Before I started, I swore I'd keep it short -- but just can't -- so I can understand if nobody reads it. Short version is : I lost a dog who was over 17 years old during a recent heat wave -- and feel like it may have been largely my fault how it happened because I got confused/distracted about some things concerning his care at the end, losing track of some things like water consumption, and knowing that is tormenting me. To take him so far, and then feel like I failed him at the end, it just feels horrible. I'm just wondering if any others have had something similar happen, and if anyone has advice on how to deal with it -- it's such an awful feeling, wanting to go back and do things differently.
I'm going back and forth between moments of peace thinking how good most of his long life was, and moments of horror thinking about those confusing last weeks/days, and the things I could have done differently to make the very end of his life better.
My dog was over 17 years old, born sometime in the spring of 2003, I'm guessing born in March or April '03. He was here for the last one-third of my life. He was my parent's dog -- I didn't really like him too much at first -- but came to love him in time, especially after my dad died in '05 and I took over doing most of his care. He and a blue heeler mix that came along in 2004 were "my boys" , for 13.5 and 17 years.
He was a golden retriever mix -- a good dog overall, but kind of difficult, especially as he got older. He was very independent, not real affectionate, just had a total "leave me alone" attitude -- which is maybe why he lived so long.
He could sometimes be aggressive, not in a dangerous way, but - annoying . Like, in his later years sometimes I would have to pick him up to move him, and I'd have to remember to throw a towel over his head or risk getting bit, because he would usually growl, snarl, and try to nip (this even after he had been barking wanting to be moved -- some thank you!). Sometimes you could reach to pet him, and he'd think you were trying to take hold of his collar, and he'd snarl or nip. So, he could be very frustrating to deal with, but I dealt with it as best I could. He could be a "pain", and I'm ashamed that I saw him that way at times when I got very tired towards the end.
This spring I knew would be his last (although I thought the same in '16, '17 ...) and I meant to do some special things for him, special meals and such, maybe very short walks , but -- I got distracted by things like COVID worries, and tired, and a lot of it didn't happen. After mid-June we started to have a heat wave, and here is where he started to deteriorate and my memories get fuzzy, and I'm being tormented by that.
He had seemed in fairly good health in his last months, not in any pain that was apparent (though I suppose his grouchiness could have been from pain), so I didn't see a need to "put him down." He was starting to have some mobility issues due to hind leg weakness, but he could still get up at times, and sometimes would go outside and could usually get to his water bowl a few times during the day. At other times, he would need help to get up (I can still hear his barking). He was spending probably 22 hours a day or so sleeping, in his last weeks.
In Jan 2018 I suffered a serious head injury -- with no care since, due to no insurance. Lingering problems I have from that is a poor short-term memory, and "brain fog", along with general tiredness, severe insomnia,etc. I can walk past a dog's water bowl with the intention of filling it a number of times before it happens, because I get distracted or just forget (I also take care of my elderly mother, which adds to my confusion/tireness). And I know that was part of my problem in caring for him at the end -- the memory issues and confusion; I know it was a factor, but not an excuse for losing track of things the way I did, I still don't understand how that happened, but think I would have handled things better without the TBI (things that used to be so easy can be really hard now).
In late June a relatively cool day came along in the midst of the first heat wave, so I went hiking, and I came home to find my dog in what seemed like heat distress. My mom said he hadn't gotten out of his bed all day. I carried him outside, and got him some water -- he vomited and collapsed, then seemed to get better after a while. Surely I gave him water that morning, but I'm not certain, I was running late having to catch a ride and in a hurry and may have gotten confused -- and that's part of my torment, wondering "what if". And wondering if that was the only time he went without water for the good part of a day (if it happened).
He had an issue where he would drink insane amounts of water at times, so much so that I was worried about him getting sick or "bloat." So I told my mom "please don't give him so much water, it could make him sick" -- I'm afraid she might have taken this as "don't give him water, he's sick." So I think there might have been some confusion there too. I know it's very likely he wasn't getting the extra water he needed at times during that heat wave, and knowing (or *not* knowing) that is killing me. We have an old house with just window ACs, so around that time the average room temps were around 85 even with the ACs running 24/7 ... I sometimes put ice packs and cooling pads on him, but I'm not sure if it helped much keeping him cool -- just the heat itself was very stressful on him I'm sure.
The next few days are a blur in my mind -- three days of seeming to be back to normal, still walking -- then three where he stopped eating and drinking, and was getting weaker each day, couldn't stand up. Then I woke up at 6:15am the last morning and went over to check on him, and he was weakly opening and closing his mouth, then he died a minute or two later, as I was holding him.
Another thing, a few weeks before he died I started giving him some supplements that I had hoped would help his mobility issues - things I had given him safely in the past, but at over 17 years old -- in restrospect, it was a really foolish thing to do -- all he needed extra was his multivitamin and extra water. That could have been a factor, negative effects from the supplements, maybe combined with not enough water -- so another thing tormenting me, wishing I had not given him those.
So, on one hand I feel grateful that he lived so long, in mostly good health -- but, feel like I ruined the ending for him. He deserved better and I didn't make it happen, I got distracted, confused, and screwed it all up. It kills me knowing that during that last heat wave there were likely times he wasn't getting the extra water he needed, and that and/or the supplements may have sent him into a downward spiral.
All the times I helped move him to his bed because he couldn't get up, why didn't I bring him some extra water too ? I guess I was confused, assuming he was getting to his bowl to get what he needed throughout the day, and counting on my mom to tend to that when I wasn't around (I'm not sure it was always happening). His doggy bed was always soaked and had to be put out to dry each morning, his mouth was never dry, I never saw him panting except the one time -- but that doesn't mean he wasn't dehydrated.
I just don't know. Of course , at 17 years plus his time was coming, but it's tormenting me knowing I made mistakes in the last few days/weeks that probably made his passing worse for him -- not thinking to bring him water to his bed, give ice water treats -- things like that I'd give anything to do now. I really wish I could go back at least a month and do things differently. I did so well taking care of him for most of his 17 years, but so feel horrible now thinking I failed him at the end, and wishing I could go back and change that.
Thanks to anyone who read (or skimmed) through all of that ...