Species: Dog Breed: Labrador Retriever Age: 11-15 years
My dog Juliet is 12 1/2 years old. She is a black lab with Addison's disease which has been well controlled for many years. She is currenty on Florinef (0.1 mcg - 5 tablets twice a day and on prednisone 7 1/2 mg. / day).
She also has severe arthritis of the forelimbs (elbows). She is on metacam once a day, and earlier this week I took her to the vet and he injected her elbows with hyaluronic acid and cortisone.
Last summer she developed a neurodegenerative myelopathy, which began with weakness of her back legs, and she is now unable to walk more than a few steps. I bought a rear-leg wheelchair for her last week, and have been trying to accustom her to it, after asking the orthopedist to help fit it properly. However, she doesn't seem to be able to walk in it. I know that it can take time for dogs to accustom themselves to the wheelchair, but I think that her elbows are still too painful when she walks on it. She won't take more than a few steps, then her legs start to shake and she won't move.
When she isn't using the wheelchair, she can, with help, ascend the steps to the house (13 steps), and even go up the back stairs, which are wider, by herself, though slowly.
She is not yet incontinent, but I am wondering at what point the decision should be made to have her euthanized? She still wags her tail when she sees us, and eats well. But I don't want her to suffer, and I don't know how much she is suffering (when she was diagnosed with Addison's disease, a few hours before she went into shock and almost died she was still looking cheerful and wagging her tail, even though she was in renal failure).
She also gets recurrend UTIs, and when she gets them, she begins to vomit, and needs extra prednisone.
My family has plans go to go Hawaii in March. Up until now, we have had someone I trusted to keep an eye on her. That person has passed away, and I think it would be too hard to have Juliet in the vet for the week we are gone. I am also concerned what will happen if she becomes ill, or dies that week. I will keep looking for someone to care for her when we are gone.
How does one know when to end their dog's life? I always thought I would never consider euthanasia, but I am now wondering if that is the best thing for her.
Dr. Marie replied:
Oh, it sounds like poor Juliet has been through so much!
I would agree with you that she is likely not using the wheelchair because of the arthritis in her elbows. Elbow arthritis can be extremely painful.
I have a few criteria which help me to decide when it is time for euthanasia:
How is her appetite? If the appetite starts to suffer this is a sign that she is not feeling well.
Does she still enjoy the things that used to give her pleasure in life?
Does she look like she is enjoying life much more often than she is not?
Are we keeping her alive for our sake or for hers?
In my experience, most of my clients who have dogs in similar situations just seem to know at some point that it is time for euthanasia. I commonly hear people say, "We woke up this morning and saw her eyes and knew that it was time to say goodbye."
With what you have described of Juliet's condition, it sounds like at any time you could make the decision for euthanasia and no one would disagree for you. But, you have to be sure that you are ready.
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Dear Dr. Marie,
Thank you so much for your advice. I was wondering: she is such a cheerful dog, that it's sometimes hard to tell. Her tail is almost always tucked between her legs (has been for over a year now), but she does wag it frequently. She seems to like company, but not being touched too much. I always said that I would never euthanize a pet, but now I'm so conflicted.
Dr. Marie replied:
It's never an easy choice Katy. With everything that you have told me so far, it sounds like the time is very near.
It sounds like she is painful especially with her elbows. But, dogs will do all they can to hide that pain.
I'll repeat though that most of the time my clients just know when it is time.
I hope your decision making gets a little easier.
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Dr. Marie is a veterinarian who practices in a busy animal hospital in Ottawa, Ontario. She created Ask A Vet Question as a resource for good, accurate veterinary advice online. Dr. Marie treats dogs, cats, hamsters, guinea pigs, and rats. She has been a vet since 1999.
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