13-year-old dachshund showing signs of age

| Sunday, Feb. 1, 2009

QUESTION: Dear Dog Talk: I have a 13-year-old dachshund and am facing the decision of when the right time is to put him down. I've had him since he was 6 weeks old. He is the first dog that I've had and cared for on my own. He was trained very easily and has been the most wonderful dog I could have owned.

Within the past year, he has begun to have several medical issues. He will be walking, and his legs will slide from under him. It doesn't happen always, but often. In addition, his back and hindquarters feel knotted up. This is due to arthritis. We have him on a low dosage of pain medication.

He has congestive heart disease and every three to four weeks will cough badly.

He now is urinating and defecating in the house. When he doesn't do this, he is constantly leaking and cleaning himself. On occasion, he will wet his bed.

We came home this evening to find poop all over our breakfast room. In this room, we have a doggie door that he has access to 24 hours a day. There is a ramp that allows him to go up and down rather than using the stairs from our back door. I know he isn't doing this to spite us. Is this a sign he is giving up?

Even with all of these symptoms, he still loves to eat and drink. This is when he is the most like his old self. He will bark and still enjoys chewing on his bones. There are some days we come home and he hasn't made a mess at all.

When I look at his sweet face, he still looks like a puppy to me. I've always sworn to myself that I would not be selfish and hold onto him when the time came. I believe it's cruel to allow dogs to suffer after they give so much unconditional love.

I can't even begin to express what this dog means to me. In the worst times of my life, he was the only one I felt was always there. It has always amazed me how well he knows me and I him. He looks at me and I know exactly what he means. He hears the tone in my voice and he knows how he should respond. My Siamese cats prefer him to my husband and me!

My question is, am I being premature by putting him down now• I'm constantly struggling with whether I'm being selfish for not letting go or being premature in my decision. I don't want him to suffer. However, I don't want to do this before it's time. Is this just what comes with caring for a geriatric dog?

I feel lucky that my veterinarian has been phenomenal and very supportive. He has agreed to assist in anyway he can. He, too, knows how hard a decision this can be. Any advice that you can give would be greatly appreciated. Thanks in advance and best wishes!

ANSWER: Dear Not Sure: You're right. Sadly, this awful phase that you are experiencing is part of caring for a geriatric dog. It is what I call the most difficult part of pet owning.

It also is sad that it's a decision pet owners have to make for themselves. I or no one else can make this decision for you.

However, I can share with you my personal criteria for making a decision to put a dog down. Let me reiterate, this is my personal criteria. It is nether the right or wrong criteria. It is simply mine. Others might disagree.

If a dog no longer has use of his or her legs, I will opt for euthanasia. Keep in mind, I've always had medium to large-size dogs. I once carried a 14-year-old German shorthaired pointer from the house to the yard to go to the bathroom. Her hips were deteriorated, and she wasn't going to regain the use of her legs. She collapsed while trying to defecate, and I vowed I never would let this happen to another dog.

When a dog becomes incontinent, I will make the tough choice. I find constantly cleaning up urine and feces to be unbearable. But that doesn't mean every pet owner feels the same way.

When dogs stop eating and drinking, it is time to opt for a humane euthanasia. I could not stand to watch a dog waste away, slowly starving to death. Dogs won't last long on their own without water intake. Kidneys will shut down, and they will die.

Lastly, if a dog obviously is suffering, I will make the decision. When quality of life is gone, beloved family members should have the right to pass on with dignity.

I know that you're going through a tough period. I wish you well, and you will be in my thoughts. Unfortunately, no time ever feels exactly perfect. However, afterward, even though you will mourn, you will know that your dear friend is in a better place.

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