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Monday, 18 July 2011

Euthanasia - is it time?

I would be grateful to have people's take on my present predicament. We have three rescue dogs, one four-year-old in perfect health and two golden oldies, one of which is the subject of my concern. Jamie is a Border Terrier who had been abandoned by the roadside. After two weeks in police kennels and no-one claiming him, he came home with us. That was eight years ago, and the vet thought he might have been 5-8 years old at the time, so he is potentially 15+ years old.

Although he settled with us and our existing dogs at the time, he was always a quiet, private little boy with no big displays of emotion. In fact, I used to think that he was always wondering what he was doing with us and when he was going home!

A couple of years ago he started displaying signs of senility and this has steadily got worse until he is now almost completely in his own little world. He does not interact with us or the other dogs at all. Physically, he is increasingly stiff in his movements, as well as deaf and almost completely blind. He does not like being handled (never has, this is nothing new) and lifting or guiding him is usually met with a little growl, which I don't think is due to any kind of pain, but how can you be sure?

He is still eating well and when I lift him up on the sofa with me, he seems to enjoy the closeness.

My husband does not think Jamie now has enough quality of life and is asking me to consider having him put to sleep. I am resisting, but I am not sure for what reason: do I genuinely not think it it yet time or can I simply not bear the thought? (We have had dogs for a very long time and I have ahd to make this decision many times over the years, but in Jamie's case, because it is not brought about by physical illness but by old age and general decline, I cannot seem to make my mind up whether it would be kindest to let him go or not.

He is on Vivitonin and Aktivat - I don't know to what extent this is helping.

We have a vet review booked for 6 August, but I know from earlier consultations that the vet is reluctant to give me advice on what to do. His view seems to be that if the dog is eating, then he is not feeling unwell. I am not sure it is enough. I worry that his life is just uncomfortable greyness and silence, punctuated by a meal every twelve hours.

I also cannot rely on Jamie to 'give me a sign' that he is ready to go - he is just too uncommunicative and unresponsive.

To complicate matters, we are moving house in the next couple of months. Would it be completely wrong to introduce him to a new environment in his present state? Even here he bumps into things occasionally although he does seem to have retained a mental map of the layout and mostly manages to navigate around the place.

Has anyone else had experience with older dogs with "nothing wrong" with them except old age, general decline and senility? Would it be kindest to let him go, and certainly before we move house?

I would be so grateful for any advice.

Kind regards

Anne Bardell, Doncaster, by email


  1. had a very similar situation, deefer was a rescue dog and sounds much like jamie he was potentially 18 when the time finally came everyone else had their advice he was very shaky on his legs had a constant snotty nose caused by bad teeth! our vet also said it had to be my decision he was eating and drinking and managed to hobblein and out to the yard to do what he had to,18th of aug last year his balance detiorated and the vet said there was one more thing to try after 2 days he hadnt improved and i got up on 20th aug and realised he hadnt been able to get upi for a drink, i knew then it was time and it broke my heart but still say it was the right time and i did "know" and im glad i had the last 6 months with him hope this is of some help its a terrible decision whenever you have to make it xx

  2. Anne Hi, sorry you have this dilema going on at the moment.

    Up until April I had 5 dogs, 14,13,alomst 19 & almost 9 & the baby now almost 4.

    the 14 yr old had had a good life and fortunatly her being unwell came on very quickly and that made my difficult decision less hard.

    I have said that with all my dogs they have three loves, walks, food & me. Not ness in that order! I always make the diff choice befor they have non of those three left. with my old girl I had to have pts in April, she had been making her own decision re her walks and would just stay in her bed when the others got their lead on. then we discovered she had a terminal problem but still was happy to potter and even my vet said she is happy at the moment. However within three days she went downhill and for me my sad dicision was the last act of love I could do for her.

    With a younger dog it is not so easy. I hope that at this moment I am not going to have to go down that route, but, if I have to i know it will be right for my dog.

    the other thing I think of is that if my dog is going to suffer I feel that as humans we are very privilged that we can help our pets on their way, if it were a human that needed help, we would not be allowed to do anything, they would be left to suffer horrendously in some cases.

    I dont know if this helps you or not, either way I also think its better to make the sad decision a day early rather than a day late.

  3. It's always difficult to make that decision about our beloved pets. I recently had to make that decision with my 12 year old Aussie. He collapsed after doing what he did best, barking in the garden! I rushed him to the vet, who diagnosed a stroke. I could have left him there to be observed for 24 hours, but I knew that he would never have the quality of life he was used to. Because I loved him so much, I had to let him go, I was with him at the end, and his ashes are now scattered under a favourite tree. It was my honour to own him for those 12 years, and also mine to make sure he didn't suffer any longer. I hope that this helps......

  4. Hi Anne,

    Only you can truly decide if it is time, but by the sounds of it, especially with moving in the next few months, I suspect that if I were in your situation I probably would think that it was time.

    It sounds as though you have given it a lot of thought, and just need to come to terms with the thoughts in your head.

    Jamie sounds like he has had an amazing, fulfilling, care-filled life with you and your husband, but now it is time to do what is best for him. Put yourself in his shoes.

    I hope that helps and in the meantime, I wish you all the best with whatever decision you make. It's never easy.

  5. Hi Anne,
    Last summer we were in the same situation as you are....waiting for the sign from our 13 year old Akita,Lena. I bred her and she lived with my cousin, so it was a joint descision really, she had been on metacam for nearly 2 years and could not manage more than a walk to the end of the block, we had built a ramp to the back garden as she could not manage the steps down, everything to make her life easier as an oldie was done...
    She was petrified of travelling in the car so it was decided that we would choose a day when everyone who wanted to say their goodbyes could be at the house before the vet arrived...the deciding factor was her stability, we did not want her to fall and brake something and end her life in pain.
    After losing many over the years, in various situations, my 1st Akita slipped away in his sleep and I was so devastated I wasn't with him, this was the best experience of helping one to the rainbow bridge...we had time to adjust to the day and really grieved before it happened, but everything was so sureal and calm, we knew we had done the right thing at the right time, without the sign from's the last bit of love we can show them.
    Hope you gain some strength to help you make the right call xxxx

  6. Dear Anne,
    This is one of those posts that just makes me put aside my 'working head' for one moment and remember my own experience.

    My terrier was 17 years old when I finally made the decision to have him put to sleep. He was still eating, and had some good days, but he was incontinent, could hardly see or hear, never looked 'comfortable' when awake and when asleep would sleep so deeply that if for any unavoidable reason we had to wake him he would jump violently up. He had other symptoms of canine cognitive dysfunction - barking at night, general confusion.

    He was on Aktivait, and Metacam for his stiff back so the Vet assured me he was not in pain. Nevertheless one day I noticed he just looked very unhappy - a rare lucid moment. He was due an operation on one of his teeth and I was very concerned about the effects of the anaesthetic - so I sat down and reviewed everything he enjoyed in his life at that moment. There wasn't much!

    I realised that he had long periods of 'absence', coupled with panic periods at night, had no idea where he was when toileting, wandered a lot... I guess I looked back at the happy dog he had been and then looked at the empty shell I saw in front of me and decided that it was time to give him a proper rest. He truly was just struggling on.

    It absolutely broke my heart and still does. I still think 'what if', but I know, and my Vet assured me, that it was the right decision. If anything I probably clung onto my dear dog for too long.

    I think that the decision you make is really down to how you feel and it is a real struggle. Nevertheless once I had made the decision (and the appointment after talking to my Vet, who was fab), I immediately knew that the time had come.

    Please be kind to yourself on this one. It sounds like you are acting completely in the interests of your dog. There is nothing any dog could wish for more than a caring owner like you.


  7. Reading this brought tears to my eyes and brings back memories of our past dogs.

    Firstly one has to consider obvious medical reasons such as not eating/drinking or significant pain. However if there are no clear medical reasons then this is where the real dilema starts...

    Does one keep man's best friend alive because you can't stand the thought of them no longer being there? Is it for personal selfish reasons?

    For those of us with dogs who have gone through the whole euthanasia process (I have with both dogs and horses), it's ALWAYS something none of us wish to go through, no matter what. None of us wish to stand there in the vetinary consulting room with our best friend just about to leave us forever, or at least till we decide to depart from this world. A friend who we have probably told more secrets to than any human friend we may have, no matter how "good" a friend that person may be.

    All that being said, there is one significant advantage being our pet. We can legally euthanase our pets without them suffering, or being so frail that they no longer have any quality of life. Something we still can't do for our human loved ones.

    How will I know the time is right? Well part of you will never know and even after the event you are quite likely to question yourself. The vast majority of pet owners get it right and know when the time comes for our pet to cross the Rainbow Bridge.

    All I know is that if re-incarnation does exist, then please, oh please let me come back as my dog!!!

  8. Wow, this is a great topic as I am going thru the 'Is it time yet?' dilemma. In my honest opinion, I've never put down a dog who could still get up for his supper. If they are hungry and if they can still get up on their own, then it isn't time. I don't think senility is a valid reason. I had 15yr old who would stare at corners or go to the wrong door to go out. She did this for a year before a physical ailment came into play and she couldn't get up on her own. Right now, I have a 10yr old who is riddled with arthritis. He hurts all over despite medications, but he can still get up when he hears my hand go into the cookie jar. If he still gets excited about a cookie, I don't think it is time yet. I am accused by friends for making him 'suffer' as most of his existence is laying down and watching the activiity of the other dogs around him. So I am torn as I love him so much and don't want him to be in agony. Therefore, I am quite generous with those cookies and will wait for the day that he can't get up for one.

  9. you will know when the time is right, it is a decision i had to make only last week. but louie had a heart failure and although they said they could help him for a few days i felt he had ,had enough he was tired, it was heartbreaking even though i still feel i made the right decisiion at the right time, he was a faithful old soulmate and i owed him that . Take your time and be guided by jamie , have faith my thoughts are with you x

  10. Hi there. I know how difficult this must be having lost several dogs, horses and cats myself to old age over the years. I'm of a similar opinion to your vet. I have always said that if they are eating and drinking and still have a spark in their eyes then I will carry on as normal but you will 'know' when it's time. They lose that spark and start to look 'inwards'. It's almost as if they've given up and there is no mistaking that look. I promise you, you will know. My vets are fantastic and I always ask them what they would do if it was their animal. That way I can gauge what they are thinking. Personally though I wouldn't let the house move influence my decision. Older dogs have seen it all and adapt amazingly well. You will have to keep a close eye on him in the new house to begin with until he gets his bearings obviously. I hope this will help in some way. Please keep us posted whatever you decide to do. x

  11. Hi anne,
    I to have had to go through this 2 years ago, and with working with dogs i am asked the question alot "when is the right time". My dog was 14 when the day finally came, he had really bad stiff joints in hes back legs, he was blind, goin deaf and was going sinile. Even through all of this he still seemed to have a quaility of life, enjoyed he food and hes walks. The last few weeks he started to suffer more from upset stomachs, and just didnt seem himself. Eventually the time came when he started having fits, the vets thought it was epilepsy and they wanted to treat this. I knew then that it was time to let him go, i didnt want him to suffer anymore. Still 2 years on i still wonder if that was the right time, should he have gone sooner or would the medication have given him a new lease of life and some extra time.

    When i get asked "when is the right time", i think as hes owner you know your self, when he is not himself and doesn't seem happy. With the stress of moving and hes ill health becoming worse, you will proberly find soon will be the time. Dogs can be surprising and he might let you know when its the right time. As long as he doesn't seem to be suffering then dont worry about it and just enjoy him, and take as many pictures of him.

    What ever decision you make you will always remember and question even a few years on, but just remember they are no longer suffering and have gone to a better place, and one day you will meet again x

  12. This is definately an agonising time for you as any animal lover would agree and I totally sympathise with you. Its difficult to comment without seeing how your dog is reacting but dogs are wonderfully resilient and what you may think is not ok,to the dog it is the ageing process kicking in. I have had several oldies, losing a 15 year old, two 16 years old and presently I have a 17 year old. I would never let my dogs suffer if they were in pain and it was obvious and they had been vet checked which you have already done, but if you vet says its to do with the ageing process and no obvious signs of disease, I personally think I would hold fire and dont let any one convince you to do what you
    are not sure about. I think the build up to knowing when the right time is is the worst period of time,and quite often just when you think its the right time, they perk up. My 16 year old, became skinnier and skinnier and we were assured it was her old age, she had a very good appetite etc. Finally her legs went and thats when we knew that day that she couldnt now do her normal functions anymore and that was the right time. Another one of my oldies had senile dementia and would ponder about, be awake all night and asleep all day but she enjoyed her treats and was happy to go out in the garden and wander., even if she did get us up in the middle of the night. Again we were lucky to be able to do this, so circumstances also play a big part in the cariing process.One day she just didnt want to get out of her bed at all and we knew it was time. Im sure youre beloved dog will let you know. I would take each day as it comes. As for your move, well shes been with you for a while and may perk up at something different. Whatever the outcome, never blame yourself, its the hardest decision we can ever make, but none of us wish to see are best friend suffer. Whatever you decide will be the best decision for your dog and you. You have given as best as you can.

  13. What a horrible decision to make - we have all had to make it at some point though, and it is never easy. We never want to say goodbye, but it is a blessing that we can do this one thing to allow our pets to die with some dignity and to relieve their suffering, which we cannot do for our human loved ones. I always think of the life they have had, and that, at the end, they were loved and we have done the very best we can for them. It is somewhat harder to make the decision based on senility - but coupled with the blindness and deafness, is he really happy? We had a very happy senile cat for some years. I believe that you aren't enjoying him at this time, and that if you are constantly worrying about when is it the right time, it might be the right time?

  14. Try and remember that for animals it is QUALITY, not quantity of life that matters. Dogs don't worry about 'old age' that is a human concept - animals live 'day to day' - they don't think 'what shall I do tomorrow'. Euthanasia is an act of kindness. Let your dog die and be at peace, just now he is simply 'existing'.