a Taj MuttHall Dog Diary: A Dog's Final Care

Monday, April 16, 2007

A Dog's Final Care

SUMMARY: Are you a bad person if you don't do everything medically possible to try to save your dog's life, no matter the cost?

My sister-in-law, who has a dog whom she adores but is not active in "the dog world", posed this question after watching an episode of Judge Judy (?) in which it seemed to be implied that you were a bad person if you didn't spend the money, whether you had it or not.

I had just happened to read an article in DogSport magazine (May/June 2006) by Terri Arnold, whom I don't know because she's an AKC-only person, but I thought her conclusions described in "When to let go" are quite helpful. In summary, she says that she'll use the same criteria for her dogs that she'd use for herself on when to let go, and I quote:
  • Must not be a burden, neither financial nor emotional, to those who take care of me.
  • Must be able to communicate with those who love me--if not verbally, at least with my eyes and spirit. I must have an interest in the world around me.
  • Must not be in agonizing pain all the time.
  • Must be able to eat and drink and take my medicine in order to help myself.
  • Must have my dignity; I could never lose complete control of all my bodily functions and want to live. (For a dog in particular, this could mean separating the dog from the life he was familiar with.)
She goes on to describe how she made those evaluations for her beloved Stride when he developed a brain tumor. But she also said, "There is no one more capable to make this decision than the person who loves the dog."

UPDATE: May 12, 2008 - The full article is now online here.

I raised the question with agility friends at dinner this weekend, and we all agreed that there's so much that goes into the answer: The dog's age, personality, and physical condition overall. The owner's health (mental and physical) and energy and living situation and finances. The nature of the illness, the nature of the treatment. More than one of us had stories of how we fought with money and medical treatment into five digits of expenses for a beloved dog, to gain only a month. Or two. Or, in Remington's case, four. We all felt that we did what we needed to do and could do at the time, and we all felt that maybe we'd never do that again. Or maybe we would.

We talked about where the line is (as did the article)--you don't put a dog to sleep because you're moving and can't take the dog with you, or because he's, say, vomiting and you don't know why (given that the dog has otherwise been healthy and there's no other evidence of illness). Still, I don't know what you'd do if you had a young, sick dog and the vet couldn't tell more without tests and the tests would be $500 and you don't have $500. Most people I know, however, aren't in the situation where they really couldn't afford to have basic blood, urine, & xray tests done.

But there remains that huge gray area where it's just not completely clear, where the vet can't decide for you and the dog's body doesn't decide for you. I think that Terri's guidelines are a wonderful place to start.


  1. It will be interesting to "see" others' responses...

    - The Sister-in-Law

  2. Wow, what a topic for an agility trial. I am not one for extraordinary measures to save a dog. I believe that every effort needs to be made to properly diagnose an illness and as long as the dog is capable and functioning I would take every care in the world to keep it up and around and enjoying everyday. But I would like to believe that when the dog lost the ability to function on it's own, and was in pain and unable to respond even weakly to me, I would be able to let go. Because I think at that point I would be keeping it alive for me. Not for the dog. But having never had to make this choice, who knows what one will do when the time comes.


  3. We haven't lost a dog yet and we dread the day. We lost both our cats, littermates, to kidney problems. They were our first pets as a couple, before we were even engaged. The boy died first and we stubbornly held on until he literally couldn't breathe (erythropoetin, dropper feedings--it was terrible, finally he just collapsed and started gasping). We rushed him to the vet to end his now obvious suffering. With the girl, we didn't let it get to quite that point. It was a big difference in our viewpoint when we realized how much our boy had suffered before dying. With the dogs, we will also be careful to let go when the time is right. We miss you Roscoe and Daisy (yes, named for the Dukes of Hazzard).

  4. I remember when I was struggling with whether to treat one of my dogs for cancer when I didn't have the money and the outcome wasn't at all certain. One of the vets I spoke to said, "You don't have to go into debt or ruin your budget to prove that you love your dog". I hadn't realized up to that point that I had been thinking about it somewhat in those terms. It was very helpful to hear that at that point. (I opted to treat only for comfort measures and she lived much longer than anyone thought she would.)