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. Michela says:

    Thank you Eileen, and thank you for building up a community on this topic, I do think that knowing we are not alone helps somehow. And I will purchase your book.
    Thank you again.

  2. hi Eileen I have bought your pdf version of your book today through paypal. but I now cannot seem to find it any where,do I have to buy again? please help as I really need to read it

    • Eileen Anderson says:

      Hi Marita,
      I’ll send you an email. Sorry for the problem!

      • thank you so much Eileen. have received it now. I have also decided today 21st August 2018 is the day booked for Tyson to go over the rainbow bridge. the words in your book have been a complete support for the painful journey I have ahead. my 18 yr old daughter is crying for me not to go ahead but I can’t bear to see Tyson stumbling and banging his head anymore as he can not see, howling with his dementia, being restless.His life is eating,sleeping and banging his head.that is no quality at all. I cannot stop crying but I know it is the right thing to do.send me some positive thoughts please. xx

        • Eileen Anderson says:

          Many, many positive thoughts sent. I’m so sorry. He is so lucky to have had you for his guardian and friend. Hugs.

          • update on Tyson.I phoned and went to the vet, we have delayed him crossing over the rainbowbridge.Tyson is home and he has upped his meds. I am going to nurse him for a few more wks.they have said they will squeeze him in if he needs to be seen urgently. takin one day at a time. thanks for your support X

          • Eileen Anderson says:

            Marita,
            I hope things go well. Thanks so much for letting us know.

            Eileen

          • I just wanted to let you know, I have just got home.Tyson has now gone over the rainbow bridge. I can’t talk, my heart is broken. I can’t stop crying.please tell me this gets better than this. thanks Eileen for all your love and support x x

  3. CATHY HESTER says:

    Oh Ellen, you are my hero! Moses was in an Amish Puppy Mill for 16 long years. All his teeth were knocked out with a broken jaw and he was inhumanely debarked. He was to be put in a wood chipper at noon if our rescue did not get him in time. He came to me after his vet care. I figured it was hospice–a few months maybe? Almost three years later–Moses fooled us all. He too comes to work with me every day. He cheers up my dislocated adult trainees as he romps the halls and teases them and runs away. For almost three years we were inseparable unless I was traveling abroad. He goes to church, restaurants, doctors offices, concerts, and anywhere I go–he is with me. I said “this Moses truly entered his promised land!”

    Well a few months ago he started with signs of cognitive dementia. Circling, head pressing, not finding his bed or food. But like your dear Cricket, he still loved to eat and I considered that very positive. He walks aimlessly and looks for me which is comforting. He loves being in my lap even at work when I can hold him. But he declined rapidly. I then asked the doctor for Anipril and it seemed to work almost immediately but then side effects of central nervous system stimulation occurred. He is ataxic, screams like a bird and becomes rigid so that I must hold him tight until he relaxes. It is not a seizure. This is a bad day. Then he can have a decently good day. I have made an appointment for the vet to come to the house twice and called it off. Until I read your article today, I was double minded. I take in many hospice dogs and know when it is time with physical diseases, but this is so very different. I just sent Baby over the bridge last month in end state kidney failure. Eight months ago, Gabe left us with COPD. So I am not usually so confused.

    But you made it so clear. This is a disease just the same and there is a time that is right and there is a time that is over due. Although Moses can have a good day now and then, he doesn’t deserve to face seizures and even worse. He is ready and I need to let him go. He will eat a good meal and sleep close to me on Thursday night. Friday he will be released. Thank you for making it so much clearer and easier to let him go. It will be the most difficult thing I have ever done. But I know it is right. And it is his time. His story has taught so many over these three years about the Puppy mill culture. Many did not know and their minds were changed about pet shops and breeders. He inspired my trainees to never give up. How did such a tiny Yorkie survive 16 years of abuse and torment in a rabbit hutch? He was feisty and strong and able to live for the glorious day he was rescued and came to live with us. The fighting spirit of Moses will always be with me. Thank you again, Ellen. God bless you. I can’t wait to read your entire book.

    • Eileen Anderson says:

      Oh Cathy,

      Moses (what a fantastic name) sounds like a wonderful little guy. Your post makes my heart ache, but I am so glad if I helped. This is just the hardest, hardest thing. And bless you for taking in hospice dogs. You remind me of my friend Blanche. Be sure to read her story in the last chapter of the book. I’ll be thinking of you and Moses on Friday.

  4. […] books and articles that can help you manage your dog. And, she also has a kind and sensitive page devoted to how to decide when the time has come that “you need to help your dog with […]

  5. […] books and articles that can help you manage your dog. And, she also has a kind and sensitive page devoted to how to decide when the time has come that “you need to help your dog with […]

  6. Alessio says:

    My wife and I have an 11 year old Jack Russell. For about two years, he barks at me at night, showing his teeth, when I approach my wife to hug her and give her a good night kiss.

    We taped the behavior and showed a vet, and she said it is probably dementia (CCD), but I’m not buying it.

    During the day, he hunts as usuall in our huge back yard, he plays with his toys, his diet is normal, he looks forward to his walks, and he is very familiar with his surroundings, space, and so on. He never gets stuck in corners or behind furniture and his spacial awareness is very good. There are no blank stares.

    This vet said, “Euthanasia is a very difficult decision but sometimes it is the best thing for the dog, especially in cases like this.”

    I am aghast that this vet was so quick ro hint at euthanasia when it is not clear at all that our dog has CCD.

    Any recommendations on how I should respond to this vet?

    • Eileen Anderson says:

      I’m not a vet and I don’t know your dog, but it does seem odd to diagnose him on just one behavior that could have several causes. I might consult another vet, or a vet behaviorist (they are the “psychiatrists” of the veterinary world).

      Here’s another idea. This scale was created after a lot of clinical study. It is very accurate in determining whether CCD is possible. You could fill it out for your dog and show it to your vet. http://rng.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/CCDR-scale-revised.pdf

      Good luck and I’m sorry you are going through this.

      Eileen

  7. joanna says:

    Hello All! I would greatly appreciate some input from those who are taking this journey with their beloved senior dog. I am really at a loss of what to do. My miniature dachshund, Noah, is 18 years old and has Canine Cognitive Dysfunction. He has been symptomatic for about 8 months.

    I adopted him from rescue at age 10. He had barely survived being horribly neglected and starved. When he came into our lives he was blind in 1 eye and had no teeth left. We bonded instantly and he has been my shadow ever since. I have spoiled him in every possible way in an effort to love away all the horrible experiences he had before being rescued.

    He is now almost completely blind but physically doing well and has no major chronic health issues other then the CCD. The biggest challenge has been his night time anxiety and agitation (barking, whining, pacing, searching) for which he is inconsolable and often doesn’t seem to recognize me.
    He had been worked up by his long time Vet and nothing else was found to be wrong. We started on alprazolam (doggie Xanex) and within 1 month progressed to max dose for his size of 8 lbs. It became ineffective in about 2 weeks. So, we moved on to Trazadone 50mg tablets. After 2 months he is at max dose again and now it only works for 4 hrs at night. We tried thunder shirts, snug wraps, calming pheromone collar, and herbal supplements (Zesty Paws Calming Treats Dogs – Anxiety Composure Relief Suntheanine – Organic Kelp & Valerian Root + L Tryptophan) all without success.

    He has always slept in our bed along with 2 other mini-doxies. Needless to say, once he gets agitated everyone wakes up. We don’t mind letting him out once or twice a night if he would go back to sleep. But my husband and I can’t function on 4 hrs of sleep. Our Vet states there are no other meds to try other then stopping the Trazadone and slowly titrating Prozac over the course of 4 weeks. I hate the way this sounds but I can’t be without sleep for 4 weeks and I don’t want to put him through such anxiety/agitation when it might not even work. (I have a health condition which flares if I am sleep deprived for long periods of time).

    The big question is, is it time to euthanize Noah? Is there anything else reliable we could try? Is it fair to Noah to keep going when his quality of life is mostly sleeping/sedation and agitation/confusion? Am I being selfish?

    • Eileen Anderson says:

      Dear Joanna,
      I commend you for trying so many different avenues with Noah. I can tell this is hard on your whole family. You didn’t mention selegiline (Anipryl), which is the drug that’s been tested and found to help some dogs with dementia. This is not a medical recommendation; I’m just mentioning it. But it’s incompatible with some other drugs, and if your vet hasn’t recommended it there could be a reason to avoid it.

      Another thing you could do is contact a board-certified veterinary behaviorist. They are the specialists in the veterinary world who deal with cognitive and neurological problems. Your vet could do a consult with one, probably, or you can approach one on your own (they’ll need Noah’s records and will probably need to coordinate with your current vet unless the behaviorist happens to be local). They are knowledgeable about a wider palette of treatments and are familiar with the problems that a whole family can have if a dog has dementia.

      Good luck. Sorry this is so very hard.

    • Kimberly Strand says:

      How wonderful that you tried so many options. I am sure Noah appreciates the dedication you have had to helping him.

  8. Bailey says:

    Hi there,

    I’ve recently been struggling to figure out what I should do with my 16 1/2 year old yorkie who has dementia. About two years ago I noticed the starting signs, having more accidents in the house, losing her sense of direction, etc. and it has since gone downhill from there. I am only 19 years old but have had her since she was a puppy so you can probably see as to why I’ve been holding on to her for so long. I’m at the point where I hand feed her twice a day and help her drink water through the sink and I just don’t know how to let go. My mom helps me take care of her some days as I am a full time college student but I am at the point where I’m think: is the time now? Have I prolonged her pain for my selfishness? I’m at a loss but cannot imagine not having my best friend around as she’s been with me for everything growing up. She sleeps just fine in her kennel next to my bed (fluffed with the softest pillows and blankets), she is on a set schedule with food and bathroom breaks, but her days consist of walking around in a large space aimlessly until it’s time to eat, nap, and repeat until bedtime. I am unsure about what steps I should take next and am looking for some sort of guidance from anyone because my vet appears to say she is okay as long as she continues eating, but I want advice from people who have experienced the same as me. My baby hasn’t experienced any horrible signs of seizures or really appeared to be in pain… it’s almost as if she hasn’t had a clue about what is going on but she does still seem to sense when I am touching her. I’m stuck.

    • Eileen Anderson says:

      Hi Bailey,
      Oh, I can’t even imagine how hard it must be with a dog who has been your buddy for essentially your whole life. What a heartache. Have you checked out the quality of life scale? It can help us take an objective look, sometimes. For me, it would make a difference whether she is in distress. From what you describe, she seems more out of it and wander-y than anxious. I would take that into consideration, as well as the lack of pain. Whatever you decide, I know it will be right. Unfortunately, dogs with dementia don’t always give us a clear “sign.” We just have to make the awful decision ourselves. Good luck, and I’m so sorry this is happening. What a hard thing.

  9. Geri Weiner says:

    I just put my baby Maximus Down as he was up all night very uncomfortable with dementia. My heart is broken. As I took care of him for 15 years, last 4 blind and deaf. Everyday with a routine, and I loved him all night and night. Cuddles most of the day and slept on me at night. It sucks, as he was my world. But he was very uncomfortable at the end and I couldn’t let him feel this way anymore. I hope he is free from being so trapped. I don’t know where dogs go and I’m scared for him but I’m hoping he is safe and happy.

    • Eileen Anderson says:

      Dear Geri,
      I’m so sorry for your loss. You released Maximus from his discomfort, which I think is one of the greatest gifts we can give our dear dogs. But I also know it’s a terribly hard thing to do. You must miss him so. Hugs.

    • Kimberly Strand says:

      My Foxy was blind and deaf the last years too. It’s been a week and a couple days and I am broken hearted. I cry many times a day and miss her very much. I am sad others have gone through this too, but also take some comfort knowing there are many people and animal bonds similar to ours.

  10. jeffrey krause says:

    my friend jenny passed over yesterday, on the Saturday I can only describe as some form of communication which she was telling me that she had had enough and it was time to go..the weekend saw a rapid descent into circling she circled for 4 hours nothing I could do would stop her agitation, this was when I decided
    it was time. the sunday she circled less but Monday she returned to it it was so painful to watch she trembled until 2 am in the morning, when she passed there was a mixture of I left it too late and how could I have let her suffer, its love that clouded my judgement
    there is a huge hole in my heart which I doubt will ever be filled. I came to realise too that cdd affects them physically, my girl had these unexplained spasms/lameness that disappeared as quickly as they came even the vets didn’t know why. this disease is I can only describe a vile and viscous
    my solace is that she is a better place

    • Kimberly Strand says:

      My Pom Foxy went through the same thing the last night she was alive. She and I didn’t sleep all night but maybe 1/2 hour or so. I found when I brought her out in the cold (live in Mn) she would fall asleep in my arms. Within 10 mins of bringing her back inside she would twitch and wake up and scratch me to get down only to start circling again. It was so sad. I’m sure Jenny knows you love her.

  11. Judy says:

    Hi I have an old German shepherd x mastiff who has arthiritis and vet says possible cognitive dysfunction he’s 12 he’s lost his muscle has muscle atrophy , he’s been pooing in the house for over a year, and has been weeing in the house for 6 mo this now he’s leaking and sleeps in his bed wet as he goes while he’s asleep and everywhere else, he does struggle with stiff joints which he’s on metacam for, he goes 5hrough a ritual of getting up several times early evening when I’m sat down up , and down turning round trying to get comfy , then hel sit down n get up again, he licks his penis and legs where the wee leak son to I’m afraid of scalding which I try to keep him clean , he eats ok and drinks I’m turn is it time? He can walk but not too far , now, he can’t stand for too long as his back end goes, I have to hold his bac’ end while he’s eating can you advise , he does enjoy his walk and his treats still thankyou,

    • Eileen Anderson says:

      Dear Judy,
      I wish I could help better, but this is such a hard decision for all of us. Have you checked out the Villalobos Quality of Life Scale on this page? Sometimes it’s helpful in letting you weigh all the different factors. I’m sorry you are having to go through this, and it must be especially hard with a big dog. I’m glad he still enjoys his walk and his treats. Those are important things! Wishing you clarity with this hard decision.

  12. Lon Anderson says:

    Eileen – Thank you so much for your blog and for your book. I stumbled across them today and I am sitting in my office crying barely able to see my laptop screen.

    My girl Chicory, the joy of my life began presenting symptoms that I didn’t understand about four weeks ago. Two vet visits later and a few hours on the internet and she was diagnosed with cognitive disorder. In looking at her symptoms it is clear – confusion and agitation especially at night, restless and unable to sleep at night, barking at me, the walls, the couch, the plants, the door, the shower mat, inconsolable when agitated, pacing, becoming lost in a room, less human contact and a willingness to sleep during the day anywhere, and forgotten house training. She deteriorated rapidly and it continues.

    When the symptoms first appeared and even this morning on my way to work, I rationalized them. Chicory is strong. This is the dog that ruptured two disks one at age 1 and one at age 2 – she wasn’t supposed to live. She was paralyzed mid-back down. I kept her in a play pen, slept next to her, and nurtured her with love and physical therapy until she learned to walk again. We survived house fires, family deaths, the destruction of relationships, hurricanes – we have spent holidays together and gone on road trips to NYC. She has loved me like no one ever in this world and I love her. I have spared nothing throughout her life to ensure she is safe and healthy – her back issues resulted in her vet suggesting she be euthanized due to a low probability she would walk again and high probability the back injuries would continue, she spent a week in an oxygen tank recovering from pneumonia after aspirating during a routine surgery, I walk her twice a day for 30 mins each time and have a dog walker come mid-day because as she has gotten older she needs that extra mid day break, and I threw myself in-front of an off leash dog that severed the muscle in my arm as it attacked me but I protected her.

    I knew when the symptoms worsened and especially at night when I could not console her and I wasn’t sure she even knew who I was or why I was in the room that I would soon be called upon to be the human and make the decision. I have been putting it off. I work from home and during the days she appears almost symptom free – snuggles with me, follows me around, sleeps in her bed at my feet. Then the dreaded sunset comes, a time I used to love, and you can see the agitation, followed shortly by the pacing which in the last few days is frantic. I want to fight this and beat it with her, just like we did with her back. I want to hold her and love her and be both anchor and beacon – and in your article I realized that I can be those things for her but the course of action that I must take for her is different than the one I selfishly want for me. I realized that I must confront and take action before the entire world has become something scary to her, I must act while I can still hold her and talk to her.

    I have sent a note to my vet and will schedule the time. My heart is so broken.

    I once witnessed wedding vows that I reflected on an found to be the most beautiful promise. She said to him, “I promise that I will live longer than you so that you never feel the pain of living in this world without my love.”

    Thank you again for sharing your journey. I will say goodbye.

    • Eileen Anderson says:

      Dear Lon,
      Thank you so much for sharing about Chicory and the amazing life you have given her. My heart is broken for you. Take care.

  13. Jill says:

    I’ve gotten a lot of comfort from this site the last few weeks. We figured out our dachshund mix Sweetie had “dog dementia” in the summer when after walks she’d run up and stand on the opposite side of of front door, behind milk cans to be let in. That’s when we started to realize the standing in corners and staring into space were all part of it. She progressed fast from summer to December she no longer enjoys walks, has started to relieve herself every day and night in the same spot in the kitchen, stares into space, gets lost in corners and most recently seems to have forgotten how to eat. I tried to purée everything but she not interested, in anything. She licks at it and then walks away. I’ve seen the joy of life leave her eyes and most recently her recognition of who I even am as well. She hasn’t ate in two days and so today I’m going to let her go. She’s been to the vet and he said as long as she was eating to take it day by day, but it’s as if she has forgotten to be hungry. My Grandma died last January and had dementia from a stroke, it’s weird but Sweeties Actions are just like my Grandmas. She just stares at me blankly and won’t accept food. My heart is breaking. She was a rescue I found her 6 years ago dodging traffic, we eventually found her owner but when he saw how attached I’d become he let me keep her. She is the best dog I’ve ever had. I’m glad I’ve given her the best life possible. The last month she had been beyond spoiled resting on an electric blanket for warmth day and night.
    I’m really struggling here as I keep wondering “am I doing the right thing? Should I wait?” But If she isn’t eating and all she does when she’s not standing on her bed staring into the corner is sleep, her quality of life isn’t there, right? I know it’s the right thing to do I just wanted someone else who has been through it to comfort me I guess.
    “How lucky am I to have had something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”
    Winnie the Pooh

    • Eileen Anderson says:

      Dear Jill,
      I’m so sorry. What a lovely tribute to your little Sweetie. Thank you for writing. There are a lot of people here who have had to make the same decision. This is just my own opinion, but I think it’s better to let them go a bit early than too late. We all have to make the best decision we can, and I’m sure that whatever you do, it will be right. Hugs.

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