Some dogs pass away peacefully in their sleep, without much suffering or advanced warning. While their pet parents still feel tremendous grief, they are spared a difficult decision -- whether or not to euthanize their beloved, furry, family member. Other pet parents find that, as their dog reaches the end of his life due to old age or terminal illness, at some point euthanasia may be the only humane option.
Work with Your Veterinarian
Seek veterinary care when you suspect that your dog is reaching the end of his life. Your veterinarian will conduct a thorough examination and perform tests to reach a diagnosis. Treatment options, surgery and pain medications may be an option, depending on your dog's diagnosis. Discuss available options and ask your veterinarian for advice -- just because treatment is available doesn't always mean it's the best course of action. If your dog is elderly, treatment may simply prolong his suffering.
In some cases, such as a severe injury or pain, where the condition can't be treated, your veterinarian may recommend immediate euthanasia. However, in many cases, the decision is less clear. For instance, if your dog is terminally ill, he may live for many more months, even without treatment. It's up to you to determine when his suffering is greater than his quality of life.
Assess Your Dog's Quality of Life
As your dog's pet parent, you're familiar with his typical behavior and personality. When he reaches an advanced age or has a terminal illness, his quality of life diminishes. Some pet parents decide that once their dog shows signs of suffering, it's time to say goodbye. Signs may include:
- Inability to stand or walk
- Lack of desire to eat or drink
- Chronic cough
- Chronic diarrhea or vomiting
- Difficulty breathing
- Lack of interest in toys, people or his favorite activities
If your veterinarian indicates that your dog's symptoms can't be reversed, or that attempting treatment will cause more pain and suffering, consider euthanasia.
Get Personal and Professional Support
Seek emotional support from friends and family members during this difficult time. While it's often the right decision for your pet, choosing euthanasia is never easy. Your veterinarian also can provide support and information. Ask her to go through the procedure with you well before your appointment so you know what to expect in advance. She can refer you to a grief counselor or therapist in your area who can help you work through feelings of guilt, pain or sadness.
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals also offers support and advice to pet owners who are contemplating euthanasia or are grieving for the loss of their pets. Call the Pet Loss Hotline at 877-474-3310 or visit the organization's Pet Loss FAQ for more information about euthanasia.
Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.