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Q: How can I tell if my dog is unhappy, in pain, or simply has spent his allotted time and is ready for some help to the other side?

I realize that my dog is old at 11, especially for an English bulldog. He recently has been seen by the veterinarian, but the results were confusing and not at all helpful. He has eye problems, ear problems, skin problems, breathing problems and arthritis, but he has always these problems, to some degree.

-- C.K.
A: Yours is the hardest decision any of us will make about our animal companions. And before I give you any advice, let me say how very sorry I am that you're wrestling with this now.

That said, I think you're not at the ultimate decision point yet. Your dog sounds about normal for a senior pet, with mostly good days and a few not-so-good. His medications are maintaining his quality of life, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that.

Rimadyl and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (veterinarians call them NSAIDs) can dramatically improve the quality of life for arthritic pets, as long as precautions are taken to ensure the drugs are appropriate for an individual animal and will not cause a bigger problem than they're trying to treat. (Screening for certain health problems before some of these medications are prescribed is essential, as is monitoring once the animal is taking them. Your veterinarian will have more information, so ask!)

Please know that almost every school or college of veterinary medicine now offers a pet-loss support service, staffed by trained veterinary student volunteers. The University of California-Davis was one of the pioneers in this field. Its hot line number is (800) 565-1526 from 9:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. Mondays to Fridays. For more information visit

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