How To Know When It’s Time To Say Goodbye To Your Dog

woman hugging senior golden retriever

(Picture Credit: Getty Images)

The thought of our dogs dying is something that we pet parents have a lot of difficulty with. But 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 your pet’s 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’s the only humane option.

How To Know When 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 them 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 vet 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 alleviated by medication?
  • Will more treatment improve your dog’s 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.
  • Has your dog lost the ability to maintain most bodily functions? If they can no longer stand up, get down stairs, defecate, and urinate on their own, the quality of their life is pretty poor.
  • Do they still want to eat? Once a dog loses they’re appetite, they may be signaling that they’re close to the end.
  • Are their gums pink? When gums aren’t a normal pink, your dog isn’t getting enough oxygen.
  • Is it in their best interest to extend their life, or are you doing so 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.

Other Things To Consider

(Picture Credit: Getty Images)

(Picture Credit: Getty Images)

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 if you have a significant other who’s also attached to your dog, and you disagree about the next steps. However, it can still weigh heavily on a single person.

People often say, “You’ll know when it’s time.” In many cases that’s true, but not always. But remember that no matter what people tell you, choosing euthanasia is not “playing God” any more than providing medical treatment to save a life is.

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 vet should make you feel guilty for choosing not to pursue treatment, even if you can afford it.

If your vet is advising euthanasia and you’re reluctant, closely examine your own motives and see if they’re for your benefit or the dog’s. Most people believe it’s better to euthanize your dog a day too early rather than a day too late.

Euthanasia ensures that you’ll be able to be with your dog at the moment they pass, so they’re not alone. While you don’t have to be present, keep in mind that dogs often look to their most beloved humans when they’re fearful, and it may be quite traumatic for your furry friend if you’re not with them.

That said, it may be best for kids or those who cannot remain calm to not stick around, or else they may make a stressful situation even worse for a frightened dog and other humans who are present.

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 them a good quality of life. Decide how many of those points they can be without in old age and still enjoy their life.

For example:

  • Eating. Will they still be able to enjoy food, or even eat on their own?
  • Play. Can they still play games like fetch?
  • Walks. Will they be able to enjoy fresh air or any form of exercise?
  • Petting and affection. Can they still enjoy pets from you or from strangers? Do they recognize people, or do they act fearful?
  • Going outside. Can they go potty on their own when and where it’s appropriate? Or are they unable to control their bodily functions at all?
  • Being social. Does your dog still like to be in groups of people and dogs? Or do they easily feel exhausted and defensive?
  • Car rides. Can your dog still get in the car and stay comfortable on a ride? Can they stick their nose out the window?

That’s seven points. How many points do you think your dog needs to enjoy life, even if they’re not in pain?

If you believe they can maintain quality of life with four of those seven, then you know it may be time to consider euthanasia if they lose the ability to keep three of those points.

Promise yourself that you’ll consider other factors, such as pain, the kind of senility that causes fear, and a lack of bodily function and control that may cancel out any items on the 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, then they’ve already lost most of the joy that comes from being a dog. 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.

Have you ever decided when to end your dog’s suffering? How did you make your decision? Let us know in the comments below.

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