There is nothing quite like a dog’s unconditional love.
Sadly, with the joy of canine companionship comes great heartache when it’s time to say goodbye.
Unfortunately, dogs very rarely pass away peacefully, leaving the responsibility to pet parents and their veterinarians to decide when it’s the right time to put your dog to sleep.
This can feel like an impossibly difficult decision.
Being prepared really can help, and this article will answer questions you may have about how to know when to put your dog down.
Remember, it’s not a decision you have to make alone, and your veterinarian will be there to guide you through the whole process.
How to Know When it’s Time to Put Your Dog Down
Being prepared beforehand can make a huge difference to your mental well-being when the time comes.
Knowing how to recognize the signs it is time to euthanize your dog ahead of the day can help ease the stress of the decision-making process when it’s time.
So, what are the indicators it’s time to put your dog down?
Here’s a, what we hope is a helpful checklist of questions to ask yourself, and to discuss with your veterinarian.
1. Is your dog eating and drinking normally?
This is one of the more obvious signs, which pet owners are usually very aware of.
A decrease in appetite and/or thirst can indicate that your dog is in pain, nauseous, or generally feeling rotten.
On the other hand, if your dog is drinking and weeing more than usual this can mean they have one of many underlying medical conditions, some of which can be treated or managed with pain medications.
Speak with your veterinarian as soon as possible if you notice any changes in your dog’s appetite or thirst.
2. Has your dog’s behavior changed?
Dogs are loving creatures, who enjoy pleasing their human companions.
This means that changes in behavior can be subtle, but if they’re obvious we need to pay attention.
Changes in behavior to look out for include:
- sleeping more than usual
- a loss of interest in their favorite activities or games
- a change in personality such as increased aggression
- or a change in affection levels
This could be a usually affectionate dog shying away from touch, or a usually independent dog seeking more cuddles.
You know your dog better than anyone, so if you notice any behavior out of the ordinary, it’s a good idea to let your veterinarian know.
3. Is your dog in pain?
Understanding how to monitor for signs of pain in your pet is so important; no one would wish their best friend to suffer.
Signs of pain can be obvious, or they can be more subtle, so here’s what to look out for:
- Whining or yelping
- Trembling or shaking
- Sleeping more than usual
- Stiffness when rising from rest
- Being unable to settle, seeming restless
- Panting more
- A decrease in appetite or thirst
- Less frequent toileting or accidents indoors
- Reluctance to play or exercise
- Grumpiness, growling, or snapping out of character
- Excessive licking or chewing at a specific area
- Poor self-grooming
If you are at all unsure, see your veterinarian as soon as possible so they can assess your dog for chronic pain.
4. How often does your dog cry or whine?
If your dog starts crying or whining more than usual, they may well be trying to tell you something is wrong.
This could be pain, sickness, or generally feeling rotten.
Increased vocalising can sometimes be a sign of senility too.
On the flip side, if your dog is normally very vocal and has gone quiet, this could indicate the same sort of issues.
5. Has your dog’s mobility declined?
A decrease in mobility can look like a reluctance to go for their usual walks or exercise, or it can more obviously be struggling to navigate stairs or steps.
Naturally, a 14-year-old dog isn’t going to want to exercise like a 6-month-old puppy.
However, if they stop wanting to go for any walks, seem reluctant to go out to toilet, or seem stiff when walking then you should let your veterinarian know.
6. What is your dog’s emotional state?
You as the pet parent are the most qualified to answer this question. You know your dog better than anyone and are best placed to pick up changes in their mood.
- Does your dog seem down or depressed?
- Quieter than usual?
Dogs are naturally happy creatures, so chances are they are suffering in some way.
If you think your dog seems depressed, speak to your veterinarian as soon as possible.
Of course, none of these on their own are criteria for putting a dog down, meaning it’s important to look at the whole picture.
Some of these deteriorations can be managed with treatment, so it’s about deciding the point at which it is no longer fair to continue.
Usually, this point is around the time that the bad days start to outweigh the good days. Your veterinarian will guide you in this and help you to decide.
Once you’ve decided that the time has come, you need to decide how to manage their death, as well as what you would like to happen with their body afterwards.
Here’s a checklist of questions to ask your veterinarian, and yourself.
Try to consider your own feelings around these points ahead of time, so that you feel prepared when the time comes.
Can your dog die naturally?
This is what we would all choose for our canine companions if we could, for them to pass away peacefully in their sleep.
Unfortunately, while some dogs do pass away peacefully when they reach old age, this is extremely rare.
In the great majority of cases, it is not suitable or fair to let your dog have a natural death. The suffering beforehand isn’t fair on them, or on you.
If this is something you are struggling with, speak with your veterinarian. They will happily guide and advise you, in a safe space and with no judgement.
What are the best options for your dog?
The best option for your dog is usually humane euthanasia.
The euthanasia procedure involves an injection of a drug into your dog’s vein, which causes them to pass away painlessly.
It’s like having an overdose of an anaesthetic, so your dog will go to sleep and then pass away.
Veterinarians will often give the injection through an intravenous catheter, or cannula, that they will place in your dog’s leg beforehand. You may choose to take your dog to the clinic, or you may prefer a veterinarian to come to your home.
If your dog doesn’t like needles, doesn’t like their legs being touched, or is nervous, then it may be kindest to sedate them first. Your veterinarian would give them an injection into their bottom, or would give you something to feed them before your appointment.
Sedation and home visits are options you can discuss with your veterinarian ahead of time. It’s important to keep in mind that a home visit may not always be possible, especially in an emergency or out of hours.
Should you bury your dog?
In some regions, burying your beloved dog on your own land is an option, as long as you have the space. Before considering this, it’s important to check whether it is legal where you live.
There are a few things to consider…
- Firstly, you will need to choose a biodegradable (wood or cardboard) pet coffin or burial box.
- Secondly, you will need to ensure the grave is deep enough to prevent it from being disturbed by wild animals or changes in weather. This is usually around 5 feet deep, but you would need to check your local burial law for the depth required.
If you don’t wish to bury your pet at home, then they can be cremated at a pet crematorium.
Afterwards, their ashes can sometimes be scattered in the crematorium’s garden of remembrance, or they can be returned to you in a casket of your choosing. Most veterinary clinics work with a specific crematorium, so will be able to advise you on your options and the costs involved.
Some areas have a pet cemetery, as a third option that you may wish to discuss with your veterinarian.
How much does it cost to put a dog down?
The cost of euthanasia will vary depending on where you live.
The cost will also depend on whether you choose euthanasia at home or in the clinic, burial or cremation, and whether your pet is sedated first.
Your veterinary clinic will be able to advise you of costs beforehand, so that you can make informed decisions.
Remember, cost should never be a reason for a dog to die at home and you should never attempt to euthanize your dog yourself.
If you are struggling, speak with your veterinary team. They are there to help and to alleviate animal suffering, so they will be able to discuss all of your options with you.
Discussing the actual euthanasia with your veterinarian ahead of time can help you to feel in control and can ease some of the stress on the day, leaving you to focus on your pet.
How do you prepare to say goodbye?
Preparing to say goodbye can feel overwhelming and impossible. It’s a very personal process, with no right or wrong way.
Preparation can help.
Decide ahead of time where you’d like the euthanasia to take place, who will be present, and what you would like to happen to their body afterwards. This will take some of the stress away from the actual event, leaving you to focus on saying goodbye.
Many people find creating memories helps them to prepare.
This could involve taking photos, videos, or preparing to have keepsakes made. There are so many options to choose from, including clay paw prints or remembrance items made with your pet’s ashes.
Life after your dog
After you’ve said goodbye, life can seem empty.
It’s perfectly normal and natural to grieve the loss of your canine companion, who is a part of your family.
Some dog owners find talking about their pet and their life helps, or putting together a scrapbook or album of memories.
If you are finding the feelings of grief overwhelming, or are struggling to cope, there is support available and it’s important to seek help.
Many charities offer free pet bereavement resources or even counseling, for example. You could speak with your veterinarian, who will be able to point you in the right direction.
Should you get a new dog straight away?
This is a very personal question, and only you can decide how long to wait before taking your next steps and getting a new dog.
However, it’s important to allow yourself time to grieve and heal.
Bringing another puppy or dog into your home won’t erase the grief or sense of loss.
Some people find sharing their home with a dog again can help to combat the feelings of loneliness following the loss of a pet. However, while there is nothing wrong with this, it’s important to consider your situation now, and whether you can commit to a puppy or a dog for life.
Knowing when it’s time to say goodbye is one of the toughest challenges faced by pet parents and family members.
We don’t want to jump the gun and lose them sooner than we need to, but equally, we don’t want to see them suffer and not have a good quality of life.
Now that you have some understanding of how to tell when to put your dog to sleep and what to expect, hopefully you can focus on enjoying the remaining time with your beloved pet.