End of Life Signs: Caring for Your Senior Dog

Guest Post by: Nick Burton at Our Best Doggo

Do you know the end of life signs in dogs?

 

One of the saddest parts of being a pet parent is knowing that your furry family member has a limited number of years with you. That’s what makes caring for a senior dog so special. They are so deserving of your compassionate care.

But providing the care your dog needs during the final years of his/her life may not always be so simple. Sometimes you need a little help to figure out how to keep your best friend comfortable, and how to know when it’s time to let go.

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Old Dog

End of Life Signs in Dogs

Before you can begin to care for your aging dog, you should know the signs of decline. The more you know, the faster you can act to make your pet comfortable.

 
1. Lethargy
Your dog normally runs around and plays. They beg for their favorite treat or get excited for their favorite toy. But as your pet gets older, you may see this behavior change. As they get older, their energy levels decrease.
 
When you notice they stay in one place for too long, this is a sign that they may be ready to pass on. They no longer show interest in treats or toys that they loved. They rarely move from place to place.
 
As your pet’s parent, you will or should be able to recognize when your four-legged best buddy is no longer acting normally.
 
2. Balance and Movement Issues
As they age, dogs may lose their sense of coordination. You might notice your pet stumbling around or tripping over himself or worse not able to move without help.
 
This can be part of the end of life signs in dogs. Dogs often have stiff movements that come with arthritis. In fact, it can be painful for them to move around.
 
Lethargy Dog
3. Loss of Appetite and Digestive Issues
As the body declines, the digestive system takes a hit. It doesn’t function as it normally should. An aging dog may start to vomit more often. Their body can no longer digest certain foods and nutrients like it used to.
 
This can also lead to a loss of appetite. Your dog doesn’t want to eat because he/she can’t. This can also be related to general lethargy and disinterest.
 
4. Bowel Incontinence
Another bodily function that fades is bowel control. Aging dogs may wet themselves uncontrollably. If your dog doesn’t have the muscle control or energy to relieve himself outdoors, you know something is very wrong.
 

Caring for Senior Dogs: Quality of Life vs Quantity

It’s hard to think non-emotionally about the death of someone or something you love.
 
That can be just as true for pets as it is for people. After all, our dogs have become a part of our lives and families like never before.
 
But by acknowledging the limited time you have left together and recognizing some common end of life signs in dogs, you can truly honor your pup by providing the best quality of life for these senior years.
 

Reduce Their Suffering

This includes providing palliative care treatments to reduce any physical or emotional pain your senior dog is experiencing. Palliative care is a philosophy of medical care when a decision has been made to decline or withdraw trying to cure a life-limiting illness or condition.
 
VCAHospitals.com has a great article that offers many palliative options.
 
You should confer with a trusted veterinarian who is familiar with your dog’s health and history to develop the best senior care plan for your pet.
 
Ultimately, we need to think of pet palliative care in the same way you think of end-of-life care for humans. Treatments should aim to provide solace rather than a solution for your pet’s health issues.

Three Ways to Help

1. Acupuncture
Also called acupressure, this treatment can help with pain and inflammation. Much like human acupuncture, it can be a great benefit to pets who have chronic pain with old age.
 
Make sure your chosen provider is trained in Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine (TCVM). Acupuncture helps blood and oxygen flow through the body.
 
This helps reduce swelling, which reduces pain. You can read more about this treatment at PetMD.
 
Physical Therapy Dog
2. Veterinary Massage Therapy

This treatment is rather straightforward. A trained veterinary massage therapist gives your pet a nice massage. Massaging helps relieve muscle tension and is a very relaxing treatment for your pet; after all, dogs enjoy a good rub down just as much as we do.

You can go to a veterinary clinic or have a therapist come to your home. Just don’t be surprised if your furry friend falls asleep!
 
3. Physical Therapy

When we get injured, we often turn to physical therapy. It provides the same benefits to senior dogs. Hydrotherapy is a common type of therapy for dogs.

They walk on an underwater treadmill. It’s ultimately up to you and your vet to determine if physical therapy is right for your senior dog. The AAHA provides a helpful article just for that.
 
All three of these options are helpful in providing more moments of happiness for your aging or ill senior dog.
 
 

Research Natural Ways to Care for Senior Pets

 
Some natural remedies can also be used to reduce pain and distress in older dogs. For example, CBD oil can help senior pets by reducing joint discomfort and inflammation that results from arthritis in aging pups.
 
CBD products can also help older dogs with skin and behavioral issues. It’s common for older dogs to experience more anxiety and phobias as their brains age. CBD oils can help relieve these anxieties and provide a greater sense of calm for your canine companion.
 
Check out this CBD consumer guide from Remedy Review, which includes a list of the top 10 CBD oil products of 2019 so you can decide if CBD oil is a good option for your senior pet.
 
CBD isn’t the only natural remedy that may extend the quality of your pet’s life. You can also add glucosamine and chondroitin, fatty acids and probiotics to name a few. I Heart Dogs lists seven essential oils that can help senior dogs.
 
Just be sure to check with your vet before starting your senior dog on any supplements, and always research the pros and cons of each supplement you are considering.
 
 

Make Your Home a Haven for Your Senior Dog

 
Supplements and palliative care can help keep your dog physically comfortable. It’s also important for your pet to have a space where he/she feels emotionally comfortable.
 
The onset of dementia in dogs is just as common as it is in senior humans, which can leave your older dog feeling confused, exhausted and anxious at the end of life. Vet Street lists several symptoms of dementia in dogs.
 
If your dog begins to exhibit any signs of cognitive decline you should speak with your vet, but you should also take steps to make your home safer.
 
For dogs that seem more nervous than usual, aromatherapy products may be helpful for providing calm and comfort at home.
 
Certain scents may also be used to treat other behavioral issues and health problems but be sure to only use essential oils and sprays as directed to prevent adverse side effects.
 
And since many senior dogs also suffer from mobility issues, you should take precautions to keep them from jumping on your furniture.
 
Position a pet ramp or steps next to your bed, sofa or other high areas where your dog likes to cuddle to reduce the potential for more pain and injuries. This AKC article will help you pick the right kind for your dog.
 
Give your dog comfortable places to sit and lay down. Plush, supportive beds and blankets are a great addition to their usual spots. Beds with memory foam work well. Find materials that won’t make them too hot or too cold.
 

 

Find Gentle Ways to Spend Time with Your Senior Dog

 
In addition to anxiety and cognitive confusion, older dogs who are approaching the last years of their life tend to be less active. It’s completely normal for your senior dog to lounge more than usual around your house, but it’s still important for your pup to get enough exercise.
 
Instead of the daily walks that younger dogs require, you may want to cut your dog’s walks down to just a few minutes every other day or so.
 
Don’t force your dog to walk or run any faster than he/she seems comfortable with and try to take it slow if it’s been a while since you’ve taken a walk together.
 
If your dog has mobility issues, consider using a senior dog stroller. Using a stroller for your dog may seem a little silly but dogs with limited mobility may still enjoy getting outside for some fresh air and fresh smells.
 
Even spending time inside learning new tricks or cuddling can be beneficial for your senior dog’s emotional health. You know your pet best so find activities you both will still be able to enjoy.
 
 

Know How to Handle Tough End of Life Choices

 
When your dog doesn’t seem to be up for a walk, ride or is not acting like his/her usual self, it may be a sign that the end is approaching.
 
Your vet can be a valuable source of insight when you are trying to determine if the time is right to let go. At the end of the day; however, this is an extremely personal decision that only you can make.
 
Just remember that our animals experience life a little differently than we do. Dogs have a wonderful way of living in the moment, which is what makes them such selfless, loving companions. But this also means that when a senior dog is in constant pain, he/she is not able to think past this discomfort.
 
If your older dog is at this point, a dignified end of life may be the most loving gift you can provide. To ease the emotional pain of euthanasia, some senior pet parents will allow their faithful companions to have one last bucket list day of fun. Check out this story from Bark Post about an owner’s amazing bucket list.
 
You could take your dog on a trip, provide a final meal of cheeseburgers or just spend some time expressing your gratitude before saying your final goodbyes.
 
Some veterinary services offer in home euthanasia. Taking a dog into the vet clinic can be a traumatic experience. This is a good alternative to provide your pet with a peaceful passing.
 
Your pet and you will be comfortable in your own home. They’ll receive the same professional care that they would get in a clinic.
 
For additional tips on caring for an aging pet click here.
 

 

Take Your Time Working Through This Painful Loss

 
As a society, we are getting better at treating our pets like family. Unfortunately, we don’t always treat the loss of our furry family members with the gravity it deserves.
 
Losing your dog, especially after spending years or decades together, can honestly be just as painful as losing another human being. No matter the cause, grief can be different for everyone and for every situation of loss.
 
The pain of losing your pet may hit you all at once or wash over you in waves. Try to allow yourself plenty of time to process your loss and be sure to incorporate self-care as you do so:
 
  • Get some rest
  • Take a walk
  • Do what you need to truly take care of yourself
Sometimes you may even need additional help to work through the pain of losing your beloved pet. Very Well Health talks about support groups. Know that this is normal and totally okay.
 
Seek out a local support group or look for that additional emotional support online.
 
Consider using Rainbows Bridge, a virtual memorial home and grief support community for your departed fur baby. Whether furry, feathered or scaled, all are welcome.
 
There are even counselors and groups that exist to exclusively support bereaved pet owners, but you should find an outlet that works best for you and your individual grief.
 
Letting go of a loved one is never easy and that applies to beloved pets as well. Dealing with the loss of a pet; however, is inevitable when you choose to love an animal.
 
But to be honest, the pain of grieving your pet is worth the love, affection and joy you will experience during the years before. Cherish the time you have with your pet(s), provide the level of care your companion deserves and be mindful of the difference you were able to make in the life of such a noble beast.
 
That is really the best way you can honor the life of your pets and the life you live together.