The Hard Decision

All pet owners have faced it: the decision about when the time is right to euthanize your animal.  I have never yet heard of an instance when this decision was easy.  How do you know when the right time comes?

I’ve had people say–and said myself–your pet will tell you. But there are some things to consider as you weigh whether the message you’re getting is a true one.

For example, many dogs are put down because their pain becomes obviously unbearable to them.  But have you made sure that the dog is getting enough pain medication? An authority on veterinary ethics was quoted in the NY Times as saying that many dogs are treated ineffectively or given pain meds for too short a time or in too low a dose. (Sept. 23, 2012) It might be worth re-checking this with your vet before you make the decision to put your dog down.

One hospice care hospital for animals has posted a “quality of life scale” on their web site:  They suggest you rate your pet on a scale of 0-10 on a number of different factors, from whether the dog is eating and walking to whether s/he seems happy.  There’s not a rule of numbers: they don’t suggest that when you get 10s on some of the factors, it’s time to do something.  But this does at least offer a means of assessing your dog before you make your own decision.

I think it’s true that your dog tells you when it’s time to go.  But I want to be sure I’m listening to the dog, and not to the emotional pain that I’m feeling at the loss.


This entry was posted in Blog. Bookmark the permalink.
  • http:/ Janie

    This is a good subject Alxe, one i have dealt with sadly too many times over the years i have had my dogs.
    Whilst adequate pain management is key, there is also the other side where people simply cannot bear the responsibility of releasing their pets from the pain or indeed from leaving them !, Sadly far too many pets suffer for far too long because of their owners indecision.
    My own personal rule of thumb is quality over quantity, meaning that the life they have today has to be comfortable and with dignity.
    I can deal with my distress at loosing my beloved pets far easier knowing they do not suffer longer than is humanely possible.

  • Vickie Byrne

    I have never been lucky enough to wake up one morning to find that an old friend had passed on their own. I have always had to make the final decision to help them on their way. It is a difficult and emotional time. I do believe that my furry companions DO tell me when they are ready. When my old Boston Terrier, Peabody, was ready, she stopped eating (she always had a voracious appetite!) I cried and begged her to eat; she would take a bite of food, just to please me, roll it around in her mouth, then let it fall out. Then she looked at me with her almost blind old eyes with a look that said, “I tried, Mom, I just can’t.” She cried sometimes, just walking across the kitchen floor, and this girl never cried, she was so stoic! She was in liver failure. It was such a hard thing to do for me, but the right thing for my belove old Peabody.

    With Max, it was harder still. He did not seem to be very painful, and his appetite never waned, but he could no longer get up on hs own, or control his bowels. I would get up in the middle of the night to find him laying in his own excrement. He was always such a happy, proud and beautiful soul; not being able to play or even get around on his own was very difficult for my Max. He was also 170 pounds, so picking him up to get him outside was not an option anymore. Due to a degensrative spinal condition, by the time I had made the decision to have Max put down, his hind legs were already cold, with no feeling in them at all. It was a great help to me that I have a wonderful Vet who came to the house to euthanize Max at home in his own bed, surrounded by his family and eating his favoirite treats. There was no final stress for my boy of getting into the car and going to the vet clinic.


  • Kathryn Kudron

    I can tell you, from personal experience, that if a dog is showing that much pain then more and/or better pain medications are not necessarily the answer. Most dogs are very stoic and will not show that much pain. And then we, as their caretakers, have to make the world’s most difficult decision. Yeah, giving them a little more pain meds might help them for another couple of months… but in the long run, you are only extending their life for *our* sake and in the meantime, what suffering does the dog go through for our selfishness? I, personally, would rather let my dogs go with dignity even if that means they leave my life a little early.

    I have also owned those rare dogs that *don’t* tell you it’s time to go. My Doozer was one of those. He was loved and knew it – and he loved us back. He would have gone through hell and beyond and still not told us it was time to go. In fact, we knew it was time when he started showing pain. He never showed pain so for him to show any meant it was a lot. And so for his sake we took the decision out of his hand and let him go. In the long run, I think he appreciated it. He didn’t fight it at all. He just didn’t want to break our hearts by going ahead of us.