How do you know when it’s time to euthanize a dog?

Original Question: Dear Dr. Greenway I love your radio show and I will be as concise as possible with my situation. I have an 11 year old Yellow Lab named Lily and got her 7 years ago from not the best environment. She is the most beautiful dog and I've spent a lot of money taking care of her and love her completely. She has been blind for 2 years and deaf for some time and has recently been diagnosed with diabetes. She has weakness in her hind legs and needs help going on the bed etc. She not walking and is losing of where she is in the house however she still has a good appetite. Basically, does she have any quality of life left or is she just trying to stay alive. Have you seen this kind of situation before? Please let me know if you have so I know where you stand on when the right ‘time’. I greatly appreciate your help. - Barbara

How do you know when it’s time to euthanize a dog? Mar 5, 2018

Hi Barbara,

Thanks for sending your question. No matter how many times I hear of a situation like this, I always feel for the clients going through it. This is a very common question you’re asking me.

All of our pets eventually get old and we see that their quality-of-life starts to slip. The first thing that I would say is you can work with your veterinarian on addressing symptoms that are reducing the quality of life. So for instance, if standing up and moving around is difficult because there is some arthritis, consider using either a pain medication or anti-inflammatory to remove the discomfort from this condition. If your dog is drinking and urinating too often, is week and demonstrating significant signs of diabetes, then perform a blood glucose curve at your veterinary hospital and improve the balance of insulin therapy to control the symptoms.

If the control of these symptoms is no longer effective, then you should start considering the idea of euthanasia. The first thing to say is that as much as we would like to see our pets passed away peacefully overnight, this rarely happens. If you actually wait until this happens, you’ve probably waited too long and your pet has experienced too much discomfort leading up to it. So, to address your question which is a very subjective one, we have to make it objective.

Here’s one strategy that I tell clients about. You can start to look at the number of good days versus the number of bad days. You can even use a calendar to do this and mark them down. We know that our dogs like to walk outside, eat their meals, interact with us and have a mental awareness too. If they have these qualities throughout the day then it’s a good day. If these things are not present throughout the day, then it’s a bad day. When the bad days come more often than the good, you know that the option of euthanasia is realistic and humane.

There are a few more points that I think are really important. You have to remember that you have provided so much love and care for your dog throughout its whole life. Try not to let it become the sum total of your feelings about a lifetime with your pet. Scheduling the euthanasia is a difficult thing to do. It means that you’re the designer of this event, which is supposed to be a natural process, but now you’re actually planning it. Recognize that this is going to lead to feelings of guilt and sadness. It is extremely important to realize that these feelings will happen but that you don’t deserve to feel this way. Performing euthanasia for a pet that is suffering is an act of love and compassion. You have had a wonderful and enriching life with your pet, full of love and enjoyment so you need to find a way to celebrate this and not dwell on that final process. On the evening of the day that you say goodbye, I want you to pour a drink, raise a glass and celebrate this special animal that shared a part of your life and that you gave so much of yourself too. You should be proud of yourself.

I encourage you to take a look at our video “How Do You Know When It’s Time to Euthanize a Pet” and article “Saying Goodbye to Your Pet” that might give you a little bit more peace of mind.

All the best Barbara. Take care.

Dr. Clayton Greenway

Disclaimer: healthcareforpets.com and its team of veterinarians and clinicians do not endorse any products, services, or recommended advice. All advice presented by our veterinarians, clinicians, tools, resources, etc is not meant to replace a regular physical exam and consultation with your primary veterinarian or other clinicians. We always encourage you to seek medical advice from your regular veterinarian.

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