Knowing when to say goodbye to your beloved dog is the most difficult decision pet parents have to face. Pets are more than just animals; they creep into our hearts and become family members. Our furry friends comfort us, protect us, entertain us, and love us unconditionally until the day they die. Sadly, a dog’s life is almost always shorter than their human family members’ lives. Some dogs live several years, but even so, they get old much quicker than we do. As dogs age and develop age-related illnesses, they stop enjoying life as they should. Or, some dogs get sick early in their lives and begin to suffer needlessly. If this happens, it’s best to let a beloved pet die a peaceful death to avoid suffering. The question so many pet owners ask is, how do you know when your pet’s quality of life has deteriorated so much that euthanasia is the right thing to do?
This article will help you to know how to make an informed decision about when to put your dog down. It will explain what pet euthanasia is and explore the signs to look for to establish whether your pet’s health is interfering with their quality of life.
The article will give you advice about making your pet’s final moments the best they can be and guide you to make the best decisions after your beloved dog dies.
What Pet Owners Should Know About Euthanasia
Many pet parents worry that euthanasia will be traumatic for the dog or hurt them, but that is not true. It is a humane process, and your dog won’t suffer.
The decision to end a dog’s life is usually not one you have to make alone – your vet is there to help you with expert advice on whether it is time to put your dog down and then to provide euthanasia services. If your dog is not well, you’re probably in close contact with your vet’s office anyway – it’s best to discuss options with your vet early on. To prepare for the discussion, here is some valuable information.
How pet euthanasia works
Resorting to euthanasia is a heart-wrenching decision that many pet owners must make at some point. The procedure involves an injection of a drug designed to stop the pet’s heart as quickly and painlessly as possible. It’s usually a solution of phenytoin or pentobarbital and has to be injected directly into a vein. Your vet may give your dog a sedative before the procedure if they are likely to become distressed or aggressive.
Your vet may administer the solution directly to the vein or give your dog an intravenous catheter for easier access, depending on your dog’s condition. Like any other injection or drip, it’s a quick pinch of pain and not usually traumatic for your furry friend. Once the drug is administered, it usually spreads through the body quickly. It only takes a few seconds before the dog loses consciousness, and in that time, they shouldn’t experience any discomfort or feel pain. You can cuddle your pet and talk to them during this time, so their last moments are filled with love and care. If you can’t manage this emotionally, don’t feel guilty, vets are trained experts and will make it as easy for your pet as possible.
The dog’s breathing should slow and stop within more or less 10 seconds; death usually occurs within 30 seconds. At this time, your vet will check and confirm that your dog’s life has ended. If you’ve chosen to be there, you can spend a little time alone with your beloved pet to say goodbye. You must know that your dog may experience urinary or fecal incontinence at death. This is normal. It is also normal for their eyes to remain open or muscles to spasm. Your vet will usually close your pet’s eyes before giving you your final moments with your furry friend.
Where the procedure happens
Pet euthanasia is a basic service in veterinary medicine, and most vets have the knowledge and facilities in their consultation rooms to euthanize a pet. Whether or not you want to be there with your pet is up to you. A familiar face could have a calming effect on your dog if they’re not used to being around the vet or sense that something is happening.
However, if the emotional duress of a vet visit to put your dog down is too much for you, try not to feel too guilty about not being there. Your distress will affect your pet and could make their final minutes more difficult than they can be.
Depending on your state, another option may be for the vet to put your dog down in your own home. Home pet euthanasia is not as common in the veterinary field, but some vets offer this service. There are pros and cons to both types of cremation.
Euthanasia at the vet’s consulting room
- Some dogs are used to visiting the vet, so it’s just like every other day for them.
- You can choose whether you want to be there with your pet or not.
- You don’t have to carry the memory of where your dog passed away in an area of your home.
- Staff and equipment are available in the unlikely event that something goes wrong with the procedure.
- Your vet can help you store the remains and arrange the next steps.
- Some dogs become distressed when you take them to the vet.
- It may be physically difficult to get your dog there, especially if they are struggling with mobility or it’s a large dog.
- Your dog won’t be in familiar surroundings, which could be distressing.
- It is emotionally distressing for you to bring your dog from your home to the vet.
- Driving back with your dog’s hair in the car, knowing you’ll never see them again, is a traumatic experience.
Euthanasia in your own home
- If the disease process involves aggression, it’s best not to take your dog anywhere unfamiliar as it could trigger this type of behavior. Even the best dog can become aggressive because of chronic pain or cognitive decline.
- If the disease process affects the dog’s mobility, it may be challenging to move them, especially if it’s a large dog.
- Your dog will feel more at peace and calmer in familiar surroundings.
- The drive to the veterinary office can be highly stressful for you and your dog.
- The drive from the vet can be traumatic.
- You won’t have to engage with strangers while you’re feeling vulnerable.
- At home euthanasia could feel more like a natural death.
- Your dog will die somewhere in your home, so you’ll be reminded of the death when you’re in that space.
- At-home pet euthanasia is more expensive.
- It may be distressing for other pets.
Every family is different, and the decision between euthanasia at the vet and at home pet euthanasia will depend on how you feel about it and on the dog’s current condition. Talk to family members and ask your vet for expert advice. Don’t hesitate to raise any concerns and ask questions until you feel you can make the difficult decision. Letting your dog cross the Rainbow Bridge with a humane euthanasia procedure may be the right thing, but it’s not an easy decision.
How to Assess Your Dog’s Quality of Life
Sometimes it’s evident that your dog’s health condition is so bad that recovery from a serious illness or injury is unlikely and pet euthanasia is the only option. A licensed veterinarian will tell you that it’s time for you to put your dog to sleep to stop constant pain, discomfort, or unnecessary suffering.
Other times, the dog gradually deteriorates with old age or prolonged illness. When this happens, your beloved dog may have good days and bad days, making it difficult to assess whether they still have a good quality of life or not. Here are some questions you should ask yourself to establish your pet’s quality of life.
#1. Is my dog in pain?
A dog feels pain, just like a person. If your dog is on pain medication or alternative therapies to manage pain but still showing signs of suffering, it may be time to say goodbye. Signs of chronic pain could include:
- Persistent whining
- Excessive panting
- Problems with mobility
- Inability to get comfortable
Talk to your vet’s office or homeopath about adjusting pain medications or alternative therapies, but if your dog continues showing discomfort, it may indicate poor quality of life. A peaceful death may be a better option than leaving your beloved dog to live with constant pain.
#2. Is my dog eating and drinking normally?
Most dogs love food! Lacking a good appetite is a clear sign of a health problem. If your dog goes for long periods of not eating or drinking, you can try to hand feed them as a solution for a short period. However, if this continues for much longer or your dog is not drinking much water, contact your vet’s office immediately. Dogs can get dehydrated quickly.
If your dog has stopped eating or drinking, your vet may use a feeding tube or IV fluids to ensure they get enough nutrition and fluids. However, this is not a long-term solution. Your beloved pet’s refusal to eat and drink may indicate a serious health problem.
#3. Is my dog struggling with mobility?
If your pet is showing signs of distress or pain when they get up or walk around, it could affect their quality of life. If your dog struggles with walks or stumbles a lot, there could be joint problems or arthritis. Your dog’s mobility could also be affected by other health problems like:
- Neurological conditions
- Musculoskeletal conditions
- Degenerative myelopathy
- Cushing’s disease
- Intervertebral disk disease
Your vet may prescribe pain medications or alternative therapies to help improve your dog’s quality of life and mobility. It could work for several years, giving your dog precious years to spend time with you. If medications no longer work and the mobility issues affect your dog’s quality of life, it’s best to reevaluate the situation and get professional advice on the next steps.
#4. Has my dog’s bowel movements or urination changed?
Contact your vet immediately if your dog cannot urinate or have a bowel movement. The same applies to urinary or fecal incontinence, especially when the pet cannot move away from the mess. When this happens, it’s usually time for pet parents to consider euthanasia to end their beloved dog’s suffering.
#5. Is my dog still enjoying interaction?
One of the most significant factors in a dog’s quality of life is having fun interacting with family members and other pets; they are social animals. If your dog can still play and enjoy social interaction regularly, they probably still have a good quality of life. Dogs that isolate themselves or show signs of anxiety, depression, or aggression instead of happily interacting are likely not enjoying their lives and may be suffering.
#6. Is my dog happy?
Keep an eye on your dog’s emotional condition and note any behavior changes. If your dog is anxious, scared, aloof, or sluggish most of the time and not happy, it could be a sign of cognitive decline or canine dementia, drastically affecting your pet’s quality of life.
Other signs to watch out for are irrational aggression, heightened sensitivity, or if the dog vanishes for long periods. Although changes in behavior and emotional state are not always signs of a terminal illness, you should address them immediately.
#7. Are there more bad or good days?
It’s common for dogs who are getting old or have health problems to have good and bad days. On better days, your dog may have a good appetite, be more sociable, and look like they’re enjoying life. On days that are not that good, they may have lost interest in food, experience pain, vomiting, seizures, and even urinary or fecal incontinence.
If there are more bad days than good days in your dog’s day-to-day life, it usually means that they no longer have a quality of life, and it may be time to consider doing the humane thing and put your dog down.
How to Deal With the Death of Your Beloved Dog
After you’ve come to the difficult decision to put your dog down, your next step is to consider how you want to memorialize your furry friend. Even if you get a new dog, every pet will hold a special place in your heart as a treasured family member, and you should treat them as such. Here are some tips to give your pet a dignified end of life.
Make proper plans before you schedule the euthanasia
It’s essential to wait to schedule the euthanasia until you have clear plans for taking care of your pet’s remains. Your first decision is whether you prefer cremation or burial. Your vet’s office can help you with the details of both options. Next, you must make arrangements for where the remains will go.
What will happen to your dog’s remains?
Just like there are various ways to take care of the remains of a human family member, you have options for your furry friend’s remains.
If your dog was euthanized at the vet’s office, you could take the body home to bury it yourself. It’s a way to keep them close to you and create a graveside where family members can visit. If you plan to bury the remains on your own property, it’s important to check local laws and restrictions. It’s also crucial to be aware that other pets or animals in the neighborhood may try to dig the remains up. Ensure you bury it deep enough to prevent this – the burial plot should be a minimum of three feet deep.
If home burial is your choice, remove all non-biodegradable material, like your dog’s collar. Use biodegradable materials to bury your pet in. For example, you could use your dog’s blanket as a shroud or a cardboard or wooden box as a casket. Once you’ve buried your dog, you can plant a tree or shrub over it to memorialize your pet or place a memorial stone or another grave marker.
Pet cemetery burial
Many states have pet cemeteries. It is an excellent option if you feel a formal burial is more appropriate than a home burial. It’s also ideal for families who want a memorial service or funeral for their pet. Your vet may be able to recommend a suitable option for you. It’s worth noting that this can be an expensive option.
If you prefer that your pet’s remains are cremated, you can leave them with your vet after euthanasia or contact a pet crematorium yourself. The pet cremation process involves the crematorium exposing your pet’s body to extremely high temperatures that reduce all organic matter to ash.
There are usually two types of cremation services, communal and private cremation. With communal cremation, your pet will be cremated with other pets, and you won’t typically have the option to receive the ashes. Instead, the crematorium will scatter them.
Some crematoriums offer a private, personalized service whereby you can witness the cremation. Private cremation lets your pet be cremated alone, and you can collect your pet’s ashes afterward, which usually incurs a fee. You can use the ashes to memorialize your pet in many sentimental and personalized ways.
Why Pet Parents Should Memorialize Pets
A pet is a valuable family member. They are loving and loyal and form strong bonds with their pet parents. When a pet’s quality of life deteriorates, and you have to make the heart-wrenching decision of ending their suffering, it is a distressing process. A memorial service helps you to deal with this emotional distress and can help bring a sense of closure to everyone who loved the pet.
Creating a burial site or memorial area as a permanent remembrance of the pet can help with the grieving process and allows family members to visit the pet and connect with them in the only way possible after they pass away. Even the simplest pet memorial will serve an emotional purpose. There are various options to memorialize your pet, for example:
Pet cremation urns
You can memorialize your dog forever by storing their ashes in a decorative urn. There are so many beautiful and sentimental options for you to choose from. There are pet urns in various materials, some that are personalized, some with photos, and some that are biodegradable.
Another option is memorializing your pet with pet cremation jewelry or a keyring. With this option, you’ll not only carry your dearly departed pet in your heart but also carry some of their ashes with you.
Pet memorial stones
With this option, your pet’s burial site will be like a typical gravesite that family members can visit. There are options like memorial trees, memory stones, and memory benches to choose from.
The Final Goodbye
We all wish our pets could live as long as we do, but we should be thankful for our precious moments with them. If you have to make the heart-wrenching decision of whether to put your dog down or not, it’s important to consider your pet’s quality of life. If it has deteriorated so much that they experience chronic pain and discomfort almost every day of their life, it may be time to say goodbye.
If you decide to have your pet euthanized because his or her quality of life has deteriorated, this article will give you valuable guidance. From the vet visit to memorializing your pet’s memory, it’s all important, and we hope we’re making this easier for you with this information.