The End of a Lifetime: Caring for a Sick or Dying Dog

As much as we wish it were otherwise, a dog’s life doesn’t last forever. After years of companionship and love, you will want to make the end of their life as relaxing and comfortable as possible. This guide is designed to help you through the process or caring for a sick dog; however, you should always defer to the advice given to you by your veterinarian.

Understanding Your Situation

The care your pet needs is largely determined by the severity of their condition. Some dogs will only need a more relaxed environment, while others will need 24 hour supervision. When you take your dog to the vet, make sure to listen carefully to the information they provide, and ask if your pet needs any form of special care.

If your pet’s condition is terminal, your vet will likely give you an estimate of the time he or she has left. Understanding the reality of your situation will help you make the most of your pet’s remaining time. Keep in mind that these timeframes are always estimates, and mentally prepare yourself for your pet to pass sooner than expected.

Creating a Comfortable Environment for your Sick Dog

During times of stress, dogs love to be in an area that they know well, and preferably as close to you as possible.

During times of stress, dogs love to be in an area that they know well, and preferably as close to you as possible.

One of the best things you can provide for your dog is a comfortable, familiar environment to relax in. During times of stress, dogs love to be in an area that they know well, and preferably as close to you as possible. If they have a bed, consider moving it near your desk, couch, or other area where you spend most of your time. This will allow you to watch over your dog and comfort them with your presence.

It’s also a good idea to make sure the area your dog rests in is quiet and relaxing. The importance of this varies based on your pet’s personality; but in general, give them a space that’s out of the main hustle and bustle of the house.

As he or she isn’t feeling well, your dog will likely want to avoid your other pets. During stressful periods, a small irritation can cause even a typically gentle dog to lash out. If you sense that their presence is an issue, try to keep other animals out of the room your dog is resting in.

Another key factor in your pet’s comfort is warmth. You want to ensure that your companion stays warm, but not overheated. Provide a blanket or two for them to curl up in, along with pillows or other padding. If the room is cold, consider setting up a space heater near their bed.

Make sure your dog has water available for easy access at all times. The water should be room temperature, not cold. If they are hungry, make food available, but don’t pressure them into eating; depending on their condition, their stomach may not be able to properly digest food. Talk to your vet about any special foods you can provide to make your pet more comfortable.

If there are any favorite toys or items your dog loves, you can also keep these around. Don’t fill their bed with items, but make sure that favorite chew toy is nearby.

Interacting with Your Dog

During times of stress, dogs love to be in an area that they know well, and preferably as close to you as possible.

During times of stress, dogs love to be in an area that they know well, and  as close to you as possible.

Dogs love routine, and will become more stressed if their daily life changes drastically. Depending on your dog’s condition, you should try to maintain your normal activities as much as possible. You may need to shorten walks, or switch to lower-energy pastimes – for instance, time spent together on the couch instead of playing with a ball.

To your dog, physical contact with you can be a great comfort, but it will also use up much of their energy. When you pet your dog, do so gently, especially if their condition involves severe physical pain. Use long, slow strokes, and stay away from any painful areas. If you sense that your pet is becoming stressed, back off and allow them to rest.

Medication and Symptoms

Listen carefully to the instructions your vet gives you regarding your pet’s medication and treatment plan. You may need to learn how to give your pet pills on a regular basis, or even administer shots.

Dogs don’t tend to show many outward signs when they are in pain. Your vet can help you learn to identify these signs; however, in general you should look out for:

  • Laid-back ears, indicating stress
  • Heavy or abnormal breathing/wheezing
  • Whimpering/shying away if an area is touched
  • Antisocial or strange behavior

If for any reason your pet’s condition appears to worsen, contact your vet and inform them of the change as soon as possible.

At the End: When Euthanasia May Be the Best Option

"To some people, their relationship with Fido is and was as important and heartfelt as anyone else's loss of a family member, friend, or partner/spouse!" ~ Sharyn Rose, MSW, MEd, ACCH

“To some people, their relationship with Fido is and was as important and heartfelt as anyone else’s loss of a family member, friend, or partner/spouse!” ~ Sharyn Rose, MSW, MEd, ACCH

Because dogs tend to show so few outward signs of pain, their condition may be far worse than you realize. During your vet visits, discuss your pet’s condition, and how realistic it might be to have them pass at home, in your care. At a certain point, the level of their pain will drastically worsen their quality of life. In these cases, euthanasia may be the kindest option.

If you choose this option, make sure you stay with your dog during the entire process. You are their best friend in the entire world, and they will look to you for comfort. The best thing you can do for them is be there for their last moments.

To make their passing more comfortable, consider bringing their bed or a familiar blanket from home. During the process of euthanasia, your vet will first give them a strong painkiller, followed by a gentle medication that will slowly stop their heart. They will feel no pain, and your presence will help avoid stress.

Before and after, don’t be afraid to ask your vet for a few minutes to say goodbye. Your vet is a professional who will understand how difficult this moment is for you, and give you the space you need. Think of all of the good times that you shared with your family friend, and you can also memorialize your pet to assure that you always remember.

Further Reading

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