Old Dog Living on Borrowed Time

Updated on February 05, 2015
K.M. asks from Newburgh, NY
19 answers

Our dog is almost 14 years old. She is a big dog, so I know she's already on borrowed time. I took her to the vet today. She's not in pain, but the vet says she doesn't have much longer. Our kids are 9, 6, and 4. This will be their first major loss. Any advice on things to do/not do from those of you that have been down this road? I'm going to take a bunch of pictures with her and the kids after school. We've already talked to them about death. My 9 year old will definitely take it the hardest.

Thanks in advance.

What can I do next?

  • Add yourAnswer own comment
  • Ask your own question Add Question
  • Join the Mamapedia community Mamapedia
  • as inappropriate
  • this with your friends

So What Happened?

Thank you for your very kind responses. I can tell many of you have been touched by a furry family member. Thank you for the suggestions--I will let them be a part of the death experience--whatever that may end up being. We are a military family living in a rental house, so backyard burial is out. I think we might cremate and keep the ashes. We're definitely going to do a photobook. Fortunately, because of our military lifestyle, Maartena has had some really amazing experiences. She's lived in 4 states and 2 countries--she's also visited 2 other countries and several states. We have wonderful pictures. I will let each of the boys pick one more excursion for her (local and short duration because of her failing health). Thank you, again, ladies for your wonderful responses.

More Answers


answers from Washington DC on


I've avoided this question today as my heart breaks for you. We lost our dog at 14.5 years. He was the first dog our children had known. We chose to put him down on 1 December 2008 - our boys were 6 and 8 at the time.

We did NOT have them with us when we put him down, however, he did let them say good-bye. At the time, they were not sure of the concept of putting an animal down, so we told them that the doctor might not be able to help him since he's so old.

We stayed with him until the end and even 30 minutes after. My friends watched our boys.

Good luck!! I know how hard this is!! {{{{{CYBER HUGS}}}}

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

oh, i'm so sorry. i'm glad you're checking in with the vet, and not planning on trying to keep her alive 'at all costs.' way, way too many people are unwittingly cruel to their pets in their determination to 'fight for them.'
it sounds to me as if you're handling it very well. being upfront with them about the impending loss is good, just make sure not to over-prepare. everyone's going to grieve when it happens. it's counter-productive to try and force 'APPRECIATE EVERY SECOND YOU'VE GOT NOW!!!'
(not that you've indicated any such thing, but it's common and understandable.)
when my brother's big old dog was ready to go, they took him swimming (his favorite thing, it took the pressure off his aching old bones) and spent the day loving him and filling him up with his favorite treats. i did something similar with my pony.
we've got an old soldier dog, and won't be far behind you.
if it's at all, remotely possible, offer to pay the vet triple and have her come to your house. i think this is a niche service that should be available way, way more than it is. i hate having to take a beloved family furbaby to the vet, which most of them hate, and have them go in a place that's full of anxiety for them. if you can have him pass away gently at home, surrounded by his family, it would be so good for all concerned.
i'm so very sorry for your impending loss, hon. there's just no way to make this okay, is there?

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Columbia on

What Nervy said.

Mainly, involve them in the process. Don't leave them out. The one thing I did that really helped us was to bring our kitty home and bury him on our property. We had a nice service for him. Decorated the gravesite.

I'm so sorry about your dog. ♥

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Portland on

I think taking pictures is a great idea. We did that in the months before our cat died and it is still something my son enjoys seeing-- he and Gus Kitty before Gus was in bad shape.

Our cat was declining and had a series of strokes and broke his leg all in one evening. We called a vet service to come and euthanize him at our home. Our son (almost seven at the time) had been told what would happen-- that Gus's body wasn't working any more and that he was hurting; someone would come and help him to die peacefully so he would be comfortable. We let our son come and go through the process as he chose and we made sure that he was just as attended-to as our cat was. We didn't pressure him to be a part of anything,we let him see us being sad and happy to know that our old guy was at peace.

I want to warn you that there is one part of the euthanasia at the end where he sounded like he was gasping for breath while he was asleep. It was short and the vet explained it to us and our son (after Gus had been asleep peacefully for a few minutes); I mention it because this could be a scary moment if someone didn't know it was going to happen.

Other than that, everything went as well as expected. Kiddo helped decorate a box for him to be buried in. Gus is buried out in the yard and we moved the old cedar round he slept on over his grave as a memorial of sorts. My son has put flowers in a vase on top and we have our big cat candle holder sitting on it. For several days, Kiddo wrote a few letters to Gus. I think having tangible reminders (the 'memorial' , the little corner in our living room with pictures and his mousies) was good for my son.

6 moms found this helpful


answers from San Diego on

We've lost 2 cats in recent enough years. They were both getting old, close to 15 when each one died. The cats died a couple years apart. The boys were about 8 & 5 when we lost our first. I was pregnant with our third at the time. When we lost our second my 3 were 10, 7 & 1.5 years old.
The best thing was to be honest with them and open. We explained that they were getting old and their bodies weren't working well anymore. One had been sick for a bit before we lost him.
We took lots of pictures and videos. The kids drew their own pictures as well. We took the kids to Build A Bear to make a bear in their honor to hold when they missed our cats.
In our case we had them cremated. The vets office we go to provides a service where they take a plaster mold of their paw print and put the ashes in a nice cedar box with their name engraved on a plaque on the lid. I still have their remains next to my bed.
We took the kids with us when we had to euthanize them. I know a lot of people don't agree with that saying that the kids are too young to be exposed to something like that but I disagree. Being able to be there, to hold and touch them and to really say goodbye made a world of difference. The vets office we go to has a peaceful room off to the side with low lighting, a pretty water fountain, a couch to sit on and so forth. Everything was done with class and nothing was "creepy". Being able to love on them those final moments meant everything to the kids. The cats had our hands on them as they peacefully slipped away. The vet and us explained each step. They were giving a sedative to relax them so they no longer felt the pain they were in so they could feel better about their spirit leaving their old body that wasn't working right anymore.
In our case we had recently rescued and adopted 3 cats a few months before we lost our first and had just adopted a new (our 4th) cat a week before we lost our second. We hadn't planned that to happen at all! I do admit though that it helped with the grieving. They didn't replace the cats we lost but it did fill our house if that makes any since.
Let them know that it is OK to be sad. Remind them to think of all the good times they had with your dog. Let them know whatever your beliefs are for the afterlife.
So sorry about your fur baby :(

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Boston on

Prep them for what the dog needs, and if you think the dog may need to be euthanized at some point, have a discussion about "the vet helps dogs in pain to die without pain and fear." Decide now about using terms like "put to sleep" or "put down" - the 4 year old especially might be afraid to go to sleep if confused.

Start thinking now about collecting memories - photos, comments from the kids on video, etc. You can create a scrapbook later on - hard copy or electronic.

Decide also on what you will do about burial, cremation, etc. We buried our dog in the yard at the edge of the woods, and we included her blanket and a chewy toy. We worked as a family to make a marker from one of those "garden stepping stone" kits at the craft store. Other people scatter ashes in the woods or at the nature preserve, etc. Make sure it fits in with your religious beliefs, and talk about timetables for grief (and how there aren't any). Friends gave us a hyacinth plant, which we replanted near her grave - every year those flowers come up and it's kind of nice.

There's a written piece called "The Rainbow Bridge" that many people find comforting. We got a card from our vet's office (everyone signed it) that also contained this piece.

Good luck - I know this is hard.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

There's a great little book called Lifetimes about the cycle of life.

I would definitely let them know (very soon) that Jane is very old, ill, and nearing the end part of her life. Talk about the life expectancy of dogs of her size/breed. Assure them that she's had a very long life and a good life...but that her life may be ending at any time. Gently, of course.

I'm very sorry--this is so hard. We list O. dog at 16, and O. at 11. It's NEVER long enough, is it?

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Madison on

Our beloved yellow lab died this past Saturday. She was just shy of 14 years old. She had been on medication for heart issues since last March. She collapsed and died unexpectedly early Saturday morning. My kids are 11 and 9. My oldest was away at a sleepover and my youngest was still sleeping. After both kids were home that morning, we all gathered around our dog to give her one last pet and to say goodbye.
My husband and I thought it was important for them to see her and say goodbye to her, even though she had already died. We gave the kids the option if they wanted to see her before we took her body to the vet. Both
did. Our dog is being cremated. We will keep her ashes with a picture of her on our mantel.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Santa Fe on

We just talked a lot about how our dog will die soon...that he is very old and he could go any day. We also talked a lot about what a good, long life he had for a dog. I was probably talking that talk for a year! Our dog passed away peacefully in his sleep which is the best case scenario. Our kids did get sad...especially our daughter. She still is a little sad about it and it's 9 months later. We talk about the good times our dog had and again, what a good, long life he had. Photos just made my daughter too sad for a while so we had to not look at them. Now she can look at photos with fond memories.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

Have you seen any of those articles about people who do their dog's "Bucket List"? I am thinking of one in particular where the woman photographed all the special things they let their dog do at the end of his life. Maybe that would be a good activity for the kids. Have them come up with things they think your dog would want to do before she goes. Or maybe things they themselves want to do with her "one last time". Then take pictures and perhaps put them in a special album for after she passes.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

I am sorry you are facing this. Having to put a beloved pet down is one of the hardest things you ever do and heartbreaking as well.

I would be as honest with my children and let them know that the vet is helping the dog move on.

We lost our first Cocker when daughter was about 5. I had a book called All Dogs Go To Heaven and talked about the Rainbow Bridge.

Our dogs have been cremated and all are on the mantle in their special cedar box with engraved name on them and pictures from their happy times on their box.

The pet service that does this is very sensitive to families and also includes literature on how to talk to your children, etc and when the box is delivered back to you it has a pretty certificate with the dogs name, the Rainbow Tree poem, a white silk rose and a candle.

I am sorry you are facing this. Thoughts are with you.

ETA: We have gone through this with 3 Cocker Spaniels all ages 14 and up. We were able to stay with them during the entire process while they were on the favorite blanket from home.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Beaumont on

You are doing a great job. Just make sure they have time to express their love, cuddling, kissing etc. As with any death, it's the unsaid, undone things that are the most difficult to live with. So sorry. I love dogs, they give us SO much....

I read where you were thinking about taking her on one more trip. How about the beach? We did that for one of our dogs, got some great pictures with the kids and it seemed to really relax him laying on the beach watching the waves...

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Honolulu on

Not sure if it's an option, but we had our vet come to our home - this way everyone was in a comfortable place and it was familiar for both the children and the dog. We involved our then 2-year old in the process, telling her that our dog had a wonderful life but he was tired and it was time to say goodbye, and we used the words "die/dead", i.e. we were literal, so she wasn't confused. We hugged him, told him we loved him, she saw us cry, but at the moment he received the final medication, she and I turned our backs and gathered flowers from the yard for him. But we got one more hug in as he closed his eyes. It was far more impactful to one so young than I expected. It took her a long time to process it - she still tried to go outside and look for him later, but I don't regret it and am thankful she could say goodbye. I think with older kids, it may be more painful, but even more important, to involve them. And, yes, remember all the positive experiences you shared with photos, as other moms suggest. So sorry for what you're going through. I still get teary, 1 1/2 years later.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

We put our dog down a few years back. Honestly, the kids shocked me. They handled it way better than I expected. We decided to put the dog down while they were with our family--Unfortunately, the dog took a turn for the worst while the kids were there. My husband and I told the kids that the dog wasn't doing well and that we were taking the dog to the vet. They knew that the dog was near the end of her life. When they got home, we explained that the dog died while were with the doctor. The kids were sad. They teared up and we reflected on how sad it was, but how it was time for her to go to doggie heaven. To be honest, I cried more than anyone else in the family. Kids are amazingly resilient. We have to give them credit. Sometimes I think they cope better than adults.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

I haven't been through it yet but I have a dog so I know what you're feeling. I recently read an article about this lady whose dog had cancer and was only given a few months to live. Instead of mourning his impending death, she decided to celebrate his life and she took a cross country trip with her dog and did all of these amazing things (with photos of course) - things like going to the beach, going on a kayak, eating lobster together. It was really sweet. You may not be able to do something on such a grand scale but maybe a special weekend trip, or even a day trip, with the kids and the dog would be nice and something that they could always look fondly back on. Best of luck,

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Detroit on

Hi KM,

at the risk of sounding morbid, have you considered allowing them to be in the room while the vet administers the final medication? It may not be appropriate for the two younger ones but knowing your nine year old will take it the hardest it may make it easier for him/her to process the loss knowing that he/she was able to give the dog her last comfort and love in those last moment. Since you've already broached the topic with your nine year old, maybe you could ask if he/she would like to participate in helping the dog move on. I'm not saying force it, just ask the question and see how your 9 year old responds.

I had to euthanize my beloved cat many years ago and not only did the vet explain the whole thing before he began, he assured me I could hold Tyler and stay with him as long as I needed to while he transitioned. It made it better for me knowing I was the one giving him his last comfort at the end.

I'm in agreement with all the other posts but thought I'd mention this thought as well. I'm sorry to hear of your loss. There are so many learning moments we go through during these times. thoughts to you and yours, S.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

Let them say good by. Spend lots of time with the dog before it happens. I am so soo sorry.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from New York on

We took a lot if pictures. You have time to talk to them about aging animals. Celebrate her life. When the time comes, will it be difficult, absolutely. No getting around that. Just live and hug the kids and keep the memories alive!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Boston on

Pictures will help most of all. Having a special photo frames for each child with their dog will be something they can always look at and remember. I still have my pictures, and it still makes me smile and tear up.

It's always so hard to lose a beloved pet. 14 years is a great amount of time for a dog. Such great memories you will have of them.

I also wouldn't use terms that might scare your children. I always used passed away. It seems better then die or put down. It sounds a little gentler. Especially for the younger children.

1 mom found this helpful
For Updates and Special Promotions
Follow Us

Related Questions