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How To Know When To Put Your Dog Down

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Last Updated: April 22, 2024 | 5 min read | 25 Comments

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dog parent on the ground holding lab while they put dog to sleep

When is it time to put my dog down? Knowing when it’s time to say goodbye to your best friend is a grim decision none of us pet parents want to face. But the unfortunate reality is that many of us, at some point, must decide that it’s time to say goodbye to our precious pup. In many cases, it’s not easy to know when the right time has come, so we’ll run through all the things to consider to help you through this heart-wrenching decision.

Signs To Look For

In some cases, it may be obvious that your pet won’t recover from an injury or serious illness and needs to be put to sleep to avoid unnecessary suffering. But in many cases, the signs of deteriorating health and well-being are gradual, especially with old age or a prolonged illness like diabetes or cancer.

Some common signs that it may be time to put your pup down include the inability or refusal to eat or drink, labored breathing, an inability to get up for potty times without help, urinary or fecal incontinence, and immobility. Essentially, this can come down to your dog’s quality of life.

Assessing Your Dog’s Quality Of Life

Many people find a quality-of-life scale or questionnaire helpful in analyzing all aspects of their dog’s current well-being. We don’t want our dogs to suffer because their quality of life has become so poor. And putting your dog to sleep can be the most humane thing you can do for your pup if this is the case.

Although it may seem crass to some, using a “when to put your dog down checklist” can help you face the reality of what’s best for your pup rather than making a purely emotional decision. Here are some questions to ask yourself when it comes to your pup’s quality of life and whether it’s time for euthanization. Once you’ve considered these factors — and if many of these problems continue to persist — your dog’s quality of life is likely seriously compromised.

Dog quality of life scale

1. Is My Dog In Pain?

Is your dog on pain medications or alternative therapies and still showing signs of discomfort or pain? Are you noticing signs indicating he is having trouble breathing normally? Persistent whining, panting, an inability to get comfortable, and immobility could all indicate chronic pain.

2. Is My Pup Eating And Drinking Normally?

If your dog has no appetite and refuses to eat, you can try feeding him by hand. But if that doesn’t work, a feeding tube may be necessary to ensure that your pup gets adequate nutrition. And if he’s not drinking much, contact your vet. Dogs can get dehydrated easily, so IV fluids may be necessary. However, these aren’t good long-term solutions if your pup persists in refusing to eat and drink. Some owners ask,” Should I put my dog down if he is still eating?” The answer again depends on your dog’s specific circumstances and medical condition. It is best to discuss this with your veterinarian.

3. Has My Dog’s Mobility Declined?

Is your dog able to get up and walk around fairly normally? Can you still take him on walks or take him out to relieve himself? If not, he’ll need assistance with a harness or sling. Is your dog stumbling a lot? If your pup has arthritis and joint problems, are medication and/or alternative therapies no longer helping with your dog’s mobility and pain? Consider how your dog’s immobility issues affect his happiness.

4. Are There Changes In My Dog’s Urination Or Defecation?

Is your pup unable to urinate or defecate? If so, you should contact your vet as soon as possible. Or has your dog developed urinary or fecal incontinence? Incontinence, particularly with a pet who’s unable to move away from the mess, is a big factor for many pet parents considering euthanasia.

5. Does My Dog Still Enjoy Interaction?

Does your pup seem happy and interested in interacting with you, your family members, and other pets? Is he still able to play and enjoy mental stimulation? Or is he isolating himself from others and showing signs of depression, anxiety, or even aggression? Dogs are very socially orientated, so if your dog isn’t interacting, he’s likely unhappy and suffering.

6. Are There More Bad Days Than Good Days?

Ask yourself if your dog is having more bad days than good days. If the bad days outnumber the good days, especially if your pup has several bad days in a row, then his quality of life is extremely poor. Depending on your dog’s illness, bad days could involve a lot of vomiting, diarrhea, falling down, seizures, not eating or drinking, etc. And if your dog seems generally “checked out” of life, then it’s time to seriously consider euthanasia.

Consult With Your Veterinarian About When To Put A Dog Down

When is it time to put a dog down? This depends on each dog’s individual situation. Knowing when to euthanize a dog can be extremely challenging for many pet parents. While your veterinarian can’t make this decision for you, talking through your dog’s current health and quality of life can be a huge help.

It may be helpful to ask your vet about any further treatment options available and his or her opinion about whether additional procedures or therapy would be worth it for your pup’s daily well-being.

Your vet will be able to give you an idea of the prognosis and progression of your dog’s medical issues. Even with further treatment, will your pup’s condition still only worsen with time? And depending on your financial situation, you may need to weigh the costs associated with further treatment vs. the benefits for your pup.

Personal Experience

“My dog Bear, a black Lab, developed epilepsy when he was about 2 years old. This disease greatly impacted his life. However, we took great care to ensure he had an active, healthy, and happy life. Through the use of medication, diet, and care, his seizures were manageable and did not impact his ability to live a good life. However, when he was close to 12 years old, it became clear he was going downhill. He was confused, tired, and having more intense seizures. After two very scary ones in a row, we knew we needed to make that heart-wrenching call. After consulting with his veterinarian and doing some tests, it was confirmed that, sadly, he was not going to recover. We took him home and had a special last night, giving him a tasty meal of steak and, the next day, helping him on his final journey.

Having taken care of a special needs dog for so long, it was important to take that same level of care with him when making this end-of-life decision. Our top priority had always been to give him a good, safe life, and when that was no longer possible, we had to do what was best for him. Working closely with his veterinarians and technicians throughout his life was key to keeping him healthy, managing his disease, and also pivotal when it came time to make the decision to put him down.”

Danielle DeGroot, rescue dog parent

What To Expect When Putting Your Dog To Sleep

In this six-minute video, a veterinarian explains the process of pet euthanasia at his clinic. While your vet’s office may have a slightly different process, it gives you an idea of what to expect at your pup’s final vet visit. If you’d rather keep your pup at home, you may be able to find a home euthanasia service in your area.

Dealing With Your Dog’s Death

Dealing with the end of your dog’s life is an emotional process. Saying goodbye to your best friend is the hardest part of pet ownership. Once you’ve decided that it’s time to put your dog down, you’ll need to consider how you want to memorialize him. Do you prefer cremation or burial? Your vet’s office can likely help you with the details and the costs involved. Then you’ll have to face the grief over your beloved furry friend. Our article on how to deal with the death of your dog can give you some insight into working through the grief process.

If you come to the decision that it’s best to put your dog down due to a decrease in his or her quality of life, then we’d like to offer our deepest condolences to you. This can be a heart-wrenching decision to make, and we know you didn’t come to this conclusion lightly. We wish our dogs could live as long as we do, and although that’s not possible, we’re thankful for the time we have with them.

The information provided through this website should not be used to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease; it is not intended to offer any legal opinion or advice or a substitute for professional safety advice or professional care. Please consult your health care provider, attorney, or product manual for professional advice. Products and services reviewed are provided by third parties; we are not responsible in any way for them, nor do we guarantee their functionality, utility, safety, or reliability. Our content is for educational purposes only.

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