Because a dog's life span is much shorter than a human, most pet owners will experience the loss of a companion animal at some point. Recognizing the symptoms of impending death will help prepare you emotionally for dealing with the loss of your pet. In addition, being close to your dog during the last days of his life will provide him with a sense of comfort and ease of passing.
Factors Affecting Life Span
The average life span for a dog is 11 years. However breed, weight and overall health affect how long your pet will live. The average German shepherd lives 10 years; Golden retrievers tend to live 12 years; bulldogs six years; beagles 12 years and toy poodles 13 years. Smaller dogs generally live longer than large breeds. Dogs weighing less than 20 pounds have an average life expectancy of 11 years. Dogs over 90 pounds only live an average of eight years. Some dogs die suddenly due to injury or illness. According to a study conducted by the University of Georgia, one of the most common causes of death in dogs younger than 2 are trauma-related incidences. Respiratory disease is a frequent cause of death in bulldogs and Afghan hounds. Cancer is the top killer of Golden retrievers and boxers.
The End of the Road
If your elderly pet has been diagnosed with cancer, heart disease, kidney failure or is simply on the decline due to old age, your veterinarian can talk with you about what to expect. Dogs nearing the end of their life will show a decrease in activity along with extreme fatigue. Your pet may refuse to get up or be unable to stand on his own. He may lack coordination, and trip or lose his balance easily. His body may shake or twitch. Some dogs may become confused, even failing to recognize their owner. There is usually a significant or complete loss of appetite as your pet’s organs begin to shut down. Many dogs lose bladder and bowel control. You also may notice increasingly longer periods of time between breaths.
When Disaster Strikes
If your dog has been hit by a car, attacked by another dog or wild animal or has ingested a poisonous substance, he may suffer from extreme blood loss, shock and death. Shock is a life-threatening condition in which the body’s tissues do not receive an adequate supply of blood and oxygen due to trauma. Symptoms include blue or white gums, glazed eyes and rapid heartbeat. Breathing may be rapid and shallow or extremely sporadic. Your dog suddenly may become limp and sink into a coma. Immediate veterinary care may save your pet's life. If not, you will notice your dog's chest deflate as air is expelled from his lungs. His body will become limp and stiff as his muscles relax. Fluid may leak from his nose and mouth and his bowels may let loose. His eyes will have an empty gaze and there will be no heartbeat.
The Euthanasia Question
There may come a point in time where you will need to decide whether or not to euthanize your pet. If your pet’s quality of life is significantly diminished due to illness or injury, euthanasia is a humane option that can prevent your dog from experiencing needless pain and suffering. Indications that your pet’s quality of life is compromised include: constant pain that cannot be alleviated by medication, the inability to walk or stand on his own, difficulty breathing and refusal to eat. During the euthanasia process, your veterinarian will give your pet an injection of sodium phenobarbital, which will stop his heart. Your veterinarian most likely will allow you to be present during the procedure if you choose. Some veterinarians will come to your house to perform the procedure.