Having shared wonderful moments and created beautiful memories with your pet, to say the thought of having to say goodbye is painful would be an understatement.
A few years ago I had to say goodbye to my 13-year-old beautiful beagle, Ruby, who had been battling liver disease and her clock was ticking down towards the painful inevitable.
Ruby had been the heart and soul of our young family. She was our source of support, comfort, and warmth. Her running around the house as we went about our daily chores made our little house a home full of warmth and buzzing with life.
But the time came and we had to say our goodbyes. But how could I tell her how much she meant to me, my wife, and two little daughters?
How could I cope with the pain of having to let go and watch her take her last breath? How could I explain to my three and five-year-old kids it was the right thing to let go of their gentle “soulmate”?
Every now and then I reflect back to that tearful moment when we all said our last words and painfully watched her take her last breath, and I ask myself one question – did we do the right thing to put her down?
While it might be hard to justify the inevitable, I believe it was a show of selfless love to end her pain. We continue to grief but she remains part of our growing family through the beautiful memories we created and family photos we took.
You might be going through something more or less the same and you’re wondering whether putting your canine friend to sleep is the right thing.
Below we will highlight seven reasons to put your dog down, how to cope with putting a dog down, how to say your final goodbyes, and a checklist for when to put your dog down.
7 Reasons to Put Your Dog Down
No single reason is enough to justify putting down a dog, but if you find several of these reasons applicable, then you might want to consider putting her to sleep. Here are seven reasons to put your dog down:
1. The dog is in too much pain
If your dog is experiencing chronic pain and no medications or care seems to help, you might have to consider euthanasia.
A dog in chronic pain will display habits such as avoiding touch or contact by hiding or staying in solitary, having difficulty standing or walking, groaning or crying while walking, or being unable to walk at all.
The pain can be a result of a terminal illness, painful diseases such as old-age arthritis, or severe injuries sustained in an accident.
It’s painful to watch a dog writhing in pain knowing that there’s nothing you nor your veterinarian can do to help.
2. Frequent vomiting and excessive diarrhea
Frequent vomiting and excessive diarrhea that’s causing severe dehydration and significant weight loss can be another reason to put your dog down.
Although there are many easy-to-fix causes of nausea and vomiting in dogs, sometimes it is a symptom of severe underlying health issues.
You might have to consider putting your dog to sleep if no medication is working and she is getting severely dehydrated, lethargic, and unable to live a normal life.
3. Cannot eat or drink unless forced
If a dog has stopped eating or drinking and will only do so if you force her, she could be suffering from a chronic condition.
Your dog should be able to drink and eat without being forced, and if this is no longer the case then you might have to consider euthanizing her.
Refusal to eat will eventually lead to malnutrition, weight loss, and lethargy while failure to drink enough water will lead to severe dehydration and lethargy.
You should seek veterinary assistance to better understand why your dog is refusing to eat and drink and what solutions are on the table for you.
4. Severe incontinence
A dog that’s suffering from severe incontinence has no control over urination or defecation and will keep soiling herself.
You should seek immediate veterinary assistance if your dog can no longer control her bowel movements.
5. Total loss of interest in favorite activities
Your dog is no longer enjoying life if she has lost interest in all or most of her favorite activities and is no longer bubbly and playful as before.
This could be playing with toys or other pets, going for walks, eating her favorite treats, soliciting your attention, swimming in the pool/river, and petting from family members.
Dogs stop enjoying life for different reasons, including old age, terminal illnesses, and chronic pain. You should seek the help of a veterinarian to determine is euthanasia is the right choice for your pet.
6. Inability to stand or walk without support
Aging dogs often experience this health issue along with chronic arthritis. Dogs experience mobility issues that often result from weakened joints and chronic pain from arthritis.
If pain and joint & muscle supplements can no longer help and your dog keeps falling down when trying to walk, it might be ideal to grant her a painless death.
7. Chronic labored breathing and coughing
Is your dog suffering from a health condition that includes chronic labored breathing and coughing? Is your pet extremely sick battling with terminal conditions such as kidney disease, cancer, canine distemper, liver failure, or Lyme disease?
If this is the case and veterinarians have tried all they could, you can help end her suffering by putting her down.
Dogs with terminal conditions suffer a lot, and if you feel ending their pain and suffering is the right thing to do, then that would be like a gift to them.
BONUS: The dog is too old
As dogs grow old, their immune systems and physical abilities drop. If it reaches a point the dog is too old to do anything by itself, such as standing or walking, it isn’t selfish at all to start thinking about saying your final goodbyes.
What to expect when putting your dog down
Deciding it is time to put your dog down can be a stressful and painful thing. Not knowing what to expect during euthanasia can make you extremely anxious. Here are eight things you should expect when putting your dog down.
1. The veterinarian will explain the procedure
Your veterinarian will first explain the whole procedure to you before it begins. Do not hesitate to ask them for clarifications or further explanations if you feel there is a need to.
2. Choosing the spot to perform the procedure
The procedure can be done on small to medium-size dogs while placed on a table. However, it is easier to handle large dogs on the floor.
Regardless of the spot where the procedure is performed, make sure your dog has a comfortable blanket or even a bed to lie on.
3. Placing an intravenous (IV) catheter before the injection
In most cases, veterinarians will place an intravenous catheter in the dog’s vein prior to administering the injection.
The catheter helps reduce the risk of vein rupturing when the drug is injected. If a vein ruptures, it will slow down the effectiveness of the drug because some of it will leak out.
4. Administering an overdose of an anesthetic drug
To begin the procedure, your veterinarian will administer an overdose of an anesthetic drug, sodium pentobarbital, which makes your dog unconscious and gently stops the heartbeat.
The drug is administered with a syringe and injected into a vein, mostly the front leg in dogs. Your pet will not feel any pain from the injection.
5. Administering an anesthetic or a sedative
Your pet will first receive an injection of an anesthetic or sedative prior to being injected with sodium pentobarbital if the veterinarian thinks your dog is less likely to hold still for the IV injection.
A sedative is usually administered through the rear leg muscle approximately 10 minutes before the drug is administered to make the dog drowsy or unconscious, which allows the vet to perform the IV injection easily.
6. The dog will become unconscious and die within a minute
It takes just a few seconds after sodium pentobarbital is administered for your dog to become completely unconscious.
Death will occur within a minute or less and your veterinarian will confirm, with the use of a stethoscope, that the dog’s heart has stopped.
7. Involuntary muscle twitching and intermittent breathing
Your dog may experience involuntary muscle twitching and intermittent breathing for a few minutes after death.
Your pet may also release her bladder or bowels, but all these are normal and there is no need to worry.
8. Your veterinarian may give you time alone with your dog
Once your veterinarian has confirmed that the dog has passed, he or she may ask if you would like to have a few final minutes alone with your pet.
This is optional and you can decide if you need a few final minutes with your dog.
How to say goodbye to your dog before euthanasia
If you’ve decided it’s the right thing to put your dog down, saying goodbye will not be a piece of cake.
Your dog is part and parcel of your family and saying goodbye to your loved one is painful. So, how can you say goodbye to your dog before euthanasia?
1. Take time to actually connect with your dog
Pet parents have a somewhat natural connection with their pets. When it’s time to say goodbye, forget about everything else and actually connect with your dog.
This could be spending family time together doing the favorite things she likes to do and having them enjoying everyone’s attention.
Share kisses and cuddle as you reminisce about every single moment you’ve shared together. This could be by watching videos of your pet or going through the family photo album together.
Although dogs aren’t like us, spending such special moments with her will help you appreciate every single moment you’ve ever shared together.
2. Spoil the heck out of her
Make your dog the “Queen” of the day and spoil the heck out of her. You can have a party just to celebrate your dog and make sure she enjoys all her favorite treats (unless she becomes nauseated after eating).
Take family photos together and watch her enjoying every single moment of it. She might be extremely ill, but she will still enjoy a few nice treats.
Make it special one last time.
3. Prepare the children for the procedure
If you have kids then make sure to help them understand the decision you took and prepare them for the loss of their beloved pet.
It may be your child’s first experience with death and family loss, and it is really important for you to help through the grieving process.
There are books that address this subject and you should consider buying a few for your kids or even yourself.
4. Consider home euthanasia
Your pet feels more comfortable at home and not in the vet’s office. She might be in pain, unable to stand or even walk, but the last thing she needs is having to be driven a few miles to take her last breath.
That’s why you should talk with your veterinarian and have the procedure performed at home. At least she will take her last breath in your arms within the confines of the walls she calls home.
5. Mark the final moments in a peaceful way
You can light a candle during the procedure and once your pet has taken her last breath, blow it out to symbolize the end.
You can say a prayer if you wish to or give her a kiss on the top of her head. In other words, mark the moment in a way you deem fit in honor of your departing friend.
6. Choose whether or not to witness the procedure
It should be an individual decision whether or not you and your family, including the kids, want to be present during the procedure.
For some pet owners, the emotion may be too overwhelming while others find comfort in being present during their pet’s final moments.
You should also consider if it’s appropriate for young children to witness the procedure. Young children are not yet able to understand death and may not remain still and quiet during the procedure.
Burial and cremation options after euthanasia
After putting your dog down, you can choose to either bury or cremate her.
Most pet parents choose to cremate their pets and you have an option to have your pet’s ashes returned to you if you like. Most cremation services also offer a choice of urns and personalized memorials.
You can also opt to bury your dog in your own backyard. You should check with your local authorities if there are any restrictions or rules you’re required to follow.
Finding a pet cemetery near you is quite easy. Just check with the International Association of Pet Cemeteries for detailed information.
How to cope with putting your dog down (5 Tips)
Everyone deals with grief differently and there’s no right or wrong way to do it. Some people can get over it quite easily but for others, it can take weeks or even months to get through the grieving process.
You should keep this in mind, especially if you’re not the only person in the household. Sometimes you can feel you’re over it only for a sudden trigger to bring back all the memories of your lovely pet making you sad.
So, how do you cope with putting a dog down? Here are five tips I believe will help you in your recovery journey.
1. Prepare for the grieving process
Our pets provide us with love, support, loyalty, and are an important part of our lives. Having to put your dog down is never easy because it’s bringing an end to an invaluable relationship.
For some people, their pets are their most valued companions in life, and having to say goodbye is extremely painful. That’s why you should embrace the grieving process, including denial, bargaining, anger, depression, and acceptance.
Keep in mind that we’re all different, and these stages do not necessarily occur in any fixed order. Some people might also take more time from one stage to another while it takes others just a few weeks to accept that their beloved pet is gone.
2. Do not feel guilty for euthanizing your dog
Euthanizing a pet is probably one of the hardest decisions anyone of us will ever have to make. You still want to have them with you but the pain or suffering she is going through is too much for you to bear.
Choosing to put your dog down is a real show of love and compassion, especially if you’ve tried everything within your means and consulted every veterinarian for a viable solution. It’s a real show of selfless love.
So, rather than feeling guilty and “punishing” yourself, embrace the fact that you gave your dog the most peaceful and painless death she could ever wish for.
3. Seek social support as you grief
According to research, the loss or death of a pet and surrounding traumatic events can easily unbalance family relations, existing social roles, and can disrupt the dyadic relationships between the pet parent and other significant people in their lives such as spouses, children, and colleagues.
While the world can be cruel, expecting you to “move on”, “get on with it” or “just get a new one” after losing your beloved pet, you should seek social support from friends and family members rather than pushing them away.
Be open to sharing your feelings. In case you do not feel comfortable talking about how much your pet meant to you or how much you miss them with friends and family, why not make an appointment with a therapist?
A therapist can play an integral role in providing you the healing support you strongly need while helping you understand and maneuver through the healing process.
Besides, therapists are better placed to provide you with tools and coping mechanisms to help you get back to your normal life without your pet.
4. Stay busy with meaningful activities
Apart from anticipating a change in your daily or weekly routine, you should keep yourself busy with meaningful activities.
Having a dog in your life will probably make you develop habits, involuntarily, around your pet because she depends on you for almost everything.
You will have to set aside times to wash, groom, feed, exercise, or walk your pets. But the moment she’s gone then all these time slots become empty with nothing to do and no lovely companion to keep you company.
This means you can easily lose your sense of routine, predictability, and even responsibility. Your daily routines will likely be disrupted while your social interactions will diminish as you go through the grieving process.
To cope with putting your dog down, remain sane & productive, and still enjoy life as much as possible, keeping yourself busy with meaningful activities in the company of supportive companions such as friends and family is the ideal thing to do.
Some things you can do include:
- Playing board games
- Going to the park
- Having a dinner party
- Volunteering your free time at a local animal shelter
5. Do not rush to rescue or adopt a new dog
Rushing to rescue or adopt another pet is a bad idea, especially if your deceased dog formed an integral part of your life. You will not be in the right emotional state and all you’ll be doing is trying to find a “quick fix” for what you are going through.
Give yourself time to grieve and heal. If she was your only pet, you can donate her bedding, toys, leash, bowls, and everything “dog-related” to a dog shelter.
These items will be constant reminders of your dead dog, which makes griefing and healing an uphill task. Besides, it will be better to start afresh when you eventually decide to adopt or rescue a new pet in the future.
However, you can choose to keep a few “unique items” as memorials of your dog.
Reminder: There are many pet loss support helplines available to call if you need help.
How to memorialize your dog
There are many ways to memorialize your pet including through jewelry, art, and creating a photo journal.
You can also ask the vet for your pet’s nose and/or paw prints and have a pendant imprinted with your dog’s nose or paw prints as a way to remember her.
You can also hold a memorial service and create a memorial garden, which will be a place of seclusion and tranquility as you reflect on the wonderful memories your lovely pet left you.
Such things are priceless and you should really consider them.
Frequently Asked Questions About Dog Euthanasia (FAQs)
Let’s have a look at a few frequently asked questions about putting a dog down or euthanasia.
1. How much does it cost to put a dog down?
The average cost to put a dog down ranges between $150 and $900 depending on whether you will opt for both euthanization and cremation or not. The cost of euthanizing a dog ranges between $50 and $300 while the cost of cremation ranges between $100 and $600.
2. Did my dog know he was being put to sleep?
While your dog may be extremely sick, old, or in too much pain, she cannot know you plan to put her to sleep. The moment she receives the injection she becomes unconscious and her heart will stop in a matter of seconds. The process is also painless.
3. What do vets do after they put a dog to sleep?
After your dog is put to sleep, your veterinarian, veterinary nurse, or veterinary technician will help remove any intravenous cannula that was placed and may also help to clean your pet if necessary. Different procedures will follow depending on whether you want to bury your dog at home, have her cremated, or you’re still undecided.
How to know when to put your dog down
Just to recap, these are the factors to help you know when to put your dog down:
- Severe incontinence
- Chronic, unmanageable pain
- Frequent vomiting and excessive diarrhea
- Cannot eat or drink unless forced
- Total loss of interest in favorite activities
- Inability to stand or walk without support
- Chronic labored breathing and coughing
Having to decide to put your dog down is never an easy thing to deal with. It’s like saying goodbye to your loved one with the knowledge they’re going to die moments later. We hope the list of coping tips and strategies we’ve highlighted above will help you as you prepare to put your dog down.