Canine Behavior/Older dog is passing soon
About a week ago we found out that our sweet female dog has advanced breast cancer, and because of her age (12yrs almost 13yrs old) it may not be a feasible option to put her under for surgery and/or chemo (life expectancy after a successful treatment is tops 2 yrs- per my vet). My question is about our other male dog who looks to our sweet girl as his momma. He is almost 8yrs old and has spent every day of his life with her since he was about a year old. She took to him very well! He learned to swim from her, and sleeps with her in their crate during our 8hr work week. Not to mention any other time aside from that... They have gone everywhere together like true siblings so I know they have a bond.I'm worried about our male after her passing, and wondering if he'll need a new companion to help ease him into a new stage in life as the "older" dog in the house. Which was once our female's role when we brought in the "younger male". I am not real sure if we should even consider getting another dog and wait to see how he does afterwards. If we do decide to get a new dog am not sure when is the best time? Are all dogs different? do they understand the situation? Should I wait till afterwards to revise the issue or should I go ahead and ease a new dog in while we still have our "pack" in place? Would a male or female be best? Younger? Older? am not sure what to do here. I read/hear of dogs becoming depressed or aggressive #with or without a new dog#because they may perceive that as abandonment. He has never been aggressive at all, and both were raised along side our 9yr old son. Thank you for the guidance!
I'm so very sorry that you are faced with this situation. While I can't actually make any of these decisions for you, I can share with you what I would do (did do) when faced with a similar situation, and my logic for my decisions.
As far as doing surgery and/or chemo in a 12 year old dog - this is something I have not had to face personally. But my thoughts are this: it is necessary to weigh the quality of life during such treatment vs simply making her as comfortable as possible for whatever time she has left. There are risks to surgery and anesthesia. There's pain involved in recovery. There's nuasea and feeling miserable throughout the chemo process. If she were 2 years old and could get through this process and have another decade to enjoy life, I would absolutely do the treatment. But when the dog is already in her golden years and we are risking her spending the rest of her life going through the treatment, I would be hesitant to do it. At that point, I think I would prefer to love my dog as much as possible, taking her to her favorite places if she's up to it, cuddling, playing, and doing all her favorite things for as long as she's able and make those my final memories of her, rather than having final memories filled with treatment that made her feel ill and uncomfortable.
This is my personal position. You may feel differently and I would never judge anyoen for making a different choice.
As to the timing for helping your younger dog through this process, this is partially dependent on your dog and partially dependent on the humans in the house. When my soul-dog was 14 years old, and it was clear that we were looking at months left to her life, rather than years, I had this very same coversation regarding my younger dog (he was 4 at the time). He'd been in my home since he was 5 weeks old, and worhsipped his older "sister." He had severe separation anxiety from her if she left the house without him. I was very concerned about his emotional well being if he ended up in our house as an only dog. I felt certain that in my situation, I would not have the time to grieve the loss of my girl because my younger dog would require a new dog in his world immediately. So, for my family, the best choice was to bringin a new dog before we said goodbye to my senior dog. We got a puppy and I spent 8 months protecting the senior dog from the energy of a young terrier puppy. In the meantime, my younger dog bonded completely with the puppy. When we finally said goodbye to my senior, we did it at home and kept her body with us for a few hours so both dogs (and the humans) could have time to say goodbye. I felt it was important for my younger dog to have ample opportunity to take in that my senior was no longer alive before she left the house for the last time.
When we carried her body out, my younger dog did not seem emotional about it at all. He and his young buddy (the puppy) relaxed together, ate dinner together and played together. While he did appear to get emotional when he saw video of my senior dog about a month after her passing, he has shown no other signs of being overly distressed by her absence, though he does occasionally choose to sleep on her bed which I still have out.
Now, this is my experience with my dogs. By having the puppy months before we said goodbye, it allowed my younger dog to bond to a new friend and allowed the family to grieve without having to acclimate a new dog to the family during that emotional time because he was already in the family.
Having not met your dogs, I can't say with any certainty if this would be the best approach for your family. The things you need to consider are this:
How eager do you think you will be to get a new dog after saying goodbye to your sweet girl?
How necessary do you think it will be for your younger dog to have a friend in the home?
I think it's very important to not get a new dog in an effort to fill a void in your own heart. That puts a tremendous pressure on the new dog to acclimate to a totally new living situation and family while that family is going through an emotional turmoil. So, if you decide to not get a new dog before saying goodbye to your senior, then I encourage you to wait until your heart is no longer so heavy that you're looking to fill that void; but rather when your heart is open to a new and unique love.
Some dogs do grieve heavily. They will be despondent, off their food, disinterested in playing or going out or engaging with anyone. Others show virtually no appearance of even noticing that their friend is gone. The best advice I can give here is to do what feels right instinctively. If you think that your boy will want special time with just you and not have another dog in his home immediately, then perhaps the right choice is to wait and let him tell you when he's ready for a new friend. If you believe he will be at a loss without having a friend living in his home, then I would consider finding him a friend and bringing him into the family now - taking care to make sure that your senior is comfortable and not forced to interact with a new dog whose energy may be too much for her at this time.
And there's no reason you need to get a puppy. In my case, the puppy we got sort of fell into our laps. But since your boy is already 8 years old, you may do better choosing a dog who is between 3-8 years old as this will allow for a more mature and settled dog to join the family. Work with a rescue or shelter to choose a personality that will complement your boy. Have 2 or 3 meeet-and-greet sessions that each last 90 minutes or longer to see how they get along and give them a chance to get to know each other before bringing the dog into your home. This will go a long way toward smoothing the process of bringing a new dog into your family. And this is true no matter the timing of getting a new friend for your boy.
Again, I'm sorry you are faced with this decision process. I wish you the best of luck and a peace of mind with whatever decision you make.
Please don't hesitate to followup if I can be of any further assistance.
Jody, CPDT-KA, APDT
Los Angeles Behaviorist