Saying Goodbye: Euthanizing a Dog With Degenerative Myelopathy

Saying goodbye is never easy. The decision of when to euthanize a dog with degenerative myelopathy is another difficult part of this difficult disease. Dogs with DM typically handle the disease well, often times handling it better than their owners who struggle with watching their dogs slowly deteriorate. Deciding when to euthanize is a very individualized process that's based on a lot of factors. Here are a few things to consider.

DISCLAIMER: I'm not a vet and I have no veterinary or medical background whatsoever. This information on degenerative myelopathy in dogs is not meant as a substitute or replacement for veterinary advice. It's meant for educational and informational purposes only, as a starting point for discussing the diagnosis and treatment of degenerative myelopathy with a qualified vet.

Assessing Quality of Life

Mobility

Mobility is clearly one of those things that vastly contribute to quality of life. It's not as simple as being able to go for a walk; there are dogs that are content sniffing around the yard, or laying out in the sun, or playing games instead of going for a walk.

Mobility goes beyond just the ability to walk or play, though; during the later stages of degenerative myelopathy, dogs have a much harder time doing previously easy tasks. For example, he may want to go to the door to indicate he has to take a potty-break; but unable to get up, or get there in time, he might have an accident. This can be very distressing for some dogs. Other previously easy tasks that will become difficult include things like getting up from their beds ... changing positions when lying down... even getting a drink of water whenever they want one.

Pain

The disease of degenerative myelopathy in itself is painless. But pain can result from the dog taking compensatory actions to make up for his mobility challenges. For instance:

  • The progressing hind-end weakness and the dragging of the legs make the dog work that much harder in his front end and his shoulders, in order to keep walking.

  • The wobbly and uncoordinated gait can cause the dog to sprain a muscle or fall and injure himself.

  • Pressure sores can develop if he lies in one position for too long.

  • Other conditions like arthritis can be aggravated by his mobility issues; a dog with arthritis already has more difficulty getting up from his bed ... but combine that with the weakness caused by degenerative myelopathy, that difficulty and pain can be magnified.

Eating and Drinking

Dogs with DM typically still have good appetites. Is your dog still eating and drinking well? Is he maintaining a good body weight? Is he interested in food and enjoys eating? Is he staying adequately hydrated?

Other issues, such as pain (see above) or unrelated medical conditions may cause a dog to lose his appetite.

Comfort and Sleep

Is your dog still sleeping comfortably and well? It can be hard for dogs with degenerative myelopathy to change positions in order to get comfortable. They do need to change positions regularly in order to avoid pressure sores.

Interest In Life

Does your dog still show interest in his favourite activites, and is he capable of doing them? He doesn't necessarily have to be capable of doing them the same way he previously did, in order to be happy. For example, dogs who used to love to take long, meandering walks may still be content to go on shorter walks, provided there are interesting things for him to sniff or friends to socialize with.

When Is It Time?

It's one thing to make the decision to euthanize when your pet seems tired or feels sick. Then, you know that the time is close and the decision is clearer. With degenerative myelopathy, dogs are usually mentally engaged with their families and with life; this can make it feel that much harder to make the decision to let him go.

You know your dog best. During highly-emotional times, it may be helpful to ask for an opinion from a third-party such as a trusted veterinarian who knows your dog.

  • If your dog is experiencing pain that cannot be relieved or managed, it may be time.

  • If your dog is frequently getting hurt or injured despite everyone's best efforts, it may be time.

  • If you feel that a major injury is only a matter of time (due to your dog's weakness and lack of coordination), it may be time.

  • If your dog is frustrated or depressed because his mobility is preventing him from doing what he wants, it may be time.

  • If your dog isn't enjoying life any more and is merely existing, it may be time.

  • Finally, if you (or your dog's caregivers) are exhausted, whether physically or emotionally, it may be time. This is a hard thing to accept. In a perfect world, we would have unlimited physical and emotional reserves to care for our loved ones. That's just not the reality.

The decision of when to euthanize is a highly personal and individual choice. I know that it's often helped me to hear other people's perspectives, so I hope that reading mine may be helpful in some way. I have always felt it best to let my pets go a little early, rather than even a day too late. I don't want to have to say goodbye during a crisis when they're feeling pain or fear or confusion. I don't want them to end their lives struggling with an injury or trying to recover from one. I want my pets to go feeling loved, safe, and happy.

My opinion is that you need to feel physically, mentally, and emotionally well to be able to best care for your dog. Being overwhelmed doesn't help anyone. Your dog doesn't want to feel like he is a burden. Love him well, give him an awesome last day, last week, or last month... and then let him go peacefully, with dignity.

Final Thought

Degenerative myelopathy is a difficult disease. It's hard on the dog, and hard on the people who love him so much. And yet, even had I known back then everything that I now know about the disease ... even had I known back then that my dog already had the disease ... I would have still adopted him. His amazing attitude, cheerfulness, acceptance, and grace of spirit was a bright light for me, even during the most difficult of times. It still is.

"How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard."
(A.A. Milne)

 

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Topic: Saying Goodbye: Euthanizing a Dog With Degenerative Myelopathy
 
 
B Hof says...

After almost a year with DM, my wife and I decided to have our Boxer Rosie euthanized yesterday. It was a gut wrenching decision, but the deciding factor was earlier this week, she had fallen into her poop after losing her balance. She had become unsteady on her feet, her legs wobbling and crossing, she couldnt walk on our tile floors anymore, so we had a system of rugs going everywhere; but lately that wasnt enough and she was still slipping. She would give us this look of despair, and as Boxer owners are aware, their eyes are very expressive. Trust me, after her positive test for DM we did a lot of research. We tried: RockTape, because it said that it would increase blood flow, as it does for the athletes, we tried booties which she hated and always found them somewhere in the house and finally acupuncture. We were very lucky to have her for 10 and a half years. She was a member of the family and will be sorely loved and missed. RIP Rosie!

Steve says...

Heart Broken i had to say good bye to my 9.5 year old German shepherd today : I have been nursing him and carrying him around for 5 weeks : He was diagosed Oct 17 spent thousands on hydro thearpy didnt care : its a wicked wicked demoralising desease

Steve J says...

A very helpful article and frankly, brings me to tears. My 14 y/o lab has DM. He was uncomfortable, licking his back legs and pelvis constantly and panting horribly. He was never comforable repositioning several times an hour. Two months ago we started him on CBD hemp oil. Unbelievable results. He pronates less, no incontinence. He sleeps 12 hrs at a time in the fetal position with rarely a reposition. It has been miraclulous. 20 drops of 500mg CBD. Ask your vet, see a canna medic. It's worth it. If he had to go tomorrow, we have helped him be comfortable thanks to this oil.

Molly Stone-Bibb says...

Thank you so much for this article and your perspective. My 10 yr old boxer was just diagnosed with DM, and although I had researched his symptoms before taking him to the vet, I just knew he had it. He's in the mid to late stages of the disease I believe. He's been such a friendly loving active friend, and although his spirit wants to do these things, its not possible any longer and its so hard to watch. Knowing when to let go for him and for us seems so difficult, but I am determined to love him through this until he can no longer do the small thing that make him so happy like following me from room to room just to be close and know what everyone is doing. He's such a good friend and so much company, and its hard to imagine life without him. I cry as I type this, but I will pull it together and get back to life for HIM! Thank you again, you have no idea how comforting this article was for me.

Vickie says...

My dog Abbey was diagnosed a year and 4 months ago. We are watching her decline slowly and it breaks our hearts. We got her a wheelchair when she needed it and take her out to go potty 5 times a day. Her mobility is slowing down and walks are getting shorter. She just now is having a few potty accidents and I fear the time is getting closer for her. She also has start to slip in her front legs as I see they might be getting weaker as well. Abbey still likes to play with her toys, eat, socialize with other dogs, drink water and have her frosty paws treat nightly. We carry her up the stairs every night so that she can continue to sleep with us. I know what's ahead of us and it tears me up inside. I know we will keep her around as long as she is doing well. I am fortunate I work at home to tend to her needs throughout the day. I can't imagine having to leave her home while at work.

Eleanor and Paul says...

Hello Vickie, It has been roughly 2 years since our German Shepherd starting to show signs of this awful disease. We never confirmed with the test but all the symptoms pointed to having Degenerative Myelopathy. We did the same thing. Provided the best care we could to give her as much independence and care as possible. We wanted for her to not feel "broken" or not a part of her family so we included her in everything. We couldn't find a anything on the internet to properly carry her for walks and bathroom breaks that we made our own "sling" to let her chase balls, get the mail and walk outside. We miss her so much. We had to make that decision that we knew was coming. I was fortunate to have a job that lets me work from home. So we could watch her most of the day.

Eleanor and Paul says...

(Remainder of my message) Vickie- We only left her home for 4 hours at the most if we had to run errands or social events. Her spirit and upper body strength was very strong. Prayers kept us strong. Reach 4 support. Prayers to Abbey & You!

Molly Goldstein says...

My 12 year old Corgi was just diagnosed with DM. Hes still eating, drinking, and now has a very fancy set of wheels. We also have to keep diaper type things on him since he cant hold his potty.

I know the time to say goodbye is coming soon which I'm far from ready for.

Thank you for this article.

tomma moore says...

i just wanted to say thank you for the articules, my dog has the disease and where we live there is no water therapy or physical therapy for dogs, i've been feeling very helpless. your articles help. thanks again

Lisa Corbett says...

My beautiful Shepherd, Rocky was a rescue and diagnosed with DM a year ago. I am devoted to him and his care and your information was so helpful and supportive. Thank you so much for sharing your experience and your advise. He has a wheelchair that he took to pretty fast and we go out several times a week. Rocky is also amazing and being with him always makes me feel peaceful, happy and lucky. He is my sunshine and joy every day !

Carolyn says...

Very nice article

Our almost 10 year old corgi started the slippery slope in the summer

He has lost the use of his left back leg and the right is going.

We have a cart on order for him and hope this will perk him up.

He is a trooper, not one complaint.

He also has seizures. These started 6 years ago and he is on meds for this

So the poor soul has his problems , we live him dearly and am not looking forward to the next decision .

Great article , lots to think about

Thank you

Cynthia says...

Thank you for this. Just got the diagnosis today and I am devastated. Your article really helped answer a lot of my questions. Thank you.

Lisa says...

We said goodbye to Lilly, our 13 year old Pembroke Corgi, on 2/27. She struggled with DM for the last year. It was such a hard decision when to euthanize but she was becoming more depressed, started whining at night and unable to position herself to eliminate. Horrible disease but we were fortunate to have her healthy and happy for all those years. Miss her so much.

Tracey says...

Our 11 year old sweet natured German shepherd couldn’t get up this morning. We knew he was having difficulty prior to the holidays. I had driven him to a rural vet who did laser therapy to get his thru Christmas. I found your article and I’ve read it three times. This part is always hard and I’m in tears. I swore to myself I’d never let another of my pets suffer by trying to extend their life. And to see him frightened to descend the small two back steps into the yard, and fall over, I now face that the time is coming fast. My 23 year old daughter stayed home today, has set up a nest of blankets to lie next to his bed in the tv room. He’s not in pain, but I can tell he’s depressed. Our 3 year old shepherd circles the house, expecting him to follow, and keeps returning to his pals bed to sniff him. 11 years isn’t long enough, especially for a big bear of a dog with the sweetest disposition and love of hikes & play. Thank you for this article. Thank you

KAREN ROBINSON says...

iI have been watching my boxer deterioate over more than a year. She is at the point of not using her hind legs at all now. Her stub doesn't wag and her ears hang low. I just can't bear to let her go.

Helena says...

Thank you. As I read this, I am weeping but so grateful to you for sharing your thoughts and experience. Our German Shepherd has DM and we have been struggling so much over what to. She is the sweetest, most loving companion and we are heart broken. Your comments on "when is it time" have really helped us. No easy solution but knowing that we are not alone in this is a great help. Thank you .

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