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Feeling Guilty While Caring for My Senior Dog


My 13 and 1/2 year old Lab, Sanchez, has been recovering from an E. coli infection. It was touch and go for awhile. While I was waiting for lab results back after a few weeks of treatment, I didn’t know whether he just needed a diet change or if it was to be our final days together. I was on a complete emotional roller coaster.


Truthfully, his care was really hard. I didn’t know how much more I could endure of making all of his meals, giving him subcutaneous fluids daily, and barely leaving the house in case he needed my help.

I had already decided I wouldn’t take any measures to prolong his life if his quality of life wasn’t likely to improve. I stopped in my tracks when a friend said, “Lisa, you have to remember that your quality of life is just as important.”

In all honesty, I hadn’t considered my quality of life. Caring for senior dogs is not for the faint of heart. But, I signed up for the long haul when I adopted him as s a youngster. And, I’m one of the lucky ones. 13 and a half is a long life for a large Lab.


It’s hard for me to admit, but in all honesty, I felt guilty when I sometimes thought about how much easier my life would be if I only had Gina to take care for. I craved our old lifestyle, when Sanchez so willingly went for walks with us and enjoyed a very mobile lifestyle. On top of those feelings, I had some important trips coming up, and I didn’t know how I was going to leave Sanchez in someone else’s care, given his current state.

I’ve been through it before, so I know how painful and simultaneously precious the end of life is with our beloved dogs. I don’t want to miss that time with Sanchez. And, I’d rather choose to be a week early on that decision than a day late. But, how could I make that decision based on my lifestyle needs and travel schedule?

The truth is that caring for him in such a tender state has increased our bond and strengthened our relationship. It’s been hard, but it’s time that I wouldn’t trade for anything. I feel more connected to him than ever.


Fortunately, he showed me that it’s just not his time yet. I’m very happy to report that he is on a complete trajectory of improved health. Not only were his lab results very encouraging, but he’s back to his normal weight again, getting out of the house more (as am I), going for short walks, asking for tummy rubs many times a day, giving kisses again, and chewing on dog bones (and even went digging for one outside). He’s just about back to his old normal self.


And, he’s also well enough to be at home with Gina and a dog sitter while I’m performing at the Nature-Based Therapeutics Conference in Minneapolis. It’s the first of three trips, and I was surprised that it wasn’t as hard to leave him as I expected.

Labrador Kisses from Sanchez

I’m eternally grateful for his recovery and renewed health. And, I’m well aware that every day with him is a gift. I know it’s only a matter of time before I have to re-consider both of our lifestyles if his health fails again. But, for now, he’s reminding me to be present and enjoy our time together.

Attaboy Sanchez!


38 thoughts on “Feeling Guilty While Caring for My Senior Dog

  1. been down that road once to often. I agree, better to be a week early than a week late, it is so hard to focus on them than on you because it is really all about you and how much then are your life. Wish I could get over missing them so much.
    Your little red music box is at our shelter and every night I turn it on so they all can have a restful sleep. Thank you for that. Patty Fraser

    1. I know, it’s never easy. So glad to hear that the dogs at your local shelter are benefitting from iCalmDog. Thanks for playing it every night for them!

  2. I can relate after caring for several seniors in my life. And agree I wouldn’t trade any of the time with them. Thank you for sharing and I’m so glad Sanchez is feeling a bit better these days.

    1. Thanks so much Erin. He’s getting stronger every day. I’m so relieved.

  3. Enjoy your time with Sanchez and do not worry about what might come. That would only distract from the joy of the moment. Dogs so much live in the moment. You enhance Sanchez’ happiness by being happy with him.

    I have been blessed with the opportunity to share life with several senior dogs. We are now providing foster care for Bear, a 13 year old Siberian Husky who has been with us almost a year. He had previously been crated 23 hours a day for about a year. He is a very happy dog and deserves a home where he won’t have to share his humans with several other (sled team and foster) dogs. Bear is not drawing much interest from potential adopters, probably due to his age. I am at peace with Bear being our first sanctuary dog.

    Someone who has not lived with a senior dog just does not know the joy that they have to share.

    Peace and blessings to you and Sanchez

    1. Thanks Frank. And keep up your great foster care!

  4. So glad to hear he is doing better. After about 4 straight years of doing round-the-clock care for Lilly and then Ginko when they were so sick, I understand the personal strain. It’s so hard. After Lilly died, our main vet told me that it was a blessing … she explained that our whole veterinary team had been talking about ME … and they were all very worried that I couldn’t take much more of the non-stop care and worry. It is definitely not easy on day-to-day life, or your heart. Hang in there.

    1. Thanks Roxanne. The care you provided for Lilly was such an inspiration. I’m not surprised the veterinary team was concerned about you too.

  5. …been there and done that. you will know and you will do the right thing at the right time.

    1. Thanks Joyce. I’m glad that I knew in my gut that it just wasn’t his time yet. He’s pretty much back to his old self now!

  6. Sanchez is beautiful & doesn’t look his age. Hope he continues to be well – it sounds like he has many looking over him. I wish you all the best. We’ve had many dogs & cats over the years (16) & each has always had lots of love and comfort (like your CD’s). We will be buried all together. Take care, Carol

    1. Carol – That was so sweet. Thank you and so glad to hear your canine and feline household is enjoying my music.

  7. The joy of sharing life with our 4 legged companions is why we endure the pain of guiding the choices we make for them from start to end . Glad he is still with you -your hearts are together forever.

    1. Thanks for the reminder Lauren.

  8. Lisa, our first yellow lab lived until almost 14 years and had many health concerns. Our second yellow lab lived until 3 months shy of 15 years with no health concerns (but she was an abused rescue dog!). Although it was so hard when they got older, we wouldn’t have traded that time for anything in the world. So happy for you that Sanchez is on the mend!

    1. Thanks Valerie. You were blessed with relatively long lives with your pups! It’s a good reminder that this is possible.

  9. Thank you for sharing so honestly with us, Lisa. He could not be in better hands (or a better heart) than yours. Cherish every day, as you have cherished every year so far. And, when the end does come, please know that there is an enormously kind and understanding community at which will support you as it has done many others. Until then, All the Best to the three of you, Sue

    1. Thanks Sue. And thanks for the reminder about I had posted a tribute to my Golden, Byron, when he passed in 2003 and completely forgotten about the wonderful site.

  10. I am going through this at the moment with my almost 15 year old pointer. I have felt guilty at times and felt so bad about my feelings. It is not her time yet and there is still much that she enjoys in her life.
    I love her so much but it is so sad to see the frailness in her.
    Thank you very much for sharing this; it has helped me immensely

    1. Anna – I’m so touched that my blog post about this sensitive topic helped you. Sending healing to your Pointer. She is fortunate to have such a wonderful caretaker.

  11. Lisa, your article on Sanchez caused me to choke up as and get weepy. I too have gone down that “senior dog” road. My beloved Julian, a mixed shepherd, became ill with oral melanoma, and at the age of 13 1/2, I had no choice but to euthanize him when he began to have severe epileptic seizures. His suffering was almost unbearable for me to watch, but he seemed to know as I did, that I would be doing the ultimate act of kindness for him.That was over 3 years ago, and I still think about him daily. Having raised him from a 3 mo.old rescue pup,he was my loyal companion for all those years and was tatooed on my heart- where he remains to this day.
    I’m so happy for Sanchez and for you and Gina too that he’s still with us and making a gallant recovery. It’s not his time yet. Senior dogs are truly a blessing. They constantly remind us to appreciate life and living and to show gratitude for all that we have.

    1. Geri – I’m so sorry for your loss and for your tears. Julian was fortunate to have such a wonderful care giver. And, thanks for the reminder of the preciousness of these senior years with our pups.

  12. I have been there when my old boys had health issues as they aged. I’m glad you are enjoying your time with Sanchez and that he’s getting better.

    PS – Print and frame that last picture of Sanchez giving you a kiss. It’s priceless!

    1. Sherri – Thanks. Yes, I LOVE that picture. It makes me smile every time I look at it.

  13. I also live with a senior dog and he has some GI upset so I’m on point for various medications -It is VERY hard on all of us and I appreciate you writing this. I was touched by your honesty and could relate to all of it. ~Mylifewithdogspdx (Christy Caplan)

    1. Thanks Christine. I’m so glad you could relate. Keep up your great work with your senior pup.

  14. I’m in a similar situation with Daphne, my 14 or 15 year old beagle (she’s a rescue,so they weren’t sure of her exact age). Thankfully, she’s in good health and quite spry for her age when she wants to be (like when my sister takes her for a ride in the car), but she has slowed down considerably on our walks and spends a long time sniffing each individual blade of grass. I sometimes get annoyed with her and then I feel badly because I think you don’t know how much longer she’ll be with you -let her enjoy her time.

    1. Lynn – It sounds like Daphne is doing great. Yes, every time Sanchez stops to do a lot of sniffing, it’s a reminder for me to slow down and enjoy our connection.

  15. Lisa,
    Here is a prayer for you and Sanchez from my book, Pet Illness, Pet Loss, and Prayers That Help:
    (to be said aloud to Sanchez)
    “Sanchez, the Spirit of Healing is your safety, nourishment, and strength.
    Spirit of Compassion looks upon you with love,
    Touches you with healing hands,
    Nourishes you with all that sustains you,
    Enfolds you in a soft blanket of comfort,
    Beholds you as a cherished child,
    Relieves all pain,
    Calms any distress,
    And enables all of us who love you
    To be a source of comfort and strength for you.”
    An artist friend drew the intricate Animal Tree of Life on the cover, and you can color each animal hidden in the leaves and branches as your mind drifts to thoughts of healing and peace for you both.
    With love, Annie Baker

    1. Anne – What a beautiful prayer. Thank you so much for posting that. Your book sounds lovely. I will check it out.

  16. I know how you feel it’s really hard to come to that time as I call it… I’ve been through 4 goodbyes and every one has broke my heart … All I have left now is my Sassi (my cat) she is 13years old .. here I go waffling on … Just be positive and strong and my prayers are with you .. bless

    1. Thank you so much Liz. Kisses to Sassi – love that name!

  17. Dearest Lisa,
    Simply adding my love and heart wishes for Sanchez and Gina and my compassion and support for you as their mama. My family lost our 2 senior girls within the last year and their end of life care was stressful, even traumatic, at times. I will forever feel blessed and honored to have accompanied and assisted such dear beings to the completion of their journeys. As much as I miss them I look forward to when we’ll meet again.
    Love to you this beautiful Fall!

    1. Thank you so much Carolyn. I’m so sorry for your recent loss. Thanks for sharing your beautiful thoughts.

  18. Please consider euthanizing as a last option – only when pain meds don’t work. We hospiced Toy Poodle Rusty at home and he died a peaceful death in his dog bed. We are now hospicing Bumper, a special needs rescue dog. Even when you have to be home to give meds, etc. in the end it is worth knowing that they know they were loved to the end.

  19. As a supplement to my comment above, so many times pet “parents” dispose of their old or sick dogs by abandoning them on the streets, or turning them over to shelters where some are euthanized. The poor dogs are so confused and hurt. Even for those who took their dog to a vet and had them euthanized, there is always an element of guilt about euthanizing their pet.

    My husband and I have volunteered for 2 different rescue organizations and both will go to the ends of the earth to save dogs’ lives spending thousands of dollars. One has a has a program called “Angels in Waiting” and the other intense foster care in which the dogs get round the clock care.
    Why do they do it? Because Dog Lives Matter!

  20. was the e-coli from raw feeding? I feed raw and cooked and sometimes worry about that. I’m so glad he’s ok. thanks for all you do.

    1. Janice – No, it wasn’t from feeding raw. Puppies and Seniors (dogs with compromised immune systems) are more likely to get E. coli. Often it’s something they pick up in the environment and then lick themselves. I’m glad to report that Sanchez is now fully recovered!

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