Important Note: This article has been checked and verified by a professional veterinarian for accuracy. However, you should always seek advice from your own vet before making any decisions on euthanasia as there are never black and white answers for this decision.
Nobody wants to think about the end of their dog’s life. It is hard to face up to your dog’s mortality at the best of times, and this is especially difficult if your dog has been by your side since they were a puppy.
However, if your dog is suffering from a progressive illness such as COPD / CCB, the time may come where you will have to make some tough choices about their future and quality of life.
Please note that in veterinary medicine COPD is more commonly known as Canine Chronic Bronchitis (CCB). This article was written by a dog owner, and then checked by a vet. You should always seek advice from a professional before making any decisions.
What follows are my personal opinions on when the right time to euthanize a dog with COPD is. You might not agree, so I do recommend this is a conversation you have with your dog’s vet.
When is the right time to euthanize a dog with COPD?
Canine chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) – or more commonly known as canine chronic bronchitis (CCB) – is an example of the kind of irreversible, progressive illness that may prompt these kinds of conversations.
The prognosis of dogs diagnosed with CCB is variable, but any damage the disease inflicts on your dog’s lungs is permanent, and the disease is ultimately classified as slowly progressive with no known cure.
The good news is that most dogs can actually lead a normal life with COPD, with no need to resort to euthanasia, but of course, not all cases will be the same.
There are a lot of nuances involved with canine COPD, so what I will aim to do in this article is break down the disease in more detail and discuss the symptoms, risk factors and impact it can have on your dog in more detail.
I hope that this information can make this impossible choice a little easier for you to make.
When to put down a dog with canine COPD?
This then leads us to the question: when should you put down a dog with canine COPD? The answer to this question is a complex one, as no two dogs with the condition are the same.
The main factor you need to consider when asking yourself this question is how advanced the disease is upon diagnosis. The earlier the disease is diagnosed, the better the prognosis, because it means you and your vet can work to slow any further lung damage in your dog.
Unfortunately, any lung damage present upon your dog’s diagnosis of COPD (and any subsequent lung damage) is irreversible.
Although symptoms of CCB can be managed with the right treatment, your dog may experience a ‘relapse’ or ‘recurrence’ of the condition (increased and more rapidly worsening symptoms) throughout their life if they live in an environment with increased irritants in the air such as cigarette smoke, air pollution, allergens, or due to inhalation of bacteria associated with dental disease or due to a secondary bacterial infection typically transmitted by another dog.
If your dog already has quite significant lung damage upon diagnosis, relapses can be extra problematic because they can lead to further complications. They may experience severe respiratory distress, which will lead to hospitalization, the administration of IV fluids and oxygen therapy.
Severe lung damage in your dog as a result of COPD might also lead to scarring in the lung’s tissue and irreversible changes in your dog’s airways known as bronchiectasis.
If your dog is diagnosed with bronchiectasis, this means that they are a lot more susceptible to repeated bouts of pneumonia. Dogs with this condition will require regular evaluation and chest radiographs to ensure that pneumonia is not present.
If your dog is in the early stages of COPD, the risk of such complications and the implications of relapses may not apply to you.
However, if the lung damage your dog has incurred by COPD is already quite severe, you might want to consider if the constant medical intervention, bouts of pneumonia and other life-limiting and unpleasant symptoms that come with advanced COPD translate into a good quality of life for your dog.
If they are constantly incurring more and more damage to their lungs and are at a real risk of a painful and traumatic death as a result of their condition, you might want to consider whether the kindest thing to do is to let them go peacefully and pain free.
However, in general dogs with CCB can have a good quality of life and have a normal life expectancy with appropriate medical management.
How long will my dog live with canine COPD / CCB?
The life expectancy of a dog diagnosed with COPD is variable based on a few factors. Firstly, it is worth considering that the disease is mostly diagnosed in dogs classified as middle-aged or senior.
This is because the age of your dog and their body’s ability to handle the disease may have an impact on their life expectancy in the sense that they may be less able to fight off complications from the disease like pneumonia in comparison to younger dogs.
However, the good news is that for dogs with mild-moderate COPD, their life expectancy will be unaffected provided that they get appropriate treatment that slows the progress of the disease and relieves any uncomfortable symptoms they experience.
How can I help my dog with canine COPD / CBB?
If your dog is diagnosed with CCB, there are two main ways you can help him: the first way is to adjust their environment to reduce the exposure to inhaled irritants, and the second way is to work with your vet to administer the appropriate treatment to help relieve their symptoms.
Because of irreversible damage done to their throat, dogs with COPD often have very sensitive airways. If your dog constantly inhales irritants from the surrounding environment, this can end up worsening their condition or even causing a relapse.
This is why it is important to keep irritating particles like smoke, pollutant, dust and sprays out of your environment when possible. Air purifiers are a good way to reduce irritants in your.
It is also important to keep your dogs teeth clean as ingestion of the harmful bacteria associated with dental disease can lead to secondary bacterial infections.
In addition, try to avoid exposing your dog to other dogs that may be affected with Canine Infectious Respiratory Disease complex (CIRDC). CIRDC, also referred to as kennel cough, is easily transmitted and if a dog with CCB contracts CIRDC it can cause a much more serious infection that requires more intensive treatment than is typically necessary. CIRDC is most often transmitted by young dogs in settings where many dogs are interacting in close proximity such as daycare, grooming, boarding, and dog parks.
For COPD, two kinds of medications are usually prescribed: corticosteroids and bronchodilators. Corticosteroids are anti-inflammatories that are designed to stop the inflammation of your dog’s airways.
Bronchodilators work by relaxing the muscles around the airway walls to help open your dog’s airways, which helps them to breathe easier.
Based on your dogs symptoms and results of diagnostics such as x-rays and bloodwork your veterinarian will come up with a tailored medical management plan for your dog.
Symptoms of COPD
If you suspect that your dog has COPD, here are some of the most common symptoms to look out for.
The primary symptom of COPD in dogs is chronic coughing. Your dog’s cough will be classed as ‘chronic’ if it has been continuous for a month or longer.
Their cough will be ‘dry’, meaning that there is no mucus accompanying the cough, and the cough will often sound ‘harsh’ and be accompanied by your dog gagging.
More advanced cases of COPD include symptoms like a diminished tolerance for exercise and breathing difficulties. Noisy, wheezy breathing and a blue tinge to their gums (caused by a lack of oxygen) are also common symptoms when it comes to advanced cases of COPD.
The symptoms of CCB can also characterize a number of other diseases. CCB is generally a diagnosis of exclusion meaning your veterinarian will need to rule out all other, more sinister, causes of coughing before concluding that your dog has CCB.
If your dog presents any of these symptoms, it is important to take them to your vet immediately.
Because COPD is ultimately a degenerative disease, there is a chance that one day you will need to sit down with your vet and discuss the possibility of putting your dog to sleep. If your dog’s COPD has progressed to bronchiectasis, it is likely that they spend a lot of their time either struggling with pneumonia or being administered fluids and oxygen at the vets.
If this is the day-to-day life for your dog, you need to think about whether the kindest thing you can do to them is to let them pass away peacefully.
It will be a difficult and heart-breaking discussion to put your dog down with COPD, but sometimes the best decision is also the hardest one – but should always be taken in advice of a professional vet.