Caring for a terminally ill dog at home can be a bittersweet experience for the whole family. Allowing a beloved pet to pass away in the comfort of his own home rather than in a sterile veterinary office can be a loving gift. To ensure you know what to expect and to protect your dog against a painful exit, consult with your vet about creating a plan for the best way to handle end-of-life care at home.
End-of-life care needs are unique to every dog, and your vet can let you know what to expect in your pet’s final weeks and days. Your dog may have special medical needs to attend to. For example, a dog suffering from congestive heart failure will likely be on a regimen of diuretics and may experience frequent accidental urination. Ask your vet to explain how long your pet is expected to live, what his physical end-of-life needs will be, and how you can provide comfort measures through medication and at-home palliative treatment.
Warmth and Comfort
Many dogs, particularly older arthritic pups, will be most physically comfortable indoors in a heated, cushioned dog bed. Even if your pet has been accustomed to sleeping on your bed or on a couch, he may be safer and more comfortable on the floor, and less prone to accidental falls. Consider using disposable mattress pad protectors or plastic sheeting to protect floors against accidental elimination, but allow your dog to keep favorite blankets and familiar bedding. Outside dogs should be given regular access to inside shelter, both for warmth, comfort and human contact.
Food and Water
Your dog may or may not be on a restricted end-of-life diet. Many illnesses result in reduced appetites, and your pup may find it difficult to chew or tolerate certain foods. Soft, bland foods are often the easiest for ailing dogs to consume and digest, but again, your vet is the best source of information regarding appropriate dietary needs for your dog’s particular condition. If no restrictions are in place, allow your pup to consume favorite treats as his appetite permits. Provide constant access to clean, fresh water and be prepared for more frequent bathroom breaks, as loss of bladder and bowel control can occur as the end of life approaches.
Time and Attention
Dogs are social creatures who love being with their human companions. As end of life approaches, give your pup as much time, love and attention as possible. If he is still able to comfortably walk, engage in light play or exercise; encourage the activity, but don’t push him beyond his physical comfort levels. Spend time holding, petting and gently grooming your dog, and speak to him in comforting tones. Your voice and presence can put him at ease.
Have a Backup Plan
Even if you want your dog to pass away peacefully at home, unexpected end-of-life complications can arise that require medical intervention. If your dog is in pain that you cannot control with medication at home, or if you feel unable to provide adequate care, make arrangements with your vet for emergency intervention, such as a veterinary house call, or, if necessary, in-office euthanasia. While a home death can be peaceful and loving, it can also be very emotionally trying. Recognize you may need outside help and plan for it in advance.