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How Will I Know When It's Time to Say Goodbye?

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Question: How Will I Know When It's Time to Say Goodbye?
My dog might need to be put to sleep. How can I decide when the time is right to consider euthanasia?
Answer:

Making the decision to humanely end the life of a suffering pet can be a struggle. In fact, euthanasia might be one of the most difficult choices you will ever have to make for your pet. There is no "one-size-fits-all" answer to this question. When it comes down to it, the decision is partly based on facts and the rest on "gut feeling." The bond between you and your dog is very strong - you know her better than anyone, you will know when your pet stops enjoying life. Ultimately, you will probably know in your heart when it is time. Here are some things that can guide you through the decision-making process.

Euthanasia Due to Illness or Injury

When a pet's quality of life begins to decline due to an illness or injury, something must be done to alleviate that pet's suffering. A serious medical condition, such as a terminal illness or a severe injury, will negatively impact a pet's quality of life. Common signs of poor quality of life include loss of appetite, lack of interest in playmates, toys and/or other people, reclusive behavior, worsening pain, and depression. In general, euthanasia is considered when there are no other options. The following situations warrant a discussion about euthanasia with your veterinarian and your family:
  • Chronic or terminal illness: A dog with a terminal disease may temporarily respond to treatment. However, the dog can eventually stop responding to all available treatments or become worse because of treatments. Consider keeping journal or log of your dog's daily behavior, energy level, appetite, etc. When you are noticing more bad days than good days, it might be time to start thinking about euthanasia.

  • Old age: Health problems usually come with old age, so it is important that your senior pet visits the vet often and on a routine. If your pet is slowing down, and your vet cannot determine a specific, curable condition, you may just need to offer supportive care. An elderly pet can still enjoy life, but when you see a more dramatic decline, you will know the time is near.

  • Major injury: If a dog has a serious injury that is considered untreatable, your vet might recommend euthanasia. Usually, these are traumatic injuries that cause pain and/or impede basic functions like mobility and control of bodily functions. Sometimes, good nursing care at home can help maintain good quality of life for the injured dog. In other cases, the suffering cannot be relieved and euthanasia is the most humane choice.

  • Financial issues: Veterinary care can become very expensive, especially long-term care. If the cost of treatment is causing a hardship for your family, that does not mean euthanasia is your only choice. Start by speaking with your vet about your situation and ask about less costly options. There are also some cases where financial assistance or financing (such as CareCredit) is available.

Euthanasia Due to Behavior Problems

Some owners consider euthanasia because of uncontrollable behavior problems in their dogs. While the majority of behavior problems can eventually be managed, there are some cases where euthanasia is the necessary choice. However, euthanasia should be a last resort. Seek the help of a professional dog trainer and/or veterinary behaviorist before making a permanent and irreversible decision that might be regretted.

Making the Final Choice

After some serious soul-searching, heart-to-heart discussions with your vet and honest family conversations, you may decide that euthanasia is in the best interest of your pet. Feelings of guilt and sadness might become overwhelming, but this is normal. If there is time, spend a few moments just talking to your dog. It may sound strange to some people, but a pet can pick up a lot from the tone of your voice. Plus, saying things out loud might help you process things. Try to allow time for family members to say their good-byes as well. Talk to your vet about what to expect right before, during and after the euthanasia. After it is done, the process of grieving will begin. Consider doing something special to memorialize your unique and much-loved companion. You made your choice out of love, and your dog would likely thank you if she could.
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