Jul 162009
pet euthanasia should we put dog down

This is my dog, Georgie. I know one day we’ll have to make a gut-wrenching decision about her life, and I cherish every day with her.

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.

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.

“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 or cat to sleep: if suffering is involved. If your dog is suffering in any way, then it may be time to decide on pet euthanasia.

Goodbye, Friend: Healing Wisdom for Anyone Who Has Ever Lost a Pet is Gary Kowalski’s second book on coping with dog death, and it may help you heal after making the heart-wrenching decision to say good-bye.

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.

And, here are some guidelines to help you decide if it’s time to say good-bey to your dog or cat to sleep…

Is It Time to Put Your Dog to Sleep?

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,” says Dr Haynes. “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.

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!”

How will you remember your dog? For ideas, read my article about different types of pet memorials.

For help saying good-bye, read Letting Go of an Animal You Love: 75 Ways to Survive Pet Loss. 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.

If you have any thoughts on putting your dog to sleep, please comment below.

  543 Responses to “Should You Put Your Dog to Sleep? A Veterinarian’s Advice”

  1. Dear Mandy,

    I think if your dog Bailey is moody and unhappy and elderly, then maybe it’s time to listen to your husband and your heart. One of the main criteria for deciding if you should put your dog to sleep is her quality of life. If she isn’t enjoying life anymore – and if she’s causing pain and heartache to the family she loves – then I think it might be time to let her rest in peace.

    What is holding you back from putting her to sleep?

  2. Dear Leslie,

    It sounds like you’re thinking that it may be Mollie’s time to go. This is a good decision – in the sense that sometimes our beloved dogs are ready to pass on, and we need to walk them through their final steps here on earth. If you’ve made the decision to say good-bye to Mollie because of her old age and she’s ready to go, it’s just a question of whether you want to wait until next week.

    If she’s in pain, then I think saying good-bye at the clinic now is better than waiting until next week to put her down at home. I don’t know how she responds to being at the veterinary clinic – maybe it’s traumatizing for her? If so, then I totally understand wanting to wait until next week. But, it’s sad to think of her in pain for a whole week — and what if she gets worse?

    I know you don’t know for sure if she’s in pain. Often, it’s such a difficult thing to try to figure out. But, if my dogs were whimpering, I think I’d assume they were in distress. Even emotional distress is painful!

    I’m sorry I can’t be more helpful, and that I don’t have any solid answers for you. If I were you, I’d take my dog to the vet now. I wouldn’t wait, because I’d hate to think she was suffering.

    But, that said, you need to trust your heart and your relationship with Molly. You know her better than anyone, and you need to decide how she’d like to spend her last week or month here on earth.

    I wish you all the best, and hope you come back and let me know how it goes.


  3. My border collie Mollie is 16. Over the past few months, she has lost weight, seems confused, and has fallen over quite often. In the past few days, she has had a lot of trouble getting up (which leads to her whimpering until we can help her), she pants a lot, and she often walks in circles. However, she’s still eating and once we get her up, she’ll walk around the back yard and interact with us and our other two dogs. I’m just afraid that with her whimpering the other night that she may be in pain. I’ve tried to get our mobile vet to stop by but they’re short staffed and can’t see her until next week. I don’t want to take her to an emergency clinic because I prefer that if we do put her down, we have the vet come to the house to do it. Any advice? Thanks!

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