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Dr L Simmon
Dr L Simmon, Dog Veterinarian
Category: Dog
Satisfied Customers: 4844
Experience:  Veterinarian MVB MRCVS
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When is the right time to let a dog go? My friend has a 16

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When is the right time to let a dog go? My friend has a 16 year old dog in renal failure. She has had 2 attempts at flushing her kidneys on a drip but they produced short term improvements only (10 days) She has slowed down considerably and sleeps much of the time. Occasionally incontinent at night, she does have spells of looking 'brighter' but generally looks tired and weak. She hasn't eaten a meal for over a week now and is being syringe fed by my friend a diluted food provided by the vet. Her weight had dropped by 2.5 kg What is your opinion please?
Hi there, you are through to Dr Linda.
Your question is not an easy one to answer but I will certainly try my best to guide you.
There is never a 'right time' and dogs often spend weeks in that 'Grey Zone' when it can be hard to know what is the right thing to do for them. They may seem to improve only to worsen again. When the bad days outweigh the good, we usually have a difficult decision to make.
When we are considering letting an animal go , it is always with their best interest in mind. Our aim is to prevent suffering and to ensure they always maintain a good quality of life.
Animals have no concept of what is happening and only know that they feel sick and weak. They do not fear death.
At 16 (a very impressive age) and having been diagnosed with an incurable condition that will only worsen with time, sadly it is likely that the time is near for this dog.
Having these patients on drips only ever offers a temporary improvement and is not meant as a long term solution. Towards the end, we find that dogs become dehydrated easily and find it very hard to maintain their normal salt (electrolyte balance). Fluids can only correct this for a very short period of time.
When assessing quality of life, we need to consider all aspects.
Is the dog free from pain? Is their mobility affected? Are they keen to eat food? Do they suffer with nausea or diarrhoea? Do they still get pleasures out of life (perhaps from socialising, eating or going on walks)?
We should compare them to how they were last year, last month and even last week. Sometimes remembering them in stages like this really highlights how much they have deteriorated with time.
A useful and objective tool is an online questionnaire such as this one : https://journeyspet.com/pet-quality-of-life-scale-calculator/
It can feel unnatural or wrong to consider euthanasing our pets; integral family members. However, the truth is that this is often the final kind thing that we can do for them. The procedure itself is very peaceful and done with a dignity.
I always feel that it is better to euthanise a week early than a day late as that day is one where they will suffer considerably.
We must always ask ourselves why we are keeping a pet alive. Is it for personal reasons i.e. because we will miss them when they're gone and we dont want to let them go? We need to put them first , as hard as this can be.
In summary, from your description it sounds as if this animal is now struggling. As we know she is only going to get worse and not better with time, it is likely that we need to strontly consider euthanasia. A vet can examine her to help assist in this decision.
Please do let me know if you have any further questions and I will be happy to assist.
Customer: replied 1 year ago.
Thank you. Is there any clear way to tell if she is suffering? Is her refusal to eat a sign that she wants to give up? My friend is concerned that he is doing something she simply doesn't want in feeding her. I know that animals tend to hide discomfort, but are there any signs we should look for? She doesn't want to go on walks much and sleeps mostly. What can we expect towards the end with renal failure? Is it likely to be protracted or sudden? Sorry for the questions - I realise you can't be absolute in your answers but we really don't know what to look for.
Sadly, it can be really difficult to know for sure when an animal is suffering as they are just unable to communicate that to us. We can only go off how they are acting and it does sound as if this dog is giving up.
Her refusal to eat is likely due to the toxin build up within her body (which occurs when the kidneys are not functioning as they should) causing nausea and a general sense of being unwell.
By feeding her, it is likely that we are just prolonging the inevitable. Towards the end of their life an animal will simply stop eating and drinking. Sadly, they do not often pass away naturally quickly and can suffer on for days and even weeks as their body gradually shuts down. It is because of this that we suggest euthanasia- a tool that can prevent them having to go through that awful period.
With chronic renal disease it is usually protracted and a sudden death would be rare. Animals will continue to lose weight, lose muscle mass, become weaker and sleep more. They may vomit regularly, develop loose stools and develop mouth ulcers and bad breath. It is certainly not a nice thing to go through and is why we regularly put an animal to sleep before they get to the final stage, when they still have some dignity and quality of life.
Indeed, waiting until quality of life completely gone, means we have waited too long.
Customer: replied 1 year ago.
Thank you.
Absolutely. You are more than welcome to ask any further questions you or your friend may have and to keep me udoated on things. This window will stay open for several more days. Take care, Dr Linda
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