When to Put Your Dog Down: Doing What’s Best For Your Canine

Updated August 16, 2021
Man embracing his faithful friend the dog

Your best friend has been by your side through thick and thin. So, it's understandable that you may struggle with the question of when to put your dog down. Perhaps their physical health has deteriorated, or you've received a grave diagnosis. There are many things to consider as you navigate the decision to let them go.

Making the Decision to Say Goodbye

If your pet's health appears to be declining, the last thing you want is for them to suffer. Unfortunately, dogs cannot speak to tell you if they are in distress. The main factor you should consider when deciding when to say goodbye is your pet's quality of life.

Quality of life scales are an excellent tool to determine your pet's comfort level, but they won't give you a definitive answer to your question of when is the right time. Instead, they can provide you with insight into when your dog's life is more painful than joyful.

Among the recommended quality of life scales is a powerful assessment guide created by veterinary oncologist Dr. Alice Villalobos. Her "HHHHHMM" scale evaluates seven areas essential to a pet's comfort. This information can help you track your dog's quality of life.

Senior Woman With Dog On Sofa At Home

Quality of Life Assessment

Consider these seven categories and ask yourself the following questions.

Hurt refers to your dog's daily level of pain and what's required to keep them comfortable.

  • Does your dog cry out in pain often?
  • Does your dog pant continuously?
  • Does your dog have difficulty breathing?

Hunger is a measure of your dog's interest in eating day-to-day.

  • Does your dog have a poor appetite?
  • Does your dog have difficulty swallowing?
  • Is your dog losing weight?

Hydration looks at how much your dog is drinking and whether they are properly hydrated.

  • Does your dog appear dehydrated?
  • Is your dog drinking more than usual?
  • Is your dog drinking less than usual?

Hygiene is how well your dog can keep themselves clean.

  • Is your dog's coat dull or unkempt?
  • Has your dog stopped grooming itself?
  • Does your dog urinate or defecate on itself?

Happiness is a look at your dog's overall day-to-day mood.

  • Has your dog stopped playing?
  • Has your dog stopped expressing interest in things that once made them joyful?
  • Is your dog depressed, anxious, or scared?

Mobility rates how well your dog can get around on their own.

  • Does your dog have difficulty moving around?
  • Does your dog need assistance to stand up?
  • Does your dog have seizures?

More Good Days Than Bad is a measure of how your dog's life appears overall.

  • Do your dog's bad days outnumber the good?

If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, your pet's quality of life is compromised and they may not be comfortable. It's not unreasonable to think about saying goodbye to your beloved pet at this point. However, they could have a condition that your veterinarian may have the ability to treat. Supportive care using pain medications or other strategies may be available to make them more comfortable and give you more quality time together.

However, if you've already received a diagnosis, have exhausted your treatment options or are unable to treat your dog, and answered "yes," it may be time to consider euthanasia. Your vet can let you know what level of discomfort your dog is in and give you more information on their prognosis. Ultimately, the choice of when to put your dog down is up to you, but your veterinarian can help guide you through this decision.

Keep a record of your answers to these questions. Tomorrow, come back and answer them again. Do it again in a few days, then next week. Evaluate how your pet's quality of life changes over a short period of time. If you answer "yes" several times more than you have before over a period of a few days, this means your dog's quality of life is rapidly declining and they are likely in distress.

Choosing How to Say Farewell

While you're deciding when to say farewell, it can be helpful to understand the different experiences available to you when the time comes.

In-hospital Euthanasia

For in-hospital euthanasia, you will bring your pet to your local veterinarian. The wonderful thing about having the procedure done at the veterinary practice is their access to medical equipment. If your pet is suffering, pain medication or oxygen therapy can help them feel more comfortable as you say your final farewells.

Feel free to call ahead and let them know you're coming so the clinic can anticipate your arrival. If your pet is unable to walk, they may carry your pet in on a stretcher. The compassionate staff will likely lead you directly to a private room where you can spend time with your beloved pet before they cross over the rainbow bridge.

You can elect to be with your pet and hold them through the process or inform the veterinarian that you would not like to be present. This is a very personal decision and one that you can make beforehand or when you arrive based on how you feel.

In-home Euthanasia

Alternatively, you could elect to have your vet come to you. Many areas have dedicated mobile veterinarians who only practice out of people's homes. This is an excellent option if your pet is particularly nervous in a hospital setting. Saying goodbye in a familiar place in your home can be a comfortable and special experience for everyone.

If you do opt for in-home euthanasia, try to find a place with adequate lighting where you, your pet, and your veterinarian have enough room. Again, you can let your veterinarian know if you would like to be present with your pet or if you would prefer not to watch as your dog passes. This is entirely up to you.

Celebrate Their Final Days

Before you say goodbye to your canine companion, creating joyful memories together can help ease your pain. Try one or all of these strategies to make your dog's final days special.

Celebrating their final days
  • Host a Celebration of Life party where you invite loved ones over to celebrate your special pup and say "so long."
  • Spend a day doing all your dog's favorite things. Offer them their favorite meal, go on their favorite walk, or buy a dozen of their favorite toy.
  • Make a photo book dedicated to your dog that you can cherish for years to come. Reach out to friends and family who might have photos you've never seen.

When Euthanasia Should Not Be Considered

Although the ability to end a dog's suffering is a wonderful privilege, there are some scenarios when euthanasia may not be appropriate. A change in life circumstances such as pregnancy, allergies, loss of income, or change in daily schedule or commitments could prompt an owner to consider euthanasia. These requests are referred to as convenience euthanasias. Many veterinarians may be unwilling to put down a healthy dog for these reasons. Re-homing your pet or seeking support for financial restrictions are more suitable options.

Additionally, minor behavioral or training issues can motivate owners to seek euthanasia. Problems such as digging, barking, or inappropriate elimination issues can be addressed through professional behavioral training. Unless your pet's behavior puts your safety or the safety of others at risk, euthanasia is likely not an ethical solution. Always consult with your veterinarian, who can provide you with individual guidance or resources.

Seek Bereavement Support

Know that you're not alone. If you have accepted that this is the right thing for your dog but are finding it challenging to move forward, support is available. Anticipatory grief resources and pet loss support groups are available for owners who need help coping prior to or after their pet's passing. You can also reach out to a mental health professional for counseling services.

Crossing Over the Rainbow Bridge

Unfortunately, there's no "right time" or exact formula to decide when to euthanize your beloved pet. When making this difficult decision, try to see the world through your dog's eyes. Consider how they feel and whether they have more bad days than good. And when they are ready to go, be sure to thank your special pet for providing you with unconditional love and do right by them. Try not to think of this as a goodbye, but instead, it's "see you later."

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When to Put Your Dog Down: Doing What’s Best For Your Canine