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Making those quality of life decisions

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  • Making those quality of life decisions

    I have an elderly JRT that really seems to be going downhill. This guy was always the true spitfire, able to jump about five times his height and hunt lizards for hours without stopping. I always figured he'd just run full-speed his entire life.

    In the past 18 months, he's lost his hearing, but dealt okay with it; cataracts have taken a good bit of vision, but we managed. However in the past several months he's shown symptoms of dementia or cognitive dysfunction. Blood work and physical exams done in past few months and all fine. Tried some meds without success. His anxiety now seems to have skyrocketed; a couple months ago, he would settle if he sat with me or I held him. Now I can't seem to stop his relentless pacing, and it's obvious he doesn't know where he is - he gets stuck and confused, he just looks so stressed all the time. Most of the time he won't lay near me or let me hold him.

    He eats well, seems to know when it is treat or food time. He seems kind of better after a long sleep, as in first thing in the morning.

    It seems easier to me to assess quality of life with obvious physical pain, but how do you do it in this situation? It seems like a terrible life, like a person with Alzheimer's, but I could be projecting. This is my first puppy I've raised and it's so hard to watch. I'm currently vet shopping because I've lost some faith in my vet recently, so I'm not sure if I'll get good advice there, but I know it's time to go.

    Sorry this is so long. Greatly appreciate any thoughts.

  • #2
    Only you know your dog well enough to make this decision, but:

    Originally posted by KTRider View Post
    Now I can't seem to stop his relentless pacing, and it's obvious he doesn't know where he is - he gets stuck and confused, he just looks so stressed all the time. Most of the time he won't lay near me or let me hold him.
    It sounds like he's not enjoying life anymore. I'm sorry you have to make this decision. It's so hard to see dogs 'suddenly' become old


    • #3
      I'm so sorry for you. My elderly GSD went through this. Have you tried some anti anxiety meds? Clomicalm maybe?


      • #4
        Dogs can get Canine Cognitive Disorder. Kind of like Dementia. They have meds for it.

        The other thing, the pacing makes me think of is Cushings. Does your dog always seem hungry? Drink more water? Pee more (maybe even have accidents in the home)? Pant rapidly at times (like nervous panting?), losing hair? Losing muscle mass? Pot belly? Those can all be symptoms of Cushings. If you haven't had a complete blood workup done, you might consider it. There are some diseases that can mimic dementia. Liver disease, for instance can make dogs circle a lot (walk in circles like they are disoriented).

        When I have an elderly dog that I'm begining to wonder if it's time, I always do a vet check, and talk to my vet about what is going on, and make sure that there aren't any simple conditions that may be helped by meds/modifications (like raised dishes for an arthritic dog.) Your vet can also help you decide whether the dog still has quality of life, or can be treated to give it quality of life.


        • #5
          It sure is hard. I'm getting close to that point again, this is not my first elderly dog, but my oldest in the pack is now almost 14 years old.

          She still gets around okay, despite her hearing loss and diminished vision, so I knock on wood every day, and just make an assessment every day.

          Good luck, and hugs.
          There are friends and faces that may be forgotten, but there are horses that never will be. - Andy Adams


          • Original Poster

            Thanks all. He did have a full blood panel in probably May and all was normal, but it may be time to do it again. We have tried cognitive disorder meds and currently I have alprazolam to try and help reduce anxiety.

            Cushings is an interesting thought - he doesn't have most of the symptoms. He does drink a lot but he always has, he's lost some hair on one ear, and there's the pacing. So, I guess that's a possibility. Googling shows a bunch of different tests, so I can talk to the vet about where to start. Lately my vet has been pushing a $700 senior work up, so hopefully they don't insist on that. Of course I'll spend what it takes, it's just hard when you have another elderly JRT that needs some hip and spine x-rays and a Chessie with a heart murmur that they want to do baseline chest rads for. The ups and downs of dog ownership!


            • #7
              Make sure your vet is doing a geriatric panel - the regular blood panel won't find things like thyriod or cushings.

              I tried the meds with my older dog for the cognitive disorder, and they didn't seem to help. My dog also gets 'stuck' in odd places, behind the toilet, next to the china closet - so at night I actually crate him to keep him from getting in too much trouble. My dog doesn't seem to be anxious, although his pacing is increasing as time goes by. He eats up, recognizes me, enjoys his cuddles and pets, and sleeps a lot. So it's not quite his time yet.

              It's a tough decision that only you can make. You know this dog better than anyone else. This is such a grey area - it would almost be easier if it was something seriously wrong that made this decision more clear-cut.

              Anyway, hugs to you and your old pup ...


              • #8
                If confining a dog, along with crates, check if x-pens would be a good option also.
                They give a dog a bit more freedom, while still confining them to a small space, even in the living room next to you if necessary.

                If you try x-pens with very old dogs that get stuck, try different configurations, like longer and narrower or rounder, against some furniture or door with a doggy door, maybe with a crate in there also.

                Every vet I have known, small or large animal vet, has always said when we know the time is close, better too early than too late, after a crash, in an emergency, with a very distressed patient or worse, in pain.

                Only you and your vets know when that time is.


                • #9
                  I am sorry you are going through this. My Aussie was like this at the end. He lost his sight and never really adjusted. Probably had some kind of dementia because he was also restless, anxious and generally unhappy.
                  It is hard to make the call when they are physically able to continue on. But when all my efforts couldnt provide him a reasonable quality of life, I let him go.
                  Best wishes for you.


                  • #10
                    My 14 year old JRT does that senile walking too. I think she has some cognative dysfunction as well. However, shes still as fiesty as sh*t and takes on any dog at any time. She is deaf (completely) and I think her sight is starting to go. However, she is and has always been lead by her nose.

                    I know her time will come, but for now her quality of life has changed, but she's content (especially if food is around...cause all the other dogs know, its HER food first)

                    Im sure your pooch will let you know when he is no longer able to enjoy life.


                    • #11
                      You have to listen to your gut-sometimes it will be telling you something that you don't want to hear. Sometimes these things are fixable but if they aren't you need to be able to interpret what you're seeing and what you know for him.

                      I have an old dog that is winding down, but she still enjoys her meals and treats and walks. She sleeps the whole rest of the time, as close to me as she can be, but she is still either asleep or happy. If she were bothered all the time I would wonder about her. If she didn't have happy times in her day and started withdrawing from me I would know she wasn't herself anymore.

                      I really believe and have seen in every truly invested owner deep down you will feel a switch from hanging in there for them to doing it for yourself and realizing it's time. It's a transition, usually, and takes time to process...but you will and you'll make the right choice. I'm sorry you're having to deal with this, it's hard times...
                      “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” Stephen R. Covey


                      • #12
                        I watched my JRT, Tinker, go through this. Then one day I couldn't find him anywhere upstairs. I went into the basement and found him stuck in the sump drain. In a rush to get him out I didn't realize his thermatex dog coat had caught on the sump pump. Tinker was okay, but that was when I realized his time had come. Two days after he was PTS, my sump pump came on, jammed on the dog coat and caught fire. TG I was home or I could've lost my house. Definitely a case where I waited a day too long instead of a minute too soon.

                        I'd spend a morning (when he's more aware) with him sharing his story with him, then have the vet come over and put him to sleep at home. You have my sympathies, because I've had to do this twice, two weeks apart, in June.
                        ~Kryswyn~ Always look on the bright side of life, de doo, de doo de doo de doo
                        Check out my Kryswyn JRTs on Facebook

                        "Life is merrier with a terrier!"


                        • #13
                          Hugs. Been thinking of your situation but didn't know what to say/post. Just hugs. Give the old man a piece of turkey this Thanksgiving and bum scritches from Bicoastal.


                          • #14
                            That sounds exactly, to a T, what i just went through with Bumper. She was partially blind, mostly deaf, and diagnosed with Canine Cognitive Disorder. She also had several small strokes. It all started around Easter, and she was put down on November 1. She was 14.

                            Her anxiety got to the point where she wasn't sleeping (and it was pretty gradual at first until WHAM!) so we made the decision. She was eating ok but not great, but for the most part she was so stressed at night she would pace and whine.

                            Only you know when it's time. Quality of life is paramount.

                            ((( hugs )))
                            People take different roads seeking fulfillment and happiness. Just because they're not on your road doesn't mean they're lost.---Dalai Lama


                            • #15
                              Just make sure you are keeping the animal alive for their sake, and not to avoid your own pain. It's a very hard decision to make, and you are the only person who can decide when it's time.

                              With my last boy I kept him too long, and I will always regret that. Some morning you will look at him and realize his zest for life is gone, and you will know it's time to let him go for his sake. It's not just their physical condition, but their mental state also. When they no longer have any joy in their life or could get in a bad situation while you are gone during the day, then it might be time.
                              You can't fix stupid-Ron White


                              • #16
                                Bumper, your dog's situation is so similar to mine.

                                OP, my beloved Aussie started showing signs of disorientation, walking in circles and getting "lost" in the house around Easter; in May he developed pancreatitis and spent a few days in the ICU and while there, the vet hypothesized that he was having mini strokes and put him on a beta blocker. His symptoms waxed and waned for months, though he sustained neurological damage that resulted in neuropathy in his left hind (this developed in late October).

                                The worst part of the disorder was that he would get stuck in the worst possible places and injure himself. I posted just after Labor day about him getting lost in the torrential rains that Monday and being found clinging for life in a rushing stream. The fact that he had the will to survive that ordeal made me determined to give him every chance to continue to live. He had a great September; hardly any bad days, but started going downhill again in October. The vet examined him and reported that he didn't appear to be in pain, especially because he had little feeling in his back leg. However, his anxiety was out of control and he wouldn't sleep more than a few hours a night. For whatever reason, the hours of 3 to 7 am were very tough for him and he would often walk around aimlessly unless I laid on the floor with him and stroked him.

                                He had his fourteenth birthday on Nov 1, and on Nov 11, I had the vet come to the house and put him to sleep. I and his other lifelong human buddy made the decision together, which was a huge help to me. We both went through the typical thought processes, worrying whether it was the right thing to do, worrying that we were playing "God", etc. In the end, I decided that I would just play a human with a God-given brain and heart and do what I thought was best.

                                Even though he went quickly and peacefully, the emotional pain of losing him was as bad as I worried it would be. Intellectually, I knew he wasn't going to get better and he certainly wasn't going to get younger, just older. What hurt most was that a third of my life was spent with him, and he was the best part of it, and now he was gone. Each day gets easier though. I planned it for Friday evening so that I'd have Friday to feed him steak and bones, drive him to "his" beloved park and just love on him, and then have the weekend to cry as much as I needed to. For me, watching video clips of him when I start to feel that panicky sadness has been very comforting; I watch those and I don't feel that he's so far away.

                                A couple of days ago I clicked on the pictures in my phone and realized that I had taken three pictures of him lying down with his head on his great-niece's (she's a youngster, almost two) back, several days prior to his crossing. I zoomed in on his face and was shocked at how uncomfortable he actually looked in those pictures. I could have waited, but for what? My heart is now in sync with my head as I know I did what was best for him.

                                I feel for you, and all of us who love our animals and have to face this decision. I quite agree with you that the absence of acute pain or some horrible disease creates terrible ambivalence, which can be intolerable because there is no obvious right or wrong. I'm keeping you in my thoughts.
                                "The slogan will take you like lemmings to the cliff. You'll feel better than ever, and into the abyss... There'll be no more war, there'll be no more choice." PiL


                                • Original Poster

                                  I really appreciate all the compassionate words from everyone. The little man has had a couple better days, back to laying with me and being my shadow. It's like people I've known with Alzheimer's. There are good days and bad, and I guess my job now is to make sure there are more good than bad. And I'll be taking him for a check-up too to make sure there aren't other issues I can't see.

                                  I've had to do this before, but that time was cancer and I knew exactly when it was time. This whole mental decline is much harder. I definitely don't want to delay for myself, so I'm trying to be very conscious of that. He is crated when I work, and sleeps very soundly in there, so he is safe when I'm gone.

                                  Hope everyone has a good holiday, and again, thanks for the kind words of advice.