Should you put your dog to sleep because of an illness or injury? Is it too soon, or is pain or old age making your dog’s life difficult? Euthanizing a dog you love is a very difficult decision. Here are a veterinarian’s signs and tips, to help you know if it’s time to put your 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 Deal With Guilty Feelings After Your Dog’s Death, 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 sign it’s not too soon to put your dog to sleep: if suffering, pain, or a low quality of life is involved. Answering the question “what is a low quality of life for a dog?” is different for everyone…but the bottom line is that if your dog is suffering in any way, then it’s time to say goodbye.
“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 Marley and Me: Life and Love with the World’s Worst Dog (a wonderful book that 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 with regard to loss and grief. Grogan and his family had to decide if it was too soon to put their dog to sleep, and it wasn’t easy. There were no clearcut signs for them…other than Marleys old age.
“Dogs start slowing down, it’s a great human lesson for children and young adults,” said Grogan in The Independent’s article ‘I felt a grief that I had not experienced before, even though I had lost relatives.’ He was talking about the pain of putting a dog to sleep and grieving the loss. “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.”
Should You Put Your Dog to Sleep?
Sometimes it is a clear decision. Sometimes a dog is in so much pain, so injured, or so old that the only and best option is to put him to sleep. Most of the time, though, the decision to euthanize a dog – who is a treasured, loved part of the family – is not easy.
There are no easy signs, and the definition of “good quality of life for a dog” is different for every pet owner. Plus, as one veterinarian told me, it’s often difficult to tell whether a dog is in pain or suffering. But, there are a few signs it really is time to put your dog to sleep.
Our veterinarian gave six signs it is time to put a dog to sleep:
- Is your dog eating and drinking less than usual, or not at all? Lack of appetite is often a sign of pain.
- Is your dog excessively chewing, gnawing, or licking a problem area, wound, or injury?
- Does your dog limp or yelp when walking or going up/downstairs?
- Are you enjoying having your dog around…or is there more pain than happiness because you are seeing signs your dog`s health is diminishing ?
- Is your dog acting different, such as growling at other dogs or even snapping at children or adults?
- Does your dog seem to look, sound, or act distressed or uncomfortable most of the time?
These questions are not always easy to answer. Pet owners often want veterinarians or other dog experts to tell them if it is time to put their dog to sleep. Pet owners do not want the responsibility of putting their dogs to sleep too soon…or even too late.
It can be tempting to ask the veterinarian or other dog experts to decide if it’s time, but our vet said this has to be the pet owner’s decision. The vet only sees a snapshot of the dog’s life, while the pet owner has the big perspective and the whole lifespan.
“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 all its life. This is your final chance to take care of your dog. If you can spare your companion pain and suffering, then putting your to sleep is the ultimate gift…no matter how hard it is for you.”
How will you know if it is time to put your dog to sleep? Here’s what the vet says: 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.
Deciding on euthanasia is difficult, but it could be the most loving thing you do for your dog. It helps me to believe I’ll see my dog again one day, in the afterlife or God’s new Kingdom. One of the best ways to cope with the grief of putting your dog to sleep is resting in the peace, joy, and love only God can give.
In Signs From Pets in the Afterlife, Lyn Ragan explores how some dog and cat owners still have relationships with their beloved animal companions after they have passed. Nobody knows for sure if dogs go to “Heaven” or if we will meet them again one day…but it can be comforting and reassuring to hold on to the childlike hope that there is more to come.
Identifying the signs, messages, and signals from the a world beyond death is a comforting way to stay connected to your dog after he dies. This books shares simple ways to look for, and read, communications from your dog in the next life.
If you decide it is time to put your dog to sleep, decide if you want to be present during the passing. Undergoing euthanasia is similar to falling asleep, and you can be with your dog when he drifts away. Remember that euthanasia is generally painless, and almost always goes smoothly.
Read Healing Wisdom for After Your Dog Dies for help grieving your 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!”
Are you refusing to accept that it is time to put your dog to sleep?
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 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. Even if you know it is time and all the signs say you should put your dog to sleep, you will never be the same. Your life will change 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?
Wrong. Your dog is 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; you will see that not only is the decision to put a dog sleep painful, it also gives rise to different, deep and often surprising types of grief.
I wrote Farewell, Friend: A Gentle Guide to Saying Goodbye to Your Dog after facing the loss of my dog. It was awful; I didn’t expect the pain to be so bad…or to last as long as it did. The truth is that you never “get over” the death of your dog. Deciding to put your dog to sleep is the first step in a journey of grief.
To write this ebook, I interviewed veterinarians, grief experts, counselors, and pet owners who said goodbye to their dogs. Their stories and wisdom can help you cope with the loss of your own beloved companion.
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 – or if it is too soon to even consider putting your dog down because it hurts too much – please feel free to comment below.