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

 

331 Comments

  1. Janie Curtis says:

    We lost our older dog (16) to old age and dementia about 3 months ago, and since then our younger dog (8/9 years old) has been displaying all the signs of dementia. Sleeping all day, not wanting to go for walks, loss of interest in human interaction, loss of house training, shaking for no real reason and in the past two days she has stopped wanting to eat. Initially we thought that it was depression due to the loss of her older companion, but she as been getting worse and now we are afraid that she has dementia as well. We are taking her to the vet today but are fearing the worst. It feels like she should be too young to get dementia and yet all the symptoms seem to be the same as the ones on your list. We are very sad at the thought of loosing both of them so close together.

    • Eileen Anderson says:

      Dear Janie,
      My best wishes for the best possible diagnosis and lots more good time with your dog.

      –Eileen

  2. Karen says:

    Hi, we put our girl down 2 days ago and she looked just like your Cricket and was almost 18 y.o and she had the same Dementia symptoms, she also started having seizures from a month ago, she forgot how to eat most times. I questioned myself if it was too soon, but seeing your site today it gives me comfort to know the time was right for my precious girl. Thankyou

    • Eileen Anderson says:

      Hugs to you, Karen. I’m so sorry for your loss. I’m glad the site gave you some comfort.

  3. Nancy says:

    MY SHITZU/MALTESE IS ONLY 9 YEARS OLD, BUT SHE HAS BEEN HAVING A LOT OF THE SAME PROBLEMS AS DESCRIBED EARLIER AND THE VETS HAVE TRIED EVERYTHING, SHE GOES GOOD FOR A WHILE THEN TAKES A TOTAL TURN FOR THE WORSE, IS THIS NORMAL AT THAT AGE TO HAVE DEMENTIA?

    • Eileen Anderson says:

      I’m sorry, Nancy, I don’t know of any research on that. But some other people have reported it here in their dogs. So sorry you are going through that. Try another vet maybe? Not everything is fixable, I guess, but there are a lot of conditions that have some or all of these same symptoms. Good luck.

      • Christopher Cospelich says:

        I am depressed because I took in a 12 yr old Maltese female and tonite has broke me all the way down. I’m bipolar 1 with PTSD ocd and ADHD, so my patience is not very good, but my love for dogs is as great as my love for jesus. She has placed our home all day and got lodged behind a dresser in a tight space for around an hour and was upside down struggling when I came into the room. Not long after this episode I took her out to potty and she got startled and run in fear bumped her head on my truck while running away. It has progressively gotten worse over this past week and she paces all day and gets lost behind doors stares into corners gets trapped behind chairs ect… I’ve not had her diagnosed, but plan on taking her Friday. I’m so down and depressed but reading your posts have lifted my spirit. This is a beautiful place you’ve created with all of the most informing information and calming words I’ve ever seen. God bless you all with your babies and continue to help us have peace and understanding . God bless.

        • Christopher Cospelich says:

          She sleeps all nite eats & drinks well and looks totally healthy, but she is suffering. I really appreciate you eileen

        • Eileen Anderson says:

          Dear Christopher,
          How difficult that sounds. I hope your appointment on Friday went well. There are a lot of people here who have been through what you are going through with your Maltese. It’s clear you love her so much. Good for you for taking such good care of her.

  4. paul deal says:

    Sophie is my 14 year old Lab/Greyhound mix. She was diagnosed with dementia about 1 year ago. I have her on a huge mix of dementia meds and supplements which have really helped her. She does all of the things I’ve read at your website, i.e. wandering, getting lost in circles, etc.. She has always been a runner and very active. She has a great appetite and is in great physical shape for her age. I have to feed her by hand now and guide her around to go the bathroom. She does have pee accidents daily in the house. What has been happening recently is that she will be very active and really pull when we go for a walk in the evening and seems fine when we get home. After resting before bedtime, she’ll get up and not be able to put weight on one of her paws. This happened last night and she was in pain. I got her outside to potty and then made her comfortable next to me in her bed. I thought she had injured her paw walking so hard. I was going to take to the Vet after I spoke with them in the evening about everything because they thought she had injured her paw. She woke me up at 3 AM and wanted to go outside to potty. She displayed no evidence of having injured herself.! She walked fine although hunched over like a 14 year old dog.This morning after our walk and breakfast, she started strongly favoring her other right front paw. I made the realization that her dementia is causing some significant neurological issues with her extremities. I spoke with my pet sitter today who comes to let her out at lunch and feed her and was told that she was running around like there was no tomorrow with no limps or pain. 30 minutes later she was favoring her right paw again. How do I know when the right time is for her? I made an apt for her to be euthanized in my home in 2 days but now I am really questioning my decision. I thought she had told me with her eyes last night that she ready. I guess I was wrong. Have you seen this before?

    • Eileen Anderson says:

      I’m so sorry, Paul. Did you go ahead with it? I haven’t heard of those exact symptoms but my dog did have problems with her rear legs. I hope your heart is OK with whatever decision you made. It’s clear what great care you take of your dog and how much you love her.

  5. Judy says:

    My Maltese is 13+ years old. He’s been diagnosed with cognitive disfunction syndrome, like Alzheimer’s. He paces for hours and barks at walls, corners, curtains etc. He’s on trazadone now. Just had to up it because it wasn’t helping anymore. He won’t sleep in his little dog bed which is right next to my bed. I’ve had to gate him in my room with me or shut the door and he barks to get out or knocks the gate down. He doesn’t really like to be touched anymore and sleeps slot during the day. He’s deaf and I think he’s losing his eyesight. He’s also always been on the aggressive side too, except with my 4 year old grandson. How do you put a dog down who still eats well? Just thinking about this makes me feel so guilty.

    • Eileen Anderson says:

      It’s very, very hard, Judy. One thing to consider is that it is completely arbitrary that we use the dog’s ability to eat as a deciding factor. Especially with this condition, sometimes they can still eat when the rest of their life doesn’t have much quality left. (I’m not saying that about your guy, just in general.) Have you looked at the resources for judging quality of life? Sometimes they can be helpful. FWIW I euthanized my little Cricket when she could still eat. I helped her leave this earth when I could see the downward spiral that was starting and I didn’t want to make her go all the way to the bottom.

      It’s different for everybody. I hope this helps a little.

  6. anna dirube says:

    Hi Eileen, I have a 17 year old yorkie named MIa. She is showing some of the signs you mention. The hardest is not sleeping at night. She is eating and drinking fine and still likes to go out for walks. However, sometimes she doesn’t recognize me and definitely stares out into oblivion. I currently have her on Anipryl (she has been on it for 3 months) as well as CBD oil at night to calm her. She is better but not sleeping at night as long as I would like her to. But I’m going to continue doing the best I can and fighting for her. I just want to make the right decision and I don’t know how to determine when that is. 🙁

    • Eileen Anderson says:

      Dear Anna,

      It’s the hardest decision ever. Many of us have been through it. I know you will do right by Mia. She is lucky to have you. Hugs.

  7. Dana Sam says:

    Thank you SO much for sharing your story and writing your book! It is so helpful to talk about and share these experiences….it helps me feel less “alone” in this process. I have purchased your book and also Facing Farewell….both are very helpful resources. I am dealing with health issues with my senior heart dog (first dog I have ever owned and first dog I will lose:( Back in January 2018, my 13 yo border collie had vestibular disease which was diagnosed as central brain vestibular. He was also diagnosed with the start of kidney disease and we found nodules / masses on his spleen and liver (chest and lungs were clear at that time). I was told he probably had cancer and was given a few weeks to live. I immediately changed his diet and started some supplements (treating as if it is hemangiosarcoma) and amazingly he is still with me today! After reading about CCD, I was thinking he may be showing some of the symptoms…..more active at night and barks at nothing….stopping on walks and looking confused. Then last Tuesday night into Wednesday, he had 4 “episodes” where he couldn’t get up and when he finally did his head would drop low and he would stagger and lose his balance, sometimes falling over. After these episodes (which only lasted a few minutes at most) he would be very anxious, pacing and panting. Now at night, he does pace and pant so we started him on Trazadone and that is helping. My vet thinks the episodes could have been small seizures. He also sways when he walks and his hind end is getting weaker….though he can still get up, just slowly. I am just wondering if you (or anyone on this thread) experienced the staggering and loss of balance episodes? Vet said it wouldn’t be Vestibular again because that gets progressively worse and lasts much longer. I didn’t see anywhere in my initial research that CCD causes staggering / loss of balance so perhaps something more serious is going on neurologically….but it definitely seems like he “sundowns” now so that is why I was thinking CCD.

    • Eileen Anderson says:

      Dear Dana,

      Thanks for buying the book and I’m glad both books have been helpful. This can be a lonely situation, caring for a senior dog with these problems. Thank you for posting your own story. Answering just a lay person, I see a lot of dogs with CCD who have rear end problems, but that may just be because so many seniors with advanced age have these problems. I hope your boy has some good times left. He has got to be a pretty tough guy! And you are clearly taking wonderful care of him. Good that you are doing research and staying in close contact with your vet. There is a lot a vet can do for a senior dog when they know the whole story of what is going on. Take care!

      • Dana Sam says:

        Thank you for responding Eileen. I am sad to say that we said goodbye to him on Sunday. He had a bad episode that he wasn’t recovering from, he was very uncomfortable and clearly in pain. When he collapsed face first into my lap, that was my sign from him that it was time. We let him go gently and peacefully in my backyard on a sunny Sunday afternoon. I have no regrets about my decision because I know it was the right decision for him. But the feeling of loss is debilitating right now…..I am overwhelmed with grief. I know with time dealing with his loss may get easier, but I also know I will never “get over” the loss of my heart dog. I really appreciate your time and efforts….please know that it does help.

  8. Marita Walcott says:

    hi Eileen thank you so much for the words that you have written. it is my 54th birthday today. I had saved what you have written and am drawn to it today. I have a gorgeous 15yr old dog called Tyson. he has been diagnosed with doggie dementia.he has arthritis like my self and is on meds like my self. he also has cataracts in both eyes but he can see light and dark so he still gets about.the vet said he wouldn’t make it through the op so I have not had them done. it has really helped me reading your story as I didn.t know what was wrong when he started circling and staring into a corner of the room. I, like so many others, am having difficulty in deciding when the time is right! I talk to the vet but he says if Tyson was my dog I wouldn’t put him to sleep yet. sometimes he looks sad and each morning I check to see if he is still breathing. I lost my parents,my mum to dementia ,last yr and sometimes feel so guilty that I think that I am keeping Tyson alive just for me. I just do not think I can cope with losing him. he does have accidents in the house sometimes but I now know when he wakes to be carried to the garden quickly and all is ok.I know you nor any one else can tell me when or if the time is right. I now realise I want some one to tell me so that I do not feel guilty about losing my little best friend.my 2 daughters who are 18 and 24 are worried that I will find him dead next to me one mornin and say I should make that decision before that happens but I would rather that happen.I guess I am just looking for answers but thank you for your words. x x

    • Eileen Anderson says:

      Dear Marita,
      Oh, that sounds so hard. I understand about wishing he would pass on his own. Boy, do I understand.

      My mom had Alzheimer’s as well. It’s so hard when you get it in your family both ways like that.

      No, we can’t tell you when the time is right, but please know that there are a lot of people here who understand your pain and wish you well with your sweet Tyson.

      • Marita Walcott says:

        hi Eileen thank you so much for replying. it is comforting to read what every one is writing. it was such a good idea for you to write the books as you say there is not really any help out there but you are helping a great deal. Tyson is still plodding along but he has started howling at different times of day. I check if he wants to be let out, thirsty.hungry, etc. I just don.t know if he is telling me he is in pain.

        • Maria says:

          Dear Marita I totally understand as I am the same in that I pray that my dearly beloved Bella could die in her sleep…the whole euthanasia process horrifies me and takes so much time …I wish there was a tablet that one could safely administer oneself at home…my heart goes out to you and lets hope that both Tyson and Bella can pass comfortably in their sleep …my Bella is 15 and a half years old and dementia signs showed about 4 years ago ..i sometimes blame myself and think the plane flights she has done with me did not help .

  9. Marita Walcott says:

    it is so hard as I have had him since he was 6 wks old and now he is 15yr !☹

  10. Debbie says:

    We helped our Lillie make her walk over the Rainbow Bridge yesterday. She had been battling “Sundowners” for almost 2 years and complicated further by being deaf and blind. However, she could see light and shadows, so I had night lights plugged into wall sockets everywhere so that she could navigate easier. She would pace all night long around the perimeters of the house, which would wake me several times a night thinking she had to go outside to potty. A lot of times, she would stand in a corner seemingly lost and other times get lost or caught behind chairs. I would always have to help her turn around into the opposite direction. Then she would continue her pacing routine for the rest of the night, then collapse into a deep sleep by sunrise and stay that way all day if I let her. At first, since she was deaf and blind, I thought it was her way of exercising since she no longer could go outside on her own without getting lost because of blind and deafness. She didn’t enjoy walks, so that wasn’t an option for us as she was always used to being out in our fenced yard and do her favorite thing, chase squirrels before she became blind and deaf. We gave her supplements to help with anxiety, then the vet gave me CBD oil to help her. Nothing helped with her pacing all night. She ate and drank normally, wasn’t having accidents in the house until last week. I’d take her outside. Sometimes she’d go, but most of the time she wouldn’t. When she came back in the house, I was standing next to her when she just squatted and peed right there. I was shocked. Then she started pooping everywhere. She constantly circled. She lost interest in eating, but would still drink water. It was obvious that her quality of life just wasn’t there any longer. It was a hard decision to let her go, but in hindsight, I probably waited too long. I miss her dearly already, but letting go is the kindest thing that you can do for your pet when quality of life is no longer there for them.

    • Eileen Anderson says:

      Debbie, I’m so sorry for your loss. It’s generous of you to share your story here. I think many of us feel we have waited too long after we finally make the decision. But it comes from love. How lucky Lillie was to be loved and cared for so well. Hugs to you.

    • Marita Walcott says:

      thanks Debbie for your share. I guess it made me realise that Tyson has sundown syndrome as he howls etc late afternoon and night time. it is another thing that I do not want him to suffer with. I do not want to regret that I kept him alive too long just for me, but I can not make that decision to let him go. he is having some accidents in the house but I just clear them up. I literally crying whilst I write this.am in so much turmoil. thanks for all your advice. x

  11. dorothy clark says:

    I have a 12 yr old puggle. He went blind at 6 called SARD.
    He is now displaying signs of dementia. The vet seems to think that’s what it is. I thought he was going deaf. I called his name clapped my hands and he appeared to hear but would walk right into the wall or behind the chair n couch and stare. He eats and drinks does not pee in the house . He sleeps all day except to eat. I put a leash on him to walk . He is turning 13 in oct . He has been my little buddy but I’m wondering what to give him ie supplements or different food..any suggestions. I am moving to Fla from Ma which will be a big adjustment. Tonite he fell down the cellar stairs which he never ever goes near the stairs bc of the depth perception w being blind. Tonite he fell all the way down. No apparent injuries. I’m worried it’s going to get worse from what I’ve read..last year I got diagnosed w cancer 8 days after I retired then ran over my 15yr old sweet Molly dog..my heart aches for her but I’m wondering if my Bear is depressed and missing her too.any help for food supplements or advice would b helpful. I want to read your books but I cry a lot bc of cancer and loss but I will try

    • Eileen Anderson says:

      Oh, what a lot of hardship for you in such a short time, Dorothy. I’m so sorry. Have you talked to your vet about diet, meds, and supplements? There are some things that can help. I can’t make recommendations–I’m just another well-meaning person on the internet–but my Treatment page does list all the things that have some evidence behind them. Good luck with your dear puggle. I’m so sorry you are going through this.

  12. Marita Walcott says:

    thanks Debbie for your share. I guess it made me realise that Tyson has sundown syndrome as he howls etc late afternoon and night time. it is another thing that I do not want him to suffer with. I do not want to regret that I kept him alive too long just for me, but I can not make that decision to let him go. he is having some accidents in the house but I just clear them up. I literally crying whilst I write this.am in so much turmoil. thanks for all your advice. x

  13. Samantha says:

    I’m laying here now at 4:02am with my dog who has just now decided to lay down.. Hes constantly up at night for the past three nights.. he will wake up and just stare at the wall and I don’t know what to do. I just hold him and pet him.. He doesn’t eat now during the day unless he’s absolutely hungry.. He’s drinking like crazy though.. It’s never ending. He will sit and shove his bowls together for hours and we have to yell at him and tell him no more.. (We just now today begun to see its dementia) He’s 14. He’s a Mini Doxie I’ve had him since I was 8. I’m 22 now.. The thought of putting him down is killing me. I keep asking myself, is his quality of life there?? He seems so happy during the day with my husband and I.. I could really use some advice! He also has anxiety and takes trazodone during the day.. I fear me putting him down is the solution.. But very hard for me to come to terms with especially since we had to move half way around the country for my husbands work and I take him to a vet I’m not familiar with.. Unlike the one at home that we have gone to for 13 years..

    • Eileen Anderson says:

      I’m so sorry you are going through this with your Doxie, Samantha. Did you look at the quality of life assessment tools? Sometimes they can help.

      Also, I have a suggestion. If you are in the states, look for a fear-free certified vet. That at least tells you they have gotten training in handling animals with the lowest stress possible. I think that’s a great starting point for looking for a caring, thorough vet. Also, check out board certified vet behaviorists. They specialize in this condition.

      Your dog is so lucky to have you. Your love and concern for him shine right through.

  14. vivienl says:

    thanks eileen & everyone for sharing your stories. My little guy has had dementia for a while, it is very challenging and some days are better than others. We had a sunny day last week so I picked him up , despite much opposition, and sat outside in the sun and nursed him for about 5 minutes like we used to do. Its hard when they no longer recognise or respond to you. I know I have to say goodbye very soon, health has deteriorated rapidly. I dont want to leave it too long but I guess I want one more good day before then.

    • Eileen Anderson says:

      Dear Vivien,
      It’s so hard A lot of us here understand. I hope you had your good day–and maybe some more? Thinking of you and your little guy.

  15. Michela says:

    Hi Eileen!
    God bless for your blog!
    My 9 and half dog started having severe panick attack when wind blows and started to act weird. I took him to a behavioural therapist and she diagnosed a mild ccd.
    I have the feeling some vets tend to minimize ccd, they just say” it’ s part of getting old…”, Or , even worse, they don’t even know about it.
    When I told my vet about the therapist diagnosis he said that my dog might even not display cognitive simptoms… I was so angry: if ccd is a degenerative disease how could he not, sooner or later?
    I wanted to ask you, Eileen or anyone here in the comment section:
    1) could you post something about anxiety in ccd, your experiences?
    2) Has anyone experienced a longer life expectancy than 2 years?
    3) my dog is not even 10 y.o and already diagnosed with ccd: anyone else had their dog diagnosed at a relatively younger stage of seniority?
    Thank you

    Hugs from Italy

    • Eileen Anderson says:

      Dear Michela,
      I’m glad you found your way here, but sorry you had to!
      My dog’s first symptom was anxiety. We didn’t identify it as CCD. That diagnosis didn’t happen for another year. I’m not a medical expert, but I can tell you from what I have read that not all dogs get all the symptoms on the lists. But as they age with this disease, it does seem to me that cognitive decline is going to get more and more likely. There are physical brain changes, just like in human Alzheimer’s.

      My little Cricket probably had CCD for almost 3 years, but as I mentioned, it was not diagnosed at first.

      We’ve had some people write in with dogs younger than 10 years, some of whom I think were diagnosed with CCD. (Some of them may have had other conditions; it wasn’t clear yet.)

      I try not to push my book here, but I do think it would be helpful to you. Good luck to you and your dear dog, Michela.

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