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Keep your dog happy and comfortable in its last days

As dog owners, nothing is more important than to know that your best friend is happy and comfortable in his last days. Yet, pets are experts at hiding their pain, discomfort and illnesses, which results in old pets suffering much more than their owners are aware of. What can you do to ensure that you see through your canine’s stoicism? What signs do you look for to know if you need the help of your veterinarian or if it’s time to say goodbye? There are a number of symptoms and guidelines which will help you in assessing your dog’s comfort level and pain in order to assure a comfortable end of life experience. These are very important to know.


Do establish a relationship with a veterinarian you trust

There is no more important time for your dog to receive appropriate veterinary care than when he or she is older. If you are not happy with the advice you are receiving from your veterinarian, more communication is better than less communication. Tell your veterinarian what you feel comfortable with and what you don’t feel comfortable with. If what your veterinarian tells you doesn’t make sense to you or if you know that you will not follow through with the advice because of time or money considerations, or simply because you don’t feel like the advice given is right for your dog’s circumstances, tell your vet. Most vets will be happy helping you to find a treatment plan that you will feel comfortable with and will keep your dog comfortable and happy. And sometimes, this may not need advanced diagnostics and treatments, but simple pain management.

Do seek pet hospice care

Hospice Care is a growing field of veterinary medicine. What it means is that your pet is cared for by a veterinarian at home in his last few days or weeks. Many dog owners stop seeking veterinary care for their older dog because it is too stressful to bring them to a veterinarian’s office. This results in much needless suffering, unbeknownst to dog owners since, as we mentioned earlier, pets are experts at hiding their pain. Hospice care is an ideal way of caring for your old dog once you made the decision of no more vet visits.

Do quality of life tests on a regular basis

There are specific ways of evaluating your pet’s Quality of Life and keeping track of it. The most important points to keep in mind are: hurt, hunger, hydration, hygiene, happiness, mobility and more good days than bad. There are many other factors to consider, but those are the main ones. You should consult with your veterinarian to get a better idea of how to perform these tests and what to look for. Doing regular quality of life assessments on your dog will help you determine when it is time for your dog’s euthanasia.

Do educate yourself on pet pain and pay attention to hidden signs of pain

As mentioned earlier, pets are experts at hiding their pain, discomfort and illnesses. You may think that it’s belaboring the subject, but if there is one important thing to keep in mind, it is this fact. There are at least 60 symptoms of pain in pets which vary in severity from a simple “tucked tail”, to being disinterested in favorite activities, to being reluctant to being picked up, all the way to more obvious signs such as unusual panting, moaning, lack of appetite, crying and howling in pain. When it gets to the point where the dog is howling or crying, the pain is pretty unbearable.

Do make plans for your dog’s last day

The passing of a pet is difficult to plan for because it is so painful to think about the eventuality of the loss. However, it will make a huge difference for you and for your beloved dog if you plan ahead for a compassionate, kind and loving veterinarian to help you say goodbye. You want to make plans to make sure that your dog is comfortable and not stressed out in his last moments. You may even want to say goodbye at home. Do your research and find a vet who will meet those criteria.


Do not just decide that vet visits are too stressful

Yes, vet visits are stressful to any pet, but more so to older, debilitated pets. There are ways of providing veterinary care without the stress of vet visits. Hospice care is more and more popular for pets in their last days.

Do not assume that your dog is not in pain because he does not cry

Again, pets are experts at hiding their pain. If it’s said 100 times it would not be too much! It is such an important thing to be aware of. Excessive panting, pacing, restless nights, shifting frequently when resting, difficulty getting up or lying down, facial tension, eyes wide open to expose the white of the eyes, etc… are just a few examples. There are over 60 signs hidden symptoms that your dog is in pain.

Do not assume that your dog will tell you when it is time

You will need help figuring out when it is time for your dog. Yes, there may come a time when your dog will clearly tell you that he has had enough and that he is ready for euthanasia, but don’t rely on this as the only sign because many dogs will just not tell you because, once again, pets are experts at hiding their pain. So this important fact may even extend to them stoically enduring the agony of death without telling you that they are tired and need their rest.

Do not wait until you are faced with a crisis

Don’t wait until your dog can’t get up anymore on a Sunday morning. Do the above Quality of Life assessments, educate yourself on symptoms of pain, do your research on how you want to plan your dog’s passing and aftercare before a crisis occurs. You will be so glad that you have a plan of action when the time comes. Try to avert the crisis by making the decision before it comes to an emergency. But have an emergency plan if it comes to this.

Do not wait too long

It is a terribly difficult decision to say goodbye to your best friend, but ultimately, it is the last gift you can offer him: a peaceful, loving ending before he suffers too badly rather than selfishly keeping him with you for longer than you should. Better to say goodbye a day too soon than a day too late.

Jumping cartoon

In summary, the most important things are for you to know what to look for in terms of Quality of Life for your pet and signs of pain and illness. This will be a key to your dog’s comfort and happiness in his last days or weeks. You do have the option of caring for your dog at home in hospice settings and this is usually the most comfortable thing for your dog. You can even plan on saying goodbye at home so that your dog does not have to suffer the stress of a vet visit on a cold stainless steel table in his last moments. The comfort and happiness of being home with loved ones hugging him, on his favorite bed is the kindest thing you can do for your old dog in his last moments.

More expert advice about Death and Loss of a Dog

Photo Credits: © Barbara Helgason -; Check Man, Cross Man and Jump Man © ioannis kounadeas -

Dr. Annie Forslund, DVMPet Hospice Veterinarian

Dr. Annie Forslund graduated from the University of Montreal in 1990. She moved to California in 1996, and while practicing veterinary medicine she trained as a grief counselor and acquired 14 years of experience in the field. Seeking to com...

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