It's almost overwhelming when you consider the joy dogs can bring into our lives in a brief amount of time. Depending on when you first bring a dog into your home, you'll probably spend more than a decade with the companion who will be with you through the good and bad, a loyal family member who will provide love and stability as you go through the paces of everyday life. Like humans, dogs can't live forever, but unlike humans, they can't tell you when they no longer wish for medical care that may prolong a life well-lived, especially if medical care also means prolonged pain. Instead, they rely on you, the responsible dog owner, to see to it that they're able to enjoy a comfortable existence. Sometimes, that means you'll have to make difficult decisions knowing that while those decisions may bring your dog peace, they'll ultimately bring you sadness.
When you're faced with the difficult decisions that come with an aging dog, there are several factors to consider when contemplating the end of your dog's life.
Pain and discomfort: Dogs may act nobly when they're feeling pain but their ability to quietly deal with physical discomfort doesn't mean it's OK. This is especially true when dogs are no longer able to act on some of their basic needs without assistance. You may think you're doing your dog a favor by carrying him down the stairs or hand-feeding him but if his physical nature has worsened to the point where he's no longer able to do the simplest of functions, are you actually helping, or are you taking away his independence and, to an extent, his dignity? Despite your intentions, you no longer may be giving your beloved dog the life that he necessarily desires.
Personal feelings: An obvious but often unsaid reason people allow their dogs to live out their days in discomfort may be that the owner isn't ready to give up that part of his life. For many dog owners who depend on their pets for support and comfort use that dependency to justify their decisions to keep their dogs alive, even when the dog is living in pain. It's a difficult decision to give up what may be the most consistent part of your life but filling a personal void by avoiding an inevitable event shouldn't be used to justify your dog's unnecessary pain. After all, she's counted on you for years to see that she's properly fed, walked and given proper care. That responsibility never ends, even when decisions that fulfill your role as a dog owner are incredibly painful to make.
Cost and time: Dog owners often have stories about feeling guilty about not being able to provide the recommended care for their dogs as they enter the final stage of their lives, but as we've often pointed out, your pet is your responsibility, meaning you're the only one who knows what is and isn't doable in regards to time and money. If your vet suggests a treatment plan that will cost thousands of dollars and may only keep your 13-year-old dog alive for less than a year, there's no need to feel guilty about questioning that decision and considering other options. Decisions about your pets have to factor in the other financial responsibilities in your life. There's no shame in being unable to afford high-cost treatment plans that may only numb a dog's discomfort or briefly prolong their eventual demise. Those are personal decisions. You can certainly talk about them with family members and friends but no one has the right to make you feel guilty about the decisions you make that are best for you and your family.
Since dogs are such true companions, it's easy to sometimes see them as self-reliant. But they depend on you to make the best decisions for their well-being. How you choose to handle the end of your dog's life may be as important as how you helped them live. Decisions based on realities—both your dog's reality and your own—may be difficult, but ultimately, dog owners should make choices that are in the best interest of themselves and their beloved pets.
If you have specific questions please go to our blog at inthedoghouse.blog or send us a question on our Facebook page at
Jill Showalter owns Yuppie Puppy and Doggie Day Play in Oak Park. She has personally tended to more than 100,000 dogs since 2007 and has shared stories and advice with numerous dog owners.
Answer Book 2018
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