Canine Companion: How Do I Know When It’s ‘Time’ For My Dog To ‘Let Go?’

Hey, guys. This week we’re going to talk about a topic that’s definitely not my favorite. But, I hear this question quite often and it should be addressed. Grab your tissues. This article may get to your heart.

Question: How do I know when it’s “time” for my dog to “let go?”

Just writing that sentence is difficult. As someone who works with dogs with cancer, and someone who has a dog who has passed away from cancer and another who has passed away due to a stroke, I know the pain that comes along with asking this.

I wrote an article last year with a colleague, Dr. Demian Dressler, addressing the behavioral side of this question (he addresses the medical side). Just a little disclaimer, I can only speak for the behavioral side of the spectrum so be certain you speak to your veterinarian about the medical side prior to making any decision.

Here’s what we came up with.

When we aren’t feeling well (as humans), we aren’t happy. This of course makes us wonder if our dogs are still happy when they’re not feeling well. The logical answer? Not likely.

In the field of canine psychology, our thoughts are dogs do not fully understand they’re sick like we do. When we’re sick, we have an understanding as to why we are sick and what we can do to make ourselves feel even the smallest bit better. Research suggests dogs do not.

Even if you’re asking this question and your dog doesn’t have cancer, I highly recommend grabbing a copy of Dr. Dressler’s book, The Dog Cancer Survival Guide. There is a significant amount of information in there for dog lovers to help you understand how your dog.

Dr. Dressler, in his book, discusses the ‘joys of life.’ He recommends you take a look at the joys of life when determining if your dog is ready to let go. The joys of life allow us to understand how much life quality our dog is experiencing.

The Joy of Eating and Drinking

Eating and drinking doesn’t sound like a joy of life. But, think about it. Let’s say you’re sick and you haven’t been able to eat for a day or two. That first bite of food you take is ‘joyous’ in a way.

Dogs find joy in eating and drinking, too.

Your dog might not show you in ways you understand how they’re feeling but keep an eye on how much they’re eating and drinking. This could be a message to you to allow you to understand what they’re experiencing.

If she is still eating and drinking, you know she’s still enjoying this quality of life.

Moving is Critical

This might sound silly, too. But, just like us, dogs enjoy being able to move around. This is often something we take for granted but think about if you weren’t able to get up and grab yourself something to eat. Or, get up to grab your phone.

Dogs enjoy movement. Your dog enjoys running. Your dog enjoys walking. Your dog enjoys being able to walk comfortably over to your for a cuddle.

When your dog isn’t able to do these things anymore, this is affecting his or her quality of life. Don’t panic if your dog isn’t one who loves to exercise. There are some dogs who are just couch potatoes and have never really moved around much. Think about it and see if your dog is acting out of the ordinary.

Your Dog’s Mind

Mental illness is a serious problem in today’s society and it continues to get more attention. Healthy thinking is important to our dogs, too.

Depression, anxiety, and stress can affect our dog’s daily life just as it does ours.

If your dog appears to be continuously depressed or anxious, or in poor mental health in general, his or her life quality won’t be as high as it could be.

Keeping Track

All of the items discussed in this article are factors we may not pay close attention to all the time. If you’re worried it might be ‘her time’ though, you’ll want to keep an eye on your dog’s daily behavior and routine. My recommendation is to keep a journal of how your dog is feeling each day and compare each day to the next.

If your dog is still enjoying all of her joys of life, there’s a high chance she is still happy. If you’re noticing two or more joys of life slipping away, you may still not want to consider ‘letting her go.’ You can try hospice to increase her joys of life while spending more time with her. Pet hospice has becoming increasingly popular and, when the time comes, the hospice veterinarian will often allow you to choose the area in your home you want her to be while you say your goodbyes.

Keep in mind, hospice does not mean you’re giving up. It just means you’re improving her quality of life for her remaining days.

All in all, you know your dog the best. There’s no one else who can tell you how your dog is feeling. What does your gut tell you?

And, finally. Dogs can sense our emotions so do your best to stay calm so her stress levels stay down.

I have so much more to say to all of your about this topic, but I am out of space to discuss more. If you would like to talk more about this topic, please feel free to e-mail me at AmberLDrake@dogbehaviorblog.org or the contact page at www.AmberLDrake.org.

Until next time, everyone.

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