The reality is that unlike your children — or anyone else you’ve helped raise and take care of — your dog will probably not outlive you. Even more sobering, you may end up facing a difficult decision about when to end the life of this precious friend and family member.
Some dogs do pass peacefully on their own, but in many cases, the will to survive keeps a dog going long past the point of experiencing good quality of life. While recent advances in veterinary medicine are nothing short of amazing, remember that just because you can prolong his life doesn’t mean it’s in your dog’s best interest to do so.
Most of the factors around aging and death are beyond our control, but the one thing you are able to do for your dog is alleviate undue pain and suffering. Arguably, no other decision you make about your dog will be as difficult as the one to euthanize, but in so many cases, it is the only humane option.
How To Know It’s Time
If there’s ever a time to put your dog’s welfare ahead of your own needs, this is it. While the idea of living without your beloved pet can be devastating, the thought of him suffering should feel even worse.
So in considering what to do, ask yourself the following questions:
- Does your dog have a terminal illness? Ask your veterinarian what to expect at the next stage and then ask whether you’re prepared to go there.
- Is your dog in the kind of pain that cannot be significantly alleviated by medication?
- Will more treatment improve his quality of life, or simply maintain a poor quality of life?
- Can you afford treatment? End-of-life care can run into thousands of dollars, and people can end up prolonging their grieving while paying off credit cards.
- Is your dog so old he has lost most bodily functions? If he can no longer stand up, get down stairs, defecate, and urinate on his own, the quality of his life is pretty poor.
- Does he still want to eat? Once a dog loses his appetite he’s signaling he’s close to the end.
- Are his gums pink? When gums aren’t a normal pink, your dog isn’t getting enough oxygen.
- Is it in his best interest to extend his life, or are you extending his life for yourself? This last point is the most difficult one for most of us to sort out, but it may well be the most relevant.
- You may find that everyone feels free to tell you what to do, but the responsibility for this choice is yours. This can be more difficult when a couple disagrees, but it can still weigh heavily on a single person.
- Your veterinarian is trained to save lives. That’s what they do, and that’s why you go to them. But all they can do is delay, not prevent. No veterinarian should make you feel guilty for choosing not to pursue treatment, even if you can afford it.
- If your veterinarian is advising euthanasia and you’re reluctant, closely examine your own motives and see if they’re for your benefit or the dog’s.
- People often say, “You’ll know when it’s time.” In many cases that’s true, but not always.
- Choosing euthanasia is not “playing God” any more than providing medical treatment to save a life is.
- Euthanasia ensures that you’ll be able to be with your dog at the moment he passes, so he’s not alone. However, you don’t have to be there. If you feel you cannot remain calm, it’s best for your dog that you not be there.
- Most people believe it’s better to euthanize your dog a day too early rather than a day too late.
Make A List, Or Two
Before your dog gets to the point where euthanasia is a consideration, and you’re still fairly calm, write a list of what gives him quality of life. Decide how many of those points he can be without in old age and still enjoy his life. For example:
- He likes to eat.
- He likes to play ball.
- He likes to go for walks.
- He likes to be petted by children.
- He is proud of his housebreaking.
- He likes large groups of people and dogs.
- He likes going for car rides.
That’s seven points. How many points do you think your dog needs to enjoy life, even if he’s not in pain?
If he can maintain quality of life with four of those seven, then you know it may be time to consider euthanasia if he gets to three points. Promise yourself that other factors, such as pain, the kind of senility that causes fear, and a lack of bodily function and control, cancel out any list.
Next, decide how much money you can afford to spend on veterinary care. Make a decision, write it down, and stick to your plan when your emotions are off the chart.
If your dog is suffering, he has lost all joy in being a dog.
Bottom line: The emotions surrounding this decision are mixed and complicated. To do what’s best for our dogs, we need to realistically assess the criteria without allowing emotion to overwhelm the decision-making process.