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My Dog is Dying - Palliative Care for Dogs

 
By Josie F. Turner, Journalist specialized in Animal Welfare. April 24, 2019
My Dog is Dying - Palliative Care for Dogs

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We have already spoken about how to tell if your dog is dying. Unfortunately, even with early detection, our dog may not be able to respond positively to treatment. If this is the case for you and your dog, then the next step is not going to be easy. If you have received the bad news that your dog is dying then you will need to know more about palliative care for dogs. AnimalWised shares with you some practical and emotional tips which will help you prefer for one of the worst days in an animal guardian's life. The first thing we need to know is that making the dog as comfortable and secure as possible is essential.

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Prepare for the worst

The first thing you need to do when you know your dog is dying is not practical. Emotionally, we are going to lose one of the best friends a person can have. If we have an elderly dog in our care, then it is possible you have had more time to consider their end of life. When a younger dog is dying, whether from disease or an accident, it can be much more of a shock.

Those who have not experienced such a loss before may not know what to expect. As palliative care for a dog requires us to be extra attentive to our needs, we may need to put our feelings of grief on hold. In some ways, nothing can truly prepare us for the loss we will experience. Despite this fact, we need to be emotionally strong so we can deal with the practical necessities.

Being emotionally strong is not the same as closing off your emotions. Share your news with someone you trust and ask for help if you need it. There is no weakness in sharing the burden and it can mean you will be better prepared when the time comes.

Ask the veterinarian

When you suspect your dog might be dying, then you will need to take them to the veterinarian for diagnosis. They will be able to confirm if your dog is reaching the end of their life or provide treatment if the option is available.

If they do confirm the worst, then we should ask them everything we can to ensure we can meet their needs. If the dog is in pain, then the vet should provide some painkillers. We should not administer drugs to a dog without confirmation from a veterinary medical professional. Especially, we should not give medication intended for human use to dogs. In doing so, we may make their last days more uncomfortable.

The veterinarian should also be able to help you prepare practically. They can advise on how to make the dog comfortable and also inform you about some of the arrangements you may need to make postmortem.

My Dog is Dying - Palliative Care for Dogs - Ask the veterinarian

Consider canine euthanasia

One conversation you may need to have with the veterinarian is one all animal guardians dread. We spend all of our dog's lives ensuring their well-being. Deciding on whether they should be put down feels like it goes against all the experience we have up to that point.

Unfortunately, euthanasia for your dog might be the kindest course of action for your pet. When a dog is in a lot of pain, they will not always show symptoms of it. Canines are resilient beasts which can put up with a lot before they even show symptoms. Even if the dog looks like they are relatively stable, their quality of life might be drastically low.

Some treatments for certain illnesses may prolong the dog's life for a short time, but may affect their quality of life to a point which is inadvisable. The efficacy of some drugs still requires further research, but there are some trials which prove promising such as imatinib mesylate (Gleevec) for certain abdominal tumors. Unfortunately, many of these drugs are prohibitively expensive and may only lengthen the dog's life for a short period of time[1].

Making the decision of whether to put down your dog is not an easy one. You will need to discuss the option with a veterinary professional as well as a confidant. This way you can make the best decision for both you and your dog.

Dog behavior before death

Even if your dog has been diagnosed with a terminal illness, it doesn't necessarily mean they will die right away. With elderly dogs, you may have seen a general deterioration of their abilities and faculties. With younger dogs, certain illnesses such as cancer may be relatively asymptomatic until the end. This is why we need to keep an eye out for specific behaviors of a dog which is about to die:

  • Although their general exercise level may have gone down, a dog will likely not want to go outside before they die. This is because they want to protect themselves when they feel vulnerable and spend their last moments in comfort.
  • A dog's vital signs will alter when they are about to die. Their heart rate will lower, their temperature will change and their breathing will likely slow down.
  • Movement will also grow slow and the dog will search out somewhere to rest, similar to how a pregnant dog will nest when about to give birth.
  • They will stop eating and drinking.
  • They display abnormal behavior. When a dog is about to die, the changes in their body can affect how they act. This will depend on the cause of death, with behavior being variable according to the individual dog.

These are instances when your dog has an illness. If your dog has a physical trauma, heart malfunction or similar, their death may be sudden. In these cases, the most important thing you can do is provide first aid in case there is still a chance of saving their life.

My Dog is Dying - Palliative Care for Dogs - Dog behavior before death

How to care for a dying dog

After your dog receives a terminal diagnosis, you have spoken with your veterinarian and you have decided against euthanasia, you will need to engage in special care. As stated above, when a dog is terminally ill, they will begin to have behavioral changes. Whether your dog has months, weeks or days to live, they will begin to change significantly. Your job will be to provide palliative care, i.e. ensuring these changes go as smoothly as possible.

  • Exercise: your dog will want to exercise less and less. Their movement in general will While you may want to enjoy your last days together going on the walks you used to enjoy, it is not going to be helpful to your dog. Don't push them beyond their capacity and let them dictate how physical they will be.
  • Food: your dog may begin to lose their appetite. There are somethings you can do to encourage their appetite. You can put (garlic ad onion free) broth in with dry food, use only their preferred type of food or even cook homemade meals. You may want to treat your dog towards the end, but also know it won't be helpful to force them to eat. They may find it painful, depending on their disease.
  • Environment: providing the right environment for your dog's last days is also imperative. They will be more sensitive to stimuli, so ensure they have a quiet place to rest. If there are young children or loud distractions in the home, ensure the dog is kept away from them.
  • Bedding: provide comfortable and accessible bedding for the dog. Your dog will want to spend more time lying down and sleeping. hey may get up and walk around, but they should have somewhere near to rest at all times. Providing more than one resting place is ideal.
  • Manipulation: if a dog is under a lot of pain, then excessive petting or manipulation is not recommended. In a recent 2018 study, it is has been shown that the “responsiveness to analgesic palliative treatment [is] difficult to objectify”[2]. Even gentle petting can be quite painful for the dog, so we need to carefully monitor their response.

If your dog has shown the signs they are about to die, then you will need to be prepared. Stay with your dog and comfort them. Don't pet them excessively, but be nearby and ensure they have all of their necessities met. They are unlikely to be able to eat any food, but have some water at hand just in case.

Finally, you will need to be emotionally prepared. Have someone you trust with you nearby and say goodbye to your canine friend. Having somebody else present is also a good idea in case you find it too much and need to step away. Your dog will still need someone to stay with them.

Once the dog has passed away, you have a few options. If you have the means and permission, you can bury your dog somewhere on your property. However, this is inadvisable in most cases as the dog needs to be buried sufficiently deep as scavengers have been known to dig them up. Going to your vet is the best first port of call. They will be able to provide disposal of the body, usually with an incinerator and many places do not charge for the service.

There are companion animal funeral services you can turn to. They will be able to provide a service and a burial or cremation which can provide some closure for you and your dog's family. Availability and quality will depend on your location.

Pet hospice care

The level of palliative care you can provide will also depend on your resources. Even if you have the money, providing medical intervention to slow the process won't always be advisable. However, you may be able to spend your money on veterinary hospice care. This is a place where you can send your dog to be cared for by round the clock professionals.

A 2016 report suggests that, although there is insufficient information in the literature about the topic, veterinary hospice care has been on the rise[3]. The reason is that advancements in veterinary medicine have meant the end stage of life can be prolonged and pet guardian's with greater access to money seem to be willing to pay it. Palliative hospice care for dogs will depend both on your personal available resources as well as those available in your geographical location.

If you want to read similar articles to My Dog is Dying - Palliative Care for Dogs, we recommend you visit our Extra care category.

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