Should I put my dog down?

Dog sat looking out a window

The thought of losing a dog is painful, but being the one that decides to have them put to sleep can be heart-wrenching. Our dogs bring so much love into our lives, and it’s hard to imagine a time when we won’t feel their wagging tails thumping against our leg or their head nudging against our hands, asking for a stroke. But, because we love them, we need to put their needs first, even when it’s not an easy choice to make.

To help you during this tough time, we’ve written this article to support you in making a difficult decision, helping you to choose what’s right for you and your dog.

How to know when it’s time

Whether it’s old age, an accident or illness, it can be hard to know when it’s the right time to say goodbye to your dog. None of us want to think that we’ve let them go too early, but we also can’t stand the thought of letting them suffer. Our strong emotions can make it tough to make a decision, so talk it over with your vet, your family and your friends. Think about your dog’s quality of life and try to imagine what the future holds for them. When the bad days outweigh the good, it might be time to think about what’s best for your dog.

Talk to your vet

Your vet can’t make a decision for you, but they can help you weigh everything up. As well as thinking about how you feel, your vet will be able to talk to you about your dog’s future, the cost of treatment and how your dog’s health may change over time. Your vet will want to make sure that you’ve got all the information you need to make a decision. They’ll always be happy to answer your questions or address any concerns and discuss the options that are available to you.

When should I put my dog down?

If your dog is very unwell or is badly hurt, your vet may recommend euthanasia, especially if they can’t be treated or kept comfortable. But, in many cases, it’s not always straightforward, especially if there’s a gradual decline due to old age or long-term illness. If this sounds familiar, it can be helpful to think about how your dog’s quality of life has changed and how it’s likely to change in the future. Do recent changes or a decline in their health affect how comfortable they are, or does it affect their daily routine? Are they still able to live a dignified and comfortable life?

In helping you decide, it’s worth asking yourself the following questions:

  • How much pain are they in?
  • What’s the likelihood of them recovering?
  • Are they eating and drinking?
  • Can they move around?
  • Do they have difficulty going to the toilet?
  • Are they happy?
  • Can you afford to continue to treat them?

To help you think about each of these questions, we’ve gone into a little more detail on things to think about.

Are they in pain?

Dogs are experts at masking their pain, which can make it difficult for us to know how much they’re suffering. We do everything we can to make our dogs feel comfortable, but you’ll need to consider how much pain they’re in, whether the pain will improve and how their pain affects how much they enjoy their everyday life.

Signs of pain can include:

  • Being quiet
  • Seeming restless
  • Not wanting to be touched
  • Licking or nibbling at painful areas
  • Not wanting to exercise, eat or drink
  • Panting and/or shaking

What’s the likelihood of them recovering?

If your dog’s been injured or has been diagnosed with an illness, think about whether they’re likely to recover and what their life might be like if they do.

Are they eating and drinking?

When dogs feel unwell or are in pain they may not eat or drink much. You can find ways to encourage them to eat (hand feeding, warming up their food etc.) or drink (adding ice cubes to their water or pouring in the juice from a can of tuna in spring water - not tuna in brine or oil etc.) but these aren’t long-term solutions. If their lack of interest in food or drink continues, are you able to support them and will this affect their quality of life?

Can they move around?

Old age, injuries and long-term health issues can all affect a dog’s mobility. These can sometimes be improved by surgery or certain medications, but not always. If your dog’s unable to walk easily or settle comfortably, think about how this will affect their health, happiness and hygiene.

Do they have difficulty going to the toilet?

A dog that can’t control when they go to the toilet may wee and poo in the house, may need regular help being cleaned up or, if they’re not mobile, may regularly sit in their urine or faeces because they can’t move away. Keeping your dog clean and hygienic may become challenging. A loss of a dog’s dignity often plays a part in many people’s decision to put their dog to sleep.

Are they happy?

Like us, our dogs can have good days and bad days, but ultimately, your decision to put your dog to sleep may be reduced to just one question; are they having more bad days than good? Even though dogs that are unwell or injured may become quiet, less sociable or even anxious, they’ll always find a ray of sunshine and find joy in the little things. Try to see if your dog still enjoys their favourite activities, like playing with their toys and having their belly scratched, or do you rarely see them having fun anymore? You know your dog best and if you think they’re suffering, you need to consider what’s right for them.

Can you afford to continue to treat them?

Long-term illnesses, inherited conditions and severe injuries can be expensive to treat and manage. Talk to your vet about the cost of the treatment your dog will need. You could look into whether your insurance can help or ask your vet if they know of any veterinary organisation that offers financial help. Making an emotional decision based on the availability of money can be stressful and often feels strange, but it’s important to make sure your dog is comfortable and sometimes this isn’t possible without the available funds. 

Kennel Club Pet Insurance is one of the few pet insurers to provide cover for the cost of euthanasia and cremation or burial with no excess applied.

What happens during euthanasia

The information below may be upsetting to read. If you’d prefer not to continue reading, be reassured that your dog will be treated with kindness and dignity and that having them put to sleep is peaceful, painless and will be over quickly. 

Each veterinary practice is different and may have slightly different procedures.

Most people have their dog put to sleep at their veterinary practice, but some vets may be able to visit your home in certain circumstances.

  • Your vet will talk to you about what they’re about to do and will be able to talk to you about anything you’re worried about.
  • You’ll be asked to sign a form that gives your vet permission to put your dog to sleep.
  • In most cases, you’ll be able to be with your dog if you would like to
  • Your dog will be carefully held by a veterinary nurse and given an injection by your vet, usually in one of their front legs.
  • This injection is a large dose of anaesthetic, so will make your dog feel sleepy.
  • Your dog will fall unconscious soon after the injection. After a while, your vet will use a stethoscope to check that their breathing and heart have stopped.
  • Sometimes, some dogs will pass away with their eyes open. After they’ve been put to sleep, some dog’s muscles may twitch, or they may make noises or they may urinate or defecate. These are all normal reflexes that can happen as your dog’s body begins to relax after they’ve been put to sleep.

How to prepare yourself

Making the decision to have your dog put to sleep is understandably upsetting but there are a few things that you can do to help you feel a little more prepared for the procedure:

  • Talk to your vet about what to expect. Ask all the questions you need so that you can understand and begin to process what’s going to happen.
  • If you’re able to choose a time and day to have your dog put to sleep, ask the receptionist if they’re able to recommend a time when the practice is less busy.
  • If you’re able to, take advantage of the time you have left with your dog. If they’re well enough, give them their favourite treat or do something with them that they enjoy, even if it’s just spending time with you.
  • Take a friend or family member along with you for support

Should I stay with my dog?

Some people find being with their dog at the end too difficult, while others find it comforting to be with their dog; everyone is different. Whatever you decide, make sure it’s right for you and your dog. Being there may provide comfort to your dog but if you think it will upset them to see you distressed then you may choose not to be present. If you’re not able to be with your dog, your vet and the team of nurses will take care of them and will treat them with kindness and compassion.

What happens after euthanasia?

Someone from your veterinary practice (either your vet, a vet nurse or the receptionist) will speak to you about what you would like to happen to your dog after they’ve been put to sleep.

You may want to have your dog buried or cremated. If you’re not sure, your veterinary practice will be able to look after your dog’s body while you decide.

If you would like to have them buried, this can usually be done at a pet crematorium, or you may be able to take them at home. Your vet may be able to give you advice on where you are and are not allowed to have your dog buried.

If you decide to have your dog cremated, you can choose to have them communally cremated with other pets and the crematorium will scatter the ashes, or they can be cremated by themselves, and the ashes returned to you, although this will be more expensive.

Coping with the loss of your dog

Losing your dog can be devastating. They showered us with affection and love, were constantly by our side (as well as under our feet or on our laps) and were a much-loved family member, so it’s natural for you to feel that their death has left an empty hole in your life. Grieving for your dog is tough, but it’s important that you take the time to understand how you feel and find ways to cope with these difficult emotions.

Find out more about coping with the loss of your dog.

Article author

Content provided by Agria Pet Insurance.

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