature Schnauzer ,Dixie has been showing signs of dementia ! She turns in circles for hours , until she is so wore out ! I am saddened to watch her ! She eats well , but when she goes out the dog door , she just walks around in the yard in circles, she forgets were she’s at. Then she doesn’t know how to get back in the dog door, she stays in the heat until her sisters go out and show her how to get back though the dog door! I don’t know if she is suffering ? She is so stary eyed ! I feel bad for her . She has really went down in the last couple of weeks. I love her , but I want to do the right thing for her! My heart is broken! I don’t want to put her on drugs! I am lost! Angelia Haase

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