Saturday, February 25, 2012

Living with a terminally ill pet

While the focus of this blog is really on Hailey and her adventures, from time to time I like to share the adventures we had in the 9 years of dog ownership pre-Hailey.  Today is a story that I wish I didn't have to share, but is one that may help others through a difficult time.

For those who read my blog regularly, you have heard me mention Loki. Loki was our first dog. He was diagnosed with an immune disorder when he was 5 and a half and again when he was 7 and a half. The second time we were given a one year prognosis. So for 11 months our focus was on keeping Loki as healthy and happy as possible. FYI: Our vet at Ottawa Vet Hospital says his disease was the weirdest he has ever treated (lucky us!)

Looking back at our year of living with a terminally ill pet, here are some things I learned:

1) Trust your instincts. If you believe something is wrong with your pet, follow through and get tests. The first vet I saw the second time he got sick (my vet was away for a couple weeks), didn't believe me that something was wrong. I waited and went back to my vet who saw something was wrong and started testing.

2) Know your limits. If these are financial or just acceptable quality of life for your pet, have that in your head. This will help you make decisions during those emotional moments (for example, I thought blood doping was beyond what I was comfortable with and after a first biopsy confirmed he was dying, I refused to put him through the pain of a second to figure out how quickly).

3) Find a vet your trust and don't be afraid to ask for a second opinion! If they are insulted by this, you don't want to do business with them.

4) Be prepared for changes in other pets behaviour. Try and give the others the love and attention they need during this time. Gemini developed obsessive drinking (8 cups of water a day for her little 16 lbs self) which lead to tones of accidents and her hair fell out. We had her tested for lots of things, but it turned out she just was stressed.

5) I wish I had looked at cremation options before the day we said goodbye. I recommend asking your vet for the brochures before and "pre-planning." (This was much easier with Gemini because I knew what I wanted and didn't have to make that decision in the moments before the final goodbye).

6) Take lots of pictures. The picture I have attached above shows my very sick puppy  and does make me sad, but it also is a reminder of the life he and we lived for parts of those 11 months.

7) Take care of yourself. Because I got so wrapped up in the caring for the dying, I probably didn't always manage my own stress levels appropriately. In fact I didn't realize the stress I was under until a few days after he died and I felt that sense of relief. Care for the caregivers is important.

8) Spoil the heck out of them! We had to balance keeping Loki healthy with giving him a great quality of life. Since he had an immune disorder we were concerned about exposing him to other dogs/situations. There came a point however when I remember thinking, he is dying anyway, I would rather give him fewer great days than more ok days. The last couple months we also let him eat whatever he wanted!

9) Know when it is time to say goodbye. I always said I would know, and the truth was, it was Loki who told me. He had slowly been getting sicker and then he had the best day he had in weeks followed by the worst night ever. Sometime around dawn, he looked and me and we both knew, today was the day.

10) Take time to say goodbye. I knew about 5 am that it was time to say goodbye. We said goodbye about 5:30 pm that day. While I didn't want to prolong his suffering I wanted to make sure that we had those last few precious hours to say goodbye.

Caring for a dying pet and saying goodbye is not easy. It is one of those things people don't like to talk about. Unfortunately sometimes it is part of the journey. Wishing all your pets great health!


  1. thank you for sharing that story. it was beautifully written and also very sad. when you talk about how you an loki knew it was time, it brought tears to my eyes. i hate to think how our pups don't have a human lifespan, so i believe in giving them the best life we can provide them. also, all the info you have provided is very helpful for any pet owner.

  2. You are welcome. It is one of the parts of dog ownership that is NOT fun, but is part of life. I truly believe Loki knew it was time to go. This made it easier and harder.

  3. I agree with Yuki & Rocket -- sometimes I forget that I will likely (hopefully) outlive my boys. Just thinking about life without them makes me teary-eyed. I think you're a very strong person, though, because you've made it through both Loki and Gemi passing away without losing your marbles.

    Weird question -- when it is time for my guys to go, will the vet come to my place? The thought of doing anything like that at the vet's office just.. I don't know, it doesn't sit well with me. Maybe because my vet's office isn't overly homey (what vet's office is, though) and for something like this I would like to be done in the comfort of our home, with their toys and beds and so on.

  4. I think I didn't lose my marbles because I didn't have them in the first place! The reality is, that Gemi's death (more than Lo's) did make me feel like a different person. I don't know if others think so, but inside I feel different.

    I don't know if they will come to your home. I have heard stories of people having it at home, so some vets must. My clinic has a visiting room with a couch that is a bit nicer. I am sure you could bring whatever you wanted with you to make it more comfortable. A home death for my pets is not something I wanted. I wanted the final act to occur somewhere else because I have very strong associations with places and I didn't want that to be in the home. These are things that it may be helpful to find out well before needing to know.


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