Caring for a dog nearing the end of his life is similar to caring for a dog about to give birth: it is impossible to know exactly when “the time” will come. Eventually, some signs are inevitable. Your dog will let you know it is time for him to leave by sleeping more, offering fewer affectionate gestures and eating less. Your dog is not suffering; rather, these changes are a normal part of life ending.
A dog’s appetite naturally declines as he ages. Some decline in appetite is not necessarily an indication that your elder dog is dying. He may simply have some physical challenges that need addressing. He may also simply find food to be less appealing than he did when he was younger. It is sometimes possible to entice a dog to eat more by offering different foods. He might need smaller pieces of kibble, food moistened with water or broth or some additional flavor from canned dog or cat food. If these changes do not entice your dog to eat, you may wish to take him to the vet to determine if there is an underlying cause to his declining appetite or if it is merely due to age.
As dogs age, they become less active. If your dog’s appetite remains normal, then he may become obese. It is equally as likely that he will eat less, however. Your dog may need to eat smaller meals of specially formulated senior food to accommodate fewer calories being burned over longer periods. Adding wheat bran to your elderly dog’s food may also reduce constipation, an issue common to dogs of advancing age due to a lack of activity. The discomfort associated with constipation may in itself reduce your dog’s desire to eat.
Your dog’s body will start to shut down as the end of his life draws near. Not only will he stop eating and drinking, but his bladder and bowel control will eventually cease. His body temperature will drop. Over time your dog will restrict his movements and he will try to hide in a secure, private space to sleep. His body is shutting down, system by system, preparing him for death. Even though he stops eating, it is important that he continue to take in fluids, even if he takes in a dropper of fluid at a time. Your dog will count on you to keep him comfortable at this time. Stay calm, keep him hydrated and ensure that he is warm and undisturbed by children or other household pets.
Your dog’s unwillingness to eat will alert you to the impending end of his life. It might be tempting to ask your veterinarian to help you prolong the time you have together. If your dog is not eating or if he appears to be in pain, then it might be time to determine your dog’s quality of life. If your dog has pain uncontrollable by medication or if his inability or lack of desire to eat is so complete that he is starving himself, it may be that his quality of life is poor. At such time it is appropriate to consult your veterinarian to determine your dog’s end of life options, including euthanasia.
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