None of us are ever ready to say good-bye to our loyal, furry friends. For most, dogs become a part of one's family and losing one is paramount to losing a beloved relative far too soon.
But we all must accept the passage of time, one way or another, and the best thing that any of us can do for ourselves and our dogs is to prepare for the end as well as we can.
First, however, there are a few key symptoms and behaviors to keep any eye out for that are your dog's way of letting you know their time is coming.
Signs a Dog is Dying
1. Balance Issues
If you notice that your dog, who normally is light on his feet and able to walk around without issues, is beginning to stumble more or is having a more difficult time moving about, there is a possibility that they are losing their sense of coordination.
Balance issues can stem from an underlying disease or other impairment that is a sign they may be dying. However, this symptom is also indicative of a possible ear infection or other balance-affecting condition.
If you are in any doubt, take your dog to the vet to make sure that he or she is not suffering.
2. Loss of Appetite
Most dogs have a healthy appetite: mealtime is one of their favorite times of day and they just can't wait to get eating. Even if your dog is a less enthusiastic eater, you still recognize that your dog enjoys eating to an extent (as we all do).
If you notice that your dog is eating less or not at all, there is a possibility that he or she is showing signs of increased weakness as they near their end. Again, however, this could also be a sign of an unrelated illness or condition, so seek out veterinary care if you are in doubt.
3. Lethargy or Disinterest
It is normal for everyone--human and dog--to start slowing down as we age. Our bodies hurt or our energy levels are lower than they used to be, and we just can't bring ourselves to run that marathon like we would have ten years before.
Old dogs will certainly be less active, but if you notice that your dog is primarily staying in one place most of the time (and they are lying around most of the time), there is a chance that he or she might be dying.
Dogs in this state will lose the desire to move about as they conserve what little energy they have left to deal with death.
Along a similar vein, you might notice that the toy your dog used to absolutely love or a treat that it used to beg for without shame no longer holds any interest for your companion.
Rather than get excited, a dying dog is likely to ignore whatever you are trying to bribe him or her with. Again, it is likely that the dog is conserving its energy as the end nears.
4. Health Issues
If your dog is still eating, but he or she starts vomiting up the majority of the meal, there is a good chance that your dog's digestive tract is no longer functioning as it should.
You will notice that the food your dog regurgitates is still whole in most cases, because his or her body is not capable of digestion.
A clear sign that your dog is probably dying is the weakening of its internal workings: its immune system it beginning to fail, and it can no longer function as well as he or she once did.
This gradual failure of biological function can move into the cardio-pulmonary tract, as well, resulting in labored or shallow breathing and a decreased, sluggish heart rate.
If your dog is beginning to experience these symptoms in addition to some of the others mentioned previously, then it is likely that your dog is showing you signs that it is time for him or her to pass on.
If you are not sure if your dog's breathing or heart function is due to dying or some other medical condition, contact your vet to rule out all possibilities and give yourself some peace of mind either way.
Providing Comfort for a Dying Pet
As your dear companion reaches his or her end, there are steps you can take to try and offer what comfort you can in your dog's final days. If you choose not to seek out euthanasia and keep your dog close at home, make sure that he or she has a warm, comfortable, and quiet place to sleep.
If you have young children or other dogs who are hyper or seem to be causing the older dog stress, limit interactions so that your dog can get the rest he or she needs.
Make sure that food and water are always available, but if your dog shows no desire to partake, do not force him or her to eat or drink. Your dog understands what is happening perhaps better than you, and he or she knows that there is no reason to expend energy on eating.
Again, comfort is the primary concern that you should have when it comes to helping your dog in this heartbreaking situation.
If your dog is struggling to move and walk around, even to go outside, consider creating a washable space where he or she can go to the bathroom or investing in pet diapers so that your dog will not have to strain itself.
In your dog's final days, it is possible that incontinence will become an increased issue, anyway, and there is no reason to cause your friend more stress by forcing them to go outside.
Stay calm. Dogs are extremely sensitive to human emotions, and if you are stressed or anxious, then they will pick up on that and often mirror what you are feeling. If your dog is in the process of dying, the last thing you should want to do is cause him or her undue emotional trauma.
Pet your dog, speak to him or her--do everything in your power to be a soothing force. It will not be easy, especially as your mind wanders to the painful reminder of what is going to happen, but it is the least that you can do to make sure your pet passes in peace.
Facing the End with a Brave Face, Together
If you know that your dog is dying and you notice that he or she is in constant pain, it might be time to consider a medical choice to end his or her suffering.
No one wants to watch their dog die before its time, but in cases of great suffering or terminal illness, euthanasia is often the most humane choice for both your dog and yourself.
When you bring your dog into the vet, your veterinarian should be able to examine their condition and tell you whether or not euthanasia is the right choice.
If the veterinarian's prognosis of your dog's condition is dire, then you will be talked through your options and offered what help the vet can offer.
Even at the vet, make sure that your dog is comfortable and warm; bring his or her favorite toy or blanket so that they have familiar things surrounding them near the end.
If you are unable to watch the euthanasia process, your vet will escort you from the room. No matter what you decide to do, you have no reason to feel any sense of shame; again, the loss of a family pet is one of the hardest ordeals that an individual in our society must endure if he or she chooses to invite a pet into his or her home.
Coming to the realization that your family dog is dying will never be an easy ordeal. Much in the same way that humans deal with the death of other humans, we must go through the stages of grief as we fight to find a measure of acceptance with the situation.
This is necessary so that we can provide our family friends with the comfort and care that they will need during their final days.
Do what needs be done for your furry friend, and make sure that you do not leave them suffering. Be aware of the signs and know how to react in a calm and collected matter to prevent your dog from experiencing any further stress.