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Letting a dog die naturally...

post #1 of 74
Thread Starter 

My sweet Kenai, a large shepherd/husky mix is 13 and nearing the end.  My dad took him on a walk the other morning, it was already too warm (we live in Tucson), and on the way home his legs gave out from under him.  I drove down to the neighbor's house to bring him home.  After a day of rest he was able to walk again.  He has had intestinal issues for the past year or so... bouts of diarrhea mostly.  I figure that his intestines are just not working as well.


When Kenai's legs didn't work that day, my mom already was researching vets that will come out and euthanize, which kind of upset me.  I got Kenai at a rescue I worked at when I was 20, and he accompanied me through all my college life.  After I got married he lived with my parents.  Then a few years ago my parents and my family merged so Kenai lives with me again, but mostly spends his time in my parents' room.


This morning Mom told me that he's not eating much and only pooping tiny amounts.  She wanted to give him pain pills.  I said I didn't think that was a good idea because pain pills have side effects, Kenai isn't even eating so we might have to force them down, he's not showing any outward signs of pain and if he is in pain he is handling it fine.


My mom seems to think that if he stops eating that we should euthanize him.  But my intuition says that not eating at the end of one's life is different from normal starvation.  I think that if he stops eating that it might be a way of his body preparing for death.  Watching a loved one die is definitely painful, but as long as he is not in pain, I would like to allow him to just rest comfortably and die on his own, if possible.  


I know it's a delicate balance regarding quality of life, and really, only we can make that decision...  Mostly, what I am wondering about... is... if you have had a dog that died naturally at your house, did they stop eating at the end and were you okay with that?  My husband's last dog, a pit bull female who was high energy all her life, just went down one morning to eat breakfast and her heart stopped.  We always thought that was a fairly ideal way for a dog to die because it was relatively quick.  I think if Kenai stops eating he will get weaker and weaker to where he won't be able to walk.  There seems to be this unsaid common idea that if Kenai can't walk that we would euthanize him... but... but... i don't know.... I really want to allow him to exit when he wants to.  


Just talk to me a little about your experiences regarding this difficult time of life.  Thanks...

post #2 of 74

When was the last time he was evaluated by a vet? Some pain medications can cause constipation or maybe he isn't getting enough fluids if he is having a hard time getting around. I think the whole stopping eating thing and dying depends on the what the cause of death is. Cancer can cause loss of appetite whereas other diseases don't. Without a diagnosed medical condition I would not assume that an old dog not eating means he is preparing to die. 


I will say this though, I know when my last pug started really having medical problems and got old those last few years it always crossed my mind if this was it. I knew he wouldn't live forever and that considering that was emotional preparation for the inevitable. In our case we finally put him down at 15 because he had sever arthritis, couldn't get around and was basically blind and deaf. He had little quality of life by then. 


I would really get a vet to give him a thorough exam and find out what it going on, he may have more years left yet. 

post #3 of 74

In your case, I'd give him pain pills (will the side effects really be worse than what he's going through now?) and make an appointment with a vet.


We've had 2 dogs die in the last 3 years.  One got very sick.  We spent hundreds of dollars on treating her and nothing worked, she just got worse and worse and was in horrible pain.  We did put her down after it was obvious that nothing would help.  Our other dog died naturally but he had a great quality of life still.  He did have some pain, which we treated, but other than that he was the same as always. 


It's hard to know if a dog should be put down or if it's something that can be managed.  Only your vet can know for sure after an exam.

post #4 of 74

I'm sorry you are experiencing this. No matter how old I get or how many pets I've had, it's always so painful to see our critters at the ends of their lives.


I agree with PPs in having a vet look at your dog, just to be sure what is happening. I had a dog who looked like he was going to pass any day, and after starting him on pain meds, we had our happy boy back for another 6 months. In the end, he did get liver failure from the meds, but it was worth the trade off to have such a good 6 final months with him.


In terms of whether or not to let your dog "naturally" starve or the euthanize him, I strongly believe that it's better to euthanize. I believe that we humans are the animals' caretakers and it's up to us to make the tough decisions about what is better for them. Encouraging a dog to live in pain and agony for a long period of time is cruel, and unfortunately not all animals have the ability to just lay down and die when they are ready. You just have to really explore what's important to you. Obviously if you have deep seeded beliefs against euthanasia, that's another story. But if you don't, I think that we sometimes just have to make the hard decisions for them.



post #5 of 74

My vet, who I trust and respect, said that when your dog doesn't enjoy food, or few/any of the activities he used to, then it's time to make the last step in your commitment to caring for an animal it's entire life.


It was very hard for me, but in truth, it was harder to see my dog in pain (arthritis / cancer). We had him on pain medication, but when they stopped working, I knew it was time. The last pictures of him you can see the pain and weariness in his eyes.


I would take Kenai to the vet, definitely get pain medication if he requires it, and go from there.


Sorry you're where you're at, it's not easy. Kenai sounds like a great dog.

post #6 of 74

My mother's little dog has been living with a ruptured spleen for weeks now.  The vet sent him home telling them that he wasn't in pain, but that he wouldn't last the weekend.  Because he wasn't in pain, my parents declined to have him put down.  He has his normal days, and his off days.  He has days where he doesn't eat.  He has days when he eats like a pig.  As soon as he experiences pain, he will be put down.  I see where you're coming from, but I also see where your mother is coming from.  It is extremely hard to watch your pet slowly die, not knowing if when you wake in the morning he'll be dead on the foot of your bed.  It's just so hard.  Just be gentle with each other, you both are advocating for what you think is best for the dog you both love.  I'd take him to the vet and see if you both can reach an agreement regarding how long to wait, and when enough is enough.

post #7 of 74

Yes, pain pills have side effect and are addictive, but it bizarre reason not to relive someones suffering. If you were dying....would you like to be in horrible pain? I doubt it.

I had pet put down by a vet when the pain and suffering was apparent. I also had pets who died at home  in their sleep.


As pet guardian we need to think of them first and out discomfort second.

post #8 of 74

just wanted to send out hugs.

post #9 of 74

My husky was nearly 14 when I had her put to sleep.  She had stopped eating for a few days, then when I came home from work, she had diarrhea all over the floor and was having trouble breathing - grunting with each breath.  We both knew it was time, so I took her in to the vet and stayed with her until she passed.  I think she was in congestive heart failure, she suddenly had this fluid swelling all under her sternum.  I'm sure she would have passed away naturally within a day or two, and I didn't want her suffering.  I know it was the right decision.  Animals don't always just pass away in their sleep like we want them to. 

post #10 of 74

Animals don't always show a lot of signs of pain, but lack of interest in food is a very serious symptom in a dog and can indicate that the dog is experiencing pain.  


I'm sorry that you're going through this.  I agree with others who have suggested giving your dog pain relief and having him evaluated by a vet.  

post #11 of 74

Not eating is often a sign/side effect of pain.

I have been fortunate to never have to have euthanize my pets.  they all died naturally....but in the case of my last wonderful cat I knew the time was coming (having seen the signs may times) and kept pain supplies on hand.  For me the most important thing was to keep her comfy in her last days/hours. 

I have absolutely no problems with natural death and think more could choose this for their pets (but it should be done in such a way that there is no suffering).  I went to an amazing conference on pet hospice (pawspice) and this was the focus of the weekend.

post #12 of 74

Any update?

post #13 of 74
Thread Starter 



thank u for all your kind words and hugs.  we have ceased all walks, but we let him outside when it's cool for his own self-guided walks (we have an acre).  since that day and since ceasing walks Kenai has stabilized and his appetite is back.  he continues to bless us and surprise us daily.  it's like he has these little episodes to prepare our hearts and minds for what is to come.


he spends so much time in my parents' room that i hardly see him, but the other night he came into our living room when the baby (3mo) was lying on the couch and the cat was lying on the couch too.  Kenai sniffed the baby and then circled a few times before plopping down next to her.  I was lucky to get a picture of the three of them (of course the living room had toys and pillows all over the floor--but that's life!).

post #14 of 74

Olive, I am glad his appetite has returned but I wanted to gently ask if you have brought him in for an assessment?

post #15 of 74
I'm glad he has perked up. The walks may have just gotten to be too much. I have to say you story touched me though. We have a little girl Kenai who is 5. She is a husky/?. I often think maybe gsd because her fur is more stiff than soft but she is only 45 pounds on a good day but oh my goodness those ears! I wish you peace with your pup.
post #16 of 74

I'm glad he is improved. If you can't get him in for an assessment maybe there is a mobile vet that will come and check him out? I know we have them here. 

post #17 of 74

Ditto regarding an assessment and potential pain alleviating medication, they can't tell us when they hurt.

post #18 of 74

Glad he's doing better. I meant to ask if it's just his normal food he's avoiding, or all treats and particularly smelly stuff too? Our dog is AWFUL in the heat, and while he agrees to walk, he went a couple of days without eating anything. He took a few treats, but that was it. I started to worry, even though he does this every summer, but he finally ate breakfast today. I'm sure if I had put some stinky wet food on top of the kibble, he'd have eaten, but I don't like to do that often, as I don't want him getting used to it. I still need that in my arsenal for when I really need it. At any rate, maybe once it cools off a bit he'll start feeling better again, and of course letting him rest instead of going out for walks might help him heal if it's an injury v. illness.

post #19 of 74

Congrats on the birth of your baby. I've been meaning to pm and see how you are.


Ironically, we put our old dog down today. I came to this forum to update an old thread I started 10 months ago and saw your thread.


I had no idea when I took Emma out this morning that within hours she would die eating treats out of my hand. It just became apparent she had reached the edge and was spiraling towards death. I'm guessing it would have taken her about three days to die if we left her alone. I could see that she would have felt miserable and I wanted to save her that. When I started the other thread in September I really struggled with whether we should put her down at that time. It didn't feel right because it wasn't time. I nursed her back to health after an acute illness. She had 10 more months of contentment. Then today I knew it was time.


I read a book awhile back about a man and his dog. Towards the end of the book the dog dies a natural death as you have discussed. Maybe the book would help you. If you're going to be in town, let me know and I'll see if I still have it so you can borrow it. It's called Merle's Door. http://www.amazon.com/Merles-Door-Lessons-Freethinking-Dog/dp/B001TODO4A/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1309849296&sr=8-1

post #20 of 74

SundayCrepes, I'm so sorry about Emma.

OliveJewel, I came here hoping for an update. I hope you and the dog are both doing okay.

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