Veterinarian Marie Haynes describes the most important things to look for and how to know when to put your dog down. This vet also shares her experience with putting her own dog to sleep at home, and offers help for healing the grief of losing your dog.
Are you confused about putting your dog down? It’s natural and expected to feel devastated, guilty, sad, and lost. This information about when to put your dog down is from a veterinarian who had to put her own dog to sleep. She shares her story, and offers general information about the process of putting a dog down.
This is the most important thing to remember about putting your dog to sleep: “If you can save your dog or cat even one day of discomfort, you must,” says Dr Haynes. To learn about the different types of discomfort and pain, read through the comments section below. Many readers have shared their experience and struggle with knowing when to put a dog down – reading their experiences will help you see you’re not alone.
The number one way to know when to put your dog down
When your dog has a poor quality of life – or is in pain – it’s time to let go.
If your dog is suffering in any way, then it’s time to say good-bye. There are other guidelines and signs that will help you know when to put your dog to sleep, but the bottom line is always quality of life. It’s a difficult decision – and it’s not always easy to know what your dog’s quality of life is.
Dr Haynes says it’s often difficult to tell whether a dog is in pain or suffering, but there are some general guidelines that will help you know when to put your dog down:
- Is your dog’s appetite suffering? If so, this can be a sign of pain.
- Does it seem like your dog is enjoying life?
- Does your dog still do the things that bring her joy?
- Are you enjoying having your dog around – or is there more pain than happiness?
- Does your dog seem happy more often than not?
- Does your dog look distressed or uncomfortable most of the time? That’s when it’s time to put your dog down.
The bottom line about putting a dog down
There will come a day when it is absolutely clear to you that your dog is not enjoying life. That day is one day too late. If you can save your dog even one day of discomfort, you must.
As your dog’s guardian, you want a clear answer about putting your dog down. But, it can’t just be the veterinarian’s decision. The vet only sees a snapshot of your dog’s life. You have the big perspective…which makes it hard to know when to put your dog down.
“I see a scared, sick animal in the hospital,” says Dr Haynes. “You have taken care of your dog all its life. This is your final chance to take care of your pet. If you can spare your dog pain and suffering, then putting it to sleep is the ultimate gift – no matter how hard it is for you.”
Ease the pain of putting your dog down
Putting your dog down is hard, but it could be the most loving thing you do.
You can be present when you put your dog down. Euthanasia is similar to falling asleep, and you can be with your dog when he or she drifts away. Dr Haynes says pet euthanasia is generally painless, and almost always goes smoothly.
Trying to figure out when to put your dog down is painful because dogs are almost closer to us than people. Dogs don’t change, grow up, fight with us, or leave us. They always stay dependent on us and only grow old…which means they go back to being even more dependent on us! We care for our dogs from start to finish, and our relationship with them is intimate. We feed them, train them, exercise them, help them piddle and poo, take care of their health and medical issues, groom them, and cuddle with them.
Dog owners feel a universal heartache when we have to decide when to put our dogs down. Allow yourself to grieve, and know that you are not alone. If you feel guilty, read Dealing With Guilt When You Caused Your Dog’s Death.
“What you once enjoyed you will never lose. What you loved deeply becomes a part of you.” – Helen Keller
How Dr Haynes Decided to Put Her Dog to Sleep
“My shepherd/cattle dog cross, Eddie, had a multitude of problems and I couldn’t decide if it was time for euthanasia. Then, one day he tore his cruciate ligament. He had already previously torn the ligament on the other knee and although it was healed he had severe arthritis in that knee. With both knees injured, Eddie was unable to walk. My decision to put my dog to sleep was finally made for me.
I went to my office and collected the supplies I needed for euthanasia. Eddie was such a good boy as I shaved his front leg and placed the needle in his vein. I will never forget the look of love and trust he gave me as I made the injection. Then, the life just went out of him and he was gone. Once he had passed away, his buddy Joey (my other dog) came in the room but he did not seem to care about or comprehend what was happening. Then, my two cats came in and I swear they suddenly had a look of glee in their eyes as Eddie was very much a cat tormentor!”
If you’re putting your dog down, remember to allow yourself to grieve. Take time to heal.
Help Coping With Your Dog’s Death
Putting your dog down and saying goodbye is hard…and so is grieving your loss. You may be surprised at how difficult it is to let go of your dog. Your heart and home will never be the same. It’s important not to try to forget your dog. Rather, find healthy ways to weave your dog’s memory and life into your daily life.
If you want to keep your dog’s ashes, the Pet Memorial – Angel Dog Sleeping In Basket – Cremation Urn is a beautiful vessel. It’s sad and painful, but important to hold your dog close. Finding ways to remember your dog might help you decide if it’s time to put your dog down. If you know you want to keep your dog’s ashes, consider taking a cremation urn with you to the veterinarian.
Goodbye, Friend: Healing Wisdom for Anyone Who Has Ever Lost a Pet is Gary Kowalski’s second book on coping with a dog’s death, and it may help you heal after making the heart-wrenching decision to put your dog down.
One of the best ways to cope with your dog’s death is believing that their souls and spirits live on – and you’ll be reunited one day. Read Animals and the Afterlife: True Stories of Our Best Friends’ Journey Beyond Death to learn how some pet owners experience their beloved animal companions after their pets died.
Read How to Heal Your Heart After Losing Your Pet: 75 Ways to Cope With Grief and Guilt When Your Dog or Cat Dies, for support. I interviewed veterinarians, grief experts, and pet owners about healing after putting a dog down.
It’s true that time does ease the pain of having to put a dog or cat to sleep, but it’s also good to learn what helped other people cope with the pain. For instance, I talked to one dog owner who got a paw print tattoo after putting her dog to sleep, as a way to remember her pet. I wouldn’t have thought of a tattoo, but she said she is comforted every time she sees it.
And finally, Sympathy Gifts for Dog Lovers After Their Dog Died is an article I wrote for a reader whose friend’s dog had to be put to sleep. It might help you express your sympathy to someone who has to put their dog down.
Feel free to comment below. Writing your story can help you decide if it’s time to put your dog down.
May you find wisdom and peace as you decide if it’s time to put your dog to sleep. Remember Chief Seattle’s words: “There is no death. Only a change of worlds.”
Need encouragement? Sign up for my weekly "Echoes of Joy" email - it's free, short, and energizing. Like me! Is your relationship in trouble? Get 7 Steps to Fixing Your Marriage from relationship coach Mort Fertel. It's free and helpful, no strings attached.