When to Put Your Dog Down Checklist

Picture of an old dog

It has been said that dogs give us some of our very best days and one of our worst: the day we say our final goodbye. If your best canine pal is getting grey in the muzzle and starting to lose the spring in his step, you may be dreading the day when you have to make that final fateful trip to your veterinarian’s office. Because dogs are very good at hiding their pain, it can be very difficult for an owner to know when it is truly time to help their pet humanely pass from this life to the next. At times like these, a checklist of things to look for to help you know when the time is upon you can be very helpful.

How Can I Know When It is Time to Say Goodbye?

There is never a good time to say goodbye to a beloved pet. Still, when your dog is suffering, the most loving thing you can do for him is to make the decision to let him go. Though veterinary medicine can help preserve life, there are times when it is not in your dog’s best interest to try to sustain it if your dog has reached the point where he struggles with daily pain and finds no joy in living. 

Though our dogs cannot tell us when it is time for them to leave this life, there are definite signs we can look for that can help us make this decision. One of the most important things you should consider when you are reaching end of life care is the quality of life your dog has. Does your dog have more good days than bad days? Are you finding it difficult to tell the difference any more? If your dog’s quality of life has severely declined in his old age, that is not something that is likely to improve given more time. In fact, quite the opposite is true; your dog’s quality of life will continue to decline.

If you are struggling trying to figure out if it is time to have your dog euthanized or if there remains some things you can do to improve his quality life for a little longer, this checklist of questions may help you make that decision.

  • Is your dog suddenly acting differently?

When a dog’s behavior and routine changes, there is a reason. If you have spent your life with a dog that was always lively and sociable, and suddenly, Fido prefers to hide away from his family and friends; this may be a strong indication that your dog is feeling unwell. However, it is important to note that a change in behavior does not necessarily mean your dog has reached the final stages of his life. It may mean that your dog is sick or injured and requires veterinary care to return to his normal happy self. But if after a thorough veterinary assessment it is deemed your dog is beginning a sharp physical decline that comes with old age, this is something to keep an eye on over the coming days and weeks.

  • Is your dog now regularly crying or whining?

While some dogs are vocal by nature, most dogs do not cry out or whine in pain on a regular basis. Most owners can easily tell the difference between a cry for attention and the whimper a dog makes when he is really hurting. If your dog is suffering from daily pain that you are unable to provide relief for, it may be time to consider letting your dog go.

Some dogs will react aggressively when in pain. Even the most gentle natured dogs may snap or attempt to bite someone they know, love, and trust when they are truly suffering. If this is uncharacteristic for your dog, it is a strong warning sign to you that your dog’s quality of life is beginning to slip. 

  • Has your dog lost interest in eating and drinking?

Most dogs love to eat. If your dog was always a hearty eater and now seems disinterested in food and water, this may be an indication your best canine pal is feeling very poorly. Missing the occasional meal is not a huge concern, but if your dog goes several days without eating, you will need to get your pooch to your veterinarian as soon as possible.

Sometimes, it just takes some ingenuity to renew your dog’s interest in eating again. Feeding kibble by hand, adding in a topper, or even allowing small amounts of people food may be all it takes to do the trick. However, if your dog has become very ill and will not eat or drink, you may need to consider a feeding tube and having liquids administered through sub-Q fluids or an IV bag administered overnight at your veterinary clinic. These are all decisions that your vet can help you make, and most often should only be done with their assistance.

One thing is for certain if your dog will no longer eat or drink, it is vital that you find out why as quickly as possible.

  • Is your pet struggling to move or avoiding moving as much as possible?

If your dog who used to live for walks no longer wants to tag along or barely lifts their head off the sofa when you come home, it is definitely cause for concern. Many dogs suffer a loss of mobility as they age. If it hurts to move, your dog may soon try to find ways to avoid moving altogether if possible. In some cases, the pain may be so great that your dog may begin having accidents in the home rather than risk jumping on and off things or climbing up and down stairs to reach the outdoors. Loss of interest in activities that were normally a joyful part of your dog’s life is a powerful sign that it may be time to prepare for that final goodbye. 

  • Is your normally social dog no longer interested in daily family life?

When your dog seems to merely be existing and is disengaging from family life and the fun activities he used to enjoy, this is a sign that your dog is on the decline.

  • Is your dog starting to lose his cognitive function?

As dogs age and illnesses start to plague the body, they sometimes begin to have deteriorating cognitive ability. If your dog appears confused or sometimes seems lost in your home, it may be that your dog has the beginnings of what is known as canine cognitive dysfunction. Dog dementia is very real and can be very upsetting both for you and your dog. Though in the early stages canine cognitive dysfunction can be treated, it progresses rapidly. If your dog becomes lost or easily confused, and especially if he no longer recognizes you or your family members, it may be time to let go.

  • Does your dog have constant daily pain?

No dog owner ever wants to see their dog in pain. Unfortunately, pain is a part of the aging process. If your dog is suffering with regular aches and pains, your veterinarian may be able to prescribe a medication or even some alternative therapies that can provide relief.

However, if your dog has daily pain and you are unable to alleviate that pain for him, your dog is suffering. Sometimes the kindest thing you can do for a pet is to say goodbye as continuing their life is causing them pain.

What Do I Do If I Think It is Time to Say Goodbye to My Dog?

Making the decision to say goodbye to your dog is incredibly difficult. If you are on the cusp of making that final decision but lack 100 percent certainty, it is wise to remember this adage: it is better to say goodbye a day early than a day too late. A day too late may mean your pet suffers; a day early means letting your dog go only because the end is inevitable. When quality of life has degraded to the point that medical science cannot bring it back, it is most likely time to say goodbye. But only you can make this decision for your pet, and you should not feel pressured to do so. You know your dog best. Take the time to really observe him to see what symptoms are present and allow those observations to guide you in the decision making process.

If you’ve reached the conclusion that it is time to let your dog go, the first step you should take is calling your veterinarian. Your vet can schedule an appointment for you in which they will humanely euthanize your dog. Euthanasia can be done during an office visit, or in some cases, a veterinarian will come to your home. Most often, your vet will provide your dog with a sedative to help the dog to feel calm and at ease before administering the final injection to end life. Typically, the medication used for euthanasia is pentobarbital. Pentobarbital gently moves a dog into an unconscious state before the heart and brain cease to function. The entire procedure takes only a few minutes and provides a peaceful passing. Most veterinarians will allow you to be present with your pet during the entire process.

You will also need to have a plan in place for your pet’s remains. Some owners like to bring their pet home to bury in a special place while others opt to use a pet cremation service and bring their dog’s ashes home in a special urn to place in their home as a memorial to their cherished friend. The staff at your vet clinic can help you make these final arrangements.

What If I Want My Dog to Die Naturally?

Though some dogs will die in their sleep, most do not. Waiting for death to occur naturally may cause your dog prolonged and undue suffering. Watching your beloved dog struggle and decline is exceptionally hard on your heart and is also tremendously hard on your pet. Most families opt to euthanize their dog before it reaches this point. Waiting for death to occur on its own is a decision most dog owners live to regret.

What Will It Cost Me to Euthanize My Dog?

Every veterinary clinic is different, so there is no set price you can expect to pay to have your dog euthanized. However, most clinics charge no more than several hundred dollars to provide this service. Any additional services such as cremation, urns, burial plots, etc, come at an extra cost.

How Do I Get Ready to Say Goodbye to My Dog?

If you’ve carefully observed your dog and have decided that the end is near, the hardest part will be preparing your heart for the loss you are about to experience. There is no right or wrong way to get ready to say goodbye to your cherished family pet. Whatever feels right to you is the best thing to do.

Some pet owners make the appointment several days in advance and use the time in-between to make special memories with their dog. This could be as simple as a car ride for an ice cream or a final stroll along the beach. Whatever you need to do to prepare your heart for this impending loss is what you should do.

However, the most important thing you can do for your dog is save your grieving until he is gone. If you are upset, your dog will become upset too, and that can be very frightening for him particularly when you enter the clinic to say your final goodbye. As best you can, hold back your tears until your pet is gone then you can freely grieve your loss.

Can I Bury My Dog in My Yard?

Zoning laws for each area of the country are unique to those municipalities and cities. If you wish to bury your dog on your property, it is best to contact city hall to see if this is permissible. If not, you may opt to purchase a plot in a pet cemetery for your dog or to make use of cremation services.

How Do I Move on After the Loss of My Dog?

Grieving is a highly individual process. There is no right or wrong when it comes to healing your heart from a huge loss. It is okay to admit to others that you are hurting and that you are finding it difficult to deal with losing your best canine pal. Loving a dog is a huge blessing in life, and losing them is a substantial and deeply painful loss. You will not get over the pain of this loss overnight, and in some cases, the pain will lessen, but your heart will always remain raw when you think about how much you miss your best canine pal. It is the price we pay for loving a dog, but the joy a dog brings throughout his lifetime makes this pain pale in comparison to it.

Some people feel that best way to memorialize a lost pet is to adopt or purchase another to love in their cherished dog’s memory. Only you can know if this is the right decision for you. However, no matter how special a new dog may be, it is important to know that that dog will never take the place of the one that you lost, and that’s okay. The human heart is capable of loving again and making room to love both the dog that passed on and the dog that came along to help you heal.

Some families find it helps to have prints done of special memories of their dog that they can hang in their home as a reminder of their beloved friend. Other options to consider are commissioning a painting from a photo of your pet or donating money in your pet’s name to a local shelter or rescue.

How can you know when it’s time to say goodbye? Our checklist offers a good starting point. Carefully consider each question and evaluate how your dog measures up against them. One thing is for certain: if your dog now has more bad days than good ones or is experiencing daily pain without relief, it may be time to say that final goodbye. Though it hurts tremendously, when your dog is suffering, letting go is the kindest thing you can do for a dog you love and who has loved you his entire life.

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