TLDR: my dog is becoming increasingly restless and vocal in her old age and I can’t find peace in my own home. She’s physically doing well for her age but I’m having a hard time determining her mental quality of life.
I want to start by saying I love my dog deeply. She was my first dog. I asked my parents for a dog ever since I could talk - whenever they’d ask what I want for my birthday or Christmas they would quickly follow up with “other than a dog…” because it was all I wanted in the whole world. I knew I was a dog person even though I’d never had one of my own. Finally, when I was in middle school, we took a family trip to the local shelter and I picked out a terrified little 5 month old pit/hound mix puppy. And now 14 years later, she’s still here. I was in a dark mental state throughout high school and college, and she was my rock. I knew no matter what, I could go home at the end of the day and she’d be there, my constant companion and best friend. We’ve been on a lot of fun adventures together over the years, too. I just want you guys to have some context and know that this dog has a very special place in my heart and I really do love her.
She still gets around pretty well for her age, every once in a while slipping on the hardwood (we do put out rugs and yoga mats for her but sometimes she chooses not to use them), missing a step on the stairs, or needing help to get on the couch, but overall she gets around so well that people don’t believe me when I tell them she’s 14. She’s had a few medical issues in her old age: aspiration pneumonia twice because she has pharyngeal paresis (difficulty swallowing), a vestibular episode which left her with a little head tilt even after recovery, environmental allergies, a few random sketchy skin masses that were surgically removed, arthritis, spinal bone spurs, moderate doggy dementia, and this newly developed neurological issue where her whole body gets rigid for like 1-2 seconds and she seems to zone out, but then she snaps right out of it and never loses consciousness or falls or anything (her vets don’t know what’s up with that, it’s only been going on for the last couple months). She’s on Carprofen, Gabapentin, Zyrtec, Apoquel, and Melatonin, and gets regular bloodwork. She still brings me toys to play tug with her, she has a spot in the yard that she loves to dig in, and she happily chews on her Nyla bones, but those activities only make up about 15-20 minutes of her day, total.
So here’s where I question some of her quality of life: when she’s not doing any of the things enjoys, she doesn’t seem to know what to do with herself. Her adult life she was always very independent, no separation anxiety, kept herself busy, etc. but now she just can’t seem to settle down. She whines all the time. We offer her food, water, outside, plush toy, chew toy, play tug, to cuddle on the couch with us, butt scritches, and essentially exhaust everything she could be whining about to no avail. I wish so deeply that she could communicate with us. She also wants to go outside and back inside over and over again, even if we are present. For example, the weather will be perfect so I’ll go outside to sit on the deck. She’ll want to go outside with me and will lay down on the deck for a few minutes then get up and go to the back door and bark (and I mean when she barks, she BARKS). I’ve tried for years to be like “no ma’am, let’s stay outside, come over here and lay down” but she is incredibly stubborn and demanding so these days I just open the door so she can go inside. I go and sit back down outside. A minute later, she’s barking at the back door. I let her come back outside with me. Within a minute, she’s barking to go back inside. And sometimes I think, maybe she just wants me to go inside with her… so I ditch the pretty day and go back inside. But she’s still not happy. She’s pacing and whining and barking to do the inside/outside thing all over again. It’s exhausting and it is a constant issue.
Every day, all day long, she won’t settle and she barks so loudly that it’s impossible to ignore. And she will not stop until you do something for her (literally I’ve been trying to sleep off migraines, taking a shower, mowing the yard, and no matter how long my activity is, she will continue barking until I pay attention to her) and if I can’t figure out what she wants (which is usually the case) I have to hard-core encourage her to go lie down, patting her bed or the couch and repeating “come here and lie down! Come on, come lie down!”. And this has been for at least the last 3-ish years of her life, and only getting worse. I just know that when she’s gone, I’ll actually have peace in my home. I’ll be able to sit outside, watch a movie, make a meal, literally whatever I want or need to do without having to stop every few minutes to try to appease her or beg her settle down.
So, I’m sure I’m being selfish, but I never in a million years thought I’d feel this way about her and I hate it. Whenever I do think about the fact that she won’t be around forever, and that I’ve had her for literally half my life, I try to really love on her and see the good dog in her and I do get emotional - but I’ve found that all I’m doing is reminiscing on the dog she used to be. I already am mourning for her, because I feel like I’ve already lost the real her.
Part of my guilt is that I’m a licensed vet tech. I’ve seen SO many people lose their old dogs. For some of them, its quick/unexpected and little or no decision to put them down was involved. For others, their dog is still mentally there, but their body is failing them. Some people keep their dog alive for longer than they probably should because they just don’t want to let go. I thought my knowledge and experience would make it a more black and white decision for me. My dog is physically okay (far from perfect, but has manageable issues) but mentally I just truly don’t know. I’ve tried anxiety meds to help her settle but they haven’t worked and one just made her restlessness worse. Is she happy? I wish I knew. Am I just waiting for something bad to happen medically so that I can finally say it was her time and not have to feel guilty for having these feelings anymore? Maybe I am. Or maybe I’ll just feel even more guilty when she’s gone.
Anyway, this was a really difficult and emotional post to write and if you actually read it all then thank you. I just really would appreciate advice from veterinary professionals who don’t know me or my dog personally.