Should you put your dog down? A veterinarian gives practical, helpful advice to pet owners who are struggling to decide if they should put a dog to sleep.
These guidelines are from Marie Haynes, a veterinarian who had to put her own dog to sleep. She shares her story, and offers information about pet euthanasia. In How to Know When to Put Your Dog Down, she offers even more information about putting a dog to sleep.
“If you can save your dog or cat even one day of discomfort, you must,” says Dr Haynes. And that’s the number one criteria for deciding if you should put your dog to sleep: if a low quality of life or suffering is involved. If your dog is suffering in any way, then it may be time to decide to put your dog down. Here are her practical tips for making this heartbreaking decision…
“Someone said that every time you bring a puppy home, you know one day one you’re walking into a tragedy because dogs live such short lives,” says John Grogan, author of the bestselling book Marley and Me: Life and Love with the World’s Worst Dog (which went on to become a massive movie success in a film adaptation starring Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston – they played a couple who adopted a dog called Marley).
As Grogan’s dog Marley shuffled into old age, he brought about some of the biggest emotional lessons for the family, especially in dealing with loss and grief. Grogan and his family had to decide if they should put Marley down, and it wasn’t easy.
“Dogs start slowing down, it’s a great human lesson for children and young adults,” said Grogan in The Independent’s ‘I felt a grief that I had not experienced before, even though I had lost relatives’ – mourning the death of a pet. “You see an encapsulation of a life span, and you see what’s coming for you as a human. It takes people about 70 years or so but it takes dogs about ten.”
These guidelines will help you decide if it’s time to say good-bye to your dog or cat to sleep…
Should You Put Your Dog Down?
Deciding if it’s time to put your dog to sleep is heart wrenching. Here’s what a veterinarian says about making this decision for your dog and your family.
It’s often difficult to tell whether a dog is in pain or suffering, says Dr Haynes, but there are some general guidelines:
- Is your dog’s appetite suffering? If so, this is often 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?
- Or, do you find that your dog looks distressed or uncomfortable most of the time?
Pet owners often want to be told what to do about putting their dog to sleep, but it has to be the pet owner’s decision. The vet only sees a snapshot of the pet’s life, while the pet owner has the big perspective.
“I see a scared, sick animal in the hospital,” says Dr Haynes. “I don’t see a pet owner’s beloved dog. You have taken care of your dog or cat 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.”
The bottom line – when it’s time to put a dog to sleep: There will come a day when it is absolutely clear to you that your dog or cat is not enjoying life. That day is one day too late. If you can save your pet even one day of discomfort, you must.
Deciding on euthanasia is difficult, but it could be the most loving thing you do for your dog.
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 they’ve passed.
You can be present if you put your dog to sleep. Euthanasia is similar to falling asleep, and you can be with your dog when he or she drifts away. Remember that euthanasia is generally painless, and almost always goes smoothly.
Do you feel guilty about putting your dog to sleep? Read 4 Ways to Cope With Guilt After Pet Loss.
How this veterinarian 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!”
For help saying good-bye, read How to Heal Your Heart After Losing a Pet: 75 Ways to Cope With Grief and Guilt When Your Dog or Cat Dies.
I interviewed veterinarians, grief experts, counselors, and pet owners who survived their dog’s death. Their stories and wisdom can help you cope with the loss of your dog.
Be aware of your own feelings of denial
Grogan – the author of Marley and Me – said, “We were watching Marley’s decline and we were in denial about it. We knew the kindest and most humane thing for this dog was to put him down…because he was suffering.”
He, his wife, and his two grown children took the loss of their dog hard.
“We really grieved as a family together,” said Grogan. “It surprised me how deep that grief was and how long it was. We didn’t talk about it for weeks. It was months before we got a new dog.”
When you adopt a dog, you make a decision to share your life with another living creature — a creature with its own personality, needs, and quirks. Dog owners go to great lengths to ensure their dogs are enjoying a happy home life. This makes it more difficult to answer the “should I put my dog to sleep?” question. It doesn’t feel kind, loving, or compassionate to put a dog down…but it may be the best way to take care of your beloved dog.
“It’s amazing how people alter their human life to accommodate a dog, especially an aging dog,” said Grogan. “Dog owners put off holidays, spend a lot of money on medication. I really do respect the individual, you wouldn’t think twice if someone put the same amount of money into a race car or a boat… but you need to ask ‘Am I doing this for the dog and his quality of life, am I doing it for me?'”
If you’re spending a lot of money on medications, surgeries, or medical equipment to keep your dog alive, it may be time to ask yourself some difficult questions. Are you avoiding the decision to put your dog to sleep because you don’t have the courage or strength to say goodbye?
Give yourself time to grieve
This is a painful decision. Putting a dog down will change your life forever. It will change how you feel when you open the front door after a long day, and it will bring a shadow of grief to your home.
Grieving your dog’s death will bring up other types of grief, which you may not have fully worked through. You may be surprised at how difficult this decision and death is for you – after all, it’s “only” a dog, right?
No, it’s not just a dog. If you haven’t dealt with the pain of your past experiences, then putting your dog to sleep will awaken the grief. Read through the readers’ comments below, and you’ll see that not only is the decision to put a dog down difficult…it also gives rise to different – often surprising – types of grief.
Give yourself time to work through the grieving process. Be kind and gentle with yourself. Know that putting a dog to sleep is part of the natural cycle of life, and it’s very likely the best thing for your dog. Saying goodbye is an action of kindness and compassion, not betrayal or punishment.
How will you remember your dog? For ideas, read my article about different types of pet memorials.
If you have any thoughts on putting your dog to sleep, please comment below. I can’t offer advice, but you may find it helpful to write about what you’re going through. Writing often brings insight, especially when we have painful decisions to make.
Your thoughts are welcome below! I don't give advice, but you can get free relationship help from marriage coach Mort Fertel.