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When to Put a Dog Down: 8 Signs it Might Be Time

Aging and sick Golden Retriever
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Veterinary care and nutrition have made great strides, allowing dogs to live longer lives and enjoy life well into their golden years. Dogs do not live forever, though. There will come a time when we have to say goodbye to our beloved four-legged companions.

Deciding to euthanize a dog is difficult for many pet owners. Knowing when to put a dog down is equally challenging.

We’re here to help you learn more about euthanasia and recognize the signs that indicate when saying goodbye may be the best option for your dog.

Dog Euthanasia: A Humane Option

Euthanasia is defined as humane death. It is a painless process that enables a pet’s smooth transition from life to death. For dogs with uncontrollable pain or terminal illnesses, euthanasia is a humane option to end their suffering.

To perform euthanasia, a veterinarian will administer a sedative for relaxation and drowsiness. Then, they will administer an overdose of a barbiturate to cause unconsciousness and stop the heartbeat. After several minutes, the veterinarian will confirm that the dog’s heart has stopped beating. It is a painless and fast procedure that ends a dog’s suffering.

It isn’t easy to contemplate and acknowledge that the end of your dog’s life is near. Understanding how euthanasia works can help you prepare to make end-of-life decisions, knowing that your dog will not suffer in those final moments of life.

There are various details to consider, including the location of euthanasia (vet’s office or at home), whether you choose to be present, and what to do with your dog’s remains. Making these decisions in advance allows you to emotionally prepare for saying goodbye without the stress of making the decisions amid your grief.

When to Put a Dog Down? 8 Signs 

Senior dog not enjoying quality of life

The decision to euthanize a dog is personal. Your veterinarian can provide guidance, given your dog’s health and quality of life, but the ultimate and final decision rests with you. Take the time to think it through and decide when you are ready.

But how do you know when it’s time to put your dog down? Below, we’ve listed some signs that could indicate your dog’s health and quality of life are on the decline. If you notice any of these changes in your pet, it’s helpful to track them with a tool like the GreatPetCare app, so you can discuss them with your veterinarian.

Download the GreatPetCare app for free today to discover helpful tools like the Health Journal, Weight Tracker, and more.

Some changes can be subtle and easy to overlook. The GreatPetCare app makes it easy to log even the slightest changes over time. This can help provide you with a framework to share with your vet so you can decide whether euthanasia is the right choice for your pet.

Here are eight concerning signs to watch out for:

  1. Refusal to eat. Some dogs may be picky eaters and refuse to eat from time to time. But if your dog is regularly refusing food and appetite stimulants aren’t working, it may be time to talk to your veterinarian about end of life care. A dog that isn’t eating won’t get the nutrients that they need to sustain a high quality of life. 
  1. Terminal illness. A dog that is diagnosed with a terminal illness will progressively go down hill. As the disease advances, your dog may experience pain, confusion, and difficulty doing the things they enjoy. You may want to consider euthanasia following a terminal diagnosis to prevent your dog from suffering. 
  1. Inability to walk. A dog that can no longer walk may be experiencing extreme pain and likely isn’t enjoying a high quality of life. While there are ways to help your dog get around – like strollers, carts, and harnesses – it’s important to consider how your dog’s inability to walk is impacting their level of happiness and satisfaction. 
  1. Uncontrollable pain. There are various vet-recommended pain medications that can help a dog feel better. But if pain medications don’t seem to be working or your dog always seems to be struggling with pain, it may be time to talk to your veterinarian and prepare for euthanasia. 
  1. Life-threatening injury. If an accident or injury has put your dog’s life in the balance, it may be necessary to consider euthanasia as an option to prevent further suffering, complications, or expenses. 
  1. Unmanageable aggression. Dogs who are in pain or suffering from canine cognitive dysfunction may experience unexpected behavior changes. If your dog suddenly becomes aggressive to you, family members, or other pets, it could be time to talk to your veterinarian. 
  1. Significant decrease in quality of life. It’s difficult to assess your dog’s quality of life. But it’s important to pay attention when considering end of life options for your pet. Lap of Love, a nationwide provider of at-home euthanasia for pets, provides a quality of life assessment that you can fill out to help you monitor your dog’s overall wellbeing. If you no longer think your dog has a high quality of life, it’s important to start discussions about euthanasia with your veterinarian.    
  1. Loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities. If your dog no longer wants to go for walks, play fetch, cuddle on the sofa, or tug on a toy, it could be a sign that it’s time to let them go. Dogs that no longer show interest in activities they previously enjoyed are often in pain and are not enjoying life like they once did. 

Along with looking for the signs listed above, consider asking yourself these questions when deciding if euthanasia is the right choice for your dog:

  • Is my dog suffering?
  • Is my dog having more bad days than good days?
  • Can I afford my dog’s ongoing medical expenses?
  • Can I handle the emotional toll of my dog’s suffering?
  • Am I prolonging my dog’s life to avoid having to say goodbye?
  • Do I have the time to continue providing the level of care that my pet needs?

When you discuss euthanasia with your veterinarian, they can help you better understand your dog’s declining health. They can also explain the veterinary office’s euthanasia policies, such as whether they do at-home euthanasias and how they schedule euthanasia appointments (usually the last appointment of the day).

Remember, it’s ultimately up to you to decide when it’s the right time to put your dog down and end their suffering. The guidelines above can help you assess your pet and monitor changes over time, but you know your dog best. Whatever you decide to do is the right decision. 

Making Your Dog’s Last Days Count: 4 Tips and Ideas

Woman showing old dog love

Once you have decided to euthanize your dog and put the final details in place, you can choose how you want to spend time with your dog in their last days.

As with the decision to euthanize, how you want to spend those final moments with your dog is personal. However, here are some ideas:

Take your dog to their favorite places. Even if your dog is having a hard time getting around, let them enjoy their favorite places one last time. This might be a specific park, the beach, a hiking trail – wherever you and your dog have happy memories. Unplug and enjoy your time together. 

Feed your dog their favorite meals and treats. Although pet parents are usually discouraged from feeding dogs people food due to high calories and fat content, there’s a lot of wiggle room for dogs that are approaching the end of their lives. If you have a week or a few days left, allow your dog to enjoy the foods they love and make their last meal something extra special. 

Spend quiet time with them on the couch or sit with them near their bed. Saying goodbye to your beloved canine companion is one of the hardest things to do. Soak up the quiet moments and let your dog know they are loved by simply being with them. 

Have a professional photo shoot with your dog. While you may have plenty of photos of your dog on your phone, having professional pictures taken of both of you is a great way to memorialize your bond and create a lasting keepsake. Just make sure to have your dog’s comfort in mind when planning a photo shoot. 

Bringing it Together

Saying goodbye to your four-legged friend at the end of their life is a sad yet inevitable reality of dog ownership. Knowing when euthanasia is the right choice for your dog can help you prepare to say goodbye and make the most of your dog’s final days.