You may love your dog almost like a child, but while children grow up to live independent lives, your dog’s well-being will always be your responsibility. Nothing brings this home harder than watching your much loved companion grow old and lose the vigour, energy and love of life that he once had.
You’ll probably outlive your dog, and if you and he are lucky he’ll experience a peaceful and natural passing. Tragically, it’s not always that simple and you may be faced with the realisation that your friend needs your help one last time. When you know that the time is approaching when the kind and right thing to do is to talk to a vet about putting your dog to sleep, just how do you make this difficult, painful, and final decision?
When to Say Goodbye to Your Dog
Every dog is unique and so is every owner. Having said this there are certain common factors that are likely to influence your thinking.
Your dog has a terminal illness – The earlier stages of many diseases can be well manged with medication, but when you know that there’s no hope of a cure there are likely to be limits to what sort of treatments you want your companion to have. Modern veterinary science offers all sorts of options, but just because something is possible, it doesn’t always mean it’s the right thing or the kind thing to do. If your vet has given you bad news it’s worth asking them to be very honest about what to expect in the coming months so you can decide in advance when enough is enough.
Your dog is in pain that can’t be managed by medication – Either the medication doesn’t control the pain, or the dose needed is so high that it leaves your friend too sedated to enjoy any quality of life. Many of the reasons for choosing pet euthanasia can’t be considered in isolation, often it’s a case of several different factors taken together. This one is different. If your dog is in severe and unmanageable pain you need to have the courage to allow a vet to end his suffering.
Your dog has lost his mobility and control of his bodily functions – Profoundly disabled people most certainly can live a valued and valuable life in the face of severe physical limitations, but the same can’t really be said of dogs. Just think of the sheer joy and exhilaration he used to experience from running full pelt and exercising his body. As to house training, even if you’re perfectly comfortable with clearing up after him, he’s not likely to be comfortable about being unable to exert the control he was trained to.
Your dog has lost his appetite – Second only to exercise, food is one of the greatest joys in any dog’s life. If your friend doesn’t want to eat any more, and your vet has eliminated any treatable physical reasons for this, it’s a pretty strong sign that he’s signalling that he’s ready to let go.
You simply can’t afford the treatment required to keep your dog comfortable – This is one of the saddest reasons for putting a dog to sleep but it’s not uncommon and there’s no shame in it. Your vet will certainly not judge you unfavourably for being unwilling or unable to pay hundreds or even thousands of pounds for medicines or procedures that might buy your companion a few months but can’t offer a cure.
Your dog is suffering from ‘doggy dementia’ – Elderly dogs can experience the confusion more commonly associated with elderly people. Confusion, alone may not be a reason for pet euthanasia, but if it’s accompanied by anxiety, fear or even aggression it’s generally kinder to bring this sad situation to an end.
You get the sense that he’s just staying with you for your sake – This is a difficult one to define, but dog owners who’ve experienced it will understand instantly. Your dog still comes for walks, but you can see he gets little pleasure from them. He eats, but with no appetite. When you sit with him you’ll get an appreciative lick of your fingers or a thump of the tail, but you can tell that he’s tired and while he’s not in acute pain he’s never entirely comfortable either. It’s time to talk to your vet, to see if there’s anything that can be done to improve his quality of life. If there isn’t, it’s probably time to say good-bye to your dog and offer him a gentle passing from a life that’s been very well lived.
Making the Decision
Some people make lists, or use formal quality of life assessments for dogs, others are led by their heart rather than their head. There’s no single way to decide about putting a dog to sleep, but if your consideration for his needs are at the forefront of your mind you can be confident that you’ll do the right thing at the right time.
Once you’ve accepted that euthanasia is the right choice there will be other decisions to make. You could take your friend to the vet, or you might decide that he will be more comfortable if the vet comes to your home and completes the euthanasia there. Whatever you decide, it’s important that you and any other family members or friends who’ve enjoyed your dog’s friendship and loyalty over the years have time to say goodbye. This is something you’ll remember and take comfort from in the weeks ahead.
You’re Not Alone
In the end, the final decision is yours and yours alone, but other family members, your friends and importantly your vet can all help. If you don’t have an immediate person to turn to there are support groups for bereaved pet owners, your vet can almost certainly put you in touch with one. Whatever help is offered when you’re thinking about putting your dog to sleep, on the day you say good-bye, and in the weeks afterwards, take what’s useful to you because this is a sad time and you deserve all the help you can get.