How do you know when to say goodbye to your dog?

White Samoyed puppy sitting in grass behind a stuffed goose toy

“Having a dog will bless you with the happiest days of your life and one of the worst days.” 

I think about that quote often as I think about the dogs I’ve had throughout my life and it’s one of the truest things I’ve ever read. As humans, we tend to humanize everything and the love of our dogs is no different.

Samoyed Running
One of my favourite pictures of Hannah

I’ve had to send two dogs to the rainbow bridge in the last 12 months, making this year particularly difficult. As the owner of a dog business and someone who’s immersed in all things Canine, it’s hitting me especially hard.

In my case, Luka suffered from a brain event and went from perfectly fine one moment to staggering and not himself in an instant. Hannah’s mobility was diminished while Luka was still alive but went downhill pretty quickly and progressed slowly downward for the next 12 months. in each case, there was discussions with my 3 kids and the vet before we made the decision.

That decision we have to make as their owners is very difficult and filled with the same emotions that we have when a loved on passes…sometimes even worse.

This type of decision is difficult, and you should talk with your veterinarian to determine what’s best for you and your pet. To help you prepare for when that time comes, here’s what you need to know about putting a pet down.

When Is It Time to Put a Dog Down?

When your dog is suffering, euthanasia is a gift. It may be very difficult to think of it this way, but it is the kindest thing you can do for your pet. But how do you know when it’s the right time to say goodbye?

Have an open and honest discussion with your veterinarian about your dog’s health and quality of life. They are uniquely qualified to offer some objective guidance based on their knowledge of your pet’s condition. That includes asking very specific questions and since you might be emotional, it’s a good time to write them down.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself and present to your veterinarian:

  • Does my dog have a good quality of life?
  • Are they eating and drinking?
  • Are they able to urinate/defecate?
  • Do they enjoy human interaction?
  • Does my dog have more good days than bad?
  • Is it possible for my dog to recover with a treatment plan that I can commit to both financially and personally?

It may be that there are no additional medical or home interventions that will cause enough improvement to bring your dog back to an acceptable level of comfort. If that is the case and you answer “no” to one or more of these questions, it’s time to talk about euthanasia with your veterinarian.

The Quality of Life Scale

Dr. Alice Villalobos created a Quality of Life scale to provide a clear structure for how to evaluate your dog’s current life experience. Her scale is also called the HHHHHMM or H5M2 scale. 

HURT: Adequate pain control, including the ability to breathe, is the most important aspect of quality of life and it is first and foremost on the scale. Many pet owners may not realize that not being able to breathe easily can be one of the most painful experiences for an animal.

HUNGER: Can your animal eat on its own? Has it lost interest in food? If your pet is not receiving adequate nutrition, by hand or force feeding, then a feeding tube should be considered, especially for cats. Malnutrition develops quickly in sick animals if the care giver is not knowledgeable about pet nutrition.

HYDRATION: Is your animal hydrated? Fluids that are injected beneath the animal’s skin are a very effective method to supplement the water intake of ailing pets. You can learn from your veterinarian how to perform this procedure on your own.

HYGIENE: Some questions to consider include: Can your pet be kept brushed and cleaned? Is the coat matted? Is your pet situated properly so that it will not have to lie in its own waste after elimination? Can your pet control its waste output?

HAPPINESS: One important question to consider when contemplating euthanasia is: “Is your pet able to experience any joy or mental stimulation?” Pets often communicate their thoughts and emotions with their eyes. You should try to answer questions such as: Is your pet responsive and willing to interact with the family? If the animal is a cat, is it able to purr and enjoy being on the bed or in your lap? Is there a response to a bit of catnip or a favorite toy? Can your pet’s bed be moved close to the family’s activities and not left in an isolated or neglected area? Is your pet depressed, lonely, anxious, bored, or afraid?

MOBILITY: You should determine whether your pet is able to move around on its own or with help in order to satisfy its needs. Does your pet feel like going out for a walk? Does your pet have central nervous system problems, such as seizures or stumbling? Can your pet be taken outdoors or helped into the litter box to eliminate with assistance? Will a harness, sling or cart be helpful? Is medication helping?

Lap of Love, a nationwide network of veterinarians dedicated to end-of-life care, also has several important resources that can help you determine your pet’s quality of life:

Quality of Life Assessment Tool

Quality of Life Scale

Quality of Life Daily Assessment Calendar

The ultimate answer to the question of when is the right time is it really depends on you understanding how your dog’s life will be impacted going forward. We should always want the best for our beautiful dogs and this decision will be a difficult one. Educate yourself, talk to your vet and make the decision with with their well being in mind….not yours.

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