How to make the decision to put your dog down

Posted September 15

Recognizing health signs in your pup can help you understand if it is the right time to put them down. (Deseret Photo)

The harsh reality of owning a pet is knowing they will likely not outlive you, and the even more sobering truth rests on the decision that you may have to make to end their precious life. You have raised the sweet pup and taken care of it like your own family, why do you have to decide when it is the best time for them to go?

There are multiple cases where a dog will pass calmly on their own, but in several cases a dog cannot perceive long-term happiness or how they will feel in a few hours. A dog is incapable to live beyond what they feel in the moment, and that hindrance makes it nearly impossible for them to recognize if they will or will not get better. Their lack of understanding ultimately leaves their owners with the burden of deciding their fate.

An owner can recognize signs of aging and symptoms of terminal illness to be a normal part of life, but accepting their repercussions is not so easy to accept. They may not have the power to take away their dog’s illness, but there are certain steps and precautions owners can take to help alleviate pain for their pup in their short time left on earth.

Arguably the decision to euthanize a furry family member may remain as one of the hardest decisions an individual has to face but sometimes it is the only humane option they have left.

Never easy

One may believe putting a dog down to be the hardest thing a veterinarian has to do, but veterinarian Dr. Andy Roark disagrees. Roark shared his first experience of having the life-or-death conversation with a pet owner. He described the enormous amount of heartache he endured watching the pet owner receive the heavy news that death was the best option to be harder to witness than the actual euthanizing process.

The question of life and death has long been a hot topic of debate. Is it moral and humane to put a dog down even if it has the will to live? The answer remains tentative and holistically dependent on each dog’s unique situation.

Analyze the situation

How can an owner know it is time to make the big decision? Dr. Roark suggests owners do these three things: analyze their pet’s current state, remember a pet lives in the moment and advises owners to honestly rate their pet’s quality of life.

Unique situation:

There is not one sign or one recommendation that fully encompasses each pet and their unique health situation. Advise with your veterinarian and inform yourself on the specific medical symptoms of your dog’s condition so you can be prepared to make life-altering decisions when necessary. You may also want to consider designating a trusted friend to help you decide when it is your pet’s time to go. Having an outsider looking in on the situation will help alleviate your emotional attachment and bias.

Pets live in the moment:

Have you ever noticed your pet experiences overwhelming amounts of joy each time you come home? It doesn’t matter if you have been in and out of your home 10 times that day; they still greet you with that toothy grin you can’t resist. Dogs are creatures that live in the moment, when pets suffer they do not remember all of the joy they have experienced in previous days and they do not think the current pain they are feeling will last forever.

Quality of life:

As hard as the question may be, sincerely ponder the quality of life your pet is experiencing. Is the future bright or is the condition going to get worse?

Questions to ask yourself

One of the best things a concerned pet owner can do is ask themselves the following questions suggested by the American Veterinary Medical Association regarding euthanasia:

  • Why am I considering euthanizing my pet?
  • Do I have any fears or unsettled feelings regarding putting my dog down?
  • Are you worried what others might think of you?
  • Are you putting your self-interest over the well-being of your pet?
  • Are you ready to let go?
Is your pup experiencing joy or dragging?

One easy way to determine whether your pup is still experiencing some joy in their daily life is by establishing the rule of “Five Good Things.” This exercise encourages individuals to pick the top five things your dog loves to do and write them down. Watch your dog for the next few weeks and notice if they still participate and enjoy their favorite activities. If they do not engage at all, it may be time to analyze their perpetual quality of life.

Regardless of the medical condition, making the decision to say that final goodbye takes immense strength and faith.

Have you had to put your dog down? If so, tell us about your experience here:

Hannah Rose is a story-telling enthusiast that finds joy in sharing insights and human experience. Connecting the world through written verse is a passion that drives her to pursue her journalistic endeavors.


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